Saturday, January 30, 2010

This We Know Is True

Cornelius Hunter notes at his blog that whatever the 21st century theory of the origin of life turns out to be it will still be called "evolution" and it will still be true, no matter how incompatible it may be with the evidence:

Evolution may make no sense, but it will always be true. It must be, for god would never make this world. So evolution will flit from nonsensical idea to nonsensical idea in its never ending attempt to make sense. Who knows what the theory of origins will be in the future, but it will be called evolution. And it will be true. Religion drives science and it matters.

Hunter arrives at this conclusion after commenting on a book written by two atheistic evolutionists titled What Darwin Got Wrong. In the book the authors essentially claim that none of the current theories of abiogenesis make any sense, that they are, in Hunter's words, a melange of false predictions and unfounded speculations, all contrived in the absence of any credible mechanisms. But that nevertheless we know it happened.

And how do we know it happened? Because since there is no God there's no other way it could have happened. As Hunter says: Evolution may be all wrong, but it is still true. That we know.


Welcome to Haiti

Scott Lewis, the head of a U.S. disaster relief organization, undertook last week to deliver a convoy of rice and beans to hungry Haitians unable to find food in the environs of Port-au-Prince. Unfortunately, he ran smack up against the chaos, confusion, and calamity that is Haiti today. Here's the the Wall Street Journal's lede from the account of his odyssey through the streets of the Haitian capital:

Scott Lewis hoped to deliver more than one million meals to Haitians on Wednesday via a 15-truck convoy brimming with beans and rice.

Instead, "It was the convoy to nowhere," Mr. Lewis said. Well after dusk, the 52-year-old founder of a U.S. disaster-relief organization had barely delivered any food, other than some bags left at a missionary hospital, and a few more bags that got looted from the convoy as it crawled along crowded streets.

Trucks conked out. Communication with the U.S. military broke down. Traffic snarled the streets. Hungry crowds made handing out food unsafe.

It's not typical for so much to go wrong on a major operation like this-in fact, on Thursday, the Army successfully delivered the cargo, in the largest single-day food distribution here. But a diary of Wednesday's journey reads like an anthology of the obstacles stifling efforts to deliver aid since an earthquake turned the Haitian capital to rubble two weeks ago.

"The whole world wants to know why we can't get food to the Haitian people," said Ed Minyard, a 59-year-old former U.S. Army Ranger running the convoy, after Wednesday's debacle. "Well, you just saw why."

Read the whole story. To people involved with trying to bring relief to this the poorest country in the western hemisphere, the frustrations must be enormous.


Friday, January 29, 2010

The Collapse of Venezuelan Socialism

The WaPo's Jackson Diehl analyzes the collapse of Hugo Chavez's socialist dream for Venezuela:

While the world has been preoccupied with the crisis in Haiti, Latin America has quietly passed through a tipping point in the ideological conflict that has polarized the region -- and paralyzed U.S. diplomacy -- for most of the past decade.

The result boils down to this: Hugo Ch�vez's "socialism for the 21st century" has been defeated and is on its way to collapse.

During the past two weeks, just before and after the earthquake outside Port-au-Prince, the following happened: Ch�vez was forced to devalue the Venezuelan currency, and impose and then revoke massive power cuts in the Venezuelan capital as the country reeled from recession, double-digit inflation and the possible collapse of the national power grid. In Honduras, a seven-month crisis triggered by the attempt of a Ch�vez client to rupture the constitutional order quietly ended with a deal that will send him into exile even as a democratically elected moderate is sworn in as president.

Last but not least, a presidential election in Chile, the region's most successful economy, produced the first victory by a right-wing candidate since dictator Augusto Pinochet was forced from office two decades ago. Sebasti�n Pi�era, the industrialist and champion of free markets who won, has already done something that no leader from Chile or most other Latin American nations has been willing to do in recent years: stand up to Ch�vez.

The list of socialist success stories is not noted for its length. Indeed, it's hard to think of a nation which has tried socialist nostrums and subsequently enjoyed economic prosperity. Most of those which have experimented with socialism have wound up abandoning it in favor of free markets. Given that fact, one wonders why our political leadership seems so determined to impose socialist-style reforms, or at least reasonable facsimiles thereof, on us. Where and when has it ever worked?

There's a lot more to this story at the link.


Another Stem Cell Breakthrough

Stem cell researchers continue to make breakthroughs that hold out the promise of one day being able to treat all manner of diseases and physiological dysfunctions. An article in Science Daily brings us up to speed on the latest development, but first a little background gleaned from the article:

Until recently, it's been thought that the destiny of a cell was fixed early on in development. Pluripotent embryonic stem cells give rise to all the cell types in the body, but as the daughter cells become more specialized, they also become more biologically isolated. A skin cell could not become a nerve cell, etc.

That view began to change when Dolly the sheep was cloned from an adult cell in 1997, showing that, under certain conditions, a specialized cell could shed these restrictions and act like an embryonic stem cell.

And in 2007, researchers announced the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, from human skin cells by infecting them with four stem-cell-associated proteins called transcription factors. This was like returning them to their embryonic state. The process was often described in concept as moving the skin cells backward along the differentiation pathway and then guiding them forward again along a different branch into a new lineage. Thus skin cells could, through a painstaking process, be developed into nerve cells.

Finally, in 2008, Doug Melton, a co-director of Harvard's Stem Cell Institute, showed it was possible in adult mice to reprogram one type of cell in the pancreas to become another pancreatic cell type by infecting them with a pool of viruses expressing just three transcription factors.

As a result, scientists began to wonder whether it was even necessary to walk the cells back to the pluripotent stage and began to look for ways to convert one kind of cell directly to another kind.

Here's the fascinating part. Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have now succeeded in transforming mouse skin cells in a laboratory dish directly into functional nerve cells with the application of just three genes. The cells make the change without first becoming a pluripotent type of stem cell.

According to Science Daily:

The finding could revolutionize the future of human stem cell therapy and recast our understanding of how cells choose and maintain their specialties in the body.

"We actively and directly induced one cell type to become a completely different cell type," said Marius Wernig, MD, assistant professor of pathology and a member of Stanford's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. "These are fully functional neurons. They can do all the principal things that neurons in the brain do." That includes making connections with and signaling to other nerve cells -- critical functions if the cells are eventually to be used as therapy for Parkinson's disease or other disorders.

The implications of this, not only for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's sufferers, but also for paralytics and perhaps diabetics would seem to be immense. This is truly exciting stuff. It should be mentioned also that, unlike earlier stem cell research, none of this current work involves sacrificing human embryos. This removes a great moral impediment to proceeding with the development of medical applications for stem cells.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Caught Up in the Moment

MSNBC's Chris Matthews, the man who gets a thrill up his leg at the sound of President Obama's voice, can say more goofy things in five minutes than some people say in a lifetime. What, for example, did he mean last night when, in reference to the State of the Union speech, he confessed that for an hour he forgot that Barack Obama is black:

Isn't this the same sort of maladroit, liberal chatter about race that got Harry Reid in trouble, or is this something more sinister? What is Matthews implying? Is he saying that, boy, Obama was so good that for an hour there I thought I was listening to a white man?

My guess is that Matthews didn't intend anything particularly offensive. It was just Matthews being his normal racially obsequious self, but then I could be wrong. I just wonder what the reaction would have been had, say, Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck said what Matthews said.

UPDATE: It's been observed that many people continue to live their lives in the decade in which they came of age. At least that seems true of Chris Matthews as he tries to clarify his comment about President Obama:

Whatever. Is this what a case of "liberal guilt" sounds like?


The Blue Is Fading

James Carville once said of my home state that from a Democrat's perspective Pennsylvania is Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and everything in between is Alabama. In recent elections the metropolitan areas have indeed been sufficient to carry the state for the Democrats and turn Pennsylvania blue. If recent poll results are reliable, however, that may soon be changing:

Mr. Obama's job approval rating among state residents is at the lowest of his year-old presidency, and residents view him less favorably than ever, according to the Franklin & Marshall College poll co-sponsored by Times-Shamrock Newspapers and other media outlets.

The poll also shows U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter far ahead of his challenger for the Democratic nomination, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak. Both badly trail Republican former Rep. Pat Toomey.

A month after Mr. Obama took office, the F&M poll showed 55 percent thought he was doing a good or excellent job and 36 percent said he was doing a fair or poor job. In the latest poll, that was down to 38 percent good or excellent and 61 percent fair or poor.

The way Pennsylvanians view the president personally also dimmed. In February, 56 percent had a favorable view and 23 percent an unfavorable view. In the latest poll, 44 percent each had favorable and unfavorable views. In October, it was 45 percent favorable, 39 percent unfavorable.

As for Mr. Specter, who switched from Republican to Democrat last April, the poll shows many Democrats have yet to warm up to him. Half said they don't know enough about either Mr. Specter or Mr. Sestak.

His other poll numbers are less encouraging.

But among 395 likely voters, Mr. Toomey led Mr. Specter 45 to 31 percent. Mr Toomey led Mr. Sestak by 41 to 19 percent. The pool of likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Six in 10 voters think it is time for a new senator.

I would not be at all surprised, should Senator Specter's numbers stagnate at these dismal levels, to see him join the growing list of Democratic retirees sometime prior to the November election.


The Odd Couple

That he might once again somehow advance science by flagellating Christianity, atheist Richard Dawkins seizes upon the negative reaction to Pat Robertson's intemperate remarks about the Haitians' alleged "pact with the devil" and how those long-suffering people are reaping the bitter fruits of that infernal bargain. Dawkins argues that Robertson's position that the earthquake is God's judgment upon Haiti accurately represents, or should accurately represent, that of the Church, and, in his characteristically charming, genteel way, he chides Christians for dissociating themselves from Robertson's remarks. It's rather amusing to see Dawkins actually defend Robertson against his fellow Christians, even if it's only a tactical ploy:

Loathsome as Robertson's views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans who see suffering as an intractable 'mystery', or who 'see God' in the help, money and goodwill that is now flooding into Haiti , or (most nauseating of all) who claim to see God 'suffering on the cross' in the ruins of Port-au-Prince, those faux-anguished hypocrites are denying the centrepiece of their own theology. It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson who is the true Christian here.

Where was God in Noah's flood? He was systematically drowning the entire world, animal as well as human, as punishment for 'sin'. Where was God when Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed with fire and brimstone? He was deliberately barbecuing the citizenry, lock stock and barrel, as punishment for 'sin'. Dear modern, enlightened, theologically sophisticated Christian, your entire religion is founded on an obsession with 'sin', with punishment and with atonement. Where do you find the effrontery to condemn Pat Robertson, you who have signed up to the obnoxious doctrine that the central purpose of Jesus' incarnation was to have himself tortured as a scapegoat for the 'sins' of all mankind, past, present and future, beginning with the 'sin' of Adam, who (as any modern theologian well knows) never even existed? To quote the President of one theological seminary, writing in these very pages:

"The earthquake in Haiti, like every other earthly disaster, reminds us that creation groans under the weight of sin and the judgment of God. This is true for every cell in our bodies, even as it is for the crust of the earth at every point on the globe."

You nice, middle-of-the-road theologians and clergymen, be-frocked and bleating in your pulpits, you disclaim Pat Robertson's suggestion that the Haitians are paying for a pact with the devil. But you worship a god-man who - as you tell your congregations even if you don't believe it yourself - 'cast out devils'. You even believe (or you don't disabuse your flock when they believe) that Jesus cured a madman by causing the 'devils' in him to fly into a herd of pigs and stampede them over a cliff. Charming story, well calculated to uplift and inspire the Sunday School and the Infant Bible Class. Pat Robertson may spout evil nonsense, but he is a mere amateur at that game. Just read your own Bible. Pat Robertson is true to it. But you?

Educated apologist, how dare you weep Christian tears, when your entire theology is one long celebration of suffering: suffering as payback for 'sin' - or suffering as 'atonement' for it? You may weep for Haiti where Pat Robertson does not, but at least, in his hick, sub-Palinesque ignorance, he holds up an honest mirror to the ugliness of Christian theology. You are nothing but a whited sepulchre.

Russ Douthat offers a theological response to Dawkins in the New York Times which I commend to you.

Meanwhile, I wonder why Professor Dawkins focusses his attack on the belief of some Christians that the earthquake was somehow a judgment on Haitian sin rather than wonder what it is about Christianity that motivates so many to sacrifice so much to bring succor to the Haitian people. Aside from government relief efforts, I suspect most of the work being done on the ground to relieve the suffering of these wretched people is being done by, and financed by, Christians. Maybe the American Humanist Society has medical and rescue teams on the ground that I haven't heard about. Maybe there are orphanages in Port-au-Prince run by the Sisters of Atheism that have been ministering to abandoned children and placing them with eager atheist families stateside. Maybe there are hundreds of atheists throughout rural Haiti running schools and medical facilities in the name of atheism, laboring, with the support of thousands of atheists in the U.S., to meet the day to day needs of the poorest people in the western hemisphere.

All this is possible, I suppose, but I doubt that it's happening. Atheists are too busy doing the much more important work of attacking Christians for believing that God gave Himself for us, and that we should therefore give ourselves for those He loves, to actually do much to help those people themselves.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Denial of Service

Of course, this would never happen here because, well, our congress would never let it:

Remember the whole controversy over "death panels" - the idea, as President Obama dismissively put it, that greater government control over medicine would cause bureaucrats to "pull the plug on grandma"? Well, for weeks now Britain's newspapers have been filled with articles about the National Health Service pulling the plug on grandma.

The latest is the story of a woman who had to fight her doctors for weeks after they withdrew care from her 80-year-old mother. According to the London Times:

Hazel Fenton, from East Sussex, is alive nine months after medics ruled she had only days to live, withdrew her antibiotics, and denied her artificial feeding. The former school matron had been placed on a controversial care plan intended to ease the last days of dying patients.

Doctors say Fenton is an example of patients who have been condemned to death on the Liverpool care pathway plan. They argue that while it is suitable for patients who do have only days to live, it is being used more widely in the NHS, denying treatment to elderly patients who are not dying.

Fenton's daughter describes the NHS system for dealing with very ill elderly patients as "a subterfuge for legalized euthanasia of the elderly." In other words, a death panel.

There are more such accounts at the link of how the government health system in England churns out one horror after another. This is the fate to which the cheerleaders for a public option would consign us. After all, why should the English be the only ones to enjoy such blessings?

Then there's British literary figure Martin Amis who wants euthanasia booths on every street corner:

The novelist Martin Amis has called for euthanasia booths on street corners, where elderly people can end their lives with "a martini and a medal".

The author of Time's Arrow and London Fields even predicts a Britain torn by internal strife in the 2020s if the demographic time bomb of the ageing population is not tackled head-on.

"How is society going to support this silver tsunami?" he asks in an interview in The Sunday Times Magazine today.

"There'll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops. I can imagine a sort of civil war between the old and the young in 10 or 15 years' time."

How big a step is it from making euthanasia available to "stinking, demented old people" to demanding that they avail themselves of it? It's chilling to think that when government runs health care faceless bureaucrats will ultimately decide who receives care and who doesn't. It's not hard to imagine a lot of those bureaucrats sharing the opinions of Mr. Amis. After all, several of President Obama's advisors have already gone on record with views not far removed from those of Mr. Amis.

It's a Brave New World we are embarking upon under our HopenChange political leadership.


Wedge Strategy

CNN reports that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is circulating a series of questions to their senatorial candidates and are encouraging them to pose these questions to their Republican opponents. The hope is that by forcing the Republicans to answer these queries a wedge will be driven between the candidate and at least some of his or her base.

Here are the questions:

  1. Do you believe that Barack Obama is a U.S.citizen?
  2. Do you think the Tenth Amendment bars Congress from issuing regulations like minimum healthcare coverage standards?
  3. Do you think programs like Social Security and Medicare represent socialism, and should never have been created in the first place?
  4. Do you think President Obama is a socialist?
  5. Do you think America should return to a gold standard?

I don't think these challenges are very well-framed, but nevertheless, here's an attempt to answer them:

  1. Who knows? He says he is, but he refuses to produce a genuine birth certificate so it's difficult to be anything but agnostic on the matter.
  2. If by minimum standards is meant that congress has the right to demand under penalty of law that you purchase health insurance then no, I don't think the constitution grants that right.
  3. They are programs that are consistent with a socialist economy, but to ask whether we would be better off had they never been created is like asking whether we would be better off if we never developed a fondness for sweets. The fact is that our society has adapted to these programs and has come to depend upon them so it would be extremely wrenching to change at this point. But that doesn't mean it was the best way at the time to solve the problem of how to provide for retirees. It should be noted, too, that when these programs were created they were not intended to be the huge bureaucratic leviathans they have since become.
  4. He certainly has socialist predilections and sympathies. Whether he would, in a moment of candor, actually call himself a socialist or not, what he would create in this country were he given free rein would doubtless be indistinguishable from Euro-socialism.
  5. If the question is asking whether we should have a sound currency, it answers itself. Whether the gold standard is the only way, or the best way, to achieve that, I don't know, but if it is, then surely we should adopt it.

In response another set of questions has been provided to Republican candidates by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to pose to their Democratic opponents. It'd be interesting to hear how a Democrat candidate would reply to them:

  1. Do you believe the $787 billion "stimulus" bill worked?
  2. Would you support a second so-called "stimulus" bill, even though the first failed to create much-needed jobs? Or do you believe the unspent money should be returned to the taxpayers?
  3. Are you willing to hold open discussions to reach an agreement on bipartisan health care reform, or will you continue to support backroom deals - such as the Cornhusker Kickback - in order to ram an unpopular and costly government-run health care bill through Congress?
  4. Do you support the half-trillion dollars in Medicare cuts proposed in the Democrats' health care bill, and do you believe that those cuts will strengthen Medicare? If so, would you support a stand-alone bill to "strengthen" Medicare by cutting a half-trillion dollars?
  5. Do you support the almost half-trillion dollars in new taxes contained in the Democrats' health care bill? If so, do you believe raising taxes during a recession is the right thing to do?
  6. Do you support increasing the nation's debt limit by yet another $2 trillion?
  7. Do you support the contentious and costly cap-and-trade legislation, or will you stand up for families, seniors, and small business owners who cannot afford to pay for a costly tax increase every time they turn on their lights or go about their day-to-day lives?
  8. Do you believe the Obama Administration was correct when they gave the Christmas Day bomber a lawyer and the right to remain silent before our intelligence professionals had the opportunity to question him about other potential attacks on the United States?
  9. Do you agree with the Obama Administration that terrorists should be afforded the same rights as American citizens, tried in American courtrooms, and ultimately held on American soil?

I think I would rather be a Republican who had to answer the Democrats' questions than a Democrat who had to answer the Republicans' questions.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hatchets and Scalpels

President Obama is expected to propose an across the board three year spending freeze during his State of the Union message tomorrow evening. This despite having consistently and vigorously opposed throughout the campaign exactly what he now will be proposing:

Of course, a president should be allowed to change his mind, but this president has taken that prerogative to an entirely new level and has lost one of the most important assets a leader can have - his credibility. A lot of voters are coming to believe that they were snookered into thinking they were going to get a new kind of governance if they voted for Obama only to find a year later that the new boss is the same as the old boss. Even Evan Thomas, the Newsweek columnist who gushed during the campaign that Obama was a "sort of god" bestriding the world, is now insisting that, on the contrary, Mr. Obama has been fundamentally dishonest as president:

Perhaps in the future we'll have wised up enough to refrain from voting for someone for no loftier reason than the color of his skin and a mellifluous voice. Perhaps we'll take the obligation of voting seriously enough to actually examine the candidate's past thoroughly enough to discern what he's likely to do if he's elected.

Thanks to Breitbart for the link.


Update from Haiti

Here's another update from my missionary friend in Haiti. The Americans he mentions toward the end are co-workers:

Greetings from rural Haiti.

Changes keep coming as the days go by. I don't remember if I mentioned previously that one of the interesting twists is all of the things that happened last Tuesday was that prisons collapsed. Hardened criminals are in the streets. A young man from our town who was in prison long term for cocaine possession showed up here in town the other day. There he was in the street with a crowd gathering to hear his story.

Jean-Pierre has had two cousins in Port-au-Prince for years. We were able to bring them to safety here on Sunday...our own Port Refugees. There are six of them, including four kids. They were in the street, hungry, and thirsty. We paid a local driver $1400H (Haitian) to go pick them up and bring them back. (Divide by 8 to know the US dollar equivalent.) I was able to get to Cayes on Monday and purchase some food for them. Rice, beans and a few other basics came to $400H. All six of the newcomers are living in Jean-Pierre's single room that is connected to the two rooms where I live. We're making it work. There's also another 'Port refugee' who is here from time to time. I can almost anticipate more people being 'around' in the future as they become able to escape Port.

This week I was also able to help a young man, Emmanuel, get an eye operation (not related to the earthquake) for $1000H. The operating doctor had to put it off a day or two because he had injured family members that required care. Emmanuel's father and sisters are in Port still. I helped a man pay part of a debt that he owed to another man who needed cash to help his family in Port. That was $1000H. People are coming to us more than ever with difficult situations. Jean's brother and sister need help. The entrance to their home in Port is blocked. I've been able to give them a couple hundred Haitian dollars so far. We continue to help where we can and try to love all - - even if we can't help.

Leon and Joy continue to work in Port, helping everyone they can. They're now making arrangements for some teams of doctors.

Jim Ross, who married on Jan. 2nd, lost the home he spent the last year building, as I understand it. It collapsed in the quake.

Marlin and Missy Martin from Lancaster have been here for over a year with WFL (Water for Life). Marlin has been the field director since Leon and Joy moved to Port. They've been working on an adoption, and suddenly the prudent thing for them to do is get to the US embassy and try to take their daughter home to the USA right now. The paper work they've done this last year was presumably lost in the quake. So, it's start over or take advantage of the 'new temporary rules'. They hope to fly home ASAP...maybe today.

That will leave Troy Miller (the well-driller) and me here in PBO as long term missionaries. It's a time when we could really use extra help, and there are only two of us left. We'll see what happens. Keep us in your prayers as there will no doubt be tough decisions and awkward situations ahead.

Our church is having services all week. There's no school. It's a new time, but people still have weird ways of interpreting events. It's good to be here helping people find truth.

P.S. New quake this morning. We shook awake. It didn't last long at all. No damage anywhere around here. Don't know about Port.

If you wish to help Andy meet the needs of the people in his community you can send a check to Andy Stump c/o Christ Lutheran Church, 126 E. Main St. Dallastown, PA 17313


Climate Uncertainties

Part of the reluctance of many people, myself included, to jump on the anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming bandwagon is that it's not at all clear that the science on this matter is as settled as we've been told that it is. A recent article in Science Daily underscores the problem:

Planet Earth has warmed much less than expected during the industrial era based on current best estimates of Earth's "climate sensitivity" -- the amount of global temperature increase expected in response to a given rise in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2). In a study to be published in the Journal of Climate, a publication of the American Meteorological Society, Stephen Schwartz, of Brookhaven National Laboratory, and colleagues examine the reasons for this discrepancy.

According to current best estimates of climate sensitivity, the amount of CO2 and other heat-trapping gases added to Earth's atmosphere since humanity began burning fossil fuels on a significant scale during the industrial period would be expected to result in a mean global temperature rise of 3.8�F -- well more than the 1.4�F increase that has been observed for this time span.

In other words, even though we're pumping CO2 into the atmosphere at historically high levels, the earth's temperature doesn't seem to be increasing nearly as much as current models predict that it should. Schwartz's analysis attributes the reasons for this discrepancy to a possible mix of two major factors:

1) Earth's climate may be less sensitive to rising greenhouse gases than currently assumed and/or 2) reflection of sunlight by haze particles in the atmosphere may be offsetting some of the expected warming.

There could be other factors at play as well. The point is that there seem to be a lot of uncertainties in our understanding of the dynamics of how CO2 is handled by the earth. We should thus be very cautious about imposing huge costs on industries and energy consumers to disincentivize their use of energy until we have a more thorough grasp of those dynamics.


Monday, January 25, 2010

The Common Good

Sojourner's Jim Wallis was a guest on MSNBC's Morning Joe program the other day and made the comment that in America "we've lost the notion of the common good - a sense of community."

This set me to wondering: What is it that binds a people together and infuses them with a sense of community? Is it not shared values, shared language, and shared aspirations? Is it not the case that we've lost the notion of the common good precisely because we no longer share the values and mores that this country "grew up" with? Today we are all autonomous individuals each pursuing our own fulfillment and each insisting upon our right to do so.

There was a time when most Americans shared a love of country, a respect for traditions, a common reverence for God, and a belief that if we worked hard, got married before having children, stayed married through thick and thin, that we'd generally be successful. There was a time when immigrants insisted that their children learn English and succeed in school because they saw assimilation as the pathway to success. None of that seems to be the case today.

Wallis is nostalgic for the lost sense of the common good, but the modern flight from the old verities almost guarantees that we'll never get it back. The irony is that Wallis is a progressive and it has been progressives who over the last generation have been busily at work gnawing away at the very foundations of the community that Wallis holds dear. You'd think that that would at least give him pause.


Distorted Vision

This is one of those reports that makes you shake your head and say well "no kidding," but it's important that it be publicized nonetheless because there are a lot of folks on the left who have for a long time now denied everything that it says:

Boys exposed to porn are more likely to indulge in casual sex and less likely to form successful relationships when they grow older, according to research carried out in a dozen countries.

The report, Harms of Pornography Exposure Among Children and Young People, also found that young boys who see pornography are more inclined to believe there is nothing wrong with pinning down or sexually harassing a girl.

Michael Flood, who carried out the study at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, said: "There is compelling evidence from around the world that pornography has negative effects on individuals and communities.

"We know it is shaping sexual knowledge. Some people may think that is good. But porn is a very poor sex educator because it shows sex in unrealistic ways and fails to address intimacy, love, connection or romance. Often it is quite callous and hostile in its depictions of women.

"It doesn't mean that every young person is going out to rape somebody but it does increase the likelihood that will happen."

Research in the UK suggests that 60% of boys under 16 have been exposed to pornography, accidentally or deliberately. The average age at which they first saw porn has dropped from 15 to 11 in less than a decade. The average amount of time they watch porn on the internet is 90 minutes a week.

There's more at the link. It's an interesting report, but I found myself feeling a bit skeptical of the last paragraph:

Petra Boynton, a psychologist, said: "Children are not necessarily looking at porn for gratification. They are doing so because they are bored and not supervised. Often when children look at more extreme porn it is done for bravado so they can laugh and say how disgusting it is."

This strikes me as far-fetched. If children thought it was disgusting they wouldn't look at it, any more than they go out of their way to taste a food they thought "disgusting." I suspect it's more likely that children look at pornography because they find it fascinating and exciting. They keep coming back to it because they get a frisson of pleasure from it, and continuous exposure to it eventually distorts their entire vision of what the relationship between a man and a woman should be. This is the almost universal testimony of pornography addicts I've heard speak on the subject.

We convinced ourselves over the last fifty years that we can saturate our culture with sex to no harmful consequence. Indeed, we were often told that it's actually healthy to cast our inhibitions aside, as soon as our sexual selves awaken, and bask in the pleasure. Those who demurred were scoffed at and dismissed as prudes and prigs. When anyone who had reservations about the wisdom of sexualizing our culture was himself caught in an episode of human weakness he was generally pilloried for his "hypocrisy" as though it were hypocritical to believe that one's own conduct was wrong and harmful but find that one is too weak to refrain from it.

Incredibly, those who thought sexual self-indulgence was perfectly acceptable placed themselves on the moral high ground over all those repressed and pinched Dimsdales who knew it was not a good thing to indulge ones appetites but who succumbed to the temptations of life regardless. Better to be an unabashed libertine, we were told, than wrestle with one's hormones and one's conscience.

Studies like the one featured in the Times Online, however, suggest that, in the words of a famous preacher, "the chickens are coming home to roost."


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cursed Land

A friend sends along a link to an article by Alex von Tunzelmann in the TimesOnline that leads the reader through the slums of Haiti prior to the earthquake. We feel like we're being led by Virgil on a tour of Hell.

Short of a miracle Haiti seems like a land without hope, the problems are so severe. There are lots of villains in the story (the big one may surprise you) and not least are the Haitians themselves. The worst part of reading this essay is that implicit in every paragraph is the sense that there's just nothing that can be done. Americans do not recieve that message with equanimity, of course. We tend to believe that if we have the will we can make any place different, but I confess, short of taking over the country and imposing martial law for several generations, I haven't the faintest idea how Haiti can be rescued.

At one point a senior American foreign policy expert tells von Tunzelmann that the only solution to the problems which plague that island is mass emigration, but who really thinks that any nation will open it's doors to millions of poor, uneducated, unskilled believers in voodoo?

One might easily conclude from von Tunzelmann's column that Haiti is a cursed land. That may be unfair, but it's certainly a terribly tragic place. Read the column, count your blessings, and pray for these wretched people.


Why Socialism Fails

Here's an allegory making the rounds on the Internet (again). It's worth repeating because it illustrates an important, and timely, lesson:

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had once failed an entire class. That class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism." All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A.

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little. The second test average was a D! No one was happy.

When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. The scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.

Somebody please send this along to the White House.


Neuroscience and Consciousness

One of the more interesting contemporary philosophical debates is that between those who believe that everything can be explained in terms of matter and physics, called materialists, and those who believe that there's more to reality than just atoms and energy. The latter philosophers hold to one kind of dualism or another, and argue that mind (or soul, or spirit) is an irreducible constituent of the cosmos.

Most Christians are dualists. They believe that there's more to an exhaustive explanation of human beings than just a physical description of our chemistry. They hold to the view that the phenomena of our mental experience point to the existence of something both immaterial and critical to a full understanding of living human organisms. The phenomena of consciousness, they argue, simply cannot be explained within the constraints of a materialist worldview.

A recent column by Ray Tallis at New Scientist takes this view and argues that materialist views of consciousness simply fail to account for what we know about our inner experience. He acknowledges that most people who think and write about these matters are materialists, but he thinks they're simply mistaken:

Most neuroscientists, philosophers of the mind and science journalists feel the time is near when we will be able to explain the mystery of human consciousness in terms of the activity of the brain. There is, however, a vocal minority of neurosceptics who contest this orthodoxy. Among them are those who focus on claims neuroscience makes about the preciseness of correlations between indirectly observed neural activity and different mental functions, states or experiences.

Tallis claims that there's a "deep philosophical confusion embedded in the assumption that if you can correlate neural activity with consciousness, then you have demonstrated they are one and the same thing, and that a physical science such as neurophysiology is able to show what consciousness truly is."

Demonstrating a correlation between chemical reactions in the brain and particular states of consciousness, no more demonstrates that consciousness just is a bunch of chemical reactions than demonstrating a correlation between the state of a television set and the image on the screen demonstrates that all that's involved in producing the image is the television set.

Tallis goes on to note that:

... there is an insuperable problem with a sense of past and future. Take memory. It is typically seen as being "stored" as the effects of experience which leave enduring changes in, for example, the properties of synapses and consequently in circuitry in the nervous system. But when I "remember", I explicitly reach out of the present to something that is explicitly past. A synapse, being a physical structure, does not have anything other than its present state. It does not, as you and I do, reach temporally upstream from the effects of experience to the experience that brought about the effects. In other words, the sense of the past cannot exist in a physical system.

Our failure to explain consciousness in terms of neural activity inside the brain inside the skull is not due to technical limitations which can be overcome. It is due to the self-contradictory nature of the task, of which the failure to explain "aboutness", the unity and multiplicity of our awareness, the explicit presence of the past, the initiation of actions, the construction of self are just symptoms.

It's a little technical but the article is nonetheless a good read if you wish to understand why dualists consider the materialist view highly implausible.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Christianity and Conservatism

January 20th was the first anniversary of Barack Obama's tenure in office, and I thought it might be fitting to repost a talk (slightly edited) I was invited to give at a church a couple of days before his election in 2008. I was asked to speak on why I thought conservatives opposed Barack Obama's candidacy. Here's what I said:

As the late Richard Neuhaus liked to say, the first thing to say about politics is that politics is not the first thing.

Having said that, the second thing I want to say is that there are basically two disparate political ideologies or worldviews in our politics - conservatism and liberalism, and that sincere, honest and thoughtful Christians are found in both camps. Christians who are conservative and liberal agree on the importance of peace, of helping the poor, of protecting nature, of valuing life, of improving education, of doing justice.

Indeed, the commands in Scripture distill to these two: Love God and love others. In the Old Testament love for others is usually discussed in the context of doing justice. In the New Testament the emphasis is on showing compassion. So as Christians who seek to achieve the ends we all agree upon, we are constrained by love for God to be compassionate and just toward our fellow man.

But, though we agree on the goals, and we agree that we should be compassionate and just, that's where agreement ends. Some very significant differences center around how we can best achieve the ends we all desire, and here the differences between us are often so great that one sometimes despairs that agreement could ever be reached.

I believe (but won't argue) that whether we see the world through conservative lenses or liberal is a function of our personality, our upbringing, our life experience and that since these things can't be changed, it's very difficult, though certainly not impossible, for people to change their ideology.

Because it's so hard to change minds, both sides resort to power politics. The only way to get what we think is best is to acquire the political power to impose our will on the rest of the nation.

One might wish that as Christians, informed by a Biblical vision of the world and of justice, we would pretty much agree on how to achieve the ends we mentioned above. Unfortunately, it's not that easy.

Consider an example: We all agree that the government needs money to do the things necessary to maintain a large population and to help those who need it. So, what's the best way to get the money? Is it to raise taxes or cut them? What does the Bible say? Well, the Bible is pretty much silent on the matter.

Should we raise taxes or should we cut them to fund needed programs? We should do whichever works provided it is compassionate and just, and assessing that is not always easy. Liberals say we should raise taxes, conservatives say we should cut them. Liberals say if the government needs more money you go to where the money is and take it. Conservatives believe that by cutting taxes on families and businesses people have more money to spend, they buy more, business prospers, hires more employees and pays them better salaries. The more people you have working and the more money they make, the more they pay in taxes and thus revenues actually go up. If, on the other hand, you raise taxes, conservatives argue, then the consumer has less to spend, business makes less money, they cut workers and reduce benefits which results in fewer people paying less tax in the long run.

So, what is the conservative philosophy of government? Different people would answer the question differently, but generally conservatives believe that in the three primary spheres of government responsibility - economic, social, and foreign policy - the government is best which governs least.

The economy does best when taxes and regulations on business are kept as low as possible. On foreign policy there are two schools of thought among conservatives: "Paleo" cons tend to be isolationists, "neo" cons tend to believe that we have a moral obligation to liberate people from oppression to the extent we can. That used to be the liberal position, by the way, but it no longer is. Domestically, as a general rule, conservatives hold that the less accountable a government entity is to the people the less it should interfere with their lives.

There's nothing in Scripture that mandates conservatism or liberalism, but the conservative ethos is certainly compatible with Paul's injunction in I Thess. 5:21 to "Examine all things carefully and hold fast to that which is good."

Well, we are on the cusp of an election and most conservatives are deeply concerned that Democrats will wind up controlling both Houses of Congress and the White House. Why is this such a serious concern for them? Why do they think it so important to defeat the Democrats?

The Democrat party, in its current incarnation, stands for a number of things which conservatives believe to be fundamentally unjust. Remember, when we vote on Tuesday we're not just voting for Obama or McCain, we're voting for the entire party.

Whoever wins is going to surround himself with people from his party. In the case of the Democrats that means people who wish to make some fundamental changes that conservatives think would be gravely harmful.

Conservatives may be wrong about this (though I don't think they are). It may be that the Democrats do not intend to do what conservatives think they'll do or it may be that the changes will not be as harmful as conservatives think they will be.

I'm not going to argue that the perceptions I'll mention are accurate renderings of Democratic aims. Nor do I wish to argue that they would be harmful. I merely point out that this is how conservatives see Democrat intentions and that they believe them to be much more harmful than beneficial.

So - most conservatives would agree that the Democrat party hopes to do the following:

  • Remove all restrictions on abortion, including partial birth abortion.
  • Alter the meaning of marriage so that it's no longer the union of one man and one woman.
  • Appoint judges and Supreme Court Justices whose decisions will be based on political fashion rather than on the text of the constitution.
  • Effect a redistribution of wealth from the middle and upper classes to the underclass.
  • Treat terrorism as a police matter rather than as a global war on Western civilization.
  • Pile onto American business onerous regulations and taxes that will make it impossible to compete in the global market and which will result in higher unemployment and higher costs. (Minimum wage, capital gains, health insurance)
  • Continue the accelerating secularization of our society.
  • Open our borders to anyone who wants to take up residence in our country and give illegal aliens the right to a driver's license, health care, and welfare.
  • Nationalize health care.
  • Deny to parents any choice in where they send their children to school.
  • Push fuel costs back up so as to force us to conserve and develop alternative energy sources.
  • Quell freedom of speech, particularly when it is conservative or religious, through vehicles like the Fairness Doctrine.
  • Downgrade our military preparedness and end the program that would enable us to shoot down incoming nuclear missiles.
  • Take away the right to own or buy most types of guns or to acquire a license to carry them on one's person.
  • Strip union workers of the right to a secret ballot in union elections.

One or two of these may come to pass under a McCain presidency, to be sure, but conservatives believe that it's almost certain that all, or most, of them will come to pass if the Democrats control both the White House and the Congress.

If these measures sound good to you then you should pull the lever for Democrats on November 4th. If, on the other hand, you don't think this is the sort of change that America needs then you should resist the seductive lure of Hope and Change and vote for McCain.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Endurance Test

Walter Shapiro spends a few days watching the cable news stations while convalescing from surgery. The experience proves purgatorial for him and amusing for readers with more than a passing acquaintance with CNN, MSNBC, and Fox who read his account.


Swedish Health Care

Zachary writes to criticize the health care reform bill currently in congress by way of an anecdote that should give us all pause:

I met a Swedish foreign exchange student last year through my high school that simply explained the Swedish health care plan as similar to waiting in line for a restaurant without even being guaranteed a seat. He explained to me that he had torn a ligament in his knee and was placed on a six month waiting list to even have an evaluation on his knee. He had eventually received surgery, but it had been a nine month process for something that currently takes one to two months in the United States [Actually, it usually takes only a few days in the U.S. to get needed surgery on a serious knee injury, RLC].

One question that remains in my mind is if the health care package is free to all citizens, then what will happen to the illegal immigrants that still reside within America since it will be mandatory that everyone purchase health insurance via the government. I just do not see how it's worth it to institute a health care plan where we will be heavily taxed to compensate for "free" health care as well as the wait that will be necessary for proper treatment of illness' and injuries.

We've been spoiled in this country by our relatively easy access to outstanding medical care, but because there are millions who can't afford health insurance, the Democrats wish to impose a system similar to that in many European countruies rather than find a free-market path to helping those who need better coverage.

It doesn't seem to make much sense, but perhaps the recent election in Massachussetts will jolt them out of their stupor, like a drowsy driver startled awake by the sound of his vehicle drifting off the road, and send them on a different course.


Obama's Katrina? Nah.

By many accounts the people of Port au Prince still need much more help more than a week after the earthquake. They still lack enough rescue workers, medical supplies, doctors, security, food and water. My question is why is the media not blaming President Obama for being so slow to get sufficient help to these people?

Mind you, I don't blame Obama for this. I'm confident that given the logistics of the situation and our desire to respect the authority of the U.N. and the Haitian government we may well be doing everything we can. But then neither did I blame George Bush for waiting one day more than perhaps he might have for the state of Louisianna to request federal help to aid Katrina victims. Bush was savaged in the press for his alleged fecklessness, essentially because he was reluctant to override state and local prerogatives until it became clear that the people primarily responsible for the rescue effort were incompetent.

If the media and those who were so critical of Bush's response had a shred of fairness they would be asking why it is that some ten days after the earthquake we still have so few troops and doctors on station, why insufficient numbers of rescue workers have been sent to dig out possible survivors, why there's so little food and water available for the people, and why the state department was so slow to cut through their red tape to allow children in Haitian orphanages to be moved out of the country to their adoptive parents.

Instead, they simply report how tragic the situation is without realizing that, had Bush been president they'd no doubt be livid over the slowness of our efforts. They point out the immensity of the problems and insist that there's not much President Obama can do, and besides, Mr. Obama gave a fine speech right after the earthquake where he promised we'd be there for the Haitian people.

Okay, I agree with all that, and am willing to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt that they're doing everything they can to help the Haitian people in their time of need, but the point is that if George Bush were still president and the situation in Haiti were as bleak as it is, his critics wouldn't be giving him any leeway at all. They'd instead be proclaiming that this often disorganized and painfully slow rescue and recovery effort is proof of George Bush's incompetence, indifference, and even racism.

How long will it take before the media starts to recognize their double standard?


Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The liberal media have consistently tried to portray the Tea Party folks as rabid thugs and yahoos, which is, of course, nonsense. Nevertheless, one comes to expect such mischaracterizations from the left which seems to indulge itself in a classic case of psychological projection when it tries to talk about the Tea Party movement.

By this I mean that the left imputes to its perceived enemies the same character traits it sub-consciously knows that it, itself, possesses.

Consider, for example, these twenty photos taken at left-wing rallies during the Bush years and put together by John Hawkins. Says Hawkins:

It has been enlightening to see how differently the anti-war rallies and Tea Parties have been covered by the mainstream media. The anti-war rallies were given prominent coverage and the radical sentiment was hidden away from the public. On the other hand, positive news about the Tea Parties is buried by the MSM and the ugliest voices are put front and center.

However, here's a reality check: Radical sentiment was much more prevalent at the anti-war rallies and it was much more representative of the participants' opinions. You can tell that's the case because while offensive signs and conspiracy theories at Tea Parties have frequently been condemned by conservatives, you almost never heard liberals disavowing the offensive signage and comments at anti-war rallies.

Tell me if you saw anything as vile or violent as these at a Tea Party.


Update from Haiti

My friend Andy, a missionary in Haiti, writes with an update on what's going on in his village which is several hours drive from Port au Prince:

As things move along here, our town (and every rural town) is starting to receive refugees from Port-au-Prince. All of the young people from here who were in school in the capital are back in our town now...and for who knows how long. Then there people who know people from here, and they are showing up as well. Jean-Pierre's uncle is currently stranded in Port with no house, no food, no water. We sent a pick up (at quite a dramatic price..perhaps up to $200 US) to go pick them up this morning. I count on helping to house the, wife, and four kids. Food is going to be an issue for everyone in the country before long, we expect. [If you're interested in helping, as some of you have mentioned, send funds to the Lutheran church* noted as a contribution to Andy Stump. I haven't yet found a way to cash checks since the quake, but we hope to be able to do so soon. I foresee the chance to help lots of folks...especially with a meal here and there and cash to resolve problems. Plus our church is having meetings everynight this week to 'welcome' people who are suffering.]

Our church may well become a refugee site for our sister churches in Port who have no church building and no homes to go home to. Nothing is planned yet, but they do need somewhere to go.

One of the ironic things about the earthquake is that prisoners became freemen. Our local convicted drug dealer who was in a Port prison showed up here yesterday. There are effectively no police in the country to do anything about it. And no one in town will do anything out of fears of retribution. SO, it makes an interesting twist. We'd heard that many of the prisoners were shot as they tried to escape. Apparently not all of them.

*If you wish to support Andy send your contribution to Andy Stump c/o Christ Lutheran Church, 126 Main St. Dallastown, PA 17313


Vote of No Confidence

It really is hard to overstate the significance of Republican Scott Brown's defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley in yesterday's special election in Massachusetts. The contest was for the Senate seat of Democrat hero Ted Kennedy who had held the post for 40 years. The election was held in a state in which a Republican hadn't been sent to the Senate since the early seventies, a state in which the Democrat party holds a 3-1 edge over the GOP in voter registration, and in which Barack Obama defeated John McCain by 26% just a year and a half ago.

Pundits are speculating as to what it all means. There are questions now about the fate of health care reform and the rest of President Obama's agenda. There are questions about how many more Democrats will resign or switch parties to avoid being clobbered in the regular election to be held this November. There are questions about how a little known state senator was able to overcome a 30 point Coakley lead just three weeks ago and beat her by 5 points.

Whatever the answers to these questions turn out to be, it's clear that the game has changed. People are fed up with Harry Reid's vote buying, congressional corruption, secret negotiations, and broken campaign promises. They don't want higher taxes and they don't want the government taking over major sectors of the economy like finance, insurance and the automotive industries. When they voted for Hope and Change what they wanted, I think, was not a fundamental restructuring of the American system along socialist lines, but rather a president who would project competence, eloquence, and non-partisanship. They wanted an end to all the sniping and bickering in the press. Instead all they got was the eloquence and a whole lot of other stuff they never expected (although they should have).

I think the resulting disillusionment with the President and his party's leadership is the main reason they were defeated in the recent races for Governor in Virginia and New Jersey and now in the Massachusetts Senate race. Democrats were on television last night saying that Coakley ran a terrible campaign, but the fact is she should have been able to prevail in Massachusetts without campaigning at all.

If a Democrat can't win in the bluest of blue states they're not safe anywhere which causes me to wonder how many of them will be willing in the weeks ahead to risk their careers to support the health care bill that the President and the congressional leadership are pushing on us. I doubt there are very many.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two Myths

"The Day of Judgment will only come when Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. When the Jews hide behind the rocks and the trees and the rocks and the trees cry out, 'Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding being me, come and kill him.'" A saying of the Prophet Mohammed

Among the myths from which many Americans need to be liberated there are two that are especially pernicious.

The first is the myth that the left is the champion of free speech in America and the second is the myth that the haters among Muslims represent only a tiny fraction of the Muslim population and that they're largely overseas in any event.

David Horowitz is a former radical leftist who later in life realized that the left was the greatest enemy of human freedom in the West in the 20th century. He subsequently set about giving speeches and writing books about the threats we face from those who would, if they could, put the boot of oppression on our necks. His work takes him to many university campuses where he and others who share his views, must be protected by armed guards not only from leftist campus thugs but also from violently disruptive, hate-filled Muslim students.

He recently gave a speech at USC that I wish every American would read in its entirety. It gives a clear picture of how far along the process of denying freedom of speech and imposing other fascist strategies upon this country has progressed. The speech reveals some frightening truths, but even more frightening is the fact that so many Amercans are oblivious to what's happening on many of our largest campuses and how complicit university administrators are in facilitating the hatred that is being directed against Christians, Jews and anyone who opposes the Islamist agenda.

Please take fifteen minutes or so and read Horowitz's speech. It'll open your eyes.


Re: Haiti

Byron pens a caution that my criticism that the aid given to Haiti in the last two decades, totaling several billion dollars, has been largely for naught, is unfair. He points out that in fact much good has been accomplished:

I'm not sure "money thrown" at the problems in Haiti was really just "thrown" nor utterly wasted. Sure some programs and schemes were less effective, but not every aid program was pointless. Schools taught some kids, some clean wells were built, some vaccinations given, some roads built, some hospitals equipped. Those doing development work still have a lot to learn, and local folks do too. But it isn't as if we didn't save some kids from starvation, help some people in good ways, and make a bit of a difference. Tearing off the darkness doesn't come easily, but some successes have been seen, even in Haiti. Brooks is right to insist on cultural ideals that are wise, and to point out the bad infra-structure isn't anything new, really. He's right, but it isn't anything that "liberals" would disagree with. Did you mean to imply as much?

He's right, of course, that much good has been done in Haiti and that that miserable land would be in far worse shape than it is had Americans and others not helped, but we must distinguish aid, which is a government to government transfer, from the work of charities, mission organizations, disaster relief, etc. Most of the good that Byron talks about has been accomplished by private, non-government organizations (NGOs), not through aid which often winds up in the pockets of corrupt politicians, the military, and other thugs. Some of it might seep through the layers of corruption to the people, but it's hardly a good return on our money.

Byron goes on to say that:

I know a number of NGO workers, policy wonks and missionaries. Some are evangelicals, some are active more mainline congregations or traditions. I just don't know anybody who has that simplistic ideology that we can't critique any third world group or indigenous practices. Making liberal ideas about multi-culturalism a whipping boy is too easy and, while may having a grain of truth, I think you overstated it.

This is doubtless true. The people who actually work in other cultures are much less likely to suffer the illusion that all cultures deserve respect or that it's chauvinistic to think one culture superior to another. It is to illustrate this that I appended the letter from my missionary friend to the post. The "multicultural blather" doesn't come from people most familiar with the culture in which they labor to bring relief from misery, it comes from the academy, the media, and the political sphere and seeps down into our popular discourse and determines our assumptions about the world.

We fail to do what needs to be done to bring about genuine change in these places because we're cowed into thinking we'll be called racists, imperialists, paternalists, and colonialists by those who insist that we have no right to impose our cultural values on others - that our culture is no better than theirs. So instead we just send aid which is essentially welfare for corruptocrats, and saints like my friend and Byron's acquaintances stick their fingers in the dike heroically making their life's work trying to hold back the tide.

The rest of By's email can be read on the Feedback page.

Those who want to read up on the problems of giving aid to poor countries should read Dambisia Moya's Dead Aid, or Paul Collier's Bottom Billion.


Most Influential

Need a quick primer on who's who in contemporary ideological warfare? The Telegraph U.K. has ranked the most influential conservatives and the most influential liberals in the U.S. They actually rank the top 100 of each but they break the lists into installments of twenty. The top twenty conservatives are featured here and the top twenty liberals are here.

There are links to the other 80 people on each list as well.

I question a number of their choices (Joe Lieberman was ranked in the second twenty as a conservative?!), but overall I think they did a pretty good job.

The most influential liberal was a foregone conclusion, I think, but I was surprised by the Telegraph's choice of the most influential conservative.

Thanks to Jason for the link.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Journey From the Fall

Those of a certain age will remember with a bitter taste in their mouth the American betrayal of the Vietnamese people in the early to mid 1970s. After Nixon negotiated a cease-fire, congressional Democrats cut off funding for the war, refusing aid to the South Vietnamese who were left on their own to face their deaths at the hands of the North Vietnamese who ignored the cease-fire and who were supplied by the Chinese and Soviets. After the Americans left and the North invaded the South a curtain of misery and terror settled over the Vietnamese people, especially those who had worked with the Americans. It's perhaps the darkest, most disgraceful event in our national history, at least in the 20th century.

To say that the South Vietnamese suffered scarcely begins to capture the horrors they experienced, but last night I watched an excellent film, made by Vietnamese filmmakers and actors, that gives us some insight into the atrocities perpetrated by the communists on those who had made the fatal mistake of trusting American politicians to honor our commitment to their protection. Just as the movie The Killing Fields, gives us insight into the unimaginable slaughter perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge as they swept into the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, so, too, does Journey from the Fall (2007) strip away the comfortable rationalizations that were all very much in the air as we fled Saigon in 1975.

Journey follows the fate of a South Vietnamese official, his wife, son, and mother, in the wake of the collapse of South Vietnam. It's heartbreaking to watch, but it's a story repeated millions of times in millions of lives of people trying to flee the benevolences administered by the armies of the North.

The movie is a little confusing since the narrative does not follow a chronological sequence, but it does a marvelous job of showing us who the Vietnamese people were and the terrors to which they were subjected by the communists.

It's a splendidly crafted film about a very important part of our history, one most of us would probably like to forget, but which we must always remember. It's a shame that most of the politicians who refused to allow President Ford to protect the South from their vicious neighbors are no longer around to see it.


By Any Means Necessary

Readers sometimes chide me for thinking that lefties lack a certain starch in their moral fiber. Well, I know anecdotal evidence is not going to convince anyone, but here's a prominent liberal talk show host on MSNBC, Ed Shultz, boasting that he'd cheat in order to prevent the Republican candidate from winning the Massachussetts special election tomorrow:

I know, I know. Some will object that Shultz wasn't being serious (although he certainly sounds serious). The point is that people who revere our democratic system and who take their integrity seriously wouldn't joke about something like this, particularly in light of the allegations of voter fraud that have plagued recent elections, and certainly not in a public setting.

It's no wonder the Democrats haven't been upset by the allegations and evidence of ACORN's voter registration fraud. Some of them, at least, appear to think such tactics are morally justifiable.

HT: Radio Equalizer


Martin Luther King Day

I can think of no better way to honor the memory of the man whose life we celebrate today than to read his Letter From a Birmingham City Jail.

It's hard, I think, to read King's letter without drawing the conclusion that he was driven by his conviction that the Gospel demands that we do justice to our fellow man and that this is our highest obligation. His Christian faith permeated and informed his political thinking, and it would be good for those who admire King but who also believe that religion has no place in the public sphere to reflect on the fact that apart from Christianity there would have been no Martin Luther King. Indeed, a naked public square could never have produced an American civil rights movement.


Saturday, January 16, 2010


David Brooks has an excellent column on the Haiti disaster at the New York Times in part of which he writes:

This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It's a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: "You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten." If he is going to remain faithful to that vow then he is going to have to use this tragedy as an occasion to rethink our approach to global poverty. He's going to have to acknowledge a few difficult truths.

The first of those truths is that we don't know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not....

....Third, it is time to put the thorny issue of culture at the center of efforts to tackle global poverty. Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth - with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.

As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book "The Central Liberal Truth," Haiti, like most of the world's poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

We're all supposed to politely respect each other's cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.

Fourth, it's time to promote locally led paternalism. In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.

In other words, part of the reason why the billions of dollars of aid that the U.S. has sent to Haiti in the last twenty years has done nothing to improve the situation there is that we are locked in a deadly (for the Haitian people) tango with our politically correct assumptions about other cultures. The Haitian culture is completely dysfunctional and corrupt, but we're too cowed by liberal/progressive multicultural blather about the beauty of diversity and the need to "respect all cultures" to point out the retrograde, primitive beliefs and assumptions that are destroying the Haitian people.

We're also too fearful of being seen as imperialist and colonialist to do what Brooks says and go in and fix the problems. If we do that, we fear, why, there may be resistance, there may be resentment, so instead of actually helping people we just keep sending millions of dollars that just evaporates once it hits the Haitian shore.

Liberal ideas are harmless until people start taking them seriously and putting them into practice. Then you realize that they not only prevent us from doing what is necessary to really help people but that they're massively wasteful, futile, condescending, and counterproductive.

I have a friend who has been a missionary in Haiti for over twenty years. He loves the Haitian people, but his love for them has not blinded him to their deeply degenerate culture. He's been emailing our church to keep us updated on what's going on in his village since the earthquake. I thought I'd share his last email:

Life is moving back toward normal now. We only had one 'shaking period' yesterday. People are sleeping outside just to be safe...because folks here are easily scared. They'd never think of sleeping outside on a normal night...too scary. Now they won't sleep inside...too scary. It's sad, a life being afraid of everything. I talked to a twelve year old boy who was alone in the woods when the quake happened. The ground shook. He tells me he immediately thought, "Demons!" He ran through briar and brumble cutting his legs to get away from the demons. Demons get a lot of credit here in Haiti for things they don't do. As he told me the story I remembered running by him as I went to get my camera.

Thanks for all of your ideas about helping folks here. I'm at a loss as to what people can do at this point. The big organizations obviously are used to doing this kind of thing. That's a good place to start, helping them cover their costs. I can't see how sending or shipping anything here would work anytime soon. All the 'systems' are down, and they were faulty before they went down.

Gas jumped up in price already. The trip to Port (Port Au Prince) used to cost around $40 in public transportation. Now it's $100 or $150. That should come down as gas gets back in circulation. The big gas 'center' apparently wasn't affected. But for the time being gas is rare.

We imagine food will be rare in the days ahead. It will get expensive, no doubt.

Jean's (John's) one sister and brother have made it out here to our part of the country already. She showed up with nothing but the clothes on her back...literally. She was barefoot. I imagine more and more people will be showing up like that. Locals will be ready to share whatever they have (which isn't much to begin with). I'm guessing this town will be saturated with people seeking a place to stay and start over in the days and weeks ahead. The southern end of the island is in great shape compared to the capital area.

I'm not sure even what WFL (Water For Life) will be able to do to help folks. It's early still. We haven't heard more from our president, Leon, than that he and his wife are fine.

SO, I encourage those of you praying for the relief effort. Helping here in Haiti can be really really frustrating. Pray for the patience of relief workers as they confront the complete absence of infrastructure and preparation for disasters. It sometimes makes you feel crazy, and you end up crying, "Why am I here trying to help these twisted people!?" But they need love, love, and more love.

Helping people find people is a great idea. Radio stations and websites are working hard to help folks. It'll take time.

I'll obviously be doing what I can to help folks in need as they come across my path. A few have today already. If you'd like to contribute to that effort, please do it through Christ Lutheran Church. They are accustomed to receiving funds for the work here with me.

If we wish to really help the Haitians, or the people of any third world country, we should first get it into our minds that we can respect them as individual persons created in the image of God while at the same time recognizing that they're trapped in a culture that is devastating their potential. The worst thing we can do, perhaps, is to "respect" a culture that eats its people alive.


You Know You're a Conservative If...

Harold Witkov at American Thinker talks about the "Eureka moment" a lot of people are having as they watch what the Democrats are trying to do to their country. People are suddenly experiencing the insight that, regardless of how they voted in the last election, regardless of which party they are registered with, they're actually conservatives. Witkov writes that you can tell if you're like one of these folks if you oppose:

  • the federal redistribution of wealth.
  • entitlement politics.
  • American czars.
  • apology tours that denigrate the greatness of our country.
  • tax-and-spend politics.
  • government takeovers.
  • amnesty citizenship for those who have entered our country illegally.
  • out-of-control printing of money.
  • legislation designed to do away with free speech (Fairness Doctrine).
  • big government.
  • trillion-dollar government stimulus package slush funds.
  • treating our allies like enemies and our enemies like friends.
  • politicians who do not let us drill for oil.
  • politicians who look the other way while Iran and North Korea develop nuclear weapons.
  • government-run health care.
  • health care bills that provide abortion funding.
  • backroom deals by politicians that circumvent transparency and the Constitution.
  • trillion-dollar deficits.
  • high taxes.
  • treating all people to the identical security scrutiny in airports.
  • laws that provide special exemptions for legislators.
  • laws that provide special privileges to certain states.
  • those who would stifle an honest global warming debate.
  • federal funding of corrupt organizations like ACORN.
  • "Miranda rights" for foreign terrorists.
  • confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed getting a civilian trial in NY.
  • cap-and-trade legislation and taxing carbon footprints.
  • closing GITMO and bringing terrorists to American soil.
  • letting the U.N. tell us how to live.
  • a president who does not believe in American exceptionalism.

Lest anyone (Like David Brooks) think that conservatives are defined simply by what they are against it should be pointed out that one is against things because one is for their opposites. It is because one believes in small government, low taxes, strong national defense and individual liberty that one opposes most of the items Witkov puts on his list.


Friday, January 15, 2010

How Technology Is Changing Warfare

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on how technology is making war "safer," at least for those who use the technology. Included among descriptions of various weapons systems is a brief history of how we came to have a fleet of Predator drone aircraft which have been widely used in the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater:

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, it had just a handful of drones. Today, U.S. forces have around 7,000 unmanned vehicles in the air and an additional 12,000 on the ground, used for tasks including reconnaissance, airstrikes and bomb disposal.

In 2009, for the first time, the U.S. Air Force trained more "pilots" for unmanned aircraft than for manned fighters and bombers.

After Syrian missile batteries in Lebanon took a heavy toll on Israeli fighter jets in the 1973 war, Israel developed the first modern unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV.

When Israel next invaded Lebanon in 1981, the real-time images provided by those unmanned aircraft helped Israel wipe out Syrian air defenses, without a single downed pilot. The world, including the U.S., took notice.

The Pentagon set aside its long-held skepticism about the advantages of unmanned aircraft and, in the early 1980s, bought a prototype designed by former Israeli Air Force engineer Abraham Karem. That prototype morphed into the modern-day Predator, which is made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

Unlike the U.S. and other militaries, where UAVs are flown by certified, costly-to-train fighter pilots, Israeli defense companies have recently built their UAVs to allow an average 18-year-old recruit with just a few months' training to pilot them.

There's more at the link.


Trends Bode Ill for Democrats

James Pethokoukis explains the formidable difficulties the Democrat party faces in trying to keep control of the House of Representatives in 2010.

He lists eight which I paraphrase here:

  1. Momentum. Big GOP wins in the gubernatorial races greatly helped Republicans with candidate recruiting for 2010.
  2. History. In 13 of the past 15 midterm elections going back to 1950, the party in control of the White House has lost an average of 22 seats in the House.
  3. Party dominance. Particularly in the House, there are lots of Democrats in places with a proven willingness to vote Republican. Currently 47 of them are in districts won by both John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004.
  4. Obamacare. Americans disapprove of healthcare reform by a 51-38 margin. And only a little more than a third think the $787 billion stimulus plan has done much good .... There's also plenty of worry among the electorate that Washington spending is creating a dangerous level of government debt.
  5. Rep. Parker Griffith. Griffith recently switched from Democrat to Republican and could be an electoral harbinger. His district, Alabama's 5th, gave 60 percent of its votes to Bush in 2004, and 61 percent to McCain.
  6. Unemployment. It would take a year of 4 percent growth generating 200,000 to 250,000 jobs a month to bring the rate down to 9 percent. And even that would be twice as high as what Americans have been used to during the past two decades.
  7. Voter apathy. a recent poll by the liberal Daily Kos blog found just 56 percent of Democrats definitely or probably voting in 2010 vs. 81 percent of Republicans.
  8. Lag time. Even if the unemployment rate falls a full percentage point next year, it may not help Democrats much. Americans only slowly regain their economic confidence after a deep recession.

Pethokoukis goes into more detail on these in his article which, if you're a political junkie, is worth a read.

You might also be interested in developments in Massachusetts where they're having an election to fill the seat of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. In a state with a three to one edge in voter registration the Democrat is actually slightly behind in the polls. It seems that even in the bluest of states people may have had enough of the Democrats' shenanigans and policies.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Myth of the Perfect Parent

When I was a young man just beginning a family I was convinced that how our children eventually turned out was pretty much a matter of how good a job my wife and I did as parents. As time went on and I saw more and more friends who were committed to doing the best parenting job they could, struggle with rebellious, defiant children or children who simply failed to adopt the values and beliefs they (and I) thought necessary for successful adulthood, I gradually began to see how wrong I was.

A lot of parents are filled with guilt at how their children turned out because they believe that if they had done something differently their children would have been different. They're like the person who believes that when answers to prayer don't come that it must somehow be because of something they're not doing right.

The truth of the matter, I've come to believe, is that our contribution to a child's formation is much less than what I used to think, and now a lot of "experts" on parenting are drawing the same conclusion. an article in Christianity Today by Leslie Leyland Fields discusses some of what psychologists and others are finding about the influence that parents have on the kind of young adults their children become.

Fields is writing specifically for Christians, but what she says is applicable to everyone who struggles with children who seem to be programmed to make every bad choice it's possible to make. She starts off her essay with a story, the details of which might vary from family to family, but the main theme of which seems sometimes to be nearly universal:

My family and I were traveling in Guatemala a few years ago. We visited a man who had given his life to serving a poor congregation. We sat at the kitchen table with him, a man who had been bent into humility by the burdens of pastoring in a struggling nation while raising four children. Still in the muddy trenches of parenthood with our five sons and one daughter, we confessed to him our feelings of inadequacy.

"Your children are grown. What have you learned looking back on your years of child-raising? Do you have any advice for us?" We looked at him, needy, expectant.

He would have none of it. "I'm not one to talk to. I don't exactly have a perfect record." One of his children was immersed in an addiction, he told us, visibly sad. Another had a failed marriage.

He was silent for a moment, nodding slowly, and then continued. "I never lived up to my mother's expectations either. I've been reading her journal lately, and I see how she prayed for me, what she prayed. And I've never lived up to what she hoped for me," he said, his voice a near-whisper. "I think she considered me a failure."

In my mother-mind, I supplied the last words: "And considered herself a failure as a parent." This conversation shook me profoundly, touching one of my deepest concerns.

Read the whole piece. Especially if you're a parent or aspire to be one.


Rendering Unto Caesar

Here's an ethical problem for our readers to ponder:

A businessman tells a customer that if the customer pays cash for the service he has been provided the businessman will not charge him tax. If the customer pays with a check or credit card the businessman has to charge the tax. Suppose the tax would amount to a significant sum - let's say $100.

Is the customer morally obligated to pay the tax whether he can avoid it or not? Is it wrong for the customer to pay cash in order to avoid the tax? If he would have paid cash in any event should he also volunteer to pay the $100 tax? Can he rightfully justify avoiding the tax by arguing to himself that he will use that $100 to purchase other goods from other merchants that will help them stay in business whereas the state will simply squander the money, perhaps even using it to line the pockets of legislators?

I welcome your responses to these questions, but please include the reasons which support your judgment.