Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mood Music

I've been trying to get the image of Al Gore assaulting that masseuse in a hotel room out of my mind, but I just can't. In fact, the more I think about it the more credible the massuese's story seems. After all, not even the world's greatest satirist could concoct a detail like this:

The accuser said Gore maneuvered her into the bedroom. His iPod docking station was there, he told her, and he wanted her to listen to "Dear Mr. President," a lachrymose attack on George W. Bush by the singer Pink.

Only Al Gore would find listening to a song that bashes George Bush suitable for erotic mood-setting. No wonder Tipper couldn't take it anymore.


Blowin' in the Wind

Kyle Smith of the New York Post declares the culture war all but over and conservatives are the losers. He arrives at this melancholy conclusion because of evidence that young voters have rejected the traditionally conservative positions on many of the social issues that their elders have clashed over:

You know something is changing in American mores when the supposed leader of the culture wars from the right, Sarah Palin, declares that smoking pot is "a minimal problem" and that "if somebody's gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody any harm, then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at to engage in."

Like many other pointless wars, the culture conflict has mainly resulted in exhaustion. Now the troops are laying down their arms and going home.

More and more Americans, particularly in the youngest generation of adults, are shrugging at drug use, gay relationships, pre-marital cohabitation, single motherhood, interracial marriage (which is now all but universally accepted) and gun ownership. More and more people aren't bothering to lug their church to the voting booth.

If only people between the ages of 18 to 29 voted, 38 states would support gay marriage, says a study by Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips of Columbia University. Will today's youngsters change their minds about gay marriage as they age? Don't count on it.

You may have heard a word or two about the Tea Party, which is fiscally focused. But the accompanying demise of Reagan-era groups like the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority is just as important. The morality armies have failed to inspire their children to join the crusade.

I'm not saying that Smith isn't correct, he may be, and in my more saturnine moments I fear he is, but it must be said that the views of the young are notoriously volatile, and it's risky to base predictions of the future of our culture conflicts on such a mercurial demographic.

Young people are almost always more liberal than their parents, and they grow increasingly more conservative as they have their own families and experience more of life. Even people who count themselves as liberal today are probably less so now than they were in their late teens and twenties.

For example, the finding that if only the young voted 38 states would support gay marriage is doubtless true, but it probably would have been true forty years ago as well.

Neither does Smith's claim that Sarah Palin would support legalizing marijuana amount to much as an augur of the future because it's really nothing new. Conservative icon Bill Buckley came out for marijuana's legalization back in the 1970s. Nor has interracial marriage been an issue for conservatives for at least a generation. A number of prominent conservatives have mixed race families, either by marriage or adoption. No one is more revered among conservatives than Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, and, though he's black, Mrs. Thomas, also a popular conservative activist, is white.

In other words, the youthful attitudes Smith points to as storm clouds on the horizon for cultural conservatives have been around for a long time and yet the culture war still rages. Perhaps Smith is reading into the current shape of the clouds his own hopes for the future.

At any rate, Mr. Smith may be correct, but I think it's a little too early to be prognosticating what society will look like a few decades down the road. History takes strange twists, and it often doesn't take much to nudge it onto a completely different path.


Atheists Don't Have No Songs

Steve Martin joins the Steep Canyon Rangers at the New Orleans Jazz Festival to perform a little ditty that makes a pretty interesting point, actually:

Well, there was John Lennon's Imagine, but after that ....

Atheism simply doesn't inspire art, at least not sublime art. This is not to say that atheists as individual artists haven't produced great works of art, literature, or music, of course, but rather that the art that they have churned out has not, except in a relatively few instances been inspired by their atheistic worldview. Alexander Pope's Essay on Man comes to mind as an exception, perhaps, but little else does. If I remember correctly, Richard Dawkins laments the inability of the atheism to inspire great art in his book The God Delusion.

If it's true that atheism is such a dry well of inspiration we might take a moment or two to reflect on the reasons why that should be so. Perhaps it's because, followed to its logical conclusions, atheism offers no hope, no good, and no meaning to anything. It's a gateway to despair, and despair has never been an impetus for art that lifts the spirit and soars.

HT: First Thoughts


Enigma in the White House

Mark Steyn writes with a pungent wit that's at its keenest when Mr. Obama is his subject. In this column he reflects on the air of apathy and detachment that clings to our president:

Only the other day, Sen. George Lemieux of Florida attempted to rouse the president to jump-start America's overpaid, over-manned, and oversleeping federal bureaucracy and get it to do something on the oil debacle. There are 2,000 oil skimmers in the United States: Weeks after the spill, only 20 of them are off the coast of Florida. Seventeen friendly nations with great expertise in the field have offered their own skimmers; the Dutch volunteered their "super-skimmers": Obama turned them all down. Raising the problem, Senator Lemieux found the president unengaged and uninformed. "He doesn't seem to know the situation about foreign skimmers and domestic skimmers," reported the senator.

He doesn't seem to know, and he doesn't seem to care that he doesn't know, and he doesn't seem to care that he doesn't care. "It can seem that at the heart of Barack Obama's foreign policy is no heart at all," wrote Richard Cohen in the Washington Post last week. "For instance, it's not clear that Obama is appalled by China's appalling human rights record. He seems hardly stirred about continued repression in Russia. . . . The president seems to stand foursquare for nothing much.

"This, of course, is the Obama enigma: Who is this guy? What are his core beliefs?"

Gee, if only your newspaper had thought to ask those fascinating questions oh, say, a month before the Iowa caucuses.

It does appear that Mr. Obama's goals for America are such as would have guaranteed electoral defeat if the majority of voters had known what they were. He wanted to become president for one reason: to diminish American economic and military influence in the world and force the nation, Procrustus-like, into a kind of egalitarian Euro-socialism. Nothing else really seems to fire his imagination. Other matters, like the Gulf oil spill, are little more than irritating distractions from his major passion.

To return to Cohen's question: "Who is this guy? What are his core beliefs?" Well, he's a guy who was wafted ever upward from the Harvard Law Review to state legislator to United States senator without ever lingering long enough to accomplish anything. "Who is this guy?" Well, when a guy becomes a credible presidential candidate by his mid-forties with no accomplishments other than a couple of memoirs, he evidently has an extraordinary talent for self-promotion, if nothing else. "What are his core beliefs?" It would seem likely that his core belief is in himself. It's the "nothing else" that the likes of Cohen are belatedly noticing.

Mr. Obama really isn't all that enigmatic for anyone who bothered during the campaign to attend to what he was saying and what others were saying about him. You can learn much about a man by reading the books which bear his name, by looking at the people with whom he surrounds himself throughout his life, and by examining his voting record. You can also learn something of the man by observing what sorts of records about himself he shields from public view. All of these considered together strongly suggested that Mr. Obama was a far-left ideologue of modest academic achievements who did not identify with the history and traditions of the Anglo-Saxon West and was not particularly fond of them. As such the probable path that Mr. Obama would choose to follow as president was fairly clear.

A large segment of America may now be growing disenchanted with the direction Mr. Obama is taking the country. We may be increasingly disturbed by the feeling that no matter how shallow the waters he finds himself in, he's out of his depth. We may find the looming prospect of huge deficits and crushing taxes alarming, but we have no one to blame but ourselves. We had every reason to foresee all this coming and we, or at least a majority of us, voted for it anyway.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sex Poodles and Global Warming

Al Gore is back in the news, though probably not in a manner he'd have preferred. The police report of his alleged assault upon a female masseuse in a Portland, Oregon hotel room makes him look like a buffoonish, bullying satyr. I'm not going to go into the sordid details here, but few who have followed Gore since his nomination for the presidency in 2000 will have trouble believing the buffoonish part. From his "impromptu" PDA with Tipper on the convention stage, to his ridiculous stalking behavior of George Bush in the debates, to his sudden acquisition of a black dialect when campaigning, er, speaking at a black church, to his "He betrayed this country... He played on our fears" performance after his defeat in the election, Mr. Gore has always managed to amuse those not gullible enough to take him seriously.

Anyway, if you want the short version of his shenanigans with the masseuse you can read Byron York's piece at The Washington Examiner, but if you were an admirer of Mr. Gore you might want to take a pass. Less disillusionment that way.

If you do read it, though, reflect on the fact that we came within a few votes and a Supreme Court decision of having this man as our president in 2000.

One thing about the report I will comment upon is the advice given the masseuse by one of her liberal friends:

Finally she got away [from Gore]. Later, she talked to friends, liberals like herself, who advised against telling police. One asked her "to just suck it up; otherwise, the world's going to be destroyed from global warming."

Pretty funny.



You remember, perhaps, the case of the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mahboub in a Dubai hotel last January. The Israeli Mossad was believed to be responsible, but their connivance could never be proven. Now U.S. intelligence sources are reportedly suggesting that the caper was not actually supposed to be an assassination but rather part of a series of abductions designed to gain the freedom of an Israeli soldier named Gilead Shalit who had been kidnapped by Hamas gunmen four years ago:

Debkafile cites US intelligence sources as speculating that Mahboub was to have been one of half a dozen high-value Hamas operatives Israel planned to grab in January in different parts of the Middle East as bargaining chips for the Israeli soldier.

As the man in charge of Iran's weapons supplies to Hamas, Mahboub was judged a key lever for obtaining the Israeli soldier's freedom.

Those US sources believe the plan to snatch him from a Dubai hotel went smoothly enough up until the last step. But then, the drugs administered to knock him out appeared to have killed him on the spot. He was meant to be doped enough to let himself be bundled out of the hotel on his two feet in the middle of the team of abductors without drawing attention. According to this theory, the team was to have driven him to Dubai port and put him aboard a waiting yacht, which was to sail off and rendezvous with an Israeli naval missile boat in the Red Sea.

After delivering him, the same team was to have proceeded to its next target.

But whether they gave Mahboub an overdose or whether his health was frailer than believed, he did not survive. The abduction team leader, lacking instructions for this exigency, decided to abort the mission and leave the dead man in place. He told the would-be abductors to get out of Dubai fast and scatter. The rest of the high-risk, ambitious plan was scrapped.

Interesting theory.



The Supreme Court has ruled in another ideologically split 5-4 decision that public schools can refuse funding and facilities to campus groups that discriminate as to who they allow to join their organizations. The specific case pitted the Christian Legal Society against the University of California's Hastings College of Law (CLS v. Martinez) and devolved around the question whether Hastings could defund a Christian law student group which offered membership only to those who agreed that sex apart from a marriage of one man and one woman was wrong. This provision violated the school's policy of non-discrimination on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. The Court ruled that the school can indeed defund such groups.

Why, though, should religion and sexual orientation be the only criteria upon which to base non-discrimination? Why not race, sex, political affiliation, or even academic achievement?

The logic of the Court's decision seems to suggest that, in order to keep their funding and access to school facilities, Muslims should have to accept into their chapters Christians, Jews, atheists and any other infidels who wish to join and vice versa. Moreover, organizations for minority students should be obligated to accept non-minorities into membership, women's groups should have to accept men, Republicans should be able to join the Young Democrats, and organizations based on academic distinction should be required to accept academic sluggards onto their rolls. To do otherwise is to "discriminate."

Indeed, the decision will ultimately force any group which wishes to retain its distinctive identity - which is probably most student groups - off campus. I haven't read the ruling itself so perhaps I'm missing something, but if I'm not, what is there about the majority's reasoning in this case that makes sense? Have we become so politically correct, so egalitarian, so progressive, so fatuous that student groups will no longer be recognized by tax-payer funded schools if they seek to limit their membership to people with which they share some crucial quality in common? Has the very concept of discrimination, once considered the essence of wisdom and taste, now become an obscenity?


Bleeding Jobs

President Obama's decision to declare a moratorium on off-shore oil drilling would, if enacted, put thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of Americans out of work and do nothing to stop foreign companies from drilling in the Gulf. The decision makes no sense, but it's not the only inexplicable environmental decision that has resulted from this president's policies. Recently, an American firm was denied an opportunity to sell $600 million worth of equipment to an Indian company that's building a coal-burning electricity plant because the Indian firm was denied financing by the U.S. Export-Import Bank. The U.S. bank, which is funded by congress, denied the funding because it felt constrained by Obama administration directives.

Of course, the Indians will simply go elsewhere for their equipment, the plant will be built, and carbon will still be pumped into the atmosphere. All the administration will have accomplished is to bring harm to the American company and to put up to a thousand jobs at risk:

Up to 1,000 jobs at Bucyrus International Inc. and its suppliers could be in jeopardy as the result of a decision by the U.S. Export-Import Bank, funded by Congress, to deny several hundred million dollars in loan guarantees to a coal-fired power plant and mine in India.

On Thursday, the Export-Import Bank denied financing for Reliance Power Ltd., an Indian power plant company, effectively wiping out about $600 million in coal mining equipment sales for Bucyrus, chief executive Tim Sullivan said.

"President Obama has made clear his administration's commitment to transition away from high-carbon investments and toward a cleaner-energy future," Export-Import Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg said in a statement. "After careful deliberation, the Export-Import Bank board voted not to proceed with this project because of the projected adverse environmental impact."

The bank's decision is puzzling, Sullivan said, because the power plant will meet international standards and the bank's environmental criteria.

The plant is under construction in Sasan, central India, and is scheduled to be up and running in 2012. Coal mining will take place for the plant whether it's done with Bucyrus machines or equipment from China and Belarus, Sullivan said.

"Unless the Obama administration jumps all over this and corrects a wrong fairly quickly, I am confident this business is going elsewhere," Sullivan told the Journal Sentinel on Saturday. "The bank's decision has had no impact on global carbon emissions but has cost the U.S. nearly 1,000 jobs," he added.

Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and Sen. Herb Kohl, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate for governor, voiced their objections to the Export-Import Bank decision, which may be irreversible since there isn't an appeals process. Doyle said he met with Hochberg to stress the importance of the mining equipment sale, which was contingent on the loan guarantees, for sustaining jobs here.

"I was absolutely stunned by their decision. It was the most shortsighted, unconscionable decision you could imagine, and I can't see any justification for it," the governor said. Doyle said he hopes the bank's decision can be reversed before India turns to China or Belarus for mining equipment.

The decision could set a precedent that would keep other nations from buying U.S. mining equipment, especially since China offers discount financing on machines built there, which puts the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage. "My discussions with the bank chairman were hardly confidence-building," Doyle said. "They really could not justify their decision except somehow, somebody told them that if the word coal is anywhere in a plan, then they can't move forward with it."

"By rejecting the Bucyrus proposal, the bank has guaranteed companies who care little for carbon emissions in Russia or China will get these jobs. These are the common-sense arguments I will make to the bank to reverse this awful decision. And they are points I'll personally share with the president when he is in Wisconsin this week," Barrett added.

Ryan said he was angered by the "slippery explanation" given by the Export-Import Bank for denying the loan guarantees.

"This is an ominous preview of the economic damage from Washington's environmental overreach. Should they fail to overturn this decision, the administration is sending a clear signal to the Midwest that political ideology is a higher priority than the livelihoods of Wisconsin families," Ryan said.

"I am a green-energy guy," Doyle said. "But I also understand that we need coal as a major source of energy. What that means is, we need to develop and support the technologies and businesses that are involved in the production of energy from clean coal. Bucyrus is one of those businesses."

So what reason could the administration have for putting people out of work when doing so accomplishes nothing? Does Mr. Obama even care about the suffering his hostility to fossil fuels is causing? Does it not matter to him that he's, in effect, sending American jobs overseas, something for which he and other Democrats volubly criticized President Bush? If it does matter to him, I think he needs to give us an explanation as to how these decisions are really in the best interest of both the environment and the American people, because it's certainly not obvious that they are, and if it doesn't matter to him then the American people need to know that as well.


Monday, June 28, 2010

The A Whale

Hot Air calls our attention to another depressing story of how bureaucratic inefficiency in the government is slowing the Gulf oil clean-up. It's the story of a ship, called the A Whale (pronounced like "A Team"), designed to skim oil from sea water at a rate of 500,000 barrels of water a day. If it works as designed it could accomplish as much clean-up in a day and a half as has been done by other means in 66 days. So why is it just now sailing for the Gulf? Bureaucratic red tape:

Built in South Korea as a supertanker for transporting oil and iron ore, the six-month-old vessel was refitted in the wake of the BP oil spill with 12, 16-foot-long intake vents on the sides of its bow designed to skim oil off surface waters.

The vessel's billionaire owner, Nobu Su, the CEO of Taiwanese shipping company TMT Group, said the ship would float across the Gulf "like a lawn mower cutting the grass," ingesting up to 500,000 barrels of oil-contaminated water a day.

But a number of hurdles stand in his way. TMT officials said the company does not yet have government approval to assist in the cleanup or a contract with BP to perform the work.

That's part of the reason the ship was tied to pier at the Virginia Port Authority's Norfolk International Terminals Friday morning. TMT and its public-relations agency invited scores of media, elected officials and maritime industry executives to an hour-long presentation about how the ship could provide an immediate boost to clean-up efforts in the Gulf.

TMT also paid to fly in Edward Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University, to get a look at the massive skimmer.

Overton blasted BP and the federal government for a lack of effort and coordination in their dual oil-spill response and made a plea to the government to allow the A Whale to join the cleanup operation.

"We need this ship. We need this help," Overton said. "That oil is already contaminating our shoreline. We've got to get the ship out there and see if it works. There's only one way to find out: Get the damn thing in the gulf and we'll see."

"This concept has never been tried before," said Bob Grantham, a TMT project officer. "But we think we can do in maybe in a day and a half what these other crews have done in 66 days. We see the A Whale as adding another layer to the recovery effort."

To join the fight, the ship also might require separate waivers from the Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The A Whale - pronounced along the lines of "A Team" because there is a "B Whale" coming - is designed to work 20 to 50 miles offshore where smaller skimmers have trouble navigating. The ship would take in oily water and transfer it into specialized storage tanks on the flanks of the vessel. From there, the oil-fouled seawater would be pumped into internal tanks where the oil would separate naturally from the water.

After the separation process, the oil would be transferred to other tankers or shore-based facilities while the remaining water would be pumped back into the gulf.

Because the process wouldn't remove all traces of oil from the seawater, TMT will likely have to gain a special permit from the EPA, said Scott H. Segal of the Washington lobbying firm, Bracewell &Giuliani, which TMT has retained to help negotiate with federal regulators.

"The simple answer is, we don't know what the discharge will look like until we can take A Whale out there and test it," Segal said. TMT will work with regulators to determine an appropriate level of oil that can be contained in the ship's discharge.

TMT is also working with the Coast Guard to gain approval to operate in the gulf, which may require a waiver from a 90-year-old maritime act that restricts foreign-flagged vessels from operating in U.S. waters, said Bob Grantham, a TMT project officer.

So what's the hold-up? Does the EPA think that the gulf will be worse off after the A Whale has processed the polluted water than it was before processing it? Why can't President Obama just tell his people to waive all restrictions that would prevent anyone from contributing to the effort to clean the Gulf? When is the media going to insist that he explain why these kinds of bureaucratic hold-ups are allowed to persist while the Gulf ecosystem, and people's livelihoods, are suffering so much damage?


Caring for Strangers

I've recently been engaged in an interesting dialogue at Secular Right a blog for political conservatives who reject theism. The discussion resulted from a post there that discussed the fact that our concern for people diminishes as our (cultural, genetic, geographical) distance from them increases. My point was that on secularist assumptions there's no reason why this should be otherwise. You can have an obligation to care about others or you can have atheism, but you can't have both.

Check out the post and the exchange here. I go by my nickname Dick in the comments section.


Guns and Crime

Like many of my generation, when I was a young man I was considerably more more liberal on many issues than I am today. In my twenties I was pro-choice, today I am not. I also believed then that public lands should be completely off-limits to industrial use of any kind (logging, mining, drilling, etc.) today I think that position is needlessly restrictive. I also believed, even into my forties, that handguns should be banned and was even a member for a time of Sarah Brady's organization Handgun Control Inc, (HCI).

What began my change of mind about this last issue was a column by the late Chicago newspaperman Mike Royko arguing that women would be a lot safer in our society if they owned guns and knew how to use them. I thought he made a good case, and as time went on I came to think that it was simply unjust for the government to deprive citizens of the ability and right to protect themselves and their families.

By the time John Lott came out with his book More Guns, Less Crime in which he shows that communities that allow people to own and carry arms are much safer than those in which they are not, I had long since given up my opposition.

Syndicated columnist John Stossel has evidently made a journey similar to my own and writes a column about why he no longer believes what he once did about guns. Here's part of it:

I was totally wrong about guns. Now I know that more guns means -- hold onto your seat -- less crime. How can that be, when guns kill almost 30,000 Americans a year? Because while we hear about the murders and accidents, we don't often hear about the crimes stopped because would-be victims showed a gun and scared criminals away. Those thwarted crimes and lives saved usually aren't reported to police (sometimes for fear the gun will be confiscated), and when they are reported, the media tend to ignore them. No bang, no news.

This state of affairs produces a distorted public impression of guns. If you only hear about the crimes and accidents, and never about lives saved, you might think gun ownership is folly.

But, hey, if guns save lives, it logically follows that gun laws cost lives.

Suzanna Hupp and her parents were having lunch at Luby's cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, when a man began shooting diners with his handgun, even stopping to reload. Suzanna's parents were two of the 23 people killed. (Twenty more were wounded.)

Suzanna owned a handgun, but because Texas law at the time did not permit her to carry it with her, she left it in her car. She's confident that she could have stopped the shooting spree if she had her gun. (Texas has since changed its law.)

Now a 76 year-old Chicago man named Otis McDonald, who was denied the ability to buy a gun to protect his home from the thugs that infest his neighborhood, has taken his case to the Supreme Court. The Court's decision will be handed down this week and if they rule in favor of McDonald the expectation is that restrictive gun laws that prohibit citizens from owning the means of protecting their lives and property will begin falling all across the nation. If Lott is right, and his statistics certainly make a strong case, crime rates will fall as well.

There was a time when it seemed to me that it was irrational to allow citizens to carry weapons in public. That opinion fell by the wayside many years ago as evidence mounted that armed and licensed citizens have saved thousands of lives, including their own, simply by virtue of possessing a weapon, even if it was merely displayed and not used. My former view was finally buried by reading Lott's More Guns, Less Crime, a book I recommend to anyone who doubts that a society in which citizens are armed is actually safer for everyone than one in which only criminals carry weapons.

Update: the Supreme Court has this morning passed down a 5-4 decision striking down the ban imposed by the city of Chicago on gun ownership. This effectively makes any such laws anywhere in the country unconstitutional.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sixth Sense

Olivia Judson, writing a blog entry on brood parasitism at, raises an interesting question. Brood parasitism is the behavior, not uncommon in the animal and insect world, of one species laying eggs in the nest of another and having the host parents raise the offspring. Judson focuses on brood parasitism in birds, and meditates on why the parents don't seem to recognize the parasites' eggs or young.

Here's part of what she writes:

...birds don't see the world as we do: they see more colors. Therefore, what looks like a good match to us may not look like a good match to the bird; and vice versa.

Which makes me wonder: what are we missing? Like the birds - like any organism - our sensory system defines the way we perceive and interact with the world, and it is limited in important ways. As I said earlier, our sense of color is not as vivid as that of most birds. As mammals go, our sense of smell is poor. We hear a limited range of sounds: unaided, we cannot hear much of the conversations of elephants, or of bats.

True, we have invented machines to detect many aspects of the world that are invisible to us, but most of these are kept in fancy laboratories and are not available for daily life. If another organism, a dog say, were watching us, what "obvious" problems would they spot that we are oblivious to? (My guess is that dogs often have moments when they look at us and wonder, "Why don't they notice?" For dogs are often able to smell things about us that we cannot. Many cancers, for example, change the scent of our urine and our breath. Without special machines, we cannot detect this - but dogs can.)

To what extent do our preconceived notions narrow our perception of the planet, and ourselves?

These are fascinating questions. In my classes I invite students to imagine that our five senses were much more acute than they are and to ponder how differently the world would then appear. What if we could see radio waves? What colors would they be? What if we could smell or hear what a dog can? How might it change human behavior and the way we live?

On the other hand, suppose we possessed not five, but six or seven senses. To appreciate how much different the world would appear to us imagine a man born blind and deaf so that he has only three senses. Imagine him walking along the surf at a crowded beach. How impoverished would his mental image of his surroundings be? He would be aware of heat and wind on his skin, the crunch of sand at his feet, and the smells typical of the beach, but that would be about it. Now imagine that this man walking along the beach suddenly, through some miracle, finds himself able to both see and hear. The experience would doubtless knock him flat. He'd be overwhelmed by how much different the world would be than what he had ever imagined. He would be unable, I should think, to comprehend what he was experiencing when he saw color for the first time or hears sound.

Or what if there are more dimensions than what our minds are structured to perceive? If we're really five dimensional creatures but are only able to perceive each other in three dimensions our "real" appearance would be totally different than how we currently appear to each other. In other words, what we "look" like is a function of the structure of our minds. If our minds were structured differently we would see each other as much different beings.

Why should we assume the world is just the way our senses reveal it to us? The world is perhaps far richer and more wondrous than we assume it to be. We are in this life like an unborn child in its mother's womb. The child's world is dark, warm and moist, with only a few muffled sounds. At birth, though, the child is suddenly delivered into a world that would have been literally inconceivable prior to its being experienced.

Perhaps at death we pass, like the aborning child, into a state of existence infinitely more beautiful than what we have ever experienced before. Perhaps we acquire more senses and/or the ones we have become more finely attuned. Perhaps we're able to experience additional dimensions. Perhaps we're able to "see" the world more as God sees it. Whatever it would be like it would not be something of which we could presently conceive any more than the child in the womb could conceive a world of color and flavor. It's very hard to imagine something we have never experienced with our senses.

Shakespeare reminds us that there are more things in heaven and on earth than we dream of in our everyday musings. Plato depicts this world as being like a cave in which we have for our entire lives been imprisoned. All we've ever seen are dark shadows on a wall and we naturally think that those shadows are all there is. We are oblivious to the world of color and other sensory delights outside the cave.

But why should we think that reality is just the way we perceive it to be with our puny little sensory and conceptual apparatus? Why not think that the way we apprehend reality is simply a function of the number and type of senses we have and that the world really would appear quite differently to us, as it no doubt does to those birds victimized by the parasite, were we to have different senses or senses with greater sensitivity?


Giving Sight to the Blind

The stories of wonderful results from stem cell technology, particularly adult stem cells, continue. Now comes word of a technique that can restore sight to those who've been blinded by chemical burns:

Dozens of people who were blinded or otherwise suffered severe eye damage when they were splashed with caustic chemicals had their sight restored with transplants of their own stem cells - a stunning success for the burgeoning cell-therapy field, Italian researchers reported Wednesday.

The treatment worked completely in 82 of 107 eyes and partially in 14 others, with benefits lasting up to a decade so far. One man whose eyes were severely damaged more than 60 years ago now has near-normal vision.

"This is a roaring success," said ophthalmologist Dr. Ivan Schwab of the University of California, Davis, who had no role in the study - the longest and largest of its kind.

I imagine that researchers are working with every organ system and bodily disease trying to find ways to use stem cells to cure, reverse, or slow the various debilities which plague the human body. We applaud their efforts, admire their genius, and pray for their success.


Mr. President, Do Your Job

Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer is not taking President Obama's feckless response to the flood of illegals pouring across our borders lying down. This ad is effective, but it's unlikely to stir any positive reaction from a president who opposes border control out of both ideological conviction and political necessity. He's ideologically disposed toward open borders and is politically dependent on Hispanic votes for survival in 2012 so he's really not interested in Governor Brewer's insistence that he fulfill his responsibilities as the nation's chief law enforcement officer:

The President showed us how much he cares about the concerns of those who want laws against illegal immigration enforced by threatening to sue Arizona over their recent measure (SB1070) requiring local police to uphold federal law and by appointing a man to head up ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) who supports sanctuary cities and who opposes legislation like SB1070.

Mr. Obama's immigration policies can have only one of two long-term outcomes. Either border states will simply give up trying to keep illegal aliens out and the nation will be overwhelmed with the cost burden these immigrants will impose, or states will move further and further toward independence from a federal government that they perceive as hostile to their welfare. Neither of these outcomes is in any way good for the nation, but that's the hope and change we voted for in 2008.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Money for Nothin'

Here's a story that tells you everything you need to know about why so many people distrust government and its ability to manage anything well. Be sure you've taken you blood pressure meds before watching the video:


Seven hundred dollars per card per month. Why is it that this system was not designed to prevent converting benefits into cash? Why are the recipients able to get anything they want with these cards instead of being limited to necessities like food and clothing? Why even ask why? The answer is that it's a government program and one shouldn't expect government programs to actually make sense or be frugal.

Perhaps, though, we're not looking at this correctly. Perhaps these ATM cards are not a symbol of bureaucratic waste and stupidity but rather a reflection of the magnanimity of the taxpayers of California, at least the few who are left, who are eager to do what they can to subsidize the recreational habits of the indigent. This would account for the dismay so many of them feel at Arizona's decision that it can no longer afford the millions of dollars it costs to have hordes of illegal aliens crossing its borders. Such niggardliness would certainly have no place in California, which, despite the fact that it teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, nevertheless feels a moral obligation to facilitate excursions to casinos by those who couldn't afford such visits on their own.

If Arizonans can't pay for their illegals they should send them to California. Californians will gladly turn their state into Zimbabwe, apparently, in order to accommodate them.


Not Good People

Another Democrat shows that he's either a bigot or lacks a basic understanding of the rules of logical implication. In the video Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D, PA) is holding forth on how his office is helping people get through the recession. The people he's helping, he declares, are not irresponsible, they're not minorities, they're not "defectives." On the contrary, they're average, good American people.

Does Mr. Kanjorski really mean to imply that minorities and "defectives" are not good Americans? Is he unwittingly revealing something about his own underlying racial attitudes that perhaps we should know?

At Hot Air they're wondering if the media will give Mr. Kanjorski's bigotry the same sort of attention they lavished on George Allen's use of the word "macaca." Silly boys. Don't they know that Allen was a Republican and that Kanjorski's a Democrat? Don't they know that Democrats are allowed to say racist things and that only Republicans get punished for their unfortunate breaches of racial etiquette?


Fundamental Freedoms

I hardly know what to make of this report. I can't believe that the Michigan cops would be so stupid as to arrest a bunch of people just for passing out religious literature. Perhaps there's more to it, but if so, it hasn't yet come to my attention.

Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian explains:

Yesterday I found out friends of mine had been arrested for sharing the gospel in Dearborn, Michigan. I've shared some meals with Nabeel Qureshi, and I spoke at an apologetics conference he organized. I've had some shorter conversations with David Wood, who was also taken away from there in handcuffs. David has been featured and has commented on this blog. (I do not know Negeen and Paul Rezkalla, who were also arrested.)

Their cameras were confiscated for a time. What were they doing to deserve this? They were sharing the love of Jesus Christ at an Arab ethnic festival. The first YouTube video I saw on it when I checked in this morning called them liars, saying they went there to stir things up, and they were more interested in creating a scene than in preaching the gospel. This video tries to support this with a few out-of-context, unreferenced quotes from David Wood. I can assure you emphatically David and Nabeel's heart really is to share the good news of Jesus Christ. So what did they do to deserve a night in jail?

Apparently nothing:

They tell us here they handed out no printed materials, they approached no one, they spoke only with people who approached them. They went out of their way to avoid even the appearance of being disruptive. I've seen no evidence in other news sources to contradict any of this. They had "amicable" conversations and "made friends" with many there. The police took them away just as they were closing up another such amicable discussion. They told the officers they had video to show they had done nothing provocative, and asked them to sit down and watch it with them, but the police refused to look at the evidence.

It's important to note that this was not a Muslim festival. It was not a religious event. It was an ethnic festival...

There's more at the link. Perhaps the young evangelists will sue the Dearborn police for violating their first amendment rights. I hope so. It's apparently the only way this type of harrassment is going to stop.

I can't imagine that the police would have made these arrests had the young people been Muslims talking to the curious at, say, a fourth of July fireworks celebration, or if they had been Young Democrats talking to people at a Tea Party rally. Why does being Christian make them targets for arrest?

Update: Allahpundit has some commentary and video on this travesty at Hot Air.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Second Opinion

An acquaintance of mine, Dr. Nick Pandelitis, has a blog he calls Dr. Right on which he has posted a series of very thoughtful and well-informed pieces analyzing health care in America and the legislative "reform" signed into law last spring. Dr. Pandelitis is doubtful, to put it mildly, that the legislation is going to accomplish anything by way of solving the most pressing problems, and will instead exacerbate many of those problems.

Anyone interested in this issue is encouraged to visit his site and read his posts. His most recent is #11 in the series. The others can be accessed by scrolling down from that one.


Charlotte Simmons Redux

Joseph Bottum writes a winsome essay at First Things about a young woman of his acquaintance, a rural girl raised around horses in the American west, who went away to college and lost her innocence. It's a sad story. Here's part of what Bottum has to say:

Even out at a minor western state university, there's no supervision, no moral code, no help. Just the one-hour freshman orientation session that hands out condoms and vaginal dams, with a warning about AIDS. The cowgirl from the ranch-her parents wouldn't have sent her to UC Berkeley or NYU, mostly because old reputations die hard. But they didn't realize they were doing the rough equivalent.

The cost of a small state school's embarrassment, of its hunger to be just like everywhere else, is paid by abortions and the knocked-up, messed-up young women who were thrown to the wolfish boys, unconstrained by either manners or morals.

The bacchanalia of the contemporary American college experience can be resisted, by young people who are strong enough and determined enough to oppose a personal code to the riot all around them. But lots of the young are not that tough. They're weak and silly and susceptible-they're young and uneducated, in other words-and they just want to do what everyone else is doing. In its way, that makes them just like the administrators of those colleges: weak and silly and susceptible.

Sending a child, especially a daughter, to an American college has become a source of deep anxiety for many parents. Colleges have completely abandoned any pretense of supervision of the children we entrust to them. It's frightening for parents to think that Bottum's description of college administrators is pretty much true.

The experience of the young woman in his essay reminds me in so many ways of Tom Wolfe's story of the young woman in I Am Charlotte Simmons, a novel I recommend to any parent who'd like to see what his or her daughter is in for when she heads off to college.


In Defense of Elitism

(Note: Some of the following was taken from a post which appeared on Viewpoint in April of 2008 titled Three Cheers for Elitism.)

In his book To Change the World James Davison Hunter cautions Christians against developing an attitude of elitism that often accompanies a higher socio-economic status.

He never really defines what he means by "elitism," but throughout the concluding chapters of the 3rd essay he seems to assume that the reader shares his disdain for it. I don't think that the assumption, or the disdain, is necessarily warranted.

Like prejudice and discrimination, whether elitism is an undesirable character trait depends a lot on the kind of elitism we're talking about. For many the word "elitism" is a euphemism for racism or a haughty sense of moral superiority and entitlement attaching to one's own socio-economic class. Of course it can be this, but it need not be. Elitism, as I understand the word, is the conviction that some values are better than others, some people are smarter, harder working, more virtuous than others, and some traditions and ways of life are better than others. This, it seems to me, is hard to deny.

Nevertheless, critics will object that in our politically correct post-modern world "everyone knows" that no one's values are any better than anyone else's and that to think otherwise is to be guilty of being a racist, classist, elitist reactionary - to which the appropriate response is: So what.

As William Henry, a liberal Democrat in the Clinton administration once wrote, it's an absurdity to think that all cultures and ways of life are equally admirable. It's scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone through one's nose.

In The Moviegoer, novelist Walker Percy puts it somewhat differently, if no less bluntly, when he has a Louisiana matriarch named Aunt Edna address herself to this matter. Edna declaims:

"I'll make a little confession. I am not ashamed to use the word class. I will also plead guilty to another charge. The charge is that people in my class think they're better than other people. You're damn right we're better. We're better because we do not shirk our obligations to ourselves or to others. We do not whine. We do not organize a group and blackmail the government. We do not prize mediocrity for mediocrity's sake....Ours is the only civilization in history which has enshrined mediocrity as its national ideal....They say out there that we think we're better. You're damn right we're better and don't think they don't know it."

This proud woman wasn't about to apologize for the obvious political incorrectness of her "elitist" sentiments. Neither should anyone else. Elitism based upon moral principle, so far from being some awful sin, is in fact a virtue, a salutary antidote to the infection of moral relativism currently metastasizing throughout our culture. This may scandalize those who feel that nobody should be so chauvinistic as to think his principles to be actually better than the next person's, but the irony needs to be noted that those who feel this way evidently believe their own moral egalitarianism is better than my moral elitism.

Aside from those enumerated by Aunt Edna, though, what exactly are the virtues which distinguish her "better" class of people? Without attempting an exhaustive list, it's probably correct to say for starters that, no matter what their race or socio-economic status, men and women of this elite class take a great deal of pride in their work, their property, and their character. They assume responsibility for their actions. They strive to be cordial, courteous, and considerate of others. They're dependable, trustworthy, and temperate, willing to defer short-term gratification for long-term benefit. They're frugal, faithful to their spouses, and committed to the well-being of their families. They're mindful of the fact that children do not raise themselves very well and that properly ushering a child into adulthood requires an enormous investment of time, energy, and self-sacrifice. They enjoy and appreciate excellence, especially in the arts and other forms of entertainment. They esteem education, especially for their children, and possess at least a modest appreciation for the life of the mind.

Why should anyone shrink from affirming the pre-eminence of these qualities and from regarding those who share them to be of superior moral timber to those who don't? And why should the social levelers among us be allowed to succeed in making people feel there's something wrong with choosing to avoid the society of those whose lives and habits are the antithesis of the values one cherishes?

It must be emphasized that this is not a matter of race or economics. People of all colors and incomes esteem these virtues and feel uncomfortable around those who don't. Indeed, it's perhaps true to say that many people who share them feel more comfortable in each other's company, regardless of their ethnicity or wealth, than they do in the company of those of similar race and economic class who don't share them.

Moreover, when people are made to feel guilty for believing their convictions to be more noble than their contraries, or when substantial numbers of people are persuaded that the precepts one lives by are merely arbitrary preferences, none of which is any better than any other, then, as with money, the worse will inevitably drive out the better. The lowest moral classes will eventually succeed in establishing the behavioral norms of the culture, and the principles, or lack of them, which govern their own lives and which are in large measure responsible for their being lower class in the first place, will eventually percolate upward, like a toxic gas, and permeate the rest of society. The denouement will be a social unraveling, corruption and disintegration that'll substantially diminish the quality of life of everyone.

Three cheers, therefore, for Aunt Edna and for elitism so construed.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Unsustainable Prejudices

Well, those racist, sexist, redneck, bigoted Tea-Partiers in South Carolina have certainly refused to conform to the stereotypes we keep hearing about them. Yesterday they chose a daughter of Indian immigrant parents, Nikki Haley, to run for governor and a black man, Tim Scott, to run for congress. If Haley is elected, which she's favored to be, she'll be one of two Indian-American governors - Bobby Jindal being the other - and both are Republicans. I wonder how the media is going to fit that irksome development into their Tea Party narrative.

It should be fun to watch. Meanwhile, South Carolina Democrats are still in a swivet over the fact that their primary voters have served up ... Alvin Greene to run against GOP incumbent Jim DeMint for U.S. Senate.

For years we've been lectured about how the Republican party is suspiciously underrepresented by minorities and women and that the Democrats, by contrast, are the party of inclusion and competence. Now the Republicans have selected an Indian-American woman and a black conservative man to serve their political interests, and the Democrats have selected a man with criminal charges pending, no job, and an IQ that seems to hover somewhere on the south side of normal. Add to this, among others, the conservative GOP women running against Harry Reid in Nevada and against Barbara Boxer in California, and all the old liberal prejudices and shibboleths are just getting much, much harder to sustain.


To Change the World

James Davison Hunter has written a book (To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World) that should be read by every Christian who is concerned about modern America culture, how to change it, and how best to relate to it. The book is built around three essays. In the first, Hunter argues that, contrary to what many might believe, cultural change does not come about by changing the hearts of ordinary people, but by changing the way the cultural elite see the world.

The elite are the creators of culture - the artists, politicians, professors, journalists, novelists, celebrities, and so on. They're the engine (my metaphor, not Hunter's) that pulls the long freight train of society. Ordinary people are just box cars. It doesn't matter how many box cars there are in the train, or how easily they glide along the rails, the train's not going to move unless the locomotives pull it. Unfortunately, for those Christian revanchists on both left and right who wish to see a renascence of a culture more compatible with Christian assumptions, Hunter doesn't think that's something that can be accomplished through conscious effort.

Many readers will perhaps find parts of the book a bit too academic for their tastes, but, if so, they'll be confirming one of Hunter's main points in the first two essays. The reason Christians have had so little impact on modern culture is that they too often fail to appreciate the crucial importance of being among the cultural elite. Christians do not reside at the center of culture either in terms of their institutions, their artifacts, or their intellectual life. Too much of the Church is anti-intellectual, and those who are not too often reside on the cultural margins from whence they can exert little influence. Christians, Hunter notes, are lamentably content to produce culture (books, music, films, etc.) solely for themselves and too infrequently inclined, or able, to speak to the world in terms it can understand. The idioms of Evangelicalism simply have no resonance with the secular world and Christians marginalize themselves further if they cannot speak in accents with which our culture is familiar.

In the second essay Hunter offers an interesting an impartial taxonomic description of the Christian right, the Christian left, and the small but growing neo-anabaptist movement. His treatment is fair, as far as I can tell, and, with regard to Christian progressives, a bit more frank than perhaps they'll appreciate.

There is much to commend in these three essays, but in the third he makes the controversial claim that Christians would do well to content themselves with being a "faithful presence" in the world rather than trying to change it. It's here that he'll probably find many of his readers parting company with him. My problem with this section is not that I disagreed with what he said, so much, indeed, the majority of it was very good. Rather, I didn't think that his notion of faithful presence needed to be seen so much as an alternative to the right or left, but instead as an adjunct to, or reinforcement of, whichever of the other two approaches one is inclined to follow. In other words, nothing he said convinced me that either conservatives or progressives were mistaken in pursuing their vision of culture-change through changing the hearts of ordinary people one heart at a time. His insights, however, do serve the very important purpose of putting those visions into perspective and cautioning us against slipping into the perennial "neo-Constantinian" temptation to lust for, and abuse, political power.

A short post can hardly do Hunter's book justice so I recommend that those who want more of an introduction before tackling To Change the World go to the interview with Hunter at Christianity Today in which he talks about his main themes and which also features replies by Chuck Colson and Andy Crouch, two writers Hunter criticizes in his first essay.

For those who'd like to dive right in, however, To Change the World can be ordered at our favorite bookstore, Hearts and Minds. It's a book I feel sure will be referenced and discussed for many years to come.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

General McChrystal

Two quick and perhaps not well-considered thoughts about the General McChrystal contretemps:

1) McChrystal should resign or be fired. The President can no more tolerate public insubordination from his military commanders than the commanders should tolerate it from their underlings. The criticism McChrystal and his staff directed at the administration is quite possibly accurate, but should not have been voiced publicly while he and his staff remain in the military.

2) I can't prove it, but had a general made similar criticisms of George Bush during the Iraq war that officer would have been a media hero. As it is, much of the media is calling for McChrystal's head. In their minds his mistake was not to criticize the Commander in Chief but rather to criticize this Commander in Chief.


Geological Catastrophism

Uh, oh. Wait till the Young Earth Creationists (YEC) get a hold of this report:

In the summer of 2002, a week of heavy rains in Central Texas caused Canyon Lake -- the reservoir of the Canyon Dam -- to flood over its spillway and down the Guadalupe River Valley in a planned diversion to save the dam from catastrophic failure. The flood, which continued for six weeks, stripped the valley of mesquite, oak trees, and soil; destroyed a bridge; and plucked meter-wide boulders from the ground. And, in a remarkable demonstration of the power of raging waters, the flood excavated a 2.2-kilometer-long, 7-meter-deep canyon in the bedrock.

According to a new analysis of the flood and its aftermath -- performed by Michael Lamb, assistant professor of geology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and Mark Fonstad of Texas State University -- the canyon formed in just three days.

Our traditional view of deep river canyons, such as the Grand Canyon, is that they are carved slowly, as the regular flow and occasionally moderate rushing of rivers erodes rock over periods of millions of years.

Such is not always the case, however. "We know that some big canyons have been cut by large catastrophic flood events during Earth's history," Lamb says.

I hold no settled position on such questions as the age of the earth and the rate at which geological change has transpired, but the YEC folks do, and this finding confirms a claim that they've been making for sixty years or more that structures like the Grand Canyon were the result, not of gradual wearing away of sediment, but by rapid catastrophic erosion in the wake of the global Noahican flood.

I'm not qualified to venture an opinion on this matter, but I will share an anecdote. About ten years ago I took my wife and daughter on a trip through the national parks in Utah. As I sat and gazed at the rock formations at Arches N.P. and Bryce Canyon N.P. I couldn't help but think that they showed all the signs of having been scoured and sculpted by massive amounts of turbulent water. This isn't the official explanation for these landscapes, of course, but it wasn't hard to imagine, sitting in these Utah parks, how vast amounts of water pounding and swirling from north to south could carve out these canyons and rock arches, and ultimately dig out the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona.

Arches N.P.

Bryce Canyon N.P.

The article above seems to make that layman's interpretation of the visual evidence plausible, and confirm the possibility of a world-wide flood such as is recorded in the Old Testament and other ancient documents, but then, that can't be right. If it is then the age of the earth could perhaps be revised dramatically downward and evolution of the Darwinian sort would become even less likely than it already is. Since Darwinian evolution is as well-established as any fact of science, or so we're often told, it follows that rapid catastrophism on such a scale must be wrong.

QED. Or something.


Unfounded Fears

You might remember the frequent anxiety attacks suffered by the secular (and Christian) left in the early years of the Bush administration at the prospect of the imminent theocracy they were just sure Bush was planning to impose upon America. Once it was discovered that Bush was an Christian and that evangelical Christians were engaging in politics, the tocsin was sounded, fears were stoked, and the survival of the nation was said to be in serious jeopardy.

Well, like so many other fears that've captured the febrile imaginations of our liberal friends, only to eventually evaporate, the concern that the Christian right was planning a theocratic takeover of the country proved groundless. Indeed, it turns out that political involvement by white evangelical protestants is a relative smidgeon compared to that of Catholics and black protestants whose political activity for some reason causes no concern on the left.

This chart compiled by Mark Chavez provides the data:

Notice that in almost every category the extent of political engagement is greater for black and liberal protestants and Catholics than it is for white evangelicals. So why all the fuss and bed-wetting about an imminent theocracy?

Well, the above chart is based on facts, but facts are helpful only to those interested in rational reflection. Too often the people spreading fear have abandoned rational reflection. Remember the fear in the late sixties that the population bomb was going to produce world-wide famine by 1980, or the fear in 1980 that Reagan would start WWIII, or the fear in 2004 that global warming was destroying the planet? All of these were based on a few tendentiously interpreted facts served up with healthy dollops of prejudice and superstition. None of them proved to be warranted.

As with little children, sometimes we need to shine the light of calm reason under the bed to reassure our friends on the left that there really are no boogeymen there. It saves them the trouble of having to change their pajamas.


Monday, June 21, 2010

More on the Flotilla Attack

This is video produced by the Israeli government giving some important details about the Gaza blockade and the assault on the Mavi Marmara:

The following video contains footage of leaders of the Islamists addressing their cadres as the Mavi Marmara set sail. It seems pretty clear they were looking for a confrontation and were not much concerned with delivering aid to Gazans.

Of course, there will be those who'll say that since the Israelis killed more of their attackers than the attackers killed Israelis the Israeli response was "disproportionate." Maybe these critics have a point. Maybe in the future the Israelis should just allow themselves to be beaten to death with pipes and clubs and stabbed to death with knives and thereby prove to the world that they're not such bad guys after all. Why haven't they tried that, I wonder.

Thanks to National Review Online for the videos.


A Parody of Himself

Lori Ziganto of Hot Air watched the Chris Matthews special on the rise of "The New Right" the other night and found it, well, typical of the sort of intellectual fare that Chris serves his audience every night at MSNBC.

Here's Ziganto's lede:

Last night, MSNBC aired a Chris Matthews special, labeled a documentary, called The Rise of the New Right. I decided to take a quick break from my radical right wing extremist acts like bitterly clinging to my guns and my Bible, whilst fiendishly drawing Hitler moustaches on Obama photos, to watch it. I know. Apparently, I'm a glutton for punishment.

However, while absolutely infuriating, it was simultaneously hilarious and almost took my mind off the distressing shortage of windmills in this country. Almost immediately, two things became rather apparent. Firstly, MSNBC's NewSpeak definition of "documentary" is evidently "blatant fallacies and pure propaganda".

Secondly, it's quite clear that Chris Matthews' leg 'tingle' has moved into his brain, or what passes for some semblance of one. Either that, or he's merely decided to embrace his cuckoo pants. Plus, he's a big, fat liar. I feel no qualms about saying that, since Matthews spent a full hour demonizing me and people like me as violent, irrational racists. In fact, the entire show could be summed up like this:

Racists. Birthers. Guns! Evil scary militia groups that have the same "Don't Tread on Me" flag!!! Chanting "USA, USA" and being fond of the Constitution and, you know, liberty is super scary and ominous. Also, racist. And violence fomenting. Plus, racist.

You see, now Community Organizing is evil and dissent is no longer Patriotic. Instead, that now signifies some sort of marauding mob of nefarious radicals who are doubleplusungood. President Obama said "I want you to talk to your friends and neighbors; I want you to argue with them and get in their faces", but that was okay because George Bush. Or something.

It's not okay when the right peaceably assembles, voicing opinions articulately, in full and coherent sentences and using facts and rational thought, because we aren't supposed to even know how to read! Plus, we don't base things on feel-goody Utopian ideas of kitten whiskers, fairy dust and magical windmills. We sneaky right wing-nuts embrace real world ideas like individual success is a good thing and that people do not need the government to run every aspect of their lives and businesses. Oh, the horror.

If you think her words a little strong you should see the stuff she quotes from Matthews. Anyway, read the rest of her review. It's very good, especially where she rebuts Matthews' fear of right-wing violence.

At one point she quotes a tweet she received that she says sums up the whole show:

JennQPublic summed it up best when she tweeted "If I was writing a parody of a Chris Matthews special, it would sound just like this Chris Matthews special." Exactly. It was almost a self-parody and included every tired, lame, outright false and, frankly, insanely delusional leftist narrative regarding conservatives.

When people have no ideas to offer against their opposition they sometimes seek, by smear and innuendo, to discredit them, and then they complain, as Matthews often does, about our debased political discourse. Perhaps it's time for Chris Matthews to follow Helen Thomas off into the journalistic sunset. What he has left to say that's true is not particularly important or interesting, and what he says that's important or interesting is not particularly true.


Hey, Let's Build More Nuclear Plants

Yet another Green icon has wandered onto the Damascus Road, and the scales that had blinded him to the importance of nuclear power have fallen from his eyes. In this case the icon is Stewart Brand, founder and editor for sixteen years of Whole Earth Catalog. Peter Huber tells the story of Brand's better-late-than-never partial conversion at City Journal.

Here are a couple of interesting excerpts from Huber's account:

"The question I ask myself now," Brand tells us when he gets to nuclear power, is: "What took me so long? I could have looked into the realities of nuclear power many years earlier, if I weren't so lazy."

When he got over his nuclear sloth, here's what Brand learned. (Most of the words quoted here are Brand's own, but some are Brand quoting others approvingly.) "Fear of radiation is a far more important health threat than radiation itself." "Reactor safety is a problem already solved," and the new reactors are even safer than the old. Waste isn't a problem; we need the $10 billion Yucca mountain disposal site "about as much as we need a facility for imprisoning dangerous extraterrestrials."

Nuclear power isn't just the cheapest practical carbon-free option around, but the cheapest, period, when not snarled up in green tape. Scientists "invariably poll high in support of nuclear." The people so pragmatic that they actually keep the lights lit, he might have added, have polled that way for 40 years, on the strength of reams of data and analyses, as well as the operating experience of our nuclear navy and a wide range of commercial reactors scattered across the planet.

It's an indubitable historical fact that the developed world was poised to break free from a carbon-centered energy economy 30 years ago. Greens locked us back into it. By demonizing nukes so effectively, they boosted U.S. coal consumption by about 400 million tons per year. We would instantly cut our coal consumption in half if we could simply conjure back into existence the 100-plus nuclear plants that were in the pipeline three decades ago. If global warming is a problem, Brand and his ex-friends own it.

Yes, indeed. The fear of nuclear power, a fear that was in many ways founded, as many irrational fears are, upon ignorance, has deprived us of an excellent source of clean energy that would have made us much less dependent upon coal to produce electricity.

Now the Greens are pushing for cap and trade, legislation which, by some accounts, will be enormously expensive for the country and the main motivation for which, global warming, has lost its credibility as an imminent danger. When will we learn not to take these people so seriously?

Anyway, on the bright side, the Damascus Road is getting crowded.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Strange Case of Alvin Greene

By now you're probably familiar with the controversy swirling around the South Carolina Democratic primary election for U.S. Senate in which a completely unknown candidate named Alvin Greene who, in the words of Ann Coulter:

...beat Vic Rawl, a former state representative and judge, with a whopping 60 percent of the vote in last Tuesday's primary, despite Greene's having no job, no house, no campaign website, no campaign headquarters -- indeed, no campaign. Other than paying the $10,000 filing fee, Greene seems to have put no effort into the race whatsoever.

Moreover, Greene has a felony record for showing obscene pictures to college girls.

The left is in a tizzy, alleging everything from GOP dirty tricks to faulty voting machines to explain Greene's win. Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said Greene was not a "legitimate" candidate and called his victory "a mysterious deal."

I don't know why there's such consternation over this. The obvious explanation is probably the correct one, to wit, in any given election most Democrat voters have no idea who or what they're voting for. They just pull the lever for whichever name sounds most fetching and go have a beer. In the present case, Greene is black so word of mouth probably spread through black communities that he's the guy to vote for, so they did.

That may not be what happened, but it makes a lot more sense than that the guy is a Republican plant (even if he is that doesn't explain why 60% of Democrats voted for him) or that, in an election for the privilege of being clobbered in November by the GOP incumbent, Jim DeMint, Republicans would risk scandal by somehow tinkering with the voting machines.

It really is a shame because when you hear Mr. Greene talk he sounds like a man who is marginally retarded, but the Democrats are stuck with him. They really can't take the nomination away from a poor black man and give it to an upper class white guy like Rawls without getting hammered for the implicit "racism" in such a tactic.

Anyway, as Coulter suggests, it's not the first time it has happened that a young African-American man with strange origins, suspicious funding, shady associations, no experience, no qualifications, and no demonstrable work history came out of nowhere to win an election.


Blaming the Victim

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the most courageous women on the planet. An outspoken critic of Islamic treatment of women she lives everyday under the threat of death. Indeed, her co-producer of a movie on Islam, Theo Van Gogh, was murdered by a Muslim and a note was pinned by a knife to his chest threatening Ali with the same fate.

Ali is a secular humanist feminist which, you might think, would have Western liberals rallying to her support, but alas, she's also critical of Islam, and there's the problem, as Mark Steyn explains:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's great cause is women's liberation. Unfortunately for her, the women she wants to liberate are Muslim, so she gets minimal support and indeed a ton of hostility from Western feminists who have reconciled themselves, consciously or otherwise, to the two-tier sisterhood: when it comes to clitoridectomies, forced marriages, honour killings, etc., multiculturalism trumps feminism. Liberal men are, if anything, even more opposed. She long ago got used to the hectoring TV interviewer, from Avi Lewis on the CBC a while back to Tavis Smiley on PBS just the other day, insisting that [you can] say what you like about Islam but everyone knows that Christians are just as backward and violent, if not more so. The media left spends endless hours and most of its interminable awards ceremonies congratulating itself on its courage, on "speaking truth to power," the bravery of dissent and all the rest, but faced with a pro-gay secular black feminist who actually lives it they frost up in nothing flat.

The latest is Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. Reviewing Ayaan's new book Nomad, he begins:

"She has managed to outrage more people-in some cases to the point that they want to assassinate her-in more languages in more countries on more continents than almost any writer in the world today. Now Hirsi Ali is working on antagonizing even more people in yet another memoir." That's his opening pitch: if there are those who wish to kill her, it's her fault because she's a provocateuse who's found a lucrative shtick in "working on antagonizing" people.

The Left used to scoff at the "blame the victim" folks who would minimize brutality against women by saying that they must have somehow brought it upon themselves, but that was when the women were white Westerners and the offenders were white males.

Steyn continues:

In Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman wrote that suicide bombings "produced a philosophical crisis, among everyone around the world who wanted to believe that a rational logic governs the world." In other words, it has to be about "poverty" or "social justice" because the alternative-that they want to kill us merely because we are the other-undermines the hyper-rationalist's entire world view. Thus, every pro-gay, pro-feminist, pro-black Western liberal's determination to blame Ayaan Hirsi Ali for the fact that a large number of benighted thuggish halfwits want to kill her. Deploring what he regards as her simplistic view of Islam, Nicholas Kristof rhapsodizes about its many fine qualities-"There is also the warm hospitality toward guests, including Christians and Jews."

Oh, for crying out loud. In the Muslim world, Christians and Jews have been on the receiving end of a remorseless ethno-religious cleansing for decades. Christian churches get burned, along with their congregations, from Nigeria to Pakistan. Egypt is considering stripping men who marry Jewesses of their citizenship. Saudi Arabia won't let 'em in the country. In the 1920s, Baghdad was 40 per cent Jewish. Gee, I wonder where they all went. Maybe that non-stop "warm hospitality" wears you down after a while . . .

Imagine that Christians put out fatwas on those who criticize and demean Christianity. How many secular liberals, do you suppose, would be praising the "warm hospitality" of Christianity? How many secular liberals find anything to praise in Christianity as it is? Yet they have no trouble finding things to commend about those committed to a religion which advocates destroying by the sword not only Christianity and Judaism, but the entire Western value system and anyone, like Ali, who criticizes their faith and culture.

To praise for their "warm hospitality" those who embrace a religion that allows clerics to call for the murder of someone like Ali, is something like praising the Nazis, in the midst of a discussion of their attempt to exterminate the Jews, because they cultivated an appreciation for classical music. It may be true that the Nazis had refined aesthetic tastes, but it's a fact that seems hardly significant, or redemptive, in the context of that discussion.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Who's in Charge?

Earlier today we remarked on the unbelievable bureaucratic dunderheadedness on display in the Gulf oil cleanup project. Now Jason calls our attention to this video from an ABC news report on this subject that reveals that the Obama administration's assurances that they're doing everything they can notwithstanding, they're clearly not. Or, if they are doing everything they can, then they're clearly incompetent:

Maybe I'm just too cynical, but I wonder if there's any connection between the lack of White House responsiveness to the pleas of the two governors in this report and the fact that both governors are Republicans. Surely Mr. Obama couldn't be that petty, but the alternative is that he is utterly inadequate to the office to which he was elected.

I guess we can expect more of this sort of commentary in the weeks ahead:

Billboard in Texas



Forgive me, but this is just nuts:

Eight days ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal ordered barges to begin vacuuming crude oil out of his state's oil-soaked waters. Today, against the governor's wishes, those barges sat idle, even as more oil flowed toward the Louisiana shore.

"It's the most frustrating thing," the Republican governor said today in Buras, La. "Literally, yesterday morning we found out that they were halting all of these barges."

Sixteen barges sat stationary today, although they were sucking up thousands of gallons of BP's oil as recently as Tuesday. Workers in hazmat suits and gas masks pumped the oil out of the Louisiana waters and into steel tanks. It was a homegrown idea that seemed to be effective at collecting the thick gunk.

"These barges work. You've seen them work. You've seen them suck oil out of the water," said Jindal.

So why stop now?

"The Coast Guard came and shut them down," Jindal said. "You got men on the barges in the oil, and they have been told by the Coast Guard, 'Cease and desist. Stop sucking up that oil.'"

A Coast Guard representative told ABC News today that it shares the same goal as the governor.

"We are all in this together. The enemy is the oil," said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dan Lauer.

But the Coast Guard ordered the stoppage because of reasons that Jindal found frustrating. The Coast Guard needed to confirm that there were fire extinguishers and life vests on board, and then it had trouble contacting the people who built the barges.

Doesn't this take your breath away? What is it about authority and boneheadedness that makes the two so often go together? If the Coast Guard Commander is serious about the enemy being the oil why is he so enthralled by the "rules" that he can't set them aside or work around them until the marshes are cleaned up? If he's in charge then just suspend the rules until the crisis is over.

This is like the bureaucratic insanity that kept BP from burning off the oil in the early days of the leak because of concerns about air pollution, or the refusal of the EPA to allow Louisianna to build sand berms to protect their coasts because an environmental impact study hadn't been done, or the refusal of the Obama administration to accept foreign assistance to skim the oil, or the refusal to send boom that "may" have been substandard to Louisianna. There is something in the nature of government bureaucracies, evidently, that inclines them toward imbecility.

If a nuclear weapon were ever set to go off in a major American city some government flunky would prohibit disarming it until it was estanlished that the nuclear materials could be disposed of safely.

Can't wait for the government to take over our health care.


Suppressing Freedom

Freedom of speech is one of our most valuable rights, but it's under increasing assault today by politicians who, according to this article, don't like that the internet makes it possible for you to know too much about them.

Currently, Senator Joe Lieberman is pushing a bill that would essentially give the president the ability to shut down the internet in the event of a national emergency. Of course, what constitutes a national emergency may well be in the eye of the beholder:

As we have repeatedly warned for years, the federal government is desperate to seize control of the Internet because the establishment is petrified at the fact that alternative and independent media outlets are now eclipsing corporate media outlets in terms of audience share, trust, and influence.

We witnessed another example of this on Monday when establishment Congressman Bob Etheridge was publicly shamed after he was shown on video assaulting two college students who asked him a question. Two kids with a flip cam and a You Tube account could very well have changed the course of a state election, another startling reminder of the power of the Internet and independent media, and why the establishment is desperate to take that power away.

The government has been searching for any avenue possible through which to regulate free speech on the Internet and strangle alternative media outlets, with the FTC recently proposing a "Drudge Tax" that would force independent media organizations to pay fees that would be used to fund mainstream newspapers.

Similar legislation aimed at imposing Chinese-style censorship of the Internet and giving the state the power to shut down networks has already been passed globally, including in the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

We have extensively covered efforts to scrap the internet as we know it and move toward a greatly restricted "internet 2″ system. Handing government the power to control the Internet would only be the first step towards this system, whereby individual ID's and government permission would be required simply to operate a website.

In the last five years politicians accustomed to working in relative secrecy have found themselves and their questionable behavior broadcast across the world by vehicles such as the Drudge Report, blogs, and You Tube. The internet has in many ways been a political blessing to the common folk because it facilitates the rapid dissemination of knowledge and allows for instant communication. Moreover, the internet frees the public from being held captive to the ideological predilections of the major media outlets. That liberal politicians want to control this resource is not surprising, but that's a power that they must never be given. They can't be trusted with it.

On the other hand, MSNBC's Ed Schultz is happy to give them all the power they want:

It's hard to believe that it would ever cross the lips of an American that the president should act like a dictator, but I guess freedom isn't as important to liberals as it used to be back when Bush was president.


Sexual Obesity

Mary Eberstadt weighs in at First Things with an outstanding essay on what she calls, following psychiatrist Mary Ann Laydon, an epidemic of "sexual obesity," i.e. the widespread gorging on pornography in our culture.

Here's an excerpt:

Pornography today, in short, is much like obesity was yesterday-a social problem increasing over time, with especially worrisome results among its youngest consumers, and one whose harms are only beginning to be studied with the seriousness they clearly deserve.

Parallels between the two epidemics are striking. Much like the more commonly understood obesity, the phenomenon of sexual obesity permeates the population-though unlike regular obesity, of course, pornography consumption is mostly (though not entirely) a male thing. At the same time, evidence also shows that sexual obesity does share with its counterpart this critical common denominator: It afflicts the subset of human beings who form the first generation immersed in this consumption, many of whom have never known a world without it-the young.

The data about the immersion of young Americans in pornography are startling and disturbing. One 2008 study focused on undergraduate and graduate students ages 18 to 26 across the country found that more than two-thirds of men-and one out of every ten women in the sample-viewed pornography more than once a month. Another study showed that first-year college students using sexually explicit material exhibited these troubling features: increased tolerance, resulting in a turn toward more bizarre and esoteric material; increased risk of body-image problems, especially among girls; and erroneous and exaggerated conceptions of how prevalent certain sexual behaviors, including risky and even dangerous behaviors, actually are.

In the essay Eberstadt tackles several commonly repeated myths about pornography use:

  • That it's use is a merely private matter.
  • That it only affects men.
  • That it only involves consenting adults.

Eberstadt explodes each of these myths in turn and in doing so provides a great service. There are simply too few articles like her's that encourage men who are drawn to pornography to stop rationalizing their behavior and stop deceiving themselves into thinking that it's harmless.

We didn't have to ban alcohol or tobacco in order to convince most people of the harm done to themselves and others by smoking and drinking. Perhaps it's time to mount a similar campaign against pornography to persuade society that this stuff is the psychological and spiritual equivalent (or worse) of cigarettes and alcohol. We don't have to prohibit it in order to make people realize the harm it does to themselves and others. What we can not afford to do, though, is ignore the epidemic.

Read the whole article and read the comments as well.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Raising the Minimum Wage Is a Bad Idea

Over the years in which Viewpoint has been around we have from time to time argued that raising the minimum wage is a bad idea. In fact, it's such a bad idea that the only reason we can see for raising it is to flim-flam the young and the poor into thinking that they're being done a favor by their friendly congressperson.

Here's an economics Ph.D candidate giving a four minute presentation in which he lays out two reasons why everyone, especially the young and the poor, should oppose raising the minimum wage:

HT: Hot Air.