Monday, November 30, 2009

Greatest Scientific Scandal in History

Well, isn't this something?

Now it turns out that not only have leading climatologists in the anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming debate conspired to freeze out dissenters, not only have they admitted that their data for the last ten years don't support the hypothesis that the earth is warming or that long-term warming is caused by human activity, not only have they admitted to massaging the data to make it conform to their theoretical stance on AGW, not only have they refused to let other researchers see their data and advised colleagues to destroy it should they be forced by Freedom of information laws to disclose it, but now it turns out that they actually have destroyed the data upon which the whole AGW thesis was based in the first place:

Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based. It means that other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years.

The UEA's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was forced to reveal the loss following requests for the data under Freedom of Information legislation.

The data were gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to take account of variables in the way they were collected. The revised figures were kept, but the originals - stored on paper and magnetic tape - were dumped to save space when the CRU moved to a new building.

The admission follows the leaking of a thousand private emails sent and received by Professor Phil Jones, the CRU's director. In them he discusses thwarting climate sceptics seeking access to such data.

This revelation follows those discovered in the...

...highly disturbing series of emails which show how Dr Jones and his colleagues have for years been discussing the devious tactics whereby they could avoid releasing their data to outsiders under freedom of information laws.

They have come up with every possible excuse for concealing the background data on which their findings and temperature records were based.

Most incriminating of all are the emails in which scientists are advised to delete large chunks of data, which, when this is done after receipt of a freedom of information request, is a criminal offence.

These are the people upon whose word nations are prepared to spend trillions of dollars to reduce carbon emissions to reverse a warming trend that, to the extent that it exists, has no demonstrable relation to carbon. They have, by association, ruined the reputation of tens of thousands of honest scientists and disgraced themselves by their odious behavior. They are responsible for the greatest scientific scandal perhaps in the history of science and should be banned from the profession.

Meanwhile, the lesson for the rest of us is to stop listening to people who tell us to just shut up and take the word of experts. When the "experts" are unwilling to present their data, when they appear to be promoting an ideological agenda, then we should be very skeptical indeed of whatever they tell us.



Doubtless part of the reason the death toll was so high at Fort Hood was that no one in the building where the shootings occurred was armed, except the shooter. It may seem odd that on a military base no one is allowed to carry weapons, but in 1993 one of the first things President Clinton undertook upon taking office was to sign a directive that forbade all military personnel except military police from carrying firearms on base.

The President no doubt meant well but the directive insured that any terrorist who wanted to kill American soldiers would have a pretty easy time of it by attacking them on their bases. Indeed, as someone put it, a mass killer would probably face greater risk of return fire at the local Wal-Mart than on a military base.

In fact, all the public shootings that have occurred in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed have occurred in places where concealed handguns have been banned. Had an administrator at Columbine had access to a weapon fewer kids may have died. Had a professor at Virginia Tech had access to the means to stop the lunatic who killed so many students there the carnage may have been less. Had soldiers at Fort Hood carried sidearms, as they do every day when they are deployed, Nidal Malik Hasan would probably never even have tried to do what he did.

It's a mistake to think that we're making people more safe by taking away their ability to protect themselves. The only people who obey laws prohibiting firearms are those who obey laws. Criminals pay them no heed, and our good intentions wind up making it easier for mass murderers to carry out their horrific crimes.

We live in a society where it's impossible to prevent killers from getting guns and it's impossible for the police to protect people from them. Given those impossibilities, it makes no sense to try to solve the problem of social violence by taking away from people the means to protect themselves and those they love from the thugs and predators in our midst.


Eternal Vigilance

The university was once a bastion of free speech and freedom of thought, but that was a long time ago. Today the university is on the forefront of the progressive attempt to throttle free speech and thought wherever they can.

The latest instance of this movement to impose a stifling conformity upon the public has come to light at the University of Minnesota. U of M is establishing a policy whereby students applying for admission to their teacher education program will be screened to assess whether they hold the correct ideological commitments. Apparently, if you wish to be a teacher you will not be allowed to be a conservative and probably not a religious person. Such is the world the progressives would have us inhabit - a world in which freedom is something to be found only in intellectual antique markets.

Fortunately, FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), a free-speech activist group that fights political-correctness codes on college campuses, is on the case. You can read about this shameful attempt to impose ideological uniformity on Minnesota's public school students at Hot Air, and you can find other examples of academia's intolerance by doing a Viewpoint search for Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Young people growing up in the post WWII era took their freedom to hold dissenting opinions for granted, but there are many people in the contemporary left, in universities and in government, who see that freedom as an enemy. They want to be able to dictate what you'll be able to say and, if they can, even what you think, and they're relentless in their push to get their way. If they succeed students will one day be saying the 21st century equivalent of Heil Hitler before classes each morning just as today they recite the pledge of allegiance.

It really is true, as the 19th century abolitionist Wendall Phillips once said, that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Atheists Have Won So Stop Arguing

Byron linked me to an article by Lisa Miller in a recent edition of Newsweek in which Ms Miller voices a weariness with the argumentiveness of the "New Atheists." It's not that she's unimpressed with their arguments, mind you. Rather, she seems to be persuaded that the atheists have won the debate about the rationality of belief in God, that further argument is tedious and pointless, and that we need to move on and recognize that people are not going to be persuaded to believe one way or another about God by appeals to reason.

Ms Miller gives far too much credit to the work of people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens - as though their books, like a massive artillery barrage, have somehow swept the field, there's no point in continuing the shelling, and all that's left is for believers to retreat into irrelevant, isolated enclaves of nonrational, subjective faith reinforced by the beauties of poetry.

Three statements in particular bothered me in this essay. Miller writes:

Three charismatic men - Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Hitchens - have not just dominated the conversation, they've crushed it.

"Crushed it"? In whose judgment? By what standard? All three of these men have done little beyond embarrass themselves whenever they've either written on, or debated, religion. That Miller isn't aware of this is a poor reflection on how thoroughly she knows her subject.

The whole thing has started to feel like being trapped in a seminar room with the three smartest guys in school, each showing off to impress ... whom? Let's move on.

Move on to what? Poetry? She wants to cede the flag of rationality to the atheist when in fact the atheist has lost it everywhere but in popular culture. Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens are doubtless very smart, but so are their opponents. Why does Miller give the impression that the atheists simply outshine their competition intellectually? Has she not watched the debates between Hitchens and William Lane Craig? Has she not read any of the scathing reviews of Dawkins' or Harris' books by people like Alvin Plantinga? Guess not.

This week Harvard's humanist chaplain Greg Epstein comes out with Good Without God, a book arguing that people can have everything religion offers-community, transcendence, and, above all, morality - without the supernatural. This seems to me self-evident...

This is a very odd claim. The atheist belief that he can have all those goods without the supernatural may be true - I argue that it's not - but it's possible that it is. What it's not, though, is self-evident. Miller just doesn't know what she's talking about here anymore than she did when she wrote a column sometime back on why Christians should accept gay marriage.

Her assertion that atheists can have morality without God is, I think, either trivially true or it's false. It's true that atheists can live by the same values that theists call "moral" but their choice to do so is purely subjective and arbitrary. It's not grounded in anything but their own feelings. Thus, they can be "moral" in the sense that they live by certain values that Christians also live by. But the claim to "have morality," if it means anything significant, means 1) to have grounds for making moral judgments about the behavior of others and 2) to be obligated to do one thing rather than another. Neither of these can apply to an atheist.

The atheist cannot say that others are wrong if they choose, say, to withhold charity from those who suffer, nor can he say that anyone is obligated to be charitable. What on earth could possibly obligate someone to help another? Our genes? Our shared humanity? The greater good? The most that an atheist can say is that he likes charity and wishes that others did, too, but he could just as "morally" claim to like stinginess. It makes no difference.

The shallowness of Miller's piece reminded me why I stopped reading Newsweek a long time ago, but I'm sure the article will, nevertheless, be a big hit on the cable talk shows.


White Flight

This is an interesting datum - interesting for what it says about our perceptions of how Mr. Obama is doing thus far into his presidency and how those perceptions are influenced by race:

Just 39 percent of white Americans now approve of President Obama's job performance, a steep drop-off of support since he was inaugurated in January, according to the latest Gallup Poll.

In his first full week in office, starting Jan. 26, just over six in 10 white people gave him their approval. Now that number is down to under four in 10, indicating a net drop of 22 points.

Black voters, meanwhile, have continued to support Obama to the tune of approximately 90 percent.

In other words, were President Obama a white man it's very doubtful that he would have held onto black support to the extent that he has. Were he white his approval numbers among blacks would probably be about what they are among whites and he'd be under 40% in his overall approval rating. That's quite a drop in the first ten months of a presidency. It's probably even "unprecedented."

That there is such a gap between how whites perceive the Obama presidency and how blacks do is unfortunate but understandable. As the first black president, he's the repository of so much of the hope and pride of black America. Blacks are heavily invested in his success and are loath to give up on him and admit that the man in whom they had placed so much confidence and optimism is showing himself unable to do the job.

Perhaps the lesson for voters of all races is that one's vote for president should not be cast for the person whose skin is the right color or for the candidate whose gender satisfies some politically correct requirement. The candidate who wins our vote should be the person we think is the best qualified to do the job, and race and gender are not, or should not be, relevant qualifications.


Friday, November 27, 2009

<i>Twilight's</i> Unfortunate Messages

If teenage girls issued fatwahs John Lewinski might need round the clock police protection after writing his critique of The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Lewinski lists twenty unfortunate messages young girls take home from Twilight. I haven't seen the movie so I can't say how accurate he is, but I think the twenty lessons are pretty much ubiquitous in our culture anyway, sadly. Here's Lewinski's amusing lede:

From a male point of view, the only redeeming feature of the Twilight books and movies is the ammunition they provide against female claims of innate moral superiority over men.

Whenever a woman criticizes a man's lust, aggression, shallowness or any other lesser angel of his personality, the quick-witted fellow can point to the millions of women addicted to the base, insipid, bad-boy-worshiping, misogynist syrup so many female viewers of all ages knelt to this past weekend, when The Twilight Saga: New Moon raked in $147 million at the box office, setting several records.

In the spirit of speaking truth to diamond-skinned power, enjoy this list of unfortunate lessons girls learn from Twilight. (The list operates under the principle that any grownup female who embraces Twilight's junior-high dreck temporarily sacrifices her "woman card.") And so, with an insincere "love is forever," we begin.

Go to the link to read the twenty lessons. If you know someone who has seen the movie you might want to share them with that person as well. The lessons could have been titled, with a nod to Laura Schlessinger, Twenty Stupid Things Girls Believe That Make a Wreck Out of Their Lives.



One of the innovative ways in which the internet is being put to use to help poor people around the globe is what might be called internet microfinance.

The way it works in a nutshell is this: You go to the website of an organization doing microfinance (providing small loans to the working poor) and view pictures and summaries of entrepreneurs from third world countries who need loans (usually a couple hundred dollars or less) to get a business going or to get over a rough spot, etc.

One such organization that works to provide loans to such people is a group called Kiva. Kiva has field partners in countries around the globe who dispense loans to small businessmen and women. You and others make a contribution to the loan (usually $25.00 or more) which, in aggregate, gives the field partner the capital he needs to secure the loan. When the loan is repaid you get your money back and can use it to fund other loans.

If you're looking for a good way to help people but feel that handouts are often counterproductive this is an excellent way to give people who are working hard a hand up. Check out the Kiva site to get a better idea of what they do.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Meditation

Perhaps on this Thanksgiving eve it might be well to remind ourselves of the adjuration given to the Israelites who had much to be thankful for but who, like us, often took too much for granted. This would be an appropriate reading as we sit down with our families and friends to partake of the Thanksgiving feast.

Moses says to the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 8:10-14; 17-18):

When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall thank the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.

Be careful not to forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today. Lest when you have eaten and are satisfied and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all you have multiplies, then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery....[and] you say in your heart, "My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth."

But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you the power to make wealth...

Indeed. Anyone who thinks their "wealth" isn't fragile and ephemeral need only consider the stock market and how entire fortunes, accumulated over years of effort, could be wiped out in a couple of days of market collapse. We only need think of how quickly jobs, houses, possessions, and health can all slip away from us in a mere instant.

All of life's goods hang by a thread, and we should be thankful to God for every moment that the thread doesn't break.

Have a wonderful and gratitude-filled Thanksgiving.


Ocean Beauties

Fox News has a photo gallery of twenty two newly discovered species of marine creatures. Many of the photos are gorgeous. Here's an example:

Comb jelly

Such beauty raises a host of questions. Why are we so drawn to beauty? How did our love of beauty come to be? If the Darwinians are correct, what survival value does appreciating beauty have that caused it to be selected for?

Some Darwinians argue that our delight in beauty has no particular survival value but rather evolved because it supervenes on other traits that are chosen by natural selection for their fitness. Imagine a basketball coach selecting players to play a particular position in which they must be able to get rebounds. Most such players will have large hands, because large hands supervene upon height (they often "occur together") and height is a trait which would assist in getting rebounds, the behavior being selected for.

The problem with the supervenience explanation, however, is that as a scientific hypothesis it's pretty much useless since there's no way to test it. A theory that can't be tested can't be shown either to be true or to be false and thus falls outside the bounds of science.

Our fascination with beauty - the fact that we find some things beautiful and enjoy them - is hard to explain in terms of blind, mindless forces acting randomly. It's hard to imagine that chemical reactions occurring in our brains somehow translate into the apprehension of beauty. How does such a thing happen? It's not hard to imagine at all, however, if we allow for the possibility that our sense of beauty were imparted to us by an intelligent creator who created not only our ability to discern the beautiful but also created the beauty he wishes us to enjoy.

For more of this beauty go to the link.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Game Changer

On the eve of the Copenhagen Summit on global climate change the credibility of the proponents of man-caused global warming (Anthropogenic Global Warming - AGW) has taken a hit from which it may not recover. Strangely (or not so strangely) the media isn't saying much of anything about this, but it would seem to be a major story. What happened is that some hackers broke into the servers at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit(Hadley CRU), one of the major seats of global warming research in the world, and released confidential files and emails onto the internet.

James Delingpole at the UK Telegraph comments:

When you read some of those files - including 1079 emails and 72 documents - you realise just why the boffins at Hadley CRU might have preferred to keep them confidential. As Andrew Bolt puts it, this scandal could well be "the greatest in modern science". These alleged emails - supposedly exchanged by some of the most prominent scientists pushing AGW theory - suggest:

Conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, organised resistance to disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more.

What the researchers were discovered to be doing was trying to silence their academic opponents by denying them venues to get their views published and colluding to discredit those who challenge their data about AGW. Here's one of the emails laying out a strategy for suppressing dissent:

This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics [of AGW] for not publishing in the "peer-reviewed literature." Obviously, they found a solution to that - take over a journal! So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering Climate Research [the dissenters' journal] as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board...what do others think?"

I will be emailing the journal to tell them I'm having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor. It results from this journal having a number of editors. The responsible one for this is a well-known skeptic in NZ. He has let a few papers through by Michaels and Gray in the past.

In other words, this AGW proponent is saying that they have a problem as long as their opponents have a venue for publishing their dissent, so they need to discredit the journal they publish in and then they can claim that no dissenters are scientifically credible because they're not published in legitimate scientific journals. Instead of a commitment to truth these people are committed to winning the debate even if they have to lie about the numbers and silence the opposition to do it. This isn't how real scientists operate.

Other emails talk about how researchers manipulated data to support AGW. Still others lament that they can't show evidence that the earth is actually warming:

The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't. The CERES data ... shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.

It's quite a scandal, or should be, since it potentially changes everything with regard to global warming and the credibility of the scientists who have been warning us about it. Since the perpetrators are on the "right side" of this controversial issue, however, the media has been sluggish in looking into it. Even so, if these emails become widely circulated it'll make the AGW cause look ridiculous and consequently make it all the harder for the Obama administration to pass their climate change legislation.

I expect this story is going to explode in the next couple of days.


Monday, November 23, 2009

The Hole in Iran's Defenses

As the world gears up for the expected Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear weapons production facilities, two questions present themselves:

1. What role, if any, will the U.S. play in the assault?

2. If the answer to #1 is (as I expect it is) "nothing overt" then can the Israelis succeed on their own?

DEBKAfile has a piece that sheds a little light on this second question.

The Iranians were counting on the Russians to deliver S-300 missiles which would be needed to shoot down attacking aircraft, but the Russians have evidently decided to renege on the deal (due to American diplomacy?) leaving the Iranians critically exposed and defenseless against a sophisticated air assault:

For two weeks, high-ranking Iranian politicians and generals bombarded Moscow to make good on its contract to supply the key weapon, to no avail. Saturday, Nov. 21, Iran's air force commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Mighani spoke at length about the highly sophisticated S-300, without which, DEBKAfile's military sources say, Iran has no real defense against US and Israeli aerial or missile strikes against its nuclear installations.

Our sources report that, aside from the Russian-made Tor-M 1 short-range interceptor, Iran's air defense systems are outdated and pretty useless against US stealth bombers or the Israeli air force's electronic jamming instruments. Syria likewise lacked the weapons for stopping Israel attack its North-Korean-made nuclear reactor two years ago. The Iranian air force has nowhere near the capacity to take on US or Israeli air might.

Iranian strategists are trying to make do with three alternatives:

1. As many nuclear installations as possible are being moved to secret subterranean sites - among them most of the research laboratories working on the development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

2. Bogus installations have been planted not far from genuine plants to mislead assailants.

3. Tehran's most powerful defense is the deterrent strength of its ballistic missiles and the missiles distributed to its Middle East allies, Syria, the Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas. Therefore, Iran's first response to attack will not be to attack Israeli population centers as the Revolutionary Guards officer threatened, but to strike the home bases of its air force, missile and radar as well as the Israel-based US military facilities, so that Israeli warplanes will have no facilities to come back to, and its missiles are knocked off their launch pads.

When the Israelis finally do launch their attack - or attacks - the world will scream in outrage at this intolerable aggression even as they heave a sigh of relief that the Israelis removed the threat of nuclear war, at least temporarily, from the Middle East. It'll be a shame if we don't participate in the military strike because success can only be guaranteed if we do, but it'll be a greater disgrace if we join in the hypocritical chorus of condemnation. If the Israelis pull it off everyone in the world should thank them for having the courage and skill to do what the world should have done but lacked the spine and/or the ability to do.


Re: Fading Glory

Jason D. writes with some questions based on our recent post titled Fading Glory which addressed the diminishing luster of Mr. Obama's presidency. Jason asks me to answer the following questions, and I thought it might be good to share the exchange:

1) Why, in spite of all this failure to produce, are numerous media sources still backing him? Why have they not highlighted these issues more and used their influence to 'force' change?

The media are sympathetic to the President's goal of expanding the reach of government over individual lives. They share his basic values and were heavily invested in his election. He's their best hope for accomplishing what they'd like to see done in this country, and they're quite naturally slow to give up on him. We have to keep in mind that journalists today see themselves as advocates for policy, not reporters of events. Just as most talk radio hosts see their role as promoting a conservative vision of what America should be, network television and most of the print media see their primary role as promoting a liberal/progressive vision.

2) Why would Obama open up a new can of worms by addressing the censorship issue in China, when he has too much unresolved on his plate so as it is?

I can't answer this except to say that I'm glad he did. I wish that he would have been more outspoken than he was about human rights abuses, both in China and in Myanmar (Burma). I also wish he would have publicly complained about the muzzle the Chinese put on his public appearances, perhaps out of fear that the President would talk about human rights. On the other hand, I don't think human rights are Mr. Obama's priority. If they are I don't understand why he spurned a meeting with the Dalai Lama before he left for the Orient.

3) In light of all this 'failure', as I will call it, on Obama's part, how should we as Christians balance our disagreements with him with our mandate to treat him appropriately as a leader? Is prayer the answer, or is there more to it?

I think Christians are certainly called upon to pray for their leaders and the best thing conservative Christians can do is pray for God to give the Obama administration wisdom and moral integrity. At the same time, as citizens we also have to be prepared to stand against the administration when they seek to arrogate more power to themselves than is healthy for the fluorishing of a free people. Pace what the secularists maintain, all government policy is essentially moral, and this is especially true of economic policy. As such, our political life is something about which Christians should be concerned and actively trying to influence.

But, and this is crucial, we should never do to Barack Obama what was done to George Bush. We should always keep our criticism respectful and never personalize it. Bush's critics were often cruel and vulgar. Christians should eschew such tactics and express whatever opposition they have toward the President's policies and ideas in a manner free of hate, vitriol, and insults. This doesn't mean that we can't use humor or even light sarcasm. Nor does it mean we can't poke a little fun at those with whom we disagree. Rather it means that we should always be prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to our opponents, to delay judgment until we have the relevant facts, to keep our criticisms tentative pending new information coming to light, and not assume that those with whom we disagree have evil or corrupt motives until we have, and can articulate, very good reason to think that such motives are the most plausible explanation for their actions.

Finally, I hear people talk bad on G.W. Bush still. However, I already feel that he was a better president than Obama. He knew that he did not have forever-and-a-day to make important decisions about the War on Terror, and it is quite frustrating that Obama can not commit to a decision himself.

It is true that whereas President Bush was frequently derided for having called himself the "decider," President Obama is earning for himself the sobriquet of the "un-decider." He has had since last summer to make a decision on Afghanistan. In fact, he spoke during the campaign as if he had already thought the matter through so his inability to make up his mind now is hard to explain and justify.

It's also true that Bush was a much better president than the media give him credit for being. He kept us safe from terror attacks for over seven years, liberated 50 million people from tyranny, did more for suffering Africans than probably any other American president, and appointed two excellent supreme court jurists. His tax cuts led to six years of prosperity. He gave us a fine example of personal rectitude, courage, and magnanimity toward opponents, and, despite the best efforts of his enemies to hang one on him, his presidency was free of major scandal. Few presidents can match that record.

This is not to say that everything he did was great, but rather to say that those who attack him, including those in the succeeding administration, are often simply not being fair in their assessment of the man.


Sunday, November 22, 2009


To illustrate the rank dishonesty of our political class, I offer the following tale of shame: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, Nevada) needed all sixty Democrat senators on board to begin debate on the health care reform bill. Several members of his caucus, still capable of glimmers of conscience, were balking. Among these was Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisianna. What to do? Needing her vote, Senator Reid did what any venal politician would do. He bribed her with an offer of $100 million to $300 million dollars in Medicaid.

Now, of course, he couldn't just write a check to the senator, so he had to put the bribe into the bill and make it look like it wasn't a bribe. Here's the language he inserted that won Landrieu's support. I don't expect anyone to read more than just a couple of lines of this travesty, and that's the point. I doubt if most of the senators who voted to proceed with debate Saturday night have read it either, a dereliction which seems pretty close to criminal malfeasance, given the stakes.

In case you're wondering, there's only one state to which all this gobbledygook applies: Lousianna:

''(aa)(1) Notwithstanding subsection (b), beginning January 1, 2011, the Federal medical assistance percentage for a fiscal year for a disaster-recovery FMAP adjustment State shall be equal to the following:

'(A) In the case of the first fiscal year (or part of a fiscal year) for which this subsection applies to the State, the Federal medical assistance percentage determined for the fiscal year without regard to this subsection and subsection (y), increased by 50 percent of the number of percentage points by which the Federal medical assistance percentage determined for the State for the fiscal year without regard to this subsection and subsection (y), is less than the Federal medical assistance percentage determined for the State for the preceding fiscal year after the application of only subsection (a) of section 5001 of Public Law 111-5 (if applicable to the preceding fiscal year) and without regard to this subsection, subsection (y), and subsections (b) and (c) of section 5001 of Public Law 111-5.

''(B) In the case of the second or any succeeding fiscal year for which this subsection applies to the State, the Federal medical assistance percentage determined for the preceding fiscal year under this subsection for the State, increased by 25 percent of the number of percentage points by which the Federal medical assistance percentage determined for the State for the fiscal year without regard to this subsection and subsection (y), is less than the Federal medical assistance percentage determined for the State for the preceding fiscal year under this subsection.

''(2) In this subsection, the term 'disaster-recovery FMAP adjustment State' means a State that is one of the 50 States or the District of Columbia, for which, at any time during the preceding 7 fiscal years, the President has declared a major disaster under section 401 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act and determined as a result of such disaster that every county or parish in the State warrant individual and public assistance or public assistance from the Federal Government under such Act and for which- ''(A) in the case of the first fiscal year (or part of a fiscal year) for which this subsection applies to the State, the Federal medical assistance percentage determined for the State for the fiscal year without regard to this subsection and subsection (y), is less than the Federal medical assistance percentage determined for the State for the preceding fiscal year after the application of only subsection (a) of section 5001 of Public Law 111-5 (if applicable to the preceding fiscal year) and without regard to this subsection, subsection (y), and subsections (b) and (c) of section 5001 of Public Law 111-5, by at least 3 percentage points; and ''(B) in the case of the second or any succeeding fiscal year for which this subsection applies to the State, the Federal medical assistance percentage determined for the State for the fiscal year without regard to this subsection and subsection (y), is less than the Federal medical assistance percentage determined for the State for the preceding fiscal year under this subsection by at least 3 percentage points.

''(3) The Federal medical assistance percentage determined for a disaster-recovery FMAP adjustment State under paragraph (1) shall apply for purposes of this title (other than with respect to disproportionate share hospital payments described in section 1923 and payments under this title that are based on the enhanced FMAP described in 2105(b)) and shall not apply with respect to payments under title IV (other than under part E of title IV) or payments under title XXI.''(via Uncommon Descent)

Senator Landrieu beamed as she announced that she'd been bought off:

And so it came to pass that Landrieu walked onto the Senate floor midafternoon Saturday to announce her aye vote -- and to trumpet the financial "fix" she had arranged for Louisiana. "I am not going to be defensive," she declared. "And it's not a $100 million fix. It's a $300 million fix."

If the bill was so bad that she would have voted not to bring it to debate before she was bribed it was certainly no better after the bribe. The only thing that changed was that after the bribe Louisianna would get hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money. No doubt there are many other senators out there eager, like Senator Landrieu, to sell both their votes and their souls, and to sell the rest of us down the river. Open your wallets citizens. The congressional hogs are lining up at the trough and they're very hungry.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

How Not to Foster Empathy

This may sound paradoxical, but I believe that the contemporary emphasis on "celebrating diversity" actually leads us to dehumanize those who are different from ourselves and makes it easier for us to ignore their suffering.

We are moved to want to help others primarily by a feeling of empathy, the ability to feel what others are feeling when they hurt. It's much easier to persuade oneself, or one's associates, to help hungry, orphaned children in the third world if we have empathy for them than if we don't.

We have empathy for people primarily because we are able to project our responses to life's challenges onto them. We assume that the way we feel when we are insulted, when we've lost a loved one, when we are threatened, when we suffer, is very much the same as others feel in similar situations. This intuition, however, is based on the assumption we hold that others are "put together" pretty much just like us - that we all think alike, feel alike, and see life much the same way.

Since the 1960s, however, there has been an effort on the part of some to eradicate this confidence that we are all very much alike. We've been told that if we are a man we don't know what it's like to be a woman, if we're white we don't know what it's like to be black, if we're economically comfortable we don't know what it's like to be poor. We're told that others are fundamentally different from us, they see the world differently, they don't share our perspectives, values, or feelings about things, and so on.

Very well, but the problem is that from here it is but a short step to thinking that the other doesn't really feel the way I feel, doesn't really respond to the blows that life delivers the way I do.

When we start to think this way, our empathy for the other begins to evaporate and our sympathy begins to diminish. It becomes easier to turn our back on his suffering because, we rationalize, his suffering is not what we would experience were we in similar circumstances. When we reach the point where it becomes easier to minimize the other's pain in our own mind then we have essentially dehumanized him.

So far from celebrating the things that make us different we need to affirm over and over the things that make us alike. We need to celebrate not our differences but our commonalities. We should focus on strengthening the bonds of empathy that we should feel for all of God's creatures but which are weakened by the social balkanization that results from emphasizing our differences. Cultural variety is colorful and enriching. Dividing people into "us" and "them," however, is corrosive to our ability to experience empathy.


Palin Fixation

I admit that I'm baffled by the media's obsession with Sarah Palin and their determination to smack her every chance they get. You can't turn on the television without seeing some talking head snidely remarking on Palin's various alleged inadequacies. It has gotten to the point where I think Palin is almost the media's Emmanuel Goldstein toward whom the feel duty-bound to direct their daily Five Minutes Hate (see Orwell's 1984). It's like a kind of liberal Tourette's syndrome that compels them to feel contempt and blurt out disparagements whether there's any rational reason for them or not. It'd be amusing were it not so pathetic since Palin is not a candidate, she holds no elective office, she's not an "extremist," she doesn't hate anyone and yet the lefty media never pass up an opportunity to throw a pie in her face with a sneer on theirs.

Some, though, are breaking out of this apparent mob psychology and are scratching their heads wondering what on earth has precipitated the hostility and personal venom that, like a nest of spitting cobras, so many commentators direct her way.

One such is David Harsanyi of the Denver Post. writes:

...believe it or not, one can (as I do) admire Palin's charisma and roots, appreciate her dissent on the policy experiments brainy folks in Washington are cooking up and at the same time believe she has no business running for president in 2012.

In fact, all you haters out there force me to root for her.

There's nothing wrong, for instance, with The Associated Press assigning a crack team of investigative journalists to sift through every word of Palin's book, "Going Rogue" (HarperCollins, November 2009) for inaccuracies. You only wish similarly methodical muckraking was applied to President Barack Obama's two self-aggrandizing tomes - or even the health care or cap and trade bills, for that matter.

The widely read blogger and purveyor of all truth, Andrew Sullivan, was impelled to blog 17 times on the subject of Palin on the same day Americans learned that the Obama administration awarded $6.7 billion in stimulus money to non-existent congressional districts - which did not merit a single mention. To see what is in front of one's nose demands a constant struggle, I guess.

And it's not just bloggers. What choice do media outlets have but to provide comprehensive coverage of pistachio salesman and Playgirl-posing Levi Johnston, doltish erstwhile father of Palin's grandchild, a man whose only discernible talent is the possession of operational sperm and the ability to humiliate the former vice presidential nominee?

And how could a major magazine like Newsweek be expected to use a cover photo of Palin campaigning or spending time with her Down syndrome child when editors could simply borrow a shot of the 45-year-old mother of five decked out in her exercise tights - nudge nudge, wink wink - from a Runners World piece and slap the headline "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sarah?" onto it?

There's more on the Left's Palin fixation at the link. Meanwhile, all you psychology majors out there who are looking for an idea for a research project might want to consider examining what it is about Sarah Palin that drives liberals into a frenzy that serves only to make them look simultaneously both mean and stupid.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Re: Chinese Exports

A student of mine, a native of Beijing, offers an interesting observation regarding our post on the influx of students from China. He writes:

I think there is another reason for a lot of Chinese students trying to come over here to study - it is the freedom to pick your own major. [In China]Unless you are a really good student, it's hard to major in something you love. But here, you can pick your major, and switch your major anytime. In the US people are studying the things they love, but in China a lot of people are studying something they are not even interested in.

I wonder what goes through the mind of a student who realizes he must spend the rest of his life doing something he has no interest in whatsoever and who realizes, too, that there's no way out.

I bet prozac sales are booming in China.

Anyway, in the post I was pretty enthusiastic about having the best and the brightest from India and China come here to study. For a less sanguine view read the submission from Emily on the Feedback page.


Fading Glory

President Obama seems to be rapidly approaching the point that Machiavelli warned rulers to avoid at all costs, i.e. the point at which the people no longer respect or fear the prince. This week, in the midst of a feckless trip to China in which he seemed more like a third world mendicant than the leader of the free world, both the President and his attorney general gave utterly incoherent and risible justifications for moving the 9/11 trials to New York. This embarrassing episode followed on the heels of plummeting approval ratings that have him under 50% for the first time in his presidency and an apparent inability to decide what he wants to do in Afghanistan despite the fact that he's had over three months since General McChrystal's request - during which time our troops have been dying and morale has declined - to mull it over. Mr. Obama has also done himself no favors by surrounding himself with a motley collection of tax cheats, Maoists, and sundry other extremists, and revealing himself, in the Gates/Crowley affair, to be rather intemperate and to hold views about race that most people in this country have found distasteful for at least two decades.

To add to this tale of woe the State Department, and thus the President whose policy it carries out, has looked foolish in its clumsy handling of the matter of Honduras; Iran proceeds merrily on its way toward procuring nuclear weapons with which to atomize Israelis; signature legislation (health care reform, cap and trade, card check) limp through Congress having engendered the antipathy of a majority of Americans; jobless numbers are at the highest level in decades; mortgage defaults are increasing alarmingly, and our debt has soared to such heights that we'll never be able to pay it off. To add insult to economic injury, the President was embarrassingly rebuffed in Copenhagen when he journeyed there to plead for the Olympics.

He and his team have appeared inept in running the Cash-for-Clunkers program, as well as in their mystifying accounting of where the stimulus money has gone, and in claiming to have "saved or created" 650,000 jobs that seem to exist nowhere but in their own imaginations. He has reneged on so many campaign promises and has said so many things that seem prima facie to be at variance with the truth that few still trust him to do or mean what he says.

It's no exaggeration to note that Mr. Obama's only accomplishment thus far has been to win a Nobel Prize that he didn't deserve.

If he doesn't quickly start turning things around, and I don't see how he can, he'll soon become a laughingstock on the television comedy shows. Once that happens his approval numbers will sink further to Nixonian depths, and the media will slowly begin to replace adulation with bitter criticism - bitter because they'll have been deply mortified by the failure of the man they touted only a few months ago as a godsend (Perhaps it has already started.). At this point congressional Democrats will begin tending to their own political futures which they'll reckon to be contingent upon putting distance between themselves and the head of their party. When this happens, and it may happen soon, Mr. Obama will be a lame duck.

All of this is astonishing given the enormous good will with which Mr. Obama was greeted by the world community upon his election, and given the extraordinary political advantages enjoyed by any president who is favored by the press and whose party controls both houses of Congress.

In light of all this one wonders what the ramifications would be, both domestically and abroad, of a severely crippled president with three years left in his tenure. It seems to me that it can never be good for the U.S. to have a weak chief executive, but, on the other hand, I believe Obama's agenda, were he able to enact it, would be quite calamitous for the nation. We thus seem to be in deep trouble regardless whether our president is weak or strong.

Perhaps our only hope is that Mr. Obama follows the example of President Clinton who moved toward the center when he found himself politically debilitated, but such a migration is not likely from Mr. Obama. Clinton was a pragmatist, Obama is an ideologue. He can no more abandon his radical vision for America than he can change his eye color. What he is now is what he will be a year from now.

And for that reason, among others, we're in for an interesting twelve-month.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Greatest Show on Earth

Joel, a former student, sends along his thoughts on a review in the New York Times of Richard Dawkins' latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth. I thought it worth putting on our Main page rather than the Feedback page. Here's what he says:

The recent book review published by New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade on Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth has received an unusual flood of attention. The basic premise of Wade's review is not to discredit evolution or even call the authority of its claims into question. Rather, a generous portion of the article affirms Dawkins' claims in an energetic and robust manner.

Wade's introductory comments place him squarely on Dawkins' side of the Evolution/Creationism debate saying, "It is a source of amazement and embarrassment that many Americans repudiate Darwin's theory and that some even espouse counter theories like creationism or intelligent design." He then goes on to praise Dawkins as a prolific writer who has devoted his latest book to demonstrating the explanatory power of evolutionary ideas while hammering the creationists at every turn.

So, where does the flood of criticism that the New York Times received in the past several weeks come from? Unfortunately for his own popularity, Wade went on to critique Dawkins' statement that evolution is fact and not simply a theory. This simple statement has brought philosophy professors, scientists, and even Daniel Dennett himself up in arms. In all reality Wade has barely ruffled the feathers of the contemporary biological claims of Darwinism.

If evolution really is such a bulletproof logical fact then why does it require such a determined defense? If Dennett is correct in proposing that such articles no more deserve space in the Times than the opinions of flat-earthers could not history reveal to us that they will bite the dust on their own?


The End of Secularism

I recently finished a fine book by a professor of political science named Hunter Baker who titles his work The End of Secularism. The problem Baker addresses is the largely successful attempt in the latter part of the 20th century to purge religious sentiments from the public square and to instill in our everyday life an assumption of, or bias toward, secularism.

The main argument in his book is that politics simply cannot be separated from religion, that the secularist alternative is neither neutral nor desirable, and that it will ultimately fail. Secularism should be seen not as the only reasonable occupant of the public square but rather as one competitor among others jockeying to be heard in the marketplace of ideas.

Secularism is not to be confused with the separation of church and state. The latter refers to institutional independence. The former refers to the separation of religion from public life. Separation of church and state is a good thing for everyone involved. The separation of religion from public life is not.

Baker argues persuasively that the courts have erred in seeing the First Amendment as a prohibition of religious expression in taxpayer subsidized spaces. The establishment clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...") was not about religious freedom at all. It was about who had jurisdiction in church/state matters. The Founders were saying that the role of religion would be a matter for the several states to resolve each for themselves, and that the federal government had no business injecting itself into what was a state matter. Each state was to be free to develop its own relationship with religion in whatever way it chose without the federal government telling it what it could or couldn't do.

Of course, that's not how our courts have chosen to interpret the Amendment. They've ruled, in effect, that the First Amendment is a mandate for secularism, which actually privileges one religious view - secularism - above all others.

Baker traces the uneasy history of church state relations from the early Roman church to the present and attributes the rise of secularism in the West to three main 19th century developments: The emergence of German higher criticism, the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, and the schisms wrought by the Civil War and slavery in both the nation and the church. The clincher, though, was the Scopes Trial in 1926 and its aftermath. The trial was a humiliation of Christian fundamentalism and launched secularism on a trail of victories for the next sixty years that made it seem invincible.

Today, however, the picture is much different. Since the latter part of the 20th century secularism has come under intense scrutiny by "its own advocates, conservative Christians, other conservative religionists, and postmoderns." The critique of secularism includes the irony that secularists have absorbed as their own the values of our common Christian heritage even as they claim that secular thinking is actually the source of these values.

Baker spends several pages on Stanley Fish's critique of the secularist project and why it is doomed to fail. For example, "Bracketing off religion does not solve the problem of toleration. It just disadvantages one set of orthodoxies from interacting with the many secular orthodoxies roaming free in a liberal society." This is true. It also privileges the secularist orthodoxies by essentially insulating them from criticism by banning the opponents most likely to present the most powerful critiques - religious opponents - from the public square.

We must exclude religious reasons and motivations from our public discourse, the secularist argues, because we need to allow only viewpoints that are accessible to everyone and held by everyone in the public arena. The assumption, however, that secular viewpoints are somehow metaphysically neutral is a fraud. The secularist is no more disinterested than is the religious citizen and for him to claim that he should be allowed to judge what passes for legitimate discourse is like permitting a baseball pitcher the prerogative of calling the balls and strikes.

All public discourse reduces to two fundamental visions of reality. One maintains that the universe is the product of a rational, personal, and good creator and the other holds that everything is a result of chance and impersonal forces. The secularist wants to rule the former out of court and allow only the latter in the public square, but conveniently, the latter view happens to be his own. Postmodern thinkers like Fish have been particularly adept at pointing out the self-serving nature of the attempt to establish a monopoly for one's own view while maintaining the pretense of neutrality.

Baker makes the interesting observation that although secularism serves essentially the same role in the Democratic party that religion serves in the GOP, the media, though eager to report on the influence religion has among Republicans, rarely reports on the influence secularism has among Democrats. One never hears, for instance, how the Democrats have "shored up their base among the unchurched, atheists, and agnostics."

We're often reminded that schools must not teach religious values, but secularist values like environmental attitudes and fads, tolerance, opposition to racism, sexism, and homophobia are all deemed perfectly legitimate topics for taxpayer-funded schools. In other words, taking Judeo-Christian religion out of the public square does not leave the square religion-free. Rather, it leaves secularism as the only religion to be allowed a voice in our public deliberations.

There's much more in Baker's relatively short (194 pages) book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in Church/State issues and the role of religion in public life.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Economic Creativity

The White House blithely claims to have "created or saved" 650,000 jobs. The conservative right holds the claim in derision, and the liberal left chooses, amidst its embarrassment, to pretend this audacious bit of mendacity had not been uttered by their President. As even the sympathetic media have pointed out, the only jobs that have been created by the administration are in government, and there's absolutely no way to determine how many jobs, if any, have been saved. The assertion that jobs have been saved is utterly meaningless, but the White House stands by it notwithstanding their inability to explain how they arrive at such an extraordinary datum, especially given the current jobless numbers.

To make it even more embarrassing for the President's supporters the congressional districts that the White House claims these jobs have been created in don't even exist. If the districts are being fabricated why should anyone think the job numbers aren't? Reading about these claims one feels as if the "facts" are just being manufactured as we go along. Is there anything they tell us that we can believe?


Chinese Exports

This could be welcome news for colleges and universities desperate for students:

American universities are enrolling a new wave of Chinese undergraduates, according to the annual Open Doors report.

While India was, for the eighth consecutive year, the leading country of origin for international students - sending 103,260 students, a 9 percent increase over the previous year - China is rapidly catching up, sending 98,510 last year, a 21 percent increase.

"I think we're going to be seeing 100,000 students from each for years to come, with an increasing share of them being undergraduates," said Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president of the Institute of International Education, which publishes the report with support from the State Department.

Why the increase?

"There's growing disposable income in China, and not enough good universities to meet the demand," he said. "And in China, especially, studying in the United States is a great differentiator, because when students get home, they speak English."

It's also a great way to tear down walls between societies. As China grows and continues to accumulate an excess male population it will be tempted to flex its muscle in the Pacific. The more educated Chinese who have made friends in the U.S. the more hopeful we can be that tensions between us will be kept at a minimum.

The type of student that China is sending is changing as well:

"It used to be that they were all in the graduate science departments, but now, with the one-child policy, more and more Chinese parents are taking their considerable wealth and investing it in that one child getting an American college education," she said. "There's a book getting huge play in China right now explaining liberal arts education."

The book, "A True Liberal Arts Education," by three Chinese undergraduates from Bowdoin College, Franklin & Marshall College and Bucknell University, describes the education available at small liberal arts colleges, and the concept of liberal arts, both relatively unknown in China.

Foreign students have given a welcome push to local economies:

"International education is domestic economic development," Mr. Goodman said. "International students shop at the local Wal-Mart, rent rooms and buy food. Foreign students bring $17.8 billion to this country. A lot of campuses this year are increasing their international recruitment, trying to keep their programs whole by recruiting international students to fill their spaces."

Another advantage is that some Chinese may wish to remain in the U.S. to work and raise a family. If so, it would of mutual benefit as they contribute their native industriousness, intelligence, and virtue to our local communities.

If China and India wish to send us their best and brightest, I for one say send us all you want.


Don't Listen to Rush

Lloyd Marcus is a black American. I mention this only because it gives context to a little piece he writes for American Thinker. It's ostensibly about Rush Limbaugh, but one could substitute "read Conservative thought" for "listen to Rush Limbaugh" and the message would be the same. Here's what Marcus says:

I am a black man who, since 1993, has been a regular listener of the Rush Limbaugh radio program. I must caution black America. Be afraid, be very afraid of this powerful white man. Regular listening to him could be devastating to the psyche of the 96% of black Americans who voted for Obama. I have compiled the following Top Ten list of reasons why.

10. If you want to believe blacks are eternal victims in America, do not listen to Rush Limbaugh.

9. If you do not want to take responsibility for your life, do not listen to Rush Limbaugh.

8. If you are a dead beat loser who voted for Obama in hope of him redistributing what others worked for to you, do not listen to Rush Limbaugh.

7. If you believe blacks can not achieve without lowered standards and intervention by government and liberals, do not listen to Rush Limbaugh.

6. If you believe blacks who speak English correctly and are self sufficient are traitors, do not listen to Rush Limbaugh.

5. If you believe black liberal Democrats (Sharpton, Jackson, Waters & Co.) are your friends rather than your slave masters, do not listen to Rush Limbaugh.

4. If you do not believe self respect, pride and true self esteem comes from personal achievement, do not listen to Rush Limbaugh.

3. If you want to hate your country and believe it is the greatest source of evil in the world, do not listen to Rush Limbaugh.

2. If you want to believe rich white racist Republicans are burning the midnight oil thinking of ways to keep black America down, do not listen to Rush Limbaugh.

And the number one reason black America should fear regularly listening to Rush Limbaugh; they will become ditto heads.

Actually, I think the black Americans most likely to become disenchanted with the Democrat party that Rush is so critical of are those in the black middle and upper classes. These are people who have worked hard to get where they are. They have a stake in their communities. They pay taxes and care about the quality of their schools and neighborhoods, and eventually they're going to realize that the Democrats are doing nothing to make these things better.

The Democrats have a lock, however, on many among the chronically poor, whether white, black, or brown. These people pay very little in taxes, they live off the largesse and productivity of the greater society, their poverty is often a consequence of their own bad habits and choices in life, and they tend to vote for anyone who promises them that they'll get more goodies from the government if they do.

They're entitled to vote, of course, and everyone else is entitled to take comfort and hope in the fact that they usually don't.


Re: The Day the Music Died

We recently posted a piece on the problems faced by the music industry, and a student has replied with a fairly scathing critique of our entertainment industry in general. Her response is on our Feedback Page and is worth checking out.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time-Travel Sabotage

I admire scientists who are willing to entertain ideas that seem crazy but which just might be true. You find such people treading outside the boundary lines in every field of science - except perhaps, in evolutionary biology, which seems populated by individuals who lack the gene for being able to consider any hypothesis for apparent design that actually implies a Designer - and it's fun to speculate along with them.

Even so, I think this latest theory in physics is a bit much. According to a New York Times story, the problems besetting the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which was built to recreate conditions approximating the Big Bang and which, it is hoped, will produce evidence of a sub-atomic particle called the Higgs Boson, are due to the Higgs actually traveling back in time to sabotage the LHC. The theory has it that the Higgs doesn't want to be discovered (it's not clear how a subatomic particle could actually "want" anything) and has "decided" (ditto) to travel back in time to sabotage the device that would discover it, or something.

You'll have to read about it at the link. Maybe the NYT writer can make it sound more plausible than I can. It's true that the LHC has had problems getting going, and it's true that the people who proffer this hypothesis are serious and accomplished physicists, so we shouldn't dismiss their idea out of hand, but still - intentionality among sub-atomic particles? Does this mean that they have minds?

Thanks to Telic Thoughts for the tip on the article.


The Bow Seen 'Round the World

There's been a lot of fuss about the President's very odd bow to the emperor of Japan just as there was following his bow to the Saudi king. I think the bows make him look a bit like a doofus, sort of like John Cleese doing a Fawlty Towers skit, but otherwise I guess they're harmless:

I wonder, though, how he decides which world leader to whom he will bow and which with whom he'll just shake hands? If you're an important poobah and you are favored with a mere handshake from the President of the United States after the emperor of Japan has just had a perfect jacknife executed right in front of him, should you feel slighted? Has the President been insufficiently and thus insultingly deferential toward you? If bowing is deemed appropriate when greeting royalty can genuflecting be far behind? These are weighty questions for which I have no answers.

I did come across this power point presentation, however, which was smuggled out of a top secret White House meeting of aides strategizing about how to counter GOP criticism of the President's embarrassing spasms when in the presence of foreign dignitaries:


Monday, November 16, 2009

Complicity and Sympathy

Several readers wrote to remind us that most Muslims only want peace and that we should be careful not to implicate the majority in the crimes of the minority, even if it's quite a large minority. This is true, of course, although it could've been said about Germans under the Nazis that most of them only wanted peace even as they worked to impose the will of the power-mad minority on the rest of the world.

In any event, the problem isn't just with the violent minority, it's also with a majority that doesn't raise a loud voice against the minority, but rather seeks to excuse or ignore the actions of the extremists. I'm reminded of a quote I came across recently:

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people."

The words are those of Martin Luther King and came from his Letter From a Birmingham Jail. King was lamenting the failure of churches, particularly white churches, to speak out against the injustice of racial segregation. Substitute "Muslims" for "people" and I think his words perfectly fit the present situation. If Muslims are not going to demand that their co-religionists stop the madness, then it'll be difficult for them to avoid the charge of complicity and sympathy with acts of Islamic terrorism just as the white church could not escape similar charges of complicity and sympathy with the injustice of forced segregation in the 1960s.


Is This Really the Reason?

Andy McCarthy was the prosecutor who got Sheik Abdul Rahman convicted in the first World Trade Tower bombing. He also is of the opinion that the decision to bring the 9/11 terrorists to New York is really a ploy to embarrass Bush and both destroy his legacy and the CIA. He writes:

This summer, I theorized that Attorney General Eric Holder - and his boss - had a hidden agenda in ordering a re-investigation of the CIA for six-year-old alleged interrogation excesses that had already been scrutinized by non-partisan DOJ prosecutors who had found no basis for prosecution. The continuing investigations of Bush-era counterterrorism policies (i.e., the policies that kept us safe from more domestic terror attacks), coupled with the Holder Justice Department's obsession to disclose classified national-defense information from that period, enable Holder to give the hard Left the "reckoning" that he and Obama promised during the 2008 campaign.

It would be too politically explosive for Obama/Holder to do the dirty work of charging Bush administration officials; but as new revelations from investigations and declassifications are churned out, Leftist lawyers use them to urge European and international tribunals to bring "torture" and "war crimes" indictments. Thus, administration cooperation gives Obama's base the reckoning it demands but Obama gets to deny responsibility for any actual prosecutions.

Today's announcement that KSM and other top al-Qaeda terrorists will be transferred to Manhattan federal court for civilian trials neatly fits this hidden agenda. Nothing results in more disclosures of government intelligence than civilian trials. They are a banquet of information, not just at the discovery stage but in the trial process itself, where witnesses - intelligence sources - must expose themselves and their secrets.

There's more at the link where McCarthy explains that the terrorists have already confessed, they have no defense, and that the only purpose of going through a highly public trial is to produce an ideological coup against the hated Bushies and the CIA. It's pretty depressing to reflect on the possibility that a man with such antipathies occupies the highest office in the land.


Debating Aid

Although the media hasn't done much to bring it to our attention there's a very interesting debate going on in think tanks, churches, and government agencies today over the extent and nature of the aid we send to alleviate the suffering of the poor in third-world countries. That we should in some way be helping these people few would deny. Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, has a fine book out on the moral imperative to exercise compassion toward the world's suffering poor (The book is titled The Hole in Our Gospel).

At the same time, most people agree that just sending money, goods, and food to dysfunctional states is wasteful and unproductive (It's interesting, parenthetically, that almost everyone recognizes that throwing money at third-world poverty does nothing to mitigate the misery of the poor, but some think that the answer to poverty in this country is to do exactly what we realize is futile when done for the poor in other countries). So the debate focuses on what form our aid should take, and if it would actually be more helpful to stop giving aid altogether.

Two fascinating books have been published recently on this topic. One is by Paul Collier whose book The Bottom Billion (see our discussion of it here) is an excellent analysis of why third world poverty persists despite our best efforts to eradicate it, and what has to be done to alleviate it. Another is titled Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo who argues that aid, no matter how well-intentioned, is counterproductive and should be ended.

I recommend all three books to anyone interested in how we should approach the question of what the wisest, most effective way to really do something to help people is, but if you don't have time to read you may want to catch Collier and Moyo (along with two associates) debate these issues as part of the Munk debate series. You can either watch the debate or read the transcript, but in either case I think it's interesting that Collier and Moyo seem to agree more than they disagree that, as Moyo says, "Evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has made the poor poorer, and the growth slower."

Thanks to Byron for the link to the debate.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Civil Rights Are Unconstitutional

Those law school professors sure are a caution, aren't they? They sometimes say the zaniest things. A professor by the name of Marci Hamilton, for example, claims that the Stupak amendment to the House Healthcare Reform Bill is unconstitutional. The Stupak amendment effectively rules out the use of taxpayer money to subsidize abortions. Professor Hamilton offers the following as one reason for thinking that this measure violates the Constitution:

First, the [Stupak] Amendment violates the Constitution's separation of church and state. The anti-abortion movement is plainly religious in motivation, and its lobbyists and spokespersons represent religious groups, as is illustrated by the fact that the most visible lobbyists in the Stupak Amendment's favor have been the Catholic Bishops. This is a brazen and frank attempt to impose a minority's religious worldview on the entirety of American healthcare. (A majority of Americans have favored a woman's right to choose for many years.)

Set aside the dubiety of the parenthetical remark. What she says in the rest of the quote could also be said of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as John Pitney reminds us at National Review Online:

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, along with other religious leaders and groups, led the fight for [the Civil Rights Act's] enactment. "We needed the help of the clergy, and this was assiduously encouraged," said Senator Hubert Humphrey. "I have said a number of times, and I repeat it now, that without the clergy, we couldn't have possibly passed this bill."

Sen. Richard B. Russell of Georgia, a segregationist, agreed with Humphrey that the clergy were the bill's most visible lobbyists, but he was not happy about it. He complained that the clergy were using "powers of the Federal Government to coerce the people into accepting their views under threat of dire punishment" - a "philosophy of coercion" that he compared to the doctrines of Torquemada "in the infamous days of the Spanish Inquisition."

Now, let's ask Ms Hamilton whether anyone in her circle of friends and colleagues thinks the Civil Rights Act is unconstitutional. I doubt that she could find anyone who does, yet the logic of her objection to Stupak certainly leads to that conclusion. Pitney goes on to quote another constitutional lawyer who vigorously disagrees with the position staked out by Ms Hamilton:

[S]ecularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This is exactly right. The lawyer who wrote it was Barack Obama.



In all of the talk that we've heard so far about what an awful decision it was to bring the 9/11 terrorists to trial in New York City - a decision which certainly baffles me - there's one concern that I haven't yet heard raised. Among the reasons for thinking that this decision was among the most inept of this administration's remarkably rich record of ineptitude are:

  1. The fear it would provoke another terrorist attack against New York,
  2. It's likely there'd be attempts by terrorists to free the Gitmo Five,
  3. The fact that these are not American citizens but rather enemies of this country and should not be afforded the same rights and protections an American citizen would be given,
  4. The extraordinary cost to taxpayers paying for security and a trial that may last for years,
  5. The probability that the trial will be turned into a circus by the defendants,
  6. The very real possibility that one or several of the terrorists might actually be acquitted because they weren't mirandized or because the evidence against them is deemed inadmissable.

Parenthetically, if this last were to happen I think national outrage at Obama would be such that he would be finished as president. He would either be compelled to resign or limp along until the next election in which he would suffer the worst defeat in American presidential history. Mr. Holder assured reporters at a press conference yesterday that these men will be convicted, but I don't know how he knows that unless they plan to somehow rig the jury.

At any rate, all of the above are certainly legitimate concerns, but the question I had was who do the courts expect to get to serve on the jury? Once the trial begins it may prove very hard to keep the jurors' identities secret which means that they and their families may well be targets of terrorist reprisals. Knowing that, how can Messers Obama and Holder in good conscience put people in such a dangerous position when there's no need for it? They can promise the jurors anonymity, I suppose, but they certainly can't guarantee it. Indeed, I wonder if they've even given the matter any thought.

So why are they doing this if it's all unnecessary? The only explanation I've heard that makes any sense, alas, is that what they really want to do is use this trial to put the Bush administration and our intelligence agencies in the dock and thoroughly discredit both. If this is indeed what their goal is then they really are playing a dangerous and contemptible game. They know full well that intelligence agency personnel will be deposed on their secret intelligence gathering and interrogation methods and procedures. Not only will this mean that successful techniques will become known to those who wish to do us harm but also a lot of identities of informants and operatives will become available to the terrorists' allies around the world, which will at best cancel their usefulness and at worst place the lives of these individuals and their families in grave danger.

If the reason the administration has decided to try these men in a civilian court rather than by military tribunal is because they see a public trial as a political opportunity to destroy the people who kept us safe for eight years then the American people should be outraged. Perhaps there is some other reason that makes more sense and is a lot more noble but, if so, I haven't heard it yet.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Ideas Have Consequences

The Times Online has an excellent article by David Sewell on the moral implications of a Darwinian worldview. It's fascinating stuff, but I'm a little surprised that it passed editorial scrutiny. Perhaps the Brits are more open-minded about such things, but I can't imagine an article like this appearing in, say, The New York Times.

Sewell starts off by noting the eerie and strangely underreported fact that overt Darwinian tropes recur among serial killers. Eric Harris wore a t-shirt that extolled natural selection as he gunned down classmates at Columbine High School, and Pekka-Eric Auvinen, a Finn, murdered his teacher and a number of his fellow students on the basis of their lack of "evolutionary fitness."

Although Darwin himself would have been appalled by such horrors, they are the logical consequence of his ideas. Sewell writes:

One conclusion implicit in evolutionary theory is that human existence has no ultimate purpose or special significance. Any psychologically well-adjusted person would regard this as regrettable, if true. But some people get a thrill from peering into the void and acknowledging that life is utterly meaningless.

Darwin also taught that morality has no essential authority, but is something that itself evolved - a set of sentiments or intuitions that developed from adaptive responses to environmental pressures tens of thousands of years ago. This does not merely explain the origin of morals, it totally explains them away. Whether an individual opts to obey a particular ethical precept, or to regard it as a redundant evolutionary carry-over, thus becomes a matter of personal choice. Cheerleaders celebrating Darwin's 200th birthday in colleges across America last February sang "Randomness is good enough for me, If there's no design it means I'm free" - lines from a song by the band Scientific Gospel. Clearly they see evolution as something that emancipates them from the strict sexual morality insisted upon by their parents. But wackos such as Harris and Auvinen can just as readily interpret it as a licence to kill.

The American conservative controversialist Ann Coulter is one of Darwin's fiercest critics, lambasting him in her book Godless and via cable TV. Coulter claims she is not surprised that psychopaths gravitate towards Darwin's ideas. "Instead of enshrining moral values," she says, Darwin "enshrined biological instincts." Coulter believes Darwin's theory appeals to liberals because it "lets them off the hook morally. Do whatever you feel like doing - screw your secretary, kill Grandma, abort your defective child - Darwin says it will benefit humanity".

Today's evolutionary scientists go some way towards Coulter's view when they describe ethics as merely an illusion produced by genes. From a Darwinian perspective, there is nothing objectively wrong with shooting your classmates; it's just that most of us have an inherited tendency to kid ourselves that it's wrong - and that's something that helps our species in the longer run by keeping playground massacres to an acceptable minimum.

Not only does a Darwinian worldview lead to the conclusion that life is ultimately pointless and that morality is an illusion "fobbed off on us by our genes" as E.O. Wilson puts it, but Darwin himself believed that his ideas led to racial purification:

Darwin looked forward to a time when Europeans and Americans would exterminate those he termed "savages". Many of the anthropomorphous apes would also be wiped out, he predicted, and the break between man and beast would then occur "between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon; instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla". He took a sanguine view of genocide, believing it to be imminent and inevitable. "Looking to the world at no very distant date," he wrote to a friend in 1881, "what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world."

For many years after his death, Darwin's racial theories remained the consensus position of the international scientific community. In 1906, the director of the Bronx Zoo decided to give New Yorkers an object lesson in human evolution by putting a 23-year-old Congolese pygmy on public display in his monkey house. The pygmy, Ota Benga, shared his cage with an orang-utan. The spectacle drew enormous crowds. Before long, they were asking the questions the exhibitors hoped they would: was Ota Benga an ape or a man? Or, as the zoo-keeper himself speculated, was this perhaps a transitional form between the two, the elusive missing link?

When a group of African-American clergymen objected to a human being being put on show, they were told that Darwin's theories were now accepted scientific facts, that the "lower races" were psychologically closer to pigs and dogs than to human beings, and that a different value should be put on their lives. Truths that the founders of the United States had held to be self-evident - that all men are created equal and had certain inalienable rights - were being denied by the promoters of Darwinian science. By the end of the first world war, it was not only blacks who were deemed genetically inferior by many of America's top geneticists and biologists, but Italian, Greek and Jewish immigrants too.

Nowhere was the toxic doctrine of racial superiority more enthusiastically taken up than in the Third Reich. The Nazis believed that the Aryan race was already the most highly evolved, but could evolve further if defective genes could be eliminated. To purify the German gene pool, they decided to exterminate all the physically and mentally handicapped.

Darwin summed up his moral philosophy by saying that a man who believed neither in God nor an afterlife could "only follow those ideas and impulses that seem best to him". Darwinian ideas - eugenics and its corollary, eugenic euthanasia - were accepted by the mainstream of the German scientific and medical professions, but also by many of the educated elite in the United States in the first four decades of the twentieth century. It wasn't until the ghastly crimes of the Nazis came to light in the mid-1940s that eugenics acquired a bad odor among American progressives.

Ideas have consequences, and when we no longer hold fast to the idea that man is made in the image of God then no longer will we find anything about us that has any intrinsic worth. Man thus devalues himself, losing his dignity in the process and reducing himself to a simple brute, a mass of mere protoplasm. What almost inevitably follows are genocidal holocausts such as those of the 20th century in atheistic regimes in Germany, the USSR, China, Cambodia, Rwanda, and elsewhere. Darwin's theory was a powerful impetus to the spread of atheism and a powerful justification, or rationalization, for those seeking scientific warrant for the depersonalization of their victims. The 20th century was simply Columbine High School writ large.


The Real Victim at Fort Hood

David Brooks at The New York Times puts his finger on a quirk of American psychology:

When Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan [murdered and maimed dozens of helpless victims] in Fort Hood, Tex., last week, many Americans had an understandable and, in some ways, admirable reaction. They didn't want the horror to become a pretext for anti-Muslim bigotry.

So immediately the coverage took on a certain cast. The possibility of Islamic extremism was immediately played down. This was an isolated personal breakdown, not an ideological assault, many people emphasized.

Major Hasan was portrayed as a disturbed individual who was under a lot of stress. We learned about pre-traumatic stress syndrome, and secondary stress disorder, which one gets from hearing about other people's stress. We heard the theory (unlikely in retrospect) that Hasan was so traumatized by the thought of going into a combat zone that he decided to take a gun and create one of his own.

A shroud of political correctness settled over the conversation. Hasan was portrayed as a victim of society, a poor soul who was pushed over the edge by prejudice and unhappiness.

There was a national rush to therapy. Hasan was a loner who had trouble finding a wife and socializing with his neighbors.

This response was understandable. It's important to tamp down vengeful hatreds in moments of passion. But it was also patronizing. Public commentators assumed the air of kindergarten teachers who had to protect their children from thinking certain impermissible and intolerant thoughts. If public commentary wasn't carefully policed, the assumption seemed to be, then the great mass of unwashed yahoos in Middle America would go off on a racist rampage.

Worse, it absolved Hasan - before the real evidence was in - of his responsibility. He didn't have the choice to be lonely or unhappy. But he did have a choice over what story to build out of those circumstances. And evidence is now mounting to suggest he chose the extremist War on Islam narrative that so often leads to murderous results.

The conversation in the first few days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality. It ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy. It ignored the fact that this narrative can be embraced by a self-radicalizing individual in the U.S. as much as by groups in Tehran, Gaza or Kandahar.

It denied, before the evidence was in, the possibility of evil. It sought to reduce a heinous act to social maladjustment. It wasn't the reaction of a morally or politically serious nation.

Indeed. One might have gotten the impression, listening to some of the commentary on this atrocity, that Nidal Hasan was an unfortunate victim of forces beyond his control. The excuses and rationalizations that were being offered for his heinous act almost made me think that the people I should be angry with in this incident were the cops that shot this poor, pathetic man.

Such are the times in which we live.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Back to Nature

George Will weighs in on the climate change debate and observes that it is passing strange that there is such terror about the threat to our environment posed by a warming earth when, in fact, the earth's mean temperature hasn't changed in over eleven years. Such details, however, are mere nuisances to climate change true believers who, when they rise in the morning and go to bed at night, reverently recite their mantra: "Al Gore said it, I believe it, that settles it."

Will, however, holds to the peculiar view that our policy should be based on data and there simply is no data to support the eco-alarmists. To get a sense of the sheer weirdness of the Democrats' determination to save us from an environmental catastrophe for which there is scarcely any unambiguous evidence think about what Will says here:

[Unfortunately], the crusade against warming will brook no interference from information. With the Waxman-Markey bill, the House of Representatives has endorsed reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 83 per-cent below 2005 levels by 2050. This is surely the most preposterous legislation ever hatched in the House. Using Energy Department historical statistics, Kenneth P. Green and Steven F. Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute have calculated this:

Waxman-Markey's goal is just slightly more than 1 billion tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2050. The last time this nation had that small an amount was 1910, when there were only 92 million Americans, 328 million fewer than the 420 million projected for 2050. To meet the 83 percent reduction target in a nation of 420 million, per capita carbon-dioxide emissions would have to be no more than 2.4 tons per person, which is one quarter the per capita emissions of 1910, a level probably last seen when the population was 45 million-in 1875.

If you're young it might be a good idea to buy stock in bicycle manufacturers. It's hard to imagine how we could meet such draconian emission standards and still maintain anything approximating a modern life-style. This is not to say that we couldn't use energy more efficiently, but to reduce our carbon footprint to the level Waxman-Markey requires would require us to abandon most of modern technology and become a third-world nation.

Who votes for these people?


How to Win an Argument

I wonder if this guy is any relation to Louis "Skip" Gates. He certainly needs a lesson in how to dialogue with people with whom he disagrees, and he also needs a lesson on how to treat women:

Police busted Lionel McIntyre, 59, for assault yesterday after his bruised victim, Camille Davis, filed charges. McIntyre and Davis, who works as a production manager in the school's theater department, are both regulars at Toast, a popular university bar on Broadway and 125th Street, sources said.

The professor, who is black, had been engaged in a fiery discussion about "white privilege" with Davis, who is white, and another male regular, who is also white, Friday night at 10:30 when fists started flying, patrons said.

McIntyre, who is known as "Mac" at the bar, shoved Davis, and when the other patron and a bar employee tried to break it up, the prof slugged Davis in the face, witnesses said. "The punch was so loud, the kitchen workers in the back heard it over all the noise," bar back Richie Velez, 28, told The Post. "I was on my way over when he punched Camille and she fell on top of me."

The other patron involved in the dispute said McIntyre then took a swing at him after he yelled, "You don't hit a woman!"

"He knocked the glasses right off my face," said the man, who would only give his first name as "Shannon." "The punch came out of nowhere. Mac was talking to us about white privilege and what I was doing about it -- apparently I wasn't doing enough."

I guess Mr. McIntyre had exhausted all of his best arguments and felt the need to press his case in a more robust and convincing fashion. I wonder if he'll keep his job. I'm fairly sure that were the races of the people involved in this ugly episode reversed he would not, but I could be wrong. If he does avoid being dismissed, though, perhaps he can claim to have been the beneficiary of black privilege.

Anyway, do you think the media will ask President Obama to comment on this altercation? If they do, do you think he'll dare venture his opinion after the mess he made of the Skip Gates affair? Do you think it's time for another beer summit at the White House?