Saturday, February 27, 2010

More on the Dubai Assassination

Those following the mysterious tale of the assassination of the Hamas terrorist leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai last month may be interested in some of the latest developments. According to DEBKAfile:

Dubai's police chief Dhahi Khalfan said Friday, Feb. 26, that DNA and fingerprint evidence of at least one of the 26 team of assassins had been found in the hotel room where Hamas commander Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh was found dead on Jan. 19. The first arrest warrants have now been issued through Interpol.

DEBKAfile's intelligence sources report that the Dubai authorities believe that a persistent stream of "revelations" about the Mabhouh investigation will make Israel and its Mossad intelligence agency slip up and admit responsibility for his death.

According to those sources, it makes no sense for the Dubai police to have found DNA or fingerprints in room 230 of the Al-Bustan Rotana luxury hotel occupied by Mabhouh and in none of the other rooms taken by hit team members. Any fingerprints will not be of much use unless they can be matched with prints of identified persons already on file with the Dubai police, and in any case are probably not genuine.

Our sources disclose that all the suspects arrived in Dubai disguised from head to toe and their fingerprints were most likely faked along with the rest of their appearance. Therefore, the Dubai police's fine collection of video clips and passport photos are of little use to the inquiry.

DEBKAfile sources therefore dismiss the claims by the Dubai police and certain Israeli publications citing "security experts" that the Mossad was caught unawares by the security cameras which tracked the death squad's movements. They missed the fact that the team was not only aware of the cameras but controlled them and used them in support of their mission.

Therefore, when Khalfan comes out with his next round of "revelations," he will most likely produce video depictions of some of the suspects using electronic gadgets to open the door of 230, Mabhouh's hotel room, at 8:24 p.m. Jan. 19, as the victim climbed up from the lobby to his room. The next shot 19 minutes later will show the same suspects leaving room 230, relocking the door and with the same gadget shooting the inside bolt home to concoct the appearance of a locked room mystery.

But the Dubai police are clearly missing the essential 19-minute segment covering the action inside room 230, without which they have no real evidence of a crime. That did not happen by chance.

According to our sources, the death squad kept the cameras running long enough to exhibit their facility to penetrate any secure site in the Middle East, but switched them off when they wanted to conceal the actions they took in pursuance of their mission.

Well, now. I don't know who DEBKAfile's sources are, but if this was not a Mossad operation who else would be trying to send the message that they could strike anywhere in the Middle East?

I also wonder why DEBKAfile thinks there's no real evidence of a crime if the suspects can be seen surreptitiously entering the room before the murder and leaving it afterwards, locking the body inside. That certainly seems like evidence to me.

Anyway, the TimesOnline reports that since the assassination became public young Israelis are applying for jobs with Mossad in droves.


Over the Cliff

Ramirez offers his perspective on why Republicans don't want to go along with Democrats on health care:

Pretty funny.


ID vs. TE

One of the sidebar debates in the intelligent design controversy is the clash between IDers and theistic evolutionists. Both agree that the world is intentionally designed but IDers believe that the evidence of this design can be detected in the world whereas TEers don't. TEers argue that natural forces and laws have produced the world as we see it (at least the living world) but that these laws and forces were the product of a Divine mind. Thus, TEers maintain, even though God is the primary cause of the world, we can know this only by faith not by any discovery of science.

According to TE the world appears just as it would were natural forces and laws solely responsible for it. IDers argue that, on the contrary, the world shows immense evidence of an underlying intelligence. The intelligence may not be that of the God of the Bible (though most IDers personally believe it is), but it's an intelligence all the same.

It seems like a small difference to be so exercised over but the theistic evolutionists, at least, are adamant, and sometimes even angry, in their opposition to ID, especially their opposition to treating ID as science.

A good introduction to the difference between the two positions is a debate that took place about a year ago between William Lane Craig and Francisco Ayala who addressed the question: Is Intelligent Design Viable? Craig argued for the affirmative and, as usual, pretty much dominated the event, which is interesting because Craig is a philosopher (not even a philosopher of science) and Ayala is a biologist.

Anyway, if you'd like to hear the audio you can listen to it here. There's also video of Craig's opening presentation here. The comments at the first site are also worth checking.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Abstinence Only Ed

The critics of abstinence-only education have been nothing if not adamantine in their insistence that AE doesn't work, that kids are going to have sex no matter what we say, and that we owe it to our young people to give them information on how to protect themselves.

According to a column by Mona Charen that point of view has recently gotten much harder to sustain. Charen says that the claim that kids are going to have sex regardless of what they hear from their elders just isn't supported by recent research reported in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine:

The Obama administration had disdained and defunded abstinence education in favor of "evidence-based" programs to prevent teen pregnancy (Note the assumption that liberal ideas are founded on evidence whereas conservative ideas spring from prejudice, ignorance or downright orneriness.). No one study settles things, but this one, conducted by an African-American professor from the University of Pennsylvania, will be hard to ignore.

Between 2001 and 2004, John B. Jemmott III and his colleagues studied 662 African-American sixth- and seventh-graders (average age 12). The kids were randomly assigned to one of four programs. The first emphasized abstinence and included role-playing methods to avoid sex. The second combined an abstinence message with information about condoms. The third focused solely on condom use, and the fourth (the control group) was taught general health information.

Over the course of the next two years, about half of the kids who received the condom instruction and half of the control group were having sex. Forty-two percent of those who got the combination class were sexually active, but only 33 percent of the abstinence-only group were having sex. Additionally, and this confounds one of the myths of the condom pushers, the study found no difference in condom use among the four groups of students who did engage in sex. "I think we've written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence," Jemmott told the Washington Post. "Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used."

Elayne Bennett, founder of the Best Friends program, is delighted that the Jemmott research reinforces her experience with mostly African-American adolescent girls. Offering a mixed program of mentoring, dance, music, and role-playing, Best Friends and its new spinoff, Best Men for boys, has had two decades of success in helping kids abstain from sex, drugs, and alcohol until they graduate from high school. She has found that the kids desperately want someone to tell them it's OK to postpone sex. It's a commentary on our times but there it is - we need special programs to give kids permission to say no.

"The opponents," Bennett notes, "have popularized three words, 'Abstinence doesn't work.'" But her program and others like it have excellent track records. Every previous study showing the effectiveness of abstinence programs has been picked apart for one trivial flaw or another, but the new research seems airtight.

Charen goes on to note that supporters of so-called "comprehensive sex ed," with its heavy emphasis on "safe sex" and condoms, have always argued that "no matter what we say, the kids are going to have sex anyway so they might as well be safe." But they never adopted that logic with, say, cigarettes. They didn't lobby for mandatory filters on the grounds that the kids were going to smoke willy-nilly.

Good point. The problem is that too many people think that, unlike smoking, the only negative consequences of youthful sexual adventures are pregnancy or disease and that if kids protect themselves against these then sex is no more problematic than soccer.

This strikes me as incredibly naive. Sex is psychoemotional nitroglycerin. It's extremely volatile and often changes everything in a relationship. When two people not related in a life-long commitment allow their relationship to go physical the change is often for the worse. I can't prove this, of course, but it seems to me to be a universal human experience. It's why the fear that a boy will no longer respect her after sex is prevalent among many girls. It's why so many relationships falter once the couple has allowed it to become sexual. It's even the impetus behind the lyrics to the 1964 Supremes song "Where Did Our Love Go?" for heaven's sake.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about how the way we see a person changes once we "know" them. He wasn't talking about sex, but he easily could have been:

"Alluring and attractive was [s]he to you yesterday...a sea to swim in. Now you have found h[er]shores, found it a pond, and you care not if you ever see it again."

I know I'm coming across to a lot of people as though I'm a hopeless anachronism, but nevertheless I think it's true that if a girl wants to increase the chances that she'll have a successful marriage one thing she should do would be to make him wait.


One Consequence of the Summit

I don't know what, if anything, will come of the Health Care Summit the President presided over yesterday, but one thing will almost certainly change. The perception, encouraged by the media, that the Republicans are simply the party of "no," that they have no plan, and that they're uninformed on health care, will no longer be tenable. I didn't watch the whole thing, but in what I did watch the Republicans seemed very well prepared, very bright, and full of ideas. Perhaps I didn't watch enough, but the Democrats seemed to base their arguments mostly on emotional appeals.

The fundamental difference between the two groups seems to be this: The Democrats are primarily concerned with extending coverage to millions of people who don't have it at present. The Republicans are primarily concerned with cutting the costs of health care for everyone which would have as one of its indirect benefits making coverage affordable for those who can't afford it now.

I don't see how extending coverage to millions of people can do other than drive the country to fiscal ruin, which is why I think the republican emphasis is the proper one. It'll do no good to have universal coverage if a third of the nation's workers are out of work.

Anyway, here's an example of why I say it'll be very hard for the media to continue to portray the GOP as inept, uninvolved in the health care issue, and simply trying to obstruct the President for none but political reasons. This is a video of Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. It's a little wonky, but he certainly generates confidence that he knows what he's talking about and isn't just throwing out feel-good platitudes for the tv cameras:


Thursday, February 25, 2010

More PP Pratfalls

It seems that Planned Parenthood is in a contest with ACORN to see whose employees can most often be caught flouting the law.

This video was shot in Wisconsin where sex between an adult and a girl age 16 or under is a felony and must be reported to the authorities by any health care professional who becomes aware of it. Apparently, some PP employees don't think that applies to them:

It'll be interesting to see if Sonia is prosecuted. Any bets?


Lewis on Friendship (Pt. III)

In the third and final part of our series on C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves we find Lewis sharing some scathing thoughts on the effect of women on male/male friendship. He's not writing of women in general, it must be emphasized, but of a certain kind of woman who is not interested in the things which interest the men in her ambit and who may sometimes begrudge them their friendships:

...[In societies where] it is the men who are civilized [educated] and the women not, and when all the women, and many of the men too, simply refuse to recognize the fact .... we get a kind, polite, laborious and pitiful pretence. The women are deemed (as lawyers say) to be full members of the male circle. The fact - in itself not important - that they now smoke and drink like the men seems to simple-minded people a proof that they really are.

No stag parties are allowed. Wherever the men meet, the women must come too. The men have learned to live among ideas. They know what discussion, proof and illustration mean. A woman who has had merely school lessons and has abandoned soon after marriage whatever tinge of "culture" they gave her - whose reading is the Women's Magazines and whose general conversation is almost wholly narrative - cannot really enter such a circle. She can be locally and physically present with it in the same room. What of that?

If the men are ruthless, she sits bored and silent through a conversation that means nothing to her. If they are better bred, of course, they try to bring her in. Things are explained to her: people try to sublimate her blundering and irrelevant observations into some kind of sense.

But the efforts soon fail and, for manners' sake, what might have been a real discussion is deliberately diluted and peters out in gossip, anecdotes and jokes. Her presence has thus destroyed the very thing she was brought to share. She can never really enter the circle because the circle ceases to be itself when she enters it - as the horizon ceases to be the horizon when you get there....She may be quite as clever as the men or cleverer. But she is not really interested in the same things, nor mistress of the same methods.

The presence of such women, thousands strong, helps to account for the modern disparagement of Friendship. They are often completely victorious. They banish male companionship, and therefore male Friendship, from whole neighborhoods. In the only world they know an endless prattling "Jolly" replaces the intercourse of minds. All the men they meet talk like women while women are present.

This victory over Friendship is often unconscious. There is, however a more militant type of woman who plans it. I have heard one say "Never let two men sit together or they'll get to talking about some subject and then there'll be no fun." Her point could not have been more accurately made. Talk, by all means; the more of it the better; unceasing cascades of the human voice; but not, please, a subject. The talk must not be about anything.

There are women who regard [their husband's friendships] with hatred, envy and fear as the enemy of Eros and perhaps even more, of Affection. A woman of that sort has a hundred arts to break up her husband's Friendships.

Lewis was writing in a time when there was often a much greater disparity between the education of men and women. Even so, he does have an eye for human nature. Men are much more likely to talk about things which women find boring, and vice-versa, and it's certainly true that the presence of people who are bored by a conversation is often fatal to it. This is especially so if the bored, uninformed party seeks to enter the conversation in order to change it or resents not being able to participate in it in the first place.


That Was Then

Senate Democrats under Harry Reid, and with the encouragement of President Obama, are expected to push health care reform through the Senate in a process called "Reconciliation" which is actually intended to be used only for budgetary measures. Under Reconciliation, which is now called "the nuclear option," a bill only needs a simple majority of 51 votes to pass.

The Democrats are planning to use this tactic to pass health care because they lack the 60 votes necessary in the senate to close off a Republican filibuster. If they go the route of Reconciliation they would only need 50 votes (plus the Vice-President's tie-breaker)to pass the reforms they are trying to enact.

The amusing irony is that back in 2005 the Democrats were, via filibuster, blocking a number of President Bush's judicial appointments, and the President threatened to use Reconciliation to get them through. The Democrats in the Senate were in high dudgeon. Senator Schumer accused Bush of precipitating a constitutional crisis. Then Senator Biden prayed to God that the Democrats would never do something so low. Senators Clinton and Reid decried the move as an arrogant power grab.

Here, thanks to Breitbart tv and Naked Emperor News, is the video of our august senators declaiming against the perfidy of the Bush administration in 2005:

That was then, of course, and this is now. Now these same people are all (Mrs. Clinton excepted since she's no longer in the Senate and hasn't stated her opinion on the matter) very much in favor of doing precisely what their principles impelled them to so vehemently oppose when the GOP was in power.

If we weren't as charitable as we are here at Viewpoint we might call this rank, cynical hypocrisy, but we are charitable so we'll just call it an astonishing inconsistency.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lily White at MSNBC

Recently Keith Olbermann of MSNBC thought he'd score a few points on his Countdown show by somewhat unctuously challenging the tea-partiers to explain why there are no minorities at their events. The Dallas Tea Party turned Mr. Olbermann's criticism rather cleverly back upon him in this ad:

The best part is the "Have you no shame, sir?" line which is one of Olbermann's favorite rhetorical cudgels. He uses it often against whomever it is he wishes to disgrace on a particular day.


No Wonder

Stories on the assault on Marjah in Afghanistan are reporting that it's going slower "than expected." Little wonder that that's the case when you read about another battle in Afghanistan at Ganjgal. If the situation in Marjah is like it was in Ganjgal it's a wonder that the operation is making any headway at all.

Four Marines lost their lives in Ganjgal largely because the artillery support the commanding officer requested when they were ambushed was denied because the Rules of Engagement forbade using artillery if civilians might be killed. As a result four Marines and nine Afghan soldiers died:

Four U.S. Marines were killed Tuesday, the most U.S. service members assigned as trainers to the Afghan National Army to be lost in a single incident since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. Eight Afghan troops and police and the Marine commander's Afghan interpreter also died in the ambush and the subsequent battle that raged from dawn until 2 p.m. around this remote hamlet in eastern Kunar province, close to the Pakistan border.

Dashing from boulder to boulder, diving into trenches and ducking behind stone walls as the insurgents maneuvered to outflank us, we waited more than an hour for U.S. helicopters to arrive, despite earlier assurances that air cover would be five minutes away.

U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines - despite being told repeatedly that they weren't near the village.

"We are pinned down. We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We've lost today," Marine Maj. Kevin Williams, 37, said through his translator to his Afghan counterpart, responding to the latter's repeated demands for helicopters.

If you go to the link be sure to click on the video.

It is certainly proper that we do all we can to limit civilian casualties, but we should not be sending our young men into combat if we're going to be so punctilious about harming civilians that we sacrifice our sons rather than give them the support they need. If these are the Rules of Engagement our President is going to set then it is morally reprehensible of him to put Americans in the line of fire at all. He should withdraw them from Afghanistan immediately or explain why, as in the case of the battle of Ganjgal, these men were denied the cover they needed.

While he's at it he might also try to explain to the American people why anyone should join the military when the politicians are unwilling to do everything they reasonably can to insure their safety.


Brian Cox on the LHC

While reflecting on an earlier post (see Dawkins' Non-Answer) one of my students, a fellow named Quinn, suggested I watch a video of particle physicist Brian Cox explaining the purpose of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The lecture really is very good - simple and easy to understand (as long as you've had high school level physics). Cox gives us a good primer on what particle physics is all about and the significance of the Higgs Boson which is the quarry the LHC folks are seeking.

Quinn also makes a good point about the end of the video, but watch it first and then read his comment below. Cox's lecture is worth the fifteen minutes it takes to watch. Better yet, read Dawkins' Non-Answer then watch the video, and then read Quinn's thoughts.

Quinn writes:

Cox makes a startling claim: Using Newton's Standard Model, physicists can calculate "everything other than gravity that happens in the universe," even the shape of DNA, and although the equation does not work because particles required for the equation to be useful have not been discovered, he provides commentary on the "beauty" of physics. In essence, he describes the forces of physics as Dawkins' "blind watch maker." He discusses how any change in the weak force would prevent the stability of elements necessary to life.

I find it interesting that Dawkins', Cox, and other naturalists who describe the power of the "natural order" to produce things as complex as DNA and the human eye fail to understand the implications of such orderly processes. What Cox fails to note in his discussion on particle physics is why the forces of physics are the way they are. Why should the weak force not be any different than it is? It seems like the complexity of particles and orderliness of forces would point to a divine "watchmaker" just as much as the complexity of the eye itself.

On top of all this, I would suggest that the forces of nature, natural selection, etc. working as a "blind watchmaker" take much more faith to accept than a God. The odds of dust particles combining in such a way to form living matter, living matter evolving in such a way to form thinking beings with complex organs like eyes, and those thinking beings having the ability to look back on the process that created them seems a lot less likely than a God.

And so we come to Freud's idea of wish fulfillment that accurately (I think) reflects the fact that what individuals claim to take based on fact they really take based on preference. Dawkins, because he wishes for there to be no God, in fact turns himself into his own "blind watchmaker" as he ignores his own faith and theorizes a system so improbable and complex that Brian Cox describes it, rather ironically, as a "creation narrative in its own right."


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lewis on Friendship (Pt. II)

Here are a couple more quotes from C.S. Lewis' chapter in The Four Loves devoted to Friendship:

A Friend will, to be sure, prove himself to be also an ally when alliance becomes necessary; will lend or give when we are in need, nurse us in sickness, stand up for us among our enemies, do what he can for our widows and orphans. But such good offices are not the stuff of Friendship. The occasions for them are almost interruptions. They are in one way relevant to it, in another not. Relevant, because you would be a false friend if you would not do them when the need arose; irrelevant, because the role of benefactor always remains accidental, even a little alien to that of Friend.

It is almost embarrassing. For Friendship is utterly free from Affection's need to be needed. We are sorry that any gift or loan or night-watching should have been necessary - and now, for heaven's sake, let us forget all about it and go back to the things we really want to do or talk of together. Even gratitude is no enrichment to this love.

The stereotyped "Don't mention it" here expresses what we really feel. The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all. It was a distraction, an anomaly. It was a horrible waste of the time, always too short, that we had together. Perhaps we had only a couple of hours in which to talk and, God bless us, twenty minutes of it had to be devoted to affairs!

In most societies at most periods Friendships will be between men and men and women and women. The sexes will have met one another in Affection and in Eros but not in this love. For they will seldom have had with each other the companionship in common activities which is the matrix of Friendship. Where men are educated and women are not, where one sex works and the other is idle, or where they do totally different work, they will usually have nothing to be Friends about.

More tomorrow. See here for Part I.


Emoting About Justice

Heather watched a couple of the sessions in Professor Michael Sandel's class on Justice at Harvard and came away a little underwhelmed. She has some very perceptive comments on the vacuousness of much contemporary ethical discourse, and I thought others might appreciate what she wrote:

Surely no one can fault Sandel's class for being uninteresting. I enjoyed watching the first two classes, examining the situations he posed, and hearing the students' opinions. There is, however, a sense in which his class was empty, not for lack of students, rather, in the absence of concrete standards by which to measure the rightness of one choice over another, their discussion of justice was unsubstantial.

In his class, Sandel presented his students with the case of Queen vs. Dudley in which a captain, in order to save himself and two other men, killed Parker, an orphaned cabin boy, for their consumption. Students were asked to articulate their opinions on the case and their views were many and varied. The two students who were called on to defend their belief that murder is objectively wrong were particularly interesting because, though they wanted to say that murder is always wrong, they were hesitant to claim that the other students, who argued that this cannibalism was justified, were objectively wrong. "I think murder is always wrong, but that's just my opinion," claimed one student. When a like-minded student was asked, after declaring his belief in the categorical immorality of murder, if he though his opponents' beliefs were wrong, he responded with a weak "Yes" only when pressed.

Herein lies the problem: the students wanted to say that the murder of Parker was wrong, but they had no basis for doing so. One student tried to argue that the killing was wrong because humans have rights. Though not a bad answer, it was a meaningless one without an indication of why humans are endowed with rights. Without belief in God, black and white merge into a murky grey moral paint whose pigments cannot be separated.

Perhaps the most perceptive response was that offered by a student who thought that Dudley's murderous act was justifiable. This character said, in essence, that "It's all about survival and you have to do what you have to do." In the absence of belief in God, this is the most logical answer. Why should the captain have concerned himself with Parker's happiness when his own life was at stake? Let the captain eat his breakfast in peace.

Rather than calling his class, "Justice: What's the right thing to do?" Sandel should name his course "Opinion Exchange Hour." Philosophy not built on the foundation of belief in God is nothing more than the distribution of human sentiments. The arguer who is "right," then, is the one with the best rhetorical skills.

Heather is exactly right. What happens in so many of our ethical discussions is what philosophers call "emoting." All that happens is that people share their tastes and feelings. It's like having students get up in an auditorium and declare their preference between Coke or Pepsi. It's absolutely inane unless those opinions are grounded in some transcendent foundation, but for the modern secular student there is no such ground so all they can do is emote.


Death of a Movement

Walter Russell Mead rather colorfully, and perhaps prematurely, issues a death certificate for the late movement to reverse global climate change:

...the movement to stop climate change through a Really Big and Comprehensive Grand Global Treaty is dead because there is no political consensus in the US to go forward. It's dead because the UN process is toppling over from its own excessive ambition and complexity. It's dead because China and India are having second thoughts about even the smallish steps they put on the table back in Copenhagen. Doorknob dead.

As the Post story shows, the mainstream media is now coming to terms with the death. Environmentalists are still trying to avoid pulling the plug, but the corpse is already cool to the touch and soon it will begin to smell. As the global greens move from the denial stage of the grief process, brace yourself for some eloquent, petulant and arrogant rage. Tears will be shed and hands will be wrung. The world is stupid, uncaring, unworthy to be saved. Horrible Republicans, evil Chinese, demented know-nothing climate skeptics have ruined the world and condemned our grandchildren to lives of sorrow and pain. Messengers will be shot; skeptics will be blamed for asking questions and the media (and the internet) will be blamed for reporting the answers.

This storm will have to blow for a while; there's a lot of emotion and conviction in the 'climate change' community. A year ago they were the last, best hope of the world, a shining band of brothers (and sisters) who were saving the planet and taming the excesses of self-destructive capitalist greed. The Force was with them and the world lay at their feet. They were going to be greeted as liberators by a grateful world desperate to be saved.

Now they are just another piece of roadkill on the heartless historical highway...

Mead goes on to place the lion's share of the blame on Al Gore:

I think Al Gore failed the climate change movement and that his negligence and blindness has done it irreparable harm. If the skeptics are right and the world isn't warming - or if natural causes are responsible for climate change - it doesn't matter much. But if Al Gore and the climate change people are even half right about what is happening to our world, the cost of Mr. Gore's failures are incalculably great. He was the one world leader who had the standing inside the climate change movement to lead it onto a more sustainable path and, as far as we can tell from the facts now before us, he didn't really try.

One reason for the rapid collapse of the movement, if indeed it has collapsed, besides the obvious fraud and appalling sloppiness that's been uncovered at East Anglia and elsewhere, is that global climate change became a left-wing political cause and thus a tool with which to undermine capitalism. This came at a time when people were growing increasingly impatient with attempts to destroy the American way of life. The shame is that if climate change really is man-made and environmentally threatening, the world will have been poorly served by those who substituted ideological propaganda and deviousness for calm, disinterested science.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Lewis on Friendship (Pt. I)

I recently read C.S. Lewis' Four Loves and enjoyed especially his treatment of friendship. He said so many interesting things on the topic that I thought I'd share some of them with readers of Viewpoint over the next couple of days. These should get us started:

Nothing is less like a friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to each other about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best.

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).

The companionship on which Friendship supervenes will not often be a bodily one like hunting or fighting. It may be a common religion, common studies, a common profession, even a common recreation. All who share it will be our companions; but one or two or three who share something more will be our Friends. In this kind of love, as Emerson said, Do you love me? means Do you see the same truth? - Or at least, "Do you care about the same truth?" The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.

That is why those pathetic people who simply "want friends" can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be "I see nothing and I don't care about the truth; I only want a Friend," no Friendship can arise - though Affection, of course, may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and friendship must be about something.

When the two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass - may pass in the first half hour - into erotic love. Indeed, unless they are physically repulsive to each other, or unless one or both already loves elsewhere, it is almost certain to do so sooner or later.

I'll have more in a day or two.


Let's Bring Back Shame

Replying to the post of 2/10 titled Root Causes which discussed Heather MacDonald's article in City Journal on the correlation between crime and other dysfunctions with fatherlessness, William writes to tell us that the importance of fatherhood was known even in the days of Caesar Augustus. He writes that Augustus:

...considered it so important that men hold the responsibilities of a father that he required all bachelors and all families with less than three children to pay a hefty fine. Augustus even forced all bachelors to stand up in public, where they would be mocked by the rest of the citizens.

Augustus' concern appears to have been to shame men who were not doing enough to populate the Roman empire, but perhaps there's something here that we could borrow from the Romans. Perhaps it would be a good idea to publicly ridicule not bachelors but any man who spawns children without providing a proper home and support for them. There would need to be provision for exceptional cases, of course, but by and large, the idea of humiliating those who act in socially irresponsible ways has a certain appeal to it.

Indeed, this seems to be the impetus behind MSNBC's regular airing of their "stings" of adult men who seek out sexual liaisons with teenage girls. Maybe MSNBC could be prevailed upon to start filming, and shaming, men who sire children out of wedlock and then leave the mother to raise the offspring pretty much by herself. After all, if it's appropriate to shame men for one form of child abuse it's certainly appropriate to shame them for another.


No Place Left to Hide

Were the recent arrests of Taliban leaders in Pakistan a result of U.S. diplomacy or increasing frustration in the Pakistani government with the brutality of the Taliban? Most likely the new cooperation from Pakistan in the war on terror is a combination of both as this WaPo article suggests. Here's an excerpt:

This month's arrests represent "major progress," a U.S. intelligence official said. "No one has forgotten Pakistan's complex history with the Taliban. But they understand how important this is to the United States, the region, and to their own security."

The U.S. intelligence buildup in Karachi re-creates a level of cooperation that existed until 2004 and resulted in the arrests of senior al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan, before relations began to sour between George W. Bush's administration and the then-government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Jones, the national security adviser, visited Islamabad again last week. Significantly, he held a joint meeting with Pakistan's military and civilian leaders, who have often worked at cross purposes on both domestic and foreign policy.

Subtle signs of a shift among Pakistani officials have occurred in recent months, as the Taliban's Pakistani offshoot has unleashed a sustained campaign of suicide bombings. Pakistan's army chief, Ashfaq Kiyani, recently offered to train Afghan forces, an overture that some analysts read as a message to the Afghan Taliban that Pakistan had other options for exerting influence in Afghanistan. Some Pakistani security officials had grown concerned that the Afghan Taliban might be aiding the Pakistani franchise, said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a professor and defense analyst.

"It helps Pakistan from a purely Pakistan perspective," he said of the Taliban arrests, "in the sense that they have also communicated a very clear message, even to the Afghan Taliban, that Pakistan can play tough with them."

"We are dependent on technical intelligence being provided by the U.S. . . . That is exactly what happened here," the ISI official said of the Baradar capture. "What is our strategic interest? Our strategic interest is that this guy is a menace, a threat, and we always thought he was in Afghanistan. When we found him in Pakistan, we arrested him. That demonstrates our sincerity."

It's unclear how long Pakistan's assistance will last, but it must have sent shudders up the backs of the Taliban, as they cast about for some refuge to escape the relentless Americans and their predator drones, to know that now they're not safe even in Karachi.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Response to the New Atheists

Bethel College philosopher Chad Meister and Biola University philosopher William Lane Craig recently published a co-edited a response to the challenges posed by the "New Atheists." Taking off on Christopher Hitchens' book titled God Is Not Great, Meister and Craig put together, God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible.

Meister talks about the book in an interview with the Evangelical Philosophical Society. Here's an excerpt:

One of the objections to religious faith raised by the New Atheists and other critics of religion is that one must be both unreasonable and irresponsible to hold religious beliefs. This is often a criticism rooted in a reaction to fideism-a reliance on nonrational or irrational faith. In this book we attempt to demonstrate that faith need not be blind, unreasonable or irresponsible. Belief in God and Christ can be grounded on reason and solid evidence. Indeed, not only can one be warranted in holding Christian faith, but it may be much more intellectually honest and epistemically responsible -when taking into consideration the latest work in science, history, and philosophy-to be a believer than not.

I would add that not only is it more intellectually honest, it's more intellectually satisfying - for a host of reasons. I invite anyone who'd like to pursue that claim to read the argument outlined here.


Public Abasement

I guess I'm missing something, but I just don't understand why Tiger Woods owes a public apology to the whole world. Sure, he needs to apologize to his friends and family and others he's hurt or embarrassed, but that should be done in private. Why does anyone think he owes you and I an apology? How did he hurt any of us? What business is it of ours what he did in his personal life, anyway? He committed no crime, he's not a public official, he's not responsible to us any more than we are responsible to him for what we do. If my neighbor cheats on his wife he certainly doesn't owe me an apology, and it would be extraordinarily pretentious and self-righteous of me to think he does.

Some have asserted that Woods' case is different because he's a celebrity, but I fail to see why that should matter. Simply because he's in the public eye gives none of us any claim on his life. Nor does it give us the right to demand that he stand before us in sackcloth and ashes and flagellate himself.

Cable tv and print media personalities assiduously dissecting his mea culpa are acting either like officious prigs, characters straight out of The Scarlet Letter, or like salacious gossips who relish the flaws and debasement of others because it somehow makes them feel a little better about their own humble station in life and their own meager moral achievements.

It's all pretty tawdry. A less vulgar culture would simply avert its eyes from Mr. Woods' private life and perhaps offer a prayer for him and his family rather than seek to exploit his shortcomings to advance their own ratings.



In response to the post on the airborne laser system we featured last Monday, Kyle sent along a link to a video that explains another aspect of anti-missile defense.

The missile shield is a layered defense. The airborne laser system is designed to attack ICBMs in the boost phase of their trajectory, i.e. shortly after they've launched and before they've deployed whatever defense systems or multiple warheads they might be carrying.

The THAAD system that's explained at the link is a kinetic energy defense designed to operate against missiles in their final approach to their target.

Give it a look. RLC

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Really Real

One of the possible ways of thinking of the universe is to imagine it as a vast expression of a Divine thought - an idea, as it were, in the mind of God. A world that exists in the mind of God may make questions like why it exists, where do quantum particles go when they pop out of existence, how can a particle exist in two locations simultaneously, how can two photons traveling apart at the speed of light interact with each other, etc. somewhat easier to answer.

Now, however, comes another view the ontology of the universe. This idea, which has been around for a while but just recently received some experimental support, portrays the cosmos as a vast hologram. Just as light reflected off the surface of a credit card can produce an image of a three dimensional object, so too, according to this theory, could energy reflected off the surface of the universe's boundary produce the appearance of a three-dimensional world. This world doesn't really exist, or, more precisely, doesn't exist in the solid, material way we think it does, rather it's a pattern consisting of extremely tiny pixels.

It's a very strange theory and, truth to tell, I prefer the mind of God theory, but who knows? I'm quite sure that reality, the really real, is not at all the way we imagine it to be. I have little doubt that the world of our everyday experience is a consequence of our being the size we are, having the particular senses we have - with the particular constraints they impose - and having a mind which, in addition to other limitations, is only able to conceptualize in three dimensions. Were we the size of atoms or galaxies, were we to have six or more senses or were the senses we have able to perceive stimuli over a wider range, or were our minds more expansive than they are, our experience and understanding of the world might be entirely different than what it is.

Just as a man born blind and deaf has a very attenuated concept of what the world is like, unable as he is to imagine blue or music, for instance, so we have a very limited concept of reality because the structure of our senses and minds prohibits us from experiencing its full richness and reality.

We are like an unborn child trying to imagine the world outside its mother's womb. It's not long before we run smack up against the limits imposed by the structure of our minds and bodies.


Weakness Is Relative

"America appears weak, compared to what it has been and should be; not, thankfully, compared to its rivals," writes Conrad Black at NRO. His article summarizes the weaknesses of our competitors and some of our strengths. About President Obama, for example, he writes this:

Despite this appalling year of miscues and vaudeville amateurism, hope persists. The president did the right thing in Afghanistan, and will almost certainly, of all ironies, be a successful war president. He is sending military assistance to Taiwan, and finally meeting the Dalai Lama and ignoring Chinese protests. Obama is no Clinton at opportunistic zigzag course-changing. But if he becomes serious about offshore drilling and nuclear power, taxes financial transactions and elective energy use and doesn't strangle incomes, shows some fiscal restraint, accepts a sane compromise on health care, banishes cap-and-trade to Halloween trick-or-treating (where I assume it came from), revives the alliance with Europe, and applies his outstretched palm to Iran's bewhiskered face at great velocity, he could still be a successful president. Europe, Japan, and (thanks to George W. Bush's diplomacy) India are natural allies, and Russia will go to the highest bidder as long as it is treated politely. And if their interests are defined clearly, there need not be antagonism between the U.S. and China.

Indeed. Let's underscore the fiscal restraint part. Our current leadership's fiscal gluttony almost guarantees an inflated currency and/or higher taxes in the near future, and these could have devastating consequences for the economic health of millions of Americans.


Maintaining Orthodoxy

Jerry Fodor, a philosopher, and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, a cognitive scientist, have written a book titled What Darwin Got Wrong. The authors are atheists and evolutionists, but their book is an assault on the mechanism of natural selection which they, like many other evolutionists, think to be an inadequate mechanism with which to account for the enormous amount of evolution it's called upon to explain.

Their heresy has drawn the attention of a Darwinian philosopher, Michael Ruse, who writes a rebuke in the Boston Globe taking the two deviants to task for having wandered off the Darwinian reservation. Ruse states that:

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini fault Darwinians for using the language of design and purpose which is necessitated by their adherence to the doctrine of natural selection and that such teleological terms have no place in science. Thus natural selection, for this reason among others, must be cast aside as a major mechanism of evolutionary change.

This irritates Ruse who concludes his indictment with these interesting words:

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini will not allow this [i.e. goal-directed natural selection], because apparently we are now ascribing conscious intentionality to the nonconscious world. We are saying the eyes were designed for seeing in a way that the tufts [of hair] were not. And they stress that the whole point of a naturalistic explanation, to which the Darwinian is supposedly committed, is that the world was not designed.

In response, one can only say that this is a misunderstanding of the nature of science. The Darwinian does not want to say that the world is designed. That is what the Intelligent Design crew argues. The Darwinian is using a metaphor [of design] to understand the material non-thinking world. We treat that world as if it were an object of design, because doing so is tremendously valuable heuristically. And the use of metaphor is a commonplace in science.

In other words, as Francis Crick once wrote, biologists must constantly remind themselves that, despite all appearances to the contrary, the miniscule biomachines they're looking at under their microscopes are not really designed but are rather the products of sheer serendipity. Nevertheless, biologists have to talk as if these structures and processes were designed because it's the language of design and purpose that best captures the complexity, beauty, and purposefulness of what they see.

Why then do we have these arguments? The clue is given at the end, when the authors start to quote - as examples of dreadful Darwinism - claims that human nature might have been fashioned by natural selection. At the beginning of their book, they proudly claim to be atheists. Perhaps so. But my suspicion is that, like those scorned Christians, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini just cannot stomach the idea that humans might just be organisms, no better than the rest of the living world. We have to be special, superior to other denizens of Planet Earth. Christians are open in their beliefs that humans are special and explaining them lies beyond the scope of science. I just wish that our authors were a little more open that this is their view too.

Here Ruse reveals the great secret of modern naturalism and scientism. If there's nothing special about man, as Ruse avers, then there's no reason to confer upon him dignity, worth, or rights. He's just a brute like any other, suitable to be manipulated by those who are enlightened, much like a dairy farmer manipulates his herd, and if that means that there must be a culling of the herd, a slaughter, well, then, so be it. There's nothing special or superior about humans that they should be treated any differently than cows.

The naturalist often talks about the quest to liberate man from superstition, to raise him to the level of a deity, but the logic of naturalism leads invariably and repeatedly to man's dehumanization. What a comfort it must be to be an atheist.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Assassination in Dubai

Those readers who enjoy spy thrillers might find this video, courtesy of Hot Air, hard to turn off. A week or so ago a report out of Dubai revealed that a high ranking Hamas official who was wanted by the Israelis for the kidnap and murder in 1989 of two Israeli soldiers was himself found murdered in his hotel room. The Dubai state security immediately pieced together how the assassination was carried out, and using surveillance tapes they were able to elucidate an extremely elaborate and well-planned operation involving at least eleven people. There is no proof that the perpetrators were Israelis but the Dubai police assume that they are.

If you don't care to watch the video you can read the account of what it shows here.

There are some very strange details in this video. Here's one: The victim was found by hotel personnel dead in his room which was locked from the inside. How did the assassins leave the room locked from the inside?


How Christian Were the Founders?

The New York Times Magazine has a piece by Russell Shorto on the perennial question of how Christian were America's founders. I'm not sure that the essay really addresses that question decisively - the discussion of the founders is set in the context of the battle over what our nation's history books should include about them - but it nevertheless covers some interesting ground. It's a little long, but those interested in the role of Christianity in the history of our founding, or in the modern textbook controversies, will find it worthwhile.

At one point Shorto quotes historian Richard Brookhiser who says that, "The founders were not as Christian as [many Christians] would like them to be, though they weren't as secularist as [atheists like] Christopher Hitchens would like them to be."

That's probably true, but I think it misses the point. I don't think the question is how Christian the founders themselves were but rather to what extent were the principles upon which they based their concepts of equality, freedom, and justice informed by the Christian philosophical and theological consensus and tradition in which they were immersed.

I think it's very hard to read the early documents, or even works that come later like Tocqueville's Democracy in America, without arriving at the conclusion that whether the founders were themselves Christian, and some clearly were not, they had been deeply influenced in their thinking by people who were.

In other words, not all of those who signed the Declaration of Independence, wrote the Constitution, and led us into the 19th century were Christians (although they were almost all theists), but their ideas about what a just state should be they absorbed from a Judeo-Christian tradition and culture. Those ideas, as Tocqueville suggests, would never have emerged in a society of people who did not believe in the God of the New Testament.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Grecian Formula for Failure

My friend Greg emails to offer some interesting thoughts on the current economic crisis gripping Europe. The proximate cause of the crisis is the terrible state of the Greek economy which will need to be bailed out by its partners in the European Union, but who is up to the task?

Greg writes that:

Americans don't seem to understand the variety of epic implications this European crisis has. A few years ago I studied abroad in Athens, and ever since then I've followed Greek politics with interest, silently hoping their fiscal irresponsibility would catch up with them. Now it finally has, and in a big way. The situation can be viewed from a number of different angles. For my own part, I'd like to propose three.

The Greek Model: For fiscal conservatives, Greece is the poster-child for everything wrong in the world. One out of three Greek jobs is in civil service, and such jobs are akin to being a tenured professor in the US - great pay, lifetime state benefits, total job security. When I lived in Greece, it was obvious that "hard work" was a dirty phrase. From noon until 2pm every day - the heart of the working day - Greeks take a siesta to nap and relax. Banks close, shops shut down. Citizens expect the state to take care of their every whim, including full college tuition for every student. For decades they spent with abandon but refused to pay enough in taxes to cover their debts. Now, the joyride is over and the Greek government can no longer cover their debt. Why aren't American conservatives trumpeting this parable at every possible moment?

California: Maybe Greece is too far away for Americans to care about - California is closer to home. Like Greece, California has the worst credit rating of any US state and the largest deficit. For decades they spent money on social services and world-class education but refused to pay the taxes necessary to support their desires. Now, the joyride is over and they're broke, out begging hat-in-hand for the rest of the country to bail them out. And like the European Union, Washington DC will be forced to intervene, because we share a common currency. Letting California reap what they deserve - bankruptcy - is not an option since it devalues our shared dollar. The Europeans are facing the same dilemma with Greece.

The Germans Finally Conquer Europe: By far the most interesting angle to me, is this one. Germany is the only economy with enough gas in the tank to bail out Greece, but German voters don't want to send their taxpayer money to bail out the bumbling Greeks. Makes sense. I can sympathize. So in order to sell the bailout to their citizens, Berlin has to attach lots of strings and preconditions to the money so it doesn't look like a blank check. But now, countries like France are examining the strings and realizing that if Germany takes the reins, Berlin will be in dominant control of the European Central Bank. And who could blame the Germans for wanting such control, since it's their money in the first place? Economists expect Italy and Spain may soon need a German bailout as well. That leads to more German preconditions and more control over the European Central Bank. What irony. After two world wars, the Germans will finally be in control of Europe - not by force of arms, but because of the Euro.

These are the three angles I find most compelling as an American, but there are plenty of other consequences for the Europeans. Will the Euro experiment fail altogether if Germany doesn't bail out Greece? Is the refusal to bail them out even an option? Will German bailouts result in greater political integration of the EU, or will it drive them further apart? So many questions, but seemingly, so little curiosity from Americans.

Fascinating analysis, Greg. Either Germany becomes an economic hegemon or the Euro collapses and Europe is plunged into economic chaos (which may also result in Germany becoming an economic hegemon). I wonder if the big spenders in our own government are paying attention to the lessons European socialism is offering us.


The Battle for Marjah

Strategy Page gives us day by day summaries of the ongoing battle in Marjah in southern Afghanistan. The media have suggested that the slow pace is due to stiff resistance, but it seems from reading this article that it's due more to the difficulty of fighting in an urban environment under our current Rules of Engagement.

If you go to the link scroll to the bottom of the page for the earliest entry and work your way back up the column.



Jason calls our attention to a column in the liberal Washington Post by University of Virginia professor of politics Gerard Alexander titled Why Are Liberals So Condescending?

Alexander observes that:

This condescension is part of a liberal tradition that for generations has impoverished American debates over the economy, society and the functions of government -- and threatens to do so again today, when dialogue would be more valuable than ever.

He goes on to discuss what he identifies as four major narratives about conservatives that fuel this condescension. The four are these:

  • The belief that conservatives win, when they win, because of a "vast right-wing conspiracy, not the quality of their ideas."
  • The belief that the people who vote for conservative candidates are fundamentally simple-minded.
  • The belief that conservatives are racists and xenophobes.
  • The belief that whereas liberals are motivated by reason and logic, conservatives are driven by their emotions.

Alexander makes an interesting case that liberals actually do believe these things about conservatives and that this mythology has not infrequently led to serious political setbacks.

Give the article a look. It's pretty good.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dubious Data

Things keep going from bad to worse for the AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) enthusiasts. Now it turns out that the former head of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia in England, Dr. Phil Jones, not only can't produce the data that led so many scientists to conclude that we are presently in the midst of a sharp uptick in global temperatures, but the man himself says that there's no conclusive reason to believe that global temperatures have risen since the mid 90s:

Professor Jones told the BBC yesterday there was truth in the observations of colleagues that he lacked organisational skills, that his office was swamped with piles of paper and that his record keeping is 'not as good as it should be'.

The data is crucial to the famous 'hockey stick graph' used by climate change advocates to support the theory.

Moreover, Dr. Jones is now conceding that global temperatures may well have been elevated at several periods in the past. If that's so, claims that the current alleged "warming" must be due to human activity seem to be unwarranted.

Here's the relevant excerpt from an article in the Daily Mail Online:

Even more strikingly, [Dr. Jones] also sounds much less ebullient about the basic theory, admitting that there is little difference between global warming rates in the Nineties and in two previous periods since 1860 and accepting that from 1995 to now there has been no statistically significant warming.

He also leaves open the possibility, long resisted by climate change activists, that the 'Medieval Warm Period' from 800 to 1300 AD, and thought by many experts to be warmer than the present period, could have encompassed the entire globe.

This is an amazing retreat, since if it was both global and warmer, the green movement's argument that our current position is 'unprecedented' would collapse.

Moreover, British researchers have now come to the conclusion that the data that was relied upon to show that global temperatures were trending upward was tainted by local alterations in the microclimate surrounding the measuring devices.

After almost every country in the world has spent millions of dollars to ameliorate carbon emissions, after near panic has gripped many of the governments in the West over the impending doom of climate catastrophe, it turns out that it was all based on dubious data. Now the whole AGW project seems to be coming undone. Maybe it's just time to take a deep breath and start over with a whole new team of scientists, and perhaps Al Gore should just make himself scarce for the next decade or so.


Partisan Sniping

The game of "special pleading politics," which both Democrats and Republicans are playing with considerable zest nowadays, is getting more than a little tedious. The game consists in giving one's own guy a pass for doing something which was as bad or worse than what they are prepared to howl like a cage full of monkeys over when the other side's guy does it. It's one reason why so many people are disgusted with American politics.

Democrats, for example, indulged in spasms of hilarity recently when Sarah Palin was discovered to have inscribed some notes on the palm of her hand. Even the President's press secretary publicly poked fun at her for this apparent faux pas at a press conference. Yet a few weeks ago President Obama actually required the aid of a teleprompter to address a class of sixth graders, but none of the Palin bashers seemed to think this even a teensy bit bizarre. Can you imagine the liberal media reaction had Palin or George Bush done such a thing?

As wearisome as such petty attacks, like the one on Palin, are many on the political right also seem unable to resist them. Talk radio personalities like Sean Hannity, for example, make themselves look foolish and trivial when they criticize President Obama's Justice Department for mirandizing the Christmas Day bomber even though they never complained about previous terrorists being mirandized during the Bush years.

To be sure, it was a mistake to mirandize Abdul Mutullab, but it would be a far more decent strategy for conservatives to acknowledge that it was also a mistake when previous administrations did it, and to urge the current administration to change the policy rather than trying to make Obama look soft on terrorism by exploiting his decision to essentially follow the Bush precedent.

Mirandizing terrorists is indeed a bad idea. Closing Gitmo is a bad idea. Trying Khalid Sheik Mohammad in federal court in New York City is a terrible idea, but if Republicans were silent when their guys proposed or did similar things they shouldn't now be using these bad ideas as a club with which to clobber Obama. They'd be better served by pointing out why it was a bad idea (or not) in the past and why it's a bad idea now without attempting to impugn and discredit the President's commitment to keep America safe. It's simply unfair to pretend that the current policies were ushered in by the Obama people and were never in place prior to their taking office.

If conservatives make the argument that we need to avoid the mistakes of the past - and the American people voice overwhelming opposition to continuing the practice of treating terrorism as crime rather than as acts of war - but the administration nevertheless continues on its present course, then it will be appropriate to castigate them for it.

Meanwhile, we can argue for a change in policy without making it sound like so much partisan sniping. After all, the President's prosecution of the war abroad has been the most heartening aspect of his tenure. He should be encouraged to do even better at the things he's doing well rather than being condemned by Republicans for doing pretty much what his GOP predecessor did.

Not only would this elevate our political discourse it would also have the side benefit of elevating in the public esteem the credibility of our political figures.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Who Are the Tea-Partiers?

Law professor Glenn Reynolds whose blog Instapundit was one of the first and most successful attempts to exploit the new medium of internet blogging, has an article at The Wall Street Journal recounting his experience at the tea party convention a couple of weeks ago.

What he describes is nothing like the impression one gets of these people from, say, watching Keith Olbermann for 30 seconds or more. These are serious people - light-hearted, cheerful, and enthusiastic - but serious about implementing the agenda, or at least part of it, that Barack Obama promised he'd implement but hasn't.

Here's Reynolds' lede:

There were promises of transparency and of a new kind of collaborative politics where establishment figures listened to ordinary Americans. We were going to see net spending cuts, tax cuts for nearly all Americans, an end to earmarks, legislation posted online for the public to review before it is signed into law, and a line-by-line review of the federal budget to remove wasteful programs. These weren't the tea-party platforms I heard discussed in Nashville last weekend. They were the campaign promises of Barack Obama in 2008.

Mr. Obama made those promises because the ideas they represented were popular with average Americans. So popular, it turns out, that average Americans are organizing themselves in pursuit of the kind of good government Mr. Obama promised, but has not delivered. And that, in a nutshell, was the feel of the National Tea Party Convention. The political elites have failed, and citizens are stepping in to pick up the slack.

This response has brought millions of Americans to the streets over the past year, and brought quite a few people to the posh Opryland Resort (with its indoor waterfalls and boat rides, it's like a casino without the gambling) for the convention.

Pundits claim the tea partiers are angry - and they are - but the most striking thing about the atmosphere in Nashville was how cheerful everyone seemed to be. I spoke with dozens of people, and the responses were surprisingly similar. Hardly any had ever been involved in politics before. Having gotten started, they were finding it to be not just worthwhile, but actually fun. Laughter rang out frequently, and when ne w-media mogul Andrew Breitbart held forth on a TV interview, a crowd gathered and broke into spontaneous applause.

A year ago, many told me, they were depressed about the future of America. Watching television pundits talk about President Obama's transformative plans for big government, they felt alone, isolated and helpless. That changed when protests, organized by bloggers, met Mr. Obama a year ago in Denver, Colo., Mesa, Ariz., and Seattle, Wash. Then came CNBC talker Rick Santelli's famous on-air rant on Feb. 19, 2009, which gave the tea-party movement its name.

Tea partiers are still angry at federal deficits, at Washington's habit of rewarding failure with handouts and punishing success with taxes and regulation, and the general incompetence that has marked the first year of the Obama presidency. But they're no longer depressed.

Instead, they seem energized. And surprisingly media savvy.

If you've heard rumblings about the tea party but don't know who these people are or what they're trying to accomplish, Reynolds' column is a good place to find out.


Airborne Laser Shield

Back in the eighties Ronald Reagan was ridiculed for proposing that we could be made safer from a nuclear missile attack by developing the technology to shoot down incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). The illuminati in the media and the scientific establishment in general enjoyed hearty guffaws at their Georgetown dinner parties at the expense of Reagan whose idea was derisively labeled the "star wars" defense.

The idea that we could essentially shoot a bullet with another bullet was exactly the sort of idea you might expect some rube like Reagan to come up with we were told in editorial after editorial. Scientists of various competencies were trotted out to declaim on the absurdity of doing what Reagan proposed, and besides, they opined, even if we could do it it would only provoke our enemies to strike first before the system was installed.

Reagan, however, was convinced that the technology would work and he kept at it through all the snickers and snide remarks. Even after he was gone his successors continued to pursue testing and development. The thinking was that the less sure an aggressor could be that a missile attack would succeed the less likely they'd be to try it.

Eventually, a number of systems were developed, successfully tested, and deployed on Aegis class cruisers. Land based anti-missile missiles have also been deployed which, like the Patriot system, target incoming missiles and collide with them in the air, achieving what the liberal "brights" thought impossible.

Now, however, another giant stride has been taken with the successful test of an airborne system that shoots down missiles in their boost phase using directed energy (laser) beams. This video shows how it works:

It's hard, perhaps, for today's young people to imagine the fear of nuclear missiles that many people lived under during the 60s, 70s, and into the 80s. Now with the rise of a nuclear armed Iran and North Korea the fear may well return. Fortunately, we're quickly developing the means to defend ourselves from an attack, at least an ICBM attack. The Left, which has always opposed American military might, no longer scoffs at the prospect of a missile shield. Indeed, they have no good argument against erecting one except the financial cost. Nevertheless, ideological inertia keeps them from conceding that Reagan has been vindicated. No one clings more tenaciously to the past, after all, than do progressives.

Anyway, President Obama, being the progressive's champion, has himself expressed dislike for the idea of a missile shield. Perhaps the fact that the airborne system is both more effective and cheaper than previous systems will persuade him to support it.


Heather Mac on Root Causes

A week or so ago we did a post titled Root Causes which discussed Heather MacDonald's column in City Journal about urban crime. In the piece she argued that crime is not a result of poverty, but rather a result of fatherlessness.

She was invited to appear on Journal Report with Paul Gigot where she elaborates on her thesis and what the most effective short-term means of reducing crime are. It's pretty interesting, especially if you grew up in the sixties and seventies and had your mind filled with the sociological theories that she dismisses:


Saturday, February 13, 2010


Theology Geek NZ lists a dozen or so statements which are, in philosopher-speak, self-referentially incoherent - i.e. they're self-refuting. If they're true they must be false. Here are a few of them:

  • Truth does not exist (Is that a true statement?)
  • Nothing is absolute (Is that absolutely true?)
  • I do not exist (You must exist to deny that you exist)
  • Science is the only way to know (Can you scientifically prove that?)

There are more at the link. Meanwhile, here a couple of my all-time favorites:

A quote from the famous evidentialist William Clifford: "It is wrong always and everywhere for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence." If that's true then we shouldn't believe it for there's no evidence that warrants it.

Then there is the verification principle of the logical positivists: "Only those statements which can be empirically verified are meaningful." Since there's no way to verify this statement is it therefore meaningless?

HT: Dangerous Idea


Defying the Popular Will

Hot Air's Ed Morrissey discusses the latest results from a Rasmussen poll that show that overwhelming numbers from almost every demographic believe that the Obama administration must reign in spending. After showing that the President is continuing to lose ground with the American people in terms of his favorability rating. Morrissey offers this:

Part of the problem certainly springs from the massive deficits that the Obama administration has created. In a separate poll this week, Rasmussen shows that only 11% support deficit spending to fix the economy, while 70% believe that the federal government needs to downsize. Obama tried to get in front of that impulse by talking about the deficit in the SOTU speech, but the announcement of a $1.6 trillion deficit in FY2010 and another $1.35 trillion in FY2011 made a mockery of Obama's sudden deficit-hawk pose.

The internals of that poll should worry Obama and his team. Even a plurality of Democrats believe that the US needs to cut federal spending rather than splurge even more, 47%/21%. Republicans want to cut spending, 87%/6%, and independents are almost as adamant, 77%/6%. Even the normally safe demographics oppose Obama on his budget plans: a majority of black voters favor cuts, 58%/19%, women 68%/10%, young voters 68%/4%, and under-$20K earners 58%/14%.

It's as close to a consensus as anything seen in American politics - and Obama is taking the opposite direction. No wonder his approval deficit continues to grow.

These polls notwithstanding Mr. Obama continues to insist we need to spend more, and then he expects us to believe him when he tells us he's not an ideologue? In the past people would scoff at the characterization of the "tax and spend liberal." This characterization was, we were told, an unfair caricature. Well, the current Congress and White House have certainly done everything they could to ensure that that "caricature" lives on in the collective memory for another fifty years or more.


Ten Most Redeeming Films

Christianity Today lists their ten most redeeming films of 2009. They describe a "redeeming film" as:

... movies that include stories of redemption-sometimes blatantly, sometimes less so. Several of our films have characters who are redeemers themselves; all of them have characters who experience redemption to some degree-some quite clearly, some more subtly. Some are "feel-good" movies that leave a smile on your face; some are a bit more uncomfortable to watch. But the redemptive element is there in all of these films.

One of the films they list is the The Hurt Locker, a movie that certainly deserved its nomination for Best Picture. I won't bother to summarize the story since most are probably familiar with it, but it gives an excellent insight into what war in places like Iraq and Afghanistan has been like for the young men who are sent there to fight.

Perhaps the most significant point the film makes is how difficult it is for our troops to do combat under our rules of engagement. Early on a soldier sees a man holding a cell phone as his teammate is disarming an IED. Is the man an insurgent about to use the phone to trigger the explosive and kill his friend? Should he shoot? What if he's just an innocent civilian? What if he doesn't shoot and the man detonates the bomb? He has three seconds to decide what to do.

The Hurt Locker subtly poses those quandaries over and over - who are the bad guys? How can you tell? I don't see how any young man placed in those kinds of situations can be charged in a military court for making the wrong decision. Indeed, it boggles the mind that three Navy SEALs are currently on trial for simply punching a terrorist in their custody who had murdered several Americans and desecrated their bodies. Worse than getting punched happens in the midst of almost any football game on any given Autumn weekend in America. We need to hold our military to a high standard of conduct, of course, but we don't have to be fetishistic about it. Surely there are disciplines short of court martial for such breaches.

In any event, The Hurt Locker is apolitical and as realistic as a war movie gets. The realism, however, means that the language and violence are pretty raw, so I encourage anyone who has reservations about viewing such films to take a pass on this one.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Ultimate Causes

In a recent interview mathematician Granville Sewell makes the following interesting point:

A typical college physics text I read contains the statement "One of the most remarkable simplifications in physics is that only four distinct forces account for all known phenomena." Most people just haven't ever thought about things in this way, that if you don't believe in intelligent design, you must believe this claim, that the four unintelligent forces of physics caused atoms on Earth to rearrange themselves into nuclear power plants, spaceships and computers. When they do think about it, they may start to see things a little differently. This is part of the "broader view" that is often missed by biologists, but noticed by mathematicians and physicists.

He's right that most people never stop to think about this. Either human minds, libraries, computer software, and jet engines are ultimately the product of an intelligent designer or they're ultimately the product of blind, purposeless forces like gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.

Why is it somehow more rational to believe the latter than to believe the former? Why is it thought to take more faith to believe the former than to believe the latter? Indeed, it's more than a little ridiculous that people who believe the latter often make fun of those who believe the former.


Who Is Ayn Rand?

There's a revival of interest in the work of the woman who was in many ways the philosophical fountainhead of modern libertarianism, Ayn Rand, and Cathy Young explains for a new generation who Rand was and why she's significant. Young highlights both the salutary lessons Rand has to teach we the living in this age of creeping collectivization as well as the toxic liabilities embedded in many of her ideas:

Ayn Rand, the controversial Russian-born American writer, would have turned 105 years old on February 2. This anniversary takes place amidst a Rand mini-revival, sparked by the Obama Administrations push to expand government and resulting fears of socialism on the march. There has been a spike in sales of Rand's books, particularly Atlas Shrugged, the 1957 novel depicting a quasi-totalitarian future America in which the best, the brightest and the most productive go on strike in protest. Some bloggers have bandied about the idea of such a strike under Obama going Galt, after John Galt, the leader of the revolt in the novel. Rand has recently appeared on the cover of Reason, the libertarian monthly (where I am a contributing editor) and of GQ where she was the target of a profane, vitriolic rant.

Who is Ayn Rand, and what does her renewed popularity mean? A refugee from Soviet Russia who fled Communist dictatorship in the 1920s, Rand called herself a radical for capitalism rather than a conservative. Her vision, articulated in several novels and later in nonfiction essays as the philosophy of Objectivism, earned her a sometimes cult-like following in her lifetime and beyond it.

Politically, Rand wanted to provide liberal capitalism with a moral foundation, challenging the notion that communism was a noble but unrealistic ideal while the free market was a necessary evil best suited to humanity's flawed nature. Her arguments against "compassionate" redistribution, and persecution, of wealth have lost none of their power and persuasiveness. In an era when collectivism was often seen as the inevitable way of the future, she unapologetically asserted the worth of individual and each persons right to exist for himself.

It's an interesting article and an excellent introduction, perhaps even an anthem, to a very complex and influential woman.

(My apologies to those of you familiar enough with Rand to have winced your way through this post. For some reason I just couldn't resist the temptation.)


Fallujah in Afghanistan

The news brings word of an impending attack on the Afghanistan city of Marjah. The tactical template for the assault is presumed to be the battle some five years ago for the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Strategy Page explains:

The battle of Fallujah, in late 2004, become something of a case study for military historians and doctrine ("how to fight") experts. Like Marjah, the residents of Fallujah were warned that an attack was coming, and advised to get out. Most did. The subsequent Fallujah fighting was quite intense, even by historical standards, and the media missed a lot of the important details. What was noticed was how quickly the army and marine troops blitzed through the city, clearing out the 4,000 very determined defenders. The speed and efficiency of the American attack was the result of some unique, in the history of warfare, factors. But the principal reason for the success in Fallujah was the high degree of training the troops had. Many also had months of combat experience in Iraq. These factors (training and combat experience) have long been key factors in combat success. But the American troops in Fallujah had some relatively new advantages, that were used aggressively. These included massive amounts of information on the enemy, and robotic weapons. The standard gear of the 5,000 attacking troops was also exceptionally good by historical standards. Especially notable was the improved body armor and communications gear.

The end result of all this was a two week campaign that resulted in some 500 American and Iraqi casualties, but the obliteration of the defending force (1,200 killed, 1,500 captured, the rest either got out, or were buried in bombed buildings). While the enemy were not, compared to the U.S. troops, well trained, they were motivated, and often refused to surrender. But the speed and violence of the American assault prevented any coordinated defense. The U.S. troops quickly cut the city into sectors, that were then methodically cleared out.

The terrorists that got out later all repeated the same story. Once the Americans were on to you it was like being stalked by a machine. The often petrified defender could only remember the footsteps of the approaching American troops inside a building, the gunfire and grenade blasts as rooms were cleared and the shouted commands that accompanied it. If a building was so well defended that the American infantry could not get in, they would just obliterate it with a smart bomb. They used smaller weapons, like AT-4 rocket launchers, many of which fuel-air explosive (thermobaric) warheads. These would use an explosive mist to create a lethal blast, capable of clearing several rooms at once. The defenders could occasionally kill or wound the advancing Americans, but could not stop them. Nothing the defenders did worked, and the American tactics developers want to keep it that way.

The speed with which intelligence information (from troops, electronic intercepts, and constant live video via UAVs and gunships overhead) was processed enabled commanders to keep the battle going 24/7. The defenders were not ready to deal with this, and many of them died while groggy from lack of sleep. When in that condition, you are more prone to make mistakes, and the attackers were ready to take advantage.

Compared to earlier wars, there has never been anything quite like Fallujah. The Pentagon saw this as a good example of how to clear a city of fanatical defenders, with minimal friendly and civilian casualties. Fallujah was seen as the future of warfare. How accurate that assessment is will be seen soon in Marjah.

The media hasn't had much to say about Afghanistan lately and very little to say about the coming operation in Marjah, but it's apparently going to kick off any day now.


Philosophy of Religion

Those readers with an interest in philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics will find William Lane Craig's site called Reasonable Faith an excellent resource. Craig is one of the foremost philosophers of religion in the U.S. and has appeared in numerous debates over the years defending traditional orthodox Christianity. He has also been addressing a different question submitted by readers each week and his answers are usually very lucid. There's an archive on the home page which lists the 146 questions he's addressed so far.

For those who have a graduate level interest in the subject I recommend The Prosblogion, but be advised that the material here is highly technical.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pots and Kettles

I don't like to make fun of the intelligence of other people, and am the first to lament my own intellectual deficiencies, but when people who themselves are walking around under an empty attic enjoy ridiculing others for being dim then I think their stupidity should at least be pointed out. The video below features talk show host Joy Behar and Eve Ensler, author of the play The Vagina Monologues, enjoying a good chuckle at the feeble-mindedness of - who else? - Sarah Palin and the tea partiers.

Palin and her ilk are people who "play fast and loose with facts" - as if the current administration and Congress have been the picture of probity - and, according to Ensler, they're people whose intelligence simply has yet to "evolve." These Neanderthals - fascists, Behar calls them - believe in creationism and are dubious of man-caused global warming. Ms Behar interprets Sarah Palin's advice to President Obama to be tougher on national security to mean that Palin wants to start a world war. Ms Ensler chimes in that this is a consequence of Palin being an NRA member and "shooting animals from a plane," and also, somehow, a consequence of her wish to see us develop our domestic oil resources.

Don't ask me to explain any of this. I was as mystified by it as you are, but I really look forward to hearing Ms Behar expatiate on the creation/evolution debate, or Ms Ensler explain the logical connections between hunting, drilling for oil, and wanting to precipitate a world war. That'd be a show I'd be sure not to miss.

But more to the point: however dumb Sarah and her fans may be I'll bet even the most dull-witted among them knows that earthquakes and tsunamis have nothing to do with global warming, man-caused or otherwise. Perhaps one of these benighted tea-partiers might venture to enlighten Ms Ensler about the nature of tectonic shifts and their causes:

It's pretty funny listening to two people who lack any understanding of the rudiments of either logic or geoscience deriding others for being skeptical of what people like these two believe. It's just as amusing listening to two people who shouldn't be making fun of anyone else's intelligence doing just that.