Saturday, July 31, 2010

Against the Wind

Two years ago we featured a post about David Mamet, the highly acclaimed playwright (American Buffalo (1975), Glengarry Glen Ross (1984), and Speed-the-Plow (1988)), who, leaning into the powerful ideological winds that dominate modern theater, abandoned his former liberalism and embraced a sort of libertarian conservatism.

Now Terry Teachout has an article in Commentary on Mamet that elaborates on his iconoclastic political thinking. Teachout begins with this:

American theater is a one-party town, a community of like-minded folk who are all but unanimous in their strict adherence to the left-liberal line. Though dissenters do exist, they are almost never heard from in public, and it is highly unusual for new plays that deviate from the social gospel of progressivism to reach the stage, whether in New York or anywhere else.

All this explains why David Mamet, America's most famous and successful playwright, caused widespread consternation two years ago when he published an essay in the Village Voice called "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'" in which he announced that he had "changed my mind" about the ideology to which he had previously subscribed. Having studied the works of "a host of conservative writers," among them Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, Thomas Sowell (whom he called "our greatest contemporary philosopher"), and Shelby Steele, Mamet came to the conclusion that "a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism."

For the most part, members of the American theater community responded to the publication of "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'" in one of two ways. Some declared that Mamet's shift in allegiance was irrelevant to the meaning of the plays on which his reputation is based. Others claimed to have suspected him of being a crypto-conservative all along, arguing that the essay merely proved their point.

Now Mamet has published a book of essays called Theatre (Faber and Faber, 157 pages) in which, among other things, he seeks to integrate his new way of thinking into his view of the art of drama. Although Theatre is not so much a political treatise as a professional apologia, it seems likely that those of his colleagues who write about it (to date, most have ignored it completely) will focus on its political aspect, in which they will doubtless find much to outrage them.

Teachout takes as an example of that which he expects will outrage Mamet's critics his definition of theater:

The theatre is a magnificent example of the workings of that particular bulwark of democracy, the free-market economy. It is the most democratic of arts, for if the play does not appeal in its immediate presentation to the imagination or understanding of a sufficient constituency, it is replaced. ... It is the province not of ideologues (whether in the pay of the state and called commissars, or tax subsidized through the university system and called intellectuals) but of show folk trying to make a living.

Anyone interested in plays or politics will find Teachout's column on Mamet an interesting read. Check it out.


Free Speech For Me, Not Thee

I was reminded recently of the book by civil libertarian Nat Hentoff titled Free Speech for Me But Not for Thee. The occasion for this recollection was an email from my friend Caleb who sent along an article on a discussion at CNN about how "anonymous" bloggers should be shut down by the government because they can say anything they want even if it's unfair and damaging to people as it ostensibly was to Shirley Sherrod.

I could hardly believe these words were coming from the mouths of journalists, the very people we trust to be most vigilant in defending our right to free speech. Whatever happened to those courageous sentiments frequently voiced a generation ago about despising what people say but defending to the death their right to say it? It seems that today the opinion of at least some on the left is that only some Americans enjoy the rights bestowed by our First Amendment, specifically those Americans who agree with them. Everyone else should be compelled to just shut up:

Anchors Kyra Phillips and John Roberts discussed the "mixed blessing of the internet," and agreed that there should be a crackdown on anonymous bloggers who disparage others on the internet.

"There has to be some point where there's some accountability. And companies, especially in the media have to stop giving these anonymous bloggers credit," she said.

Roberts responded that anonymous blogging might benefit from "checks and balances."

"If you're in a place like Iran or North Korea or something like that, anonymous blogging is the only way you could ever get your point of view out without being searched down and thrown in jail or worse," said Roberts. "But when it comes to a society like ours, an open society, do there have to be some checks and balances, not national, but maybe website to website on who comments on things?"

The irony in this, to which Mr. Roberts is apparently oblivious, is that restricting political speech is the usual first step in turning a country into a totalitarian state like North Korea. The best antidote to scurrilous speech, at least political speech, is not government control but a free and easy access to the truth. When political speech is controlled by government or media surrogates the scurrility won't disappear but free and easy access to the truth will.

It was bloggers who exposed the Dan Rather fraud. It was bloggers who exposed ACORN. It is bloggers, both left and right, who have largely set the terms of our national debates. Many journalists resent this usurpation of their cultural prerogatives, they know, too, that it's very difficult for them to compete with the blogosphere, and so they want the upstarts regulated, stifled and perhaps silenced altogether.

This is the equivalent of banning religious freedom and imposing a state church because of the perversities of groups like Westboro Baptist or the Branch Davidians. It's similar to trying to control the abuse of alcohol by prohibition, or rescinding the right of the people to protect themselves by owning firearms because firearms are often used by the people who do the harm.

One troubling aspect of the CNN discussion is that the individuals involved hold freedom of speech so lightly that they'd be happy to see it sacrificed for the "greater good" of facilitating a political order more amenable to their tastes.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Understanding the Suicide Bomber

There's an interesting article at Strategy Page on some of what the Israelis have learned about suicide bombers over the years. We learn, for example, this:

Israel...has captured at least fifteen suicide bombers who did not (could not or would not) carry out their mission. These terrorists were extensively questioned, as were family and friends. The Israelis also collected similar data on dead suicide bombers, including email or tapped phone calls and other material the bomber left behind. The Israelis, like the suicide bomb organizations, came to the same conclusion; that certain personality traits make someone very willing to carry out these attacks. And the chief characteristic is usually not fanaticism, but deference to authority and public opinion. This is one reason why the Palestinian media campaign to glamorize suicide bombers is so dangerous.

The most interesting information in the article, however, is the explanation for what many in the West find a deplorable practice by the Israelis:

Eventually, the Israelis found several weaknesses in the suicide bomber system. The first one discovered was transportation. Most of the suicide bomber volunteers lived in the West Bank, and had to be transported to areas with a large Israeli population. As the Israelis discovered, most of the cost of each suicide bombing went to paying a driver or guide to get the suicide bomber close to a target area. Using a system of checkpoints and profiling, the Israelis began to catch most of the suicide bombers.

But some still got through. So the Israelis went back to a 1990s technique that, while it worked, was widely criticized as unfair and inhumane. Namely, the family home of the suicide bomber was destroyed. The bomber usually came from a family that housed several generations in one house (which was often the family's major asset. Before resuming this practice, the family actually profited from the bombing, receiving up to $30,000 for their son (or daughter's) sacrifice. Soon after the house destruction policy went into effect, there were reports of family's forcibly restraining adult children from joining the suicide bombing effort (or reporting the kid to the Israelis, who would then arrest the bomber volunteer.) While that dried up the source of the more competent bombers, it did not eliminate all the bombings. So Israel cut the West Bank off from Israel. Thus for the last five years, there have been hardly any attacks. Because the Palestinians continue their suicide bomber recruitment program (especially on children's television shows), the Israelis don't plan on reopening their borders to the Palestinians any time soon.

The knowledge that their act will result in the destruction of the only living quarters available to their loved ones is a powerful deterrent to those who might otherwise be inclined to commit mass murder. In other words, razing their families' houses is not an act of vindictiveness or spite, as it's often portrayed in our media, rather it's a deliberate attempt to provide a disincentive to the potential terrorist who doesn't value his own life but does care deeply about his family.

Evidently it works.


Reaching the A Students

Pete Spiliakos at No Left Turns offers some thoughts on a problem that has concerned me for a number of years - how to reach our brightest young people with conservative arguments that they'll find compelling.

Spiliakos writes:

My own experience with really bright, hard working, ambitious, and politically engaged (but not obsessive) kids is that conservative messages rarely get to them in a detailed or friendly form outside of major election campaigns. There are exceptions, but those kids are a minority and usually have to find conservative media on their own. That means that, for most of these kids, their perceptions of politics are framed by media institutions that are liberal-leaning to various degrees of intensity and openness. They are also going to go to colleges where their professors will be varying degrees of liberal. This makes a generalized friendliness to liberal politicians and policies the default position.

The populist conservative media isn't really much of a help. The vast majority of these kids don't listen to the radio for politics (neither talk radio nor NPR.) They aren't going to watch Hannity or Beck. Those shows aren't really designed for them anyway. Those shows work best for those who have already bought into the conservative narrative and they don't really take on the best arguments of the other side. But these kids will have heard the best arguments that liberals have to offer and they are smart enough not to forget them.

This is all very true, unfortunately, as is this:

The communication problem with this group is tough. We need a set of institutions that speak to an audience that will have heard many of the best (or maybe second best) liberal arguments for this or that liberal policy. As Murray pointed out, if conservatives "take a cheap shot" or "duck an obvious objection" to their arguments, they will lose this audience.

Which is why it's good, I suppose, that they don't listen to Sean Hannity. Anyway, Spiliakos has much more to say about this at the link.

It does seem to be the case that many young people simply imbibe liberal assumptions from their cultural or academic environment and never stop to wonder whether those ideas are really true. They rarely hear those ideas challenged and are often surprised, like a zoologist who chances upon a species heretofore thought to be extinct, to encounter people who don't assent to them. When such encounters occur the bright young person is prone to assume that the doubter is simply uninformed or otherwise backward.

I don't know how this can ever be changed until more smart young conservatives choose to do what liberals did back in the 60s and 70s which is to begin their own long march through the institutions. When more bright young men and women who hold conservative views undertake careers in cinema, education, law, journalism and other fields which shape the culture, the situation that Spiliakos laments might change. But unless they do, I'm afraid that liberals we will always have with us and liberal worldviews will be the default position for so many of our most intelligent young people.



A number of readers have expressed concern that Viewpoint hasn't been updated for the last three days. The reason for this apparent dereliction is that my computer crashed on the morning of the 27th and has been in the shop ever since. I now have it back, but it still doesn't seem to be running as it should, and, since I have no idea how to diagnose it or to solve the problem, I don't know how long I'll be able to keep it going.

It's been frustrating, of course, but there's nothing to be done about it short of having the hard drive wiped clean and starting over. Should that be necessary I suppose we'll be down for several more days, but as long as the devilish thing is working I'm eager to get back to posting.

Thanks for bearing with us.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Not Going Along for the Ride

Andy McCarthy at NRO declines to jump on the bandwagon of folks proclaiming Shirley Sherrod to be a "wonderful person" who was maliciously maligned as a racist by those nasty right-wingers at After having been fired by the Obama administration and condemned by the NAACP for ostensibly racist comments in a speech excerpted at Andrew Breitbart's website, it turns out that her most troubling comments were apparently taken out of context.

So now the conventional wisdom is that Sherrod was really transcending race in her speech and that she has suffered terribly because she was misrepresented by Breitbart. Whether Breitbart did this deliberately I don't know, but McCarthy points out that whatever she was doing in her speech, she wasn't trying to transcend race. Rather, intentionally or not, she was actually stoking the fires of racial animosity, at least when she spoke about the rise of slavery in the U.S.

Here's what she said:

So that's when they made black people servants for life. That's when they put laws in place forbidding them [i.e., blacks and whites] to marry each other. That's when they created the racism that we know of today. They did it to keep us divided. And they - It started working so well, they said, "Gosh, looks like we've come upon something here that could last generations." And here we are, over 400 years later, and it's still working.

What we have to do is get that out of our heads. There is no difference between us. The only difference is that the folks with money want to stay in power and whether it's healthcare or whatever it is, they'll do what they need to do to keep that power, you know. [Applause] It's always about money, ya'll. [Applause and murmurs of agreement.] You know. I haven't seen such a mean-spirited people as I've seen lately over this issue of health care. [Mumurs of agreement.] Some of the racism we thought was buried - [someone in the audience says, "It surfaced!"] Didn't it surface? Now, we endured eight years of the Bushes and we didn't do the stuff these Republicans are doing because you have a black president. [Applause]

I wanted to give you that little history, especially the young people, I want you to know they created it, you know, not just for us, but we got the brunt of it because they needed to elevate whites just a little higher than us to make them think they were so much better. Then they would never work with us, you know, to try to change the situation that they were all in.

So, in Ms Sherrod's world opposition to Obama and opposition to health care is all about power and hatred toward blacks. That incendiary sentiment is not the sort of thing likely to bring blacks and whites together, I don't imagine.

In any case, it's the same tired old tune from the left, just sung by a different vocalist. Unable to engage the opposition on the level of ideas they keep reverting to their traditionally reliable trump card. They're like a football coach who keeps calling the same play in the same situation because once upon a time it worked pretty well. It's why the liberal "journalists" on Journolist suggested that Republicans be deliberately smeared as racists without any regard for the veracity of the claim.

The play used to work, it used to instill fear in the opposition, but now everyone has pretty much caught on to the ruse, it's become predictable, and it's more and more being seen as a sign of intellectual inanition among those who resort to it and an occasion for mirth and derision among those it is intended to intimidate.


Fundamentalist Narcissism

Elizabeth Scalia writes that while liberals wring their hands at the prospect of Christian fundamentalists establishing a theocracy or, via the Tea party, resorting to political violence, there are secular religions among us that are at least as radical and fundamentalist as any member of the Westboro Baptist Church. Environmentalism and the pro-choice feminist left are two examples she cites.

Mrs. Scalia elaborates:

And these secularist religions have their violent radicals, too. The Earth Liberation Front, a little irony-challenged, has burned Hummers in an attempt to save the Earth from air pollution and deadly carbon. And some abortion-stalwarts say they'll give up their lives to insure the right of every woman to procure violent death within her own womb. Antonia Senior of in the Times of London, who - to her immense credit - is utterly honest about what abortion is and does, visits the Tower of London; after pondering martyrdom, Senior identifies what she will not die for (dolphins, England) and writes:

"I could think of one cause I would stake my life on: a woman's right to be educated, to have a life beyond the home and to be allowed by law and custom to order her own life as she chooses. And that includes complete control over her own fertility."

"Any other conclusion is a convenient lie that we on the pro-choice side of the debate tell ourselves to make us feel better about the action of taking a life. That little seahorse shape floating in a willing womb is a growing miracle of life. In a resentful womb it is not a life, but a foetus - and thus killable."

"As ever, when an issue we thought was black and white becomes more nuanced, the answer lies in choosing the lesser evil. The nearly 200,000 aborted babies in the UK each year are the lesser evil, no matter how you define life, or death, for that matter. If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too."

After quoting these startling words, Scalia notes:

That last line should resonate profoundly with horrified anti-religionists everywhere, if they are consistent. I wonder if Rosie O'Donnell or David Lettermen would find it troubling, what even secularists will do, in the name of their fundamentalism.

There's no better illustration, perhaps, of our devolution into a culture of narcissism, egoism and death than the adamantine demand that the right to sacrifice one's offspring on the altar of personal autonomy be preserved.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why So Much Anger?

Many average Americans are perplexed by the political discontent they see and hear among their neighbors and are asking questions like: Why is there a Tea Party movement? Why do talk radio hosts seem so angry? Why do so many Americans, at least the slim majority which pays income taxes, hold our government in such disdain?

Perhaps the following will help us understand:

  • Reports reveal that Congress spent over a billion dollars of your money between June 2009 and March of 2010 on things like bottled water and donuts.

  • Charlie Rangel, former chairman of the House Ways and Means committee which writes the laws that determine what taxes you and I will pay, how much we will pay, and what the penalties will be if we don't pay is facing charges that he has failed to pay his own taxes(Thanks to Jason for this link).

  • Senator John Kerry, who has repeatedly voted to raise taxes, dodged a six-figure Massachussetts state tax bill on his new multimillion-dollar yacht by mooring it in Rhode Island.

  • And, of course, Timothy Geithner, the man who currently oversees the nation's budget and tax policy, had found a way to avoid meeting his own tax obligation until he was chosen by Mr. Obama to serve as Treasury Secretary. Only then did it come to light that he'd been essentially cheating the American public by not paying his taxes.

People are understandably angry because while the President is imposing polices that guarantee that you and I will have to pay more of our meager incomes in taxes to the government, much of which will go to buy our elected elites bottled water and other amenities, the people who comprise those elites and who implement those policies are themselves looking for ways to avoid having to pay those taxes. They treat themselves as an aristocracy, a privileged class to be borne along on the backs of middle class Americans.

It's one big reason why this Congress has an 11% approval rating. It's also the main reason, perhaps, why there's a Tea Party and why there are ads like this:

Thanks to Powerline for the video.



From July 12 through the 22nd I visited the tropical islands of Trinidad and Tobago, just off the coast of Venezuela. During my trip Bill posted some things I wrote before I left, for which I thank him, and I also want to thank him for getting Viewpoint back up and running despite the headaches he encountered in his move to Florida.

Trinidad is a remarkable place, and the time I spent there was memorable. I went for the birds, which were spectacular (I've posted below a few photos gleaned from the internet of just a sampling of the more beautiful species I saw there), but was profoundly interested in the culture of the island as well. I met a number of very interesting people from around the world, had several fascinating conversations, and learned a lot about a place which had heretofore been for me just a name on a map.

For most of my stay I lodged at the Asa Wright Nature Center which is a world famous destination for nature admirers. Prince Charles even paid a visit in 2008. So many of the birds, butterflies, and flowers on this island are gorgeous, and I couldn't possibly show them all, but here are a few that are representative of a much larger variety of species that even a non-naturalist might see and enjoy there.

The Scarlet ibis is the national bird of Trinidad and makes spectacular flights to it's roosting grounds every evening:

Photo by Roger Neckles

The Red-legged honeycreeper is a beautiful little bird that's found on the grounds at Asa Wright:

The Green honeycreeper is a cousin to the Red-legged and is just as breathtaking. It comes regularly to the numerous feeders the staff at Asa Wright set out in the morning:

The striking Blue-crowned motmot with its unusual tail and iridescent blue head feathers is a favorite at Asa Wright:

Everyone who comes to Asa Wright hopes to see the Collared trogon which inhabits the rain forests of Trinidad and Tobago:

Finally, there's the Channel-billed toucan with it's extraordinary beak and marvelous coloration:

There were many more. To view some lovely photos of the birds of Trinidad you can go here.


Friday, July 23, 2010


Imagine that Japanese Americans in the early 1950s decided to build a shrine right next to the American military base at Pearl Harbor in honor of their Japanese heritage.

Imagine that Catholic missionaries, representatives of the religion which killed thousands of Muslims during the crusades, tried to build a church in the sacred city of Mecca.

Imagine that Germans wishing to celebrate their glorious past decided to construct a monument to their military to be placed within a few yards of a camp in which tens of thousands of Jews were murdered.

If you find these projects at best a bit insensitive and at worst deeply offensive to the people who hold those places sacred then you will understand why the attempt to build a huge Muslim facility adjacent to the site of the World Trade Towers is opposed by so many Americans.


Debunking Christianity (Pt. II)

This post continues some thoughts, begun yesterday, on John Loftus' arguments against theism in general and Christian belief in particular.

Loftus writes:

But let's say the Christian faith is true and Jesus did arise from the dead. Let's say that even though Christianity must punt to mystery and retreat into the realm of mere possibilities to explain itself that it is still true, contrary to what my (God given?) mind leads me to believe. Then what would it take to convince me?

Well, I don't wish to sound cheeky, but if it's stipulated that something is true that should be enough to grant that it is true, but maybe what Loftus is getting at here is something other than logical or epistemic assent to a proposition. Perhaps he's asking what it would take to get him to really live a life of love and gratitude toward God when there are certain facts about the nature of God that he finds repugnant. He continues:

I would need sufficient reasons to overcome my objections, and I would need sufficient evidence to lead me to believe. By "sufficient" here, I mean reasons and evidence that would overcome my skepticism. I am predisposed to reject the Christian faith and the resurrection of Jesus (just as Christians are predisposed to reject atheism). So I need sufficient reasons and evidence to overcome my skeptical predisposition.

Well, here we've struck close to what is perhaps the chief reason for his unbelief. Loftus simply doesn't want Christianity to be true. He's predisposed, we may even say biased, against it. If that's so, then no amount of evidence will be dispositive. Indeed, this was Jesus' very point in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31). Belief, for one who is determined to find reasons not to believe, is like the horizon. No matter how much ground one covers, no matter how much evidence one adduces, it keeps receding into the distance.

When it comes to sufficient reasons, I need to be able to understand more of the mysteries of Christianity in order to believe it. If everything about Christianity makes rational sense to an omniscient God, then God could've created human beings with more intelligence so that the problems of Christianity are much more intellectually solvable than they are. I would need to have a better way of understanding such things as the trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, and why a good God allows so much intense suffering even to the point of casting human beings into hell.

I don't wish to minimize the problems to which Loftus refers here, but this strikes me as an odd complaint. What if these problems, like perhaps the nature of the cosmos itself, are like the peels of an onion. As soon as we think we understand something we find that a whole new set of questions presents itself. If that's so, then no level of understanding short of that possessed by God Himself would ever satisfy Loftus' precondition for belief. To understand these matters fully may require us to have the mind of God, to actually be God.

All of us would like answers to the questions Loftus asks, but perhaps those answers would just raise more questions and then, as Kierkegaard says, we find ourselves never able to arrive at the point of commitment. Like a man who refuses to marry a woman until he is satisfied that he knows every single fact about her, no amount of knowledge or time would ever satisfy the demands of one who really doesn't want to commit himself.

Belief, after all, is not just a matter of convincing the intellect, it's a matter of persuading the will. As the old aphorism has it, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." A man who wills to disbelieve, who does not want to marry the woman, will never be lacking in reasons to postpone the wedding.

Perhaps if Loftus would simply and sincerely open himself up to God and invite Him into his heart he would find what Pascal discovered: The heart has reasons that reason can never know.


Letting the Days Go By

Pretty funny:

Thanks to Hot Air.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

What's Going On?

The Saudis have apparently given Israel permission to use bases on their soil for an attack on Iran.

The U.S. has moved a war fleet into the seas near Iran.

A U.A.E. diplomat endorses an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

What's going on here? It looks like the U.S. and Israel are preparing for a joint effort against Iran's nuclear facilities and they've managed to get the support of at least some of Iran's Arab neighbors.

The Arabs fear a nuclear Iran and they know that if nothing is done to prevent the mullahs from getting these devastating weapons several very bad things will happen in the near term. Iran will use nuclear blackmail to bully it's way around the Middle East; a lot of other countries in the region will rush to procure their own nuclear weapons; Iran will use it's power to bring about the destruction of Israel either through the direct use of nuclear warheads or through the action of surrogates.

Moreover, down the road, it's almost a certainty that these weapons will fall into the hands of those who want to smuggle them into European and U.S. cities.

So here's the question confronting Mr. Obama: Is it better to attack the Iranian facilities now and face the uncertain consequences of such an attack, or is it better to let Iran build their nukes and face the certain consequences of a Middle East embroiled in a nuclear arms race and probable nuclear war?


Debunking Christianity

John Loftus is an interesting fellow. He holds several degrees in philosophy of religion including a ThM from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and studied under one of the foremost Christian apologist/philosophers, William Lane Craig. Nevertheless, Loftus has renounced his faith and written a book titled Why I Became an Atheist. He also manages a blog titled Debunking Christianity on which he once posted an essay titled What Would Convince Me Christianity Is True? In that post he raises a number of objections to belief, and I'd like to consider some of them here.

Loftus writes:

I have been asked what would convince me Christianity is true. Let me answer this question.

I could just as easily ask Christians what it would take to convince them that atheism is true. Given the Christian responses I see at DC (Debunking Christianity), I dare say probably nothing would convince them otherwise. Atheism is outside of that which Christians consider real possibilities. It would take a great deal to change our minds across this great debate, no matter what side we are on. Although, since people convert and deconvert to and away from Christianity there are circumstances and reasons for changing one's mind. Here at DC we have changed our minds, and we offer reasons why.

Loftus seems to be contrasting Christianity and atheism, implying that if Christianity is false atheism must be true, but surely this is not correct. Everything that makes Christianity unique among the world's religions could be false and it would have no bearing at all on the question of whether God exists. Even so, Loftus is probably correct that most people who really want Christianity to be true are highly resistant to evidence that it's not. Likewise, despite what Loftus says, people who don't want Christianity to be true are not likely to be persuaded that it is. We cling to beliefs we want to be the case even when the evidence goes against them, because evidence is rarely dispositive. As Thomas Kuhn says in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, anomalies in a belief system simply do not cause us to overthrow the paradigm. We learn to accommodate them or ignore them as long as this can be done. Belief is more a matter of the heart than of the head.

In the second place, Christianity would have to be revised for me to believe that Jesus arose from the dead, since if Jesus arose from the dead then the whole Bible is probably true as well. But many Biblical beliefs are outside of that which I consider real possibilities for the many reasons I offer on this Blog. I see no reason why a triune eternal God is a solution to any of our questions. I see no reason why God should test Adam & Eve, or punish them and their children and their children's children with such horrific consequences for such a mistake. I see no good reason for the animal pain caused by the law of predation in the natural world if a good God exists, either. Nor do I see why God should send a flood to kill practically all human beings. I can no longer believe in the bloodthirsty God of the Bible. He's a barbaric God. I no longer see the Bible as an inspired book, since it contains absurdities and contradictions, being as it were, written by an ancient superstitious people before the rise of modern science.

Loftus is pulling a bit of a switcheroo here. Logically speaking, one can believe that the New Testament, or the Gospels, are reliable history without holding that the Old Testament is. In other words, suppose we resolve all of the above objections by agreeing with Loftus that the Old Testament misrepresents the nature of God at certain key points. What does that have to do with the heart of Christianity? The claim that Jesus was the self-revelation of God, God incarnate, who died to redeem us from our estrangement from Him and who demonstrated His supernatural provenience through a literal and physical resurrection from the dead could all be true even if the Old Testament contains factual errors and contradictions. Whether it really does contain historical mistakes is a separate question from the matter of the reliability of the Gospel accounts.

I see absolutely no way to understand what it means to say Jesus is "God in the flesh", nor how his death on the cross does anything for us, nor where the human side of the incarnation in Jesus is right now. I see no intelligent reason why God revealed himself exclusively in the ancient superstitious past, since it was an age of tall tales among the masses at a time when they didn't understand nature through the laws of physics.

With all due respect to Mr. Loftus, I think these objections are just smokescreens. If they're not then he's saying that it's a sufficient reason for not believing God exists if a full understanding of God is beyond his ken. This strikes me as extraordinarily presumptuous. It also strikes me as inconsistent with how we normally form our beliefs. We may not understand how the universe could consist of eleven dimensions or how light could be both a wave and a particle, or how a photon would not exist in a particular spot until it is observed there, but we don't disbelieve these things just because our comprehension is not up to the task. Indeed, a god that we could understand would not be much of a god. It'd be more like the gods of the ancient pagans, and people like Loftus would be saying that they can't believe in a god so paltry that our puny understanding is sufficient to encompass him.

I see no reason why this God cares about what we believe, either, since people have honest and sincere disagreements on everything from politics to which diet helps us lose the most weight.

Of course people have sincere disagreements and it could be that religions have historically put too much weight on believing the right thing as a condition of eternal life. Let us suppose they have. Let us suppose that eternal life is primarily a matter of one's attitude toward God and only secondarily a matter of believing the correct things about God. Whether you think this is right or not, it could be right, so why doesn't Loftus embrace this possibility rather than letting what could be a misleading dogma keep him from belief in God?

More on Loftus' essay later.


Biggest Failing

Joe Carter at First Things argues that American sex education is not education at all:

Unless the middle school in Shenandoah, Iowa, is training junior gynecologists, it is unclear why its eighth-graders need to be taught how to perform female exams and to put a condom on a 3-D, anatomically correct, male sex organ.

The representative from Planned Parenthood, which provided the instruction, justified the curriculum by saying, "All information we use is medically accurate and science based." For them, sexual education can be denuded of all moral content as long as research studies and reams of statistics back up their claims.

The advocates of "comprehensive sex education" want teenagers to "just wear a condom." Planned Parenthood's amoral appeal to "science" shows why that fails: medically accurate and science-based information doesn't give children any idea how to use that information, while it makes them think they can do what they want if only they practice the "safe sex" techniques they've been taught. But I don't think the abstinence advocates' "Just say no" is always an improvement.

Both types of programs are equally flawed and flawed in the same way. Each indoctrinates the children in a particular viewpoint and tries to inoculate them against the negative results of sexual behavior. Neither school of sex educators is primarily concerned with providing an education.

Carter goes on to argue that sex education should include three broad themes. The first is the purpose of sex. Carter writes:

Is sex mainly for pleasure? For bonding? For procreation? For all three, and if so in what proportion? Which is primary? Is sex a gift from a benevolent Creator or merely blind evolution's way of tricking us into passing on our genetic material? Students must be helped to ask these types of questions before they begin the other discussions.

If, for example, we are nothing but gene transmitters, do we have a reason to value monogamy? Do other evolutionary imperatives, like the maintenance of a stable community, require certain restrictions on sexual behavior? If one of the main purposes of sex is procreation, must we accept responsibility for any children that might be conceived as a result of our behavior, and are we limited in the number of people with whom we can bear children?

The rest of his piece is equally good. Check it out.

It's my opinion that one of the biggest failings of the contemporary church is it's failure to tackle this issue head on. I am mystified as to how we can put our children through confirmation classes and teach them all about church doctrine and history but ignore what may be the single most important aspect of growing up in today's society: the nature of love and the proper purpose of their sexuality. It is for many young people the single toughest issue with which they struggle, and we often leave it to the culture to instill in them the assumptions and attitudes they hold about it.

That seems to me to be gross irresponsibility.

It's also a major reason, perhaps, why the church is often considered irrelevant by young people. It doesn't come to grips with the questions of deepest importance to their lives, it largely ignores the cultural waters they swim in, and if it should assay to dip a toe into those waters it often does so in a very tentative and superficial way.

It may be the biggest failing of the church in the last sixty years.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Agnostic Manifesto

First we had the New Atheism. Now Ron Rosenbaum at Slate is calling for a New Agnosticism. There are a couple or three things to say about his interesting essay.

First, Rosenbaum is at pains to define agnosticism in a way that, I think, distorts the word.

Second, his piece is largely given to criticizing the New Atheists, people like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens (who, parenthetically, is reported to be suffering from esophageal cancer), an enterprise of which I heartily approve, but when he mentions theism, he mostly fires at a straw man.

Let me explain my objection to Rosenbaum's definition of agnosticism. He starts his manifesto with this:

Let's get one thing straight: Agnosticism is not some kind of weak-tea atheism. Agnosticism is not atheism or theism. It is radical skepticism, doubt in the possibility of certainty, opposition to the unwarranted certainties that atheism and theism offer.

Agnostics have mostly been depicted as doubters of religious belief, but recently, with the rise of the "New Atheism"-the high-profile denunciations of religion in best-sellers from scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, and polemicists, such as my colleague Christopher Hitchens-I believe it's important to define a distinct identity for agnosticism, to hold it apart from the certitudes of both theism and atheism.

I don't think this is correct. An atheist is one who lacks a belief in a God or gods. Since agnostics lack a belief in God or gods they are atheists, ab defino. To be sure, there are two kinds of atheists - what we might call strong and weak.

The strong atheist, like Dawkins, et al, claim, often dogmatically, that there is no God. The weak atheist allows that God may exist but that even if he does there's not enough evidence to justify belief that he does. This is precisely the agnostic's position and there's really not much practical difference between it and the stronger form of atheism.

Although his critique of the strong atheists is quite good (despite placing a little too much weight on the atheist's inability, or failure, to come to grips with the question why there is something rather than nothing, a criticism which a lot of atheists will probably dismiss with a shrug of indifference) his problem with Christian theism seems to stem from a profound misunderstanding of Christianity.

For instance he says:

Having recently spent two weeks in Cambridge (the one in the United Kingdom) on a Templeton-Cambridge Fellowship, being lectured to by believers and nonbelievers, I found myself feeling more than anything unconvinced by certainties on either side. And feeling the need for solidarity and identity with other doubters. Thus my call for a revivified agnosticism. Our T-shirt will read: I just don't know.

I don't know which theists he was talking to or what they said, but when I hear intelligent people talk about their Christianity I rarely hear them speak in certainties. I hear them mention their "faith commitment," or a "leap of faith," or "wrestlings with doubts," or "seeing through a glass darkly," or the fact that God's existence is the "best explanation for a host of facts about the world," but I don't hear them talking, as the New Atheists often do, as if they just couldn't be wrong about God's existence. If Rosenbaum thinks Christianity is about certainty he hasn't read Kierkegaard.

He seems to think that Christian commitment is something one makes once they arrive at some proof of the truth of the Gospel, but I don't think that's the case at all. Christians place their trust in God because they're convinced he's there, they have good reasons for believing he's there, and they hope they're right. But what they don't have is certainty. No one is vouchsafed that luxury this side of the Jordan. That's why Scripture says that believers "live by faith."

I did enjoy Rosenbaum's essay, however, and I recommend it for the many good things he says about the New Atheists. Here's one example:

You know about the pons asinorum, right? The so-called "bridge of asses" described by medieval scholars? Initially it referred to Euclid's Fifth Theorem, the one in which geometry really gets difficult and the sheep are separated from the asses among students, and the asses can't get across the bridge at all. Since then the phrase has been applied to any difficult theorem that the asses can't comprehend. And when it comes to the question of why is there something rather than nothing, the "New Atheists" still can't get their asses over the bridge, although many of them are too ignorant to realize that. This sort of ignorance, a condition called "anosognosia," which my friend Errol Morris is exploring in depth on his New York Times blog, means you don't know what you don't know. Or you don't know how stupid you are.

Pons asinorum. I like that.


Free Will and Murder

Victor Reppert, author of C.S. Lewis' Dangerous Idea and keeper of a blog called The paper is relatively short and does a good job of covering the main issues.

It opens with the horrifying account of a murder that took place in England in 1993:

On February 12th 1993, British toddler Jamie Bulger was enticed away from his mother at a local shopping center and led away by his abductors on a short journey that would end in his tragic and horrific death on the railroad tracks three hours later. Evidence at the trial of the two perpetrators indicated that there were points along the way that they could have changed their course of action. Instead, they brutalized, sexually molested, and battered the child to death with bricks and an iron bar before laying his body across the tracks in hopes of hiding evidence of their involvement in his death. The two murderers, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, were ten years old (Scott).

From a determinist point of view, Jon Venables's and Robert Thompson's fate was set even before their birth. Born to ill-educated, working class parents, the details of the boys' lives constitute a veritable catalogue of social ills. Venables's parents were unstable and depressed and the father eventually abandoned the family. The boy's older and younger siblings were both developmentally challenged and he suffered the brunt of his suicidal mother's physical and verbal abuse. When arrested for the murder of Jamie Bulger, Venables was described as "nearly illiterate" (Slaughter). Thompson's environment was even worse. The second to the youngest of seven violent and aggressive boys, he was, early on, exposed to the criminal habits of his brothers, one of whom was an arsonist and another who was a master thief. Both parents were alcoholics and the father beat the mother regularly. Given the effects on the boys of the atrocious environments and their family histories of alcoholism and abuse, could Venables and Thompson be said to be morally responsible for the actions which led to the tragic death of Jamie Bulger?

The difficulties in trying to navigate between free will and determinism seem intractable. The determinist challenges the libertarian (one who believes in free will) to explicate the nature of a genuinely free choice. Is a free choice one that is completely uncaused? That can't be because our choices, especially our moral choices, arise out of, and are in some sense caused by, our values and beliefs. If our choices are uncaused then they would seem to be spontaneous, unrelated to anything, and, if so, how can we be responsible for them? So, the challenge for the libertarian is to explain how a choice can be influenced by our character, and how our character can be influenced by our environment and genetics, without being determined by these influences.

On the other hand, determinism, if true, has several very unpleasant implications. If it's true then reward and punishment are never deserved since if our choices and behavior are determined by environment and genetics and not freely chosen, an individual is not responsible for anything he does. He's just a passive piece of flotsam swept along by forces outside of his control. Moreover, if determinism is true there can be no moral obligation for one cannot be obligated to do what one cannot do. Finally, determinism is dehumanizing because it tells us that that which makes us unique as humans, the ability to choose our behavior, is just an illusion. On determinism we are essentially robots which means that the idea that humans have dignity and worth is also an illusion.

There's one more problem with determinism. The determinist holds that we always act upon our strongest motives, but the only way we can assess which motives are strongest is to see what it is that we choose. For example, if I choose to have cereal for breakfast the determinist would tell me that my strongest motive was to eat cereal, but if I chose instead to have pancakes he would say that my strongest motive must have been to eat pancakes. In other words, we can only discern our strongest motive by looking at the choice we made. If this is true, however, it means that determinism reduces to a tautology. Since our strongest motive equals whichever motive we act upon the above italicized claim says nothing more than that we always act upon the motive that we act upon. This is true but not very edifying.

So what's the upshot? Philosophical reasoning seems unable to settle the question. There's no compelling reason, if one is a libertarian, to give up one's belief that one is free. One must decide on other than philosophical grounds where one will stand on the matter. If, for example, one believes that we are all accountable for our actions, that people are not just robots, that there are genuine moral obligations, and that at many moments in our lives there really is more than one possible future, then there's no compelling reason the determinist can give to persuade us otherwise. Nor, for that matter, is there reason, if one is a determinist, if one believes that at every moment in our life there's only one possible future, to give up that belief as long as one is willing to accept the existential consequences.

Anyway, read the article at the link. It's quite good.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Five Books

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is being touted as a potential GOP presidential candidate. In this piece we get a pretty good glimpse of Daniels' intellectual interests and economic philosophy.

The article is an interview with Daniels about five books that have shaped his thinking about economics. He talks about each at length. The five are:

  • Road to Serfdom - Friedrich Hayek
  • Free to Choose - Milton Friedman
  • What it Means to be a Libertarian - Charles Murray
  • The Rise and Decline of Nations - Mancur Olson
  • The Future and Its Enemies - Virginia Postrel

What Daniels says about these books is fascinating. It's obvious that he's actually read and digested them.

It'd be nice to have someone in the White House familiar with thinkers of this caliber rather than with the works of Marx, Marcuse, Chomsky, and Alinsky.


Never Too Late

Timothy Egan at reminds us that it's never too late in life for a burst of creativity. From Clint Eastwood to Joan Didion and Norman MacLean so much of their best work was done after they turned sixty. Even Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer, who, at 47 years-old, is making a bid for the National League All-Star team, recently became the oldest pitcher ever to beat the New York Yankees.

Even so, I wonder how many writers wrote their first successful book after the age of sixty; how many scientists who made great advances in our understanding of the world did so after they passed their sixtieth year; how many composers and other artists produced a work of enduring beauty in their later years. I suspect not many.

Yet Egan's essay affords hope that just because one finds him or herself well past one's physical and mental prime, that's not a reason to think there's nothing left to accomplish. After all, as George Carlin once noted, 70 is only 21 on the Celsius scale.


Superposition and Eternity

The world of the quantum is a very weird place. In that world it's possible for particles to move in opposite directions at the same time, it's possible for them to exist in more than one place, and more than one state, at the same time. In fact, in some interpretations, particles don't even exist at all until they've been somehow observed. It's all very bizarre.

This article in New Scientist gives us a hint of the weirdness:

Take the simple process of measuring the spin of a photon [a particle of light energy]. Thanks to the strange nature of the quantum world, it can actually be spinning in two directions at once, a phenomenon known as superposition. When we use a detector to measure the spin, however, the superposition disappears and we register a spin occurring in one direction or the other.

Quantum theory does not explain why this happens. "We don't really understand the measurement process," admits Stephen Adler at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

If you want to know how little we know, ask a roomful of physicists what goes on when we measure a particle's properties. All will be able to calculate the result of the measurement, but the explanation they give will differ wildly. Some will tell you that new parallel universes necessarily sprang into being. Others will say that, before a measurement is performed, talk of particles having real properties is meaningless. Still others will say that hidden properties come into play.

Researchers fire a single quantum particle, such as a photon, towards two apertures in a screen. Common sense says the photon has to go through one aperture or the other. However, as long as you don't measure which aperture it went through, something remarkable happens.

At a screen on the far side of the twin slits, an interference pattern [an interference pattern is a series of light and dark bands that are formed by the interaction of two waves] forms. This can only occur if the photon goes through both slits at the same time and interferes with itself. In other words, as long as nobody is watching, the photon exists in two different places at once.

A measurement changes everything, however. If you set up the experiment so you can see which slit the photon goes through, the interference pattern disappears; the photon will have gone through one slit or the other, but not both.

This all has, I think, interesting metaphysical implications. Suppose it is true that we have immortal souls. Suppose further that our existence beyond our physical death occurs outside the temporal world, i.e. we exist in a timeless realm in which the past, present and future of this world are all in our present.

If that's a possible state of affairs then it follows that our deaths, which are for us still future events, have already happened for those, like our ancestors, who have already died. Indeed, for them all events which are still in our future are in their eternal present. This means that for them we have already died and could be experiencing union with them now even as we are living out our temporal existence on this earth.

In other words, like quantum particles in a state of superposition, we could exist in two different states (or "places") at once.

Not only does this suggest that we could already be experiencing eternity with those who went before us - as well as those who will die after us - it also gives us an answer to the question that has perplexed theists throughout history: If there's going to be an "end of the world" (in Christianity, a second coming of Christ) when will it happen? If what we have been suggesting here is correct then the answer is, it will happen at the moment that we die. At that moment, for us, the entire future collapses into the present and all of history lies before us like a page in a book.

Sound too bizarre to be true? Perhaps, but it's really no more bizarre than the reality that physicists are discovering at the sub-atomic level of scale.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Wallis on Afghanistan

Over at The Washington Post's blog, On Faith, Jim Wallis argues that the war in Afghanistan is immoral and that we should get out. His conclusion may be correct, but the reasons he gives for it are, in my opinion, weak and irrelevant.

Wallis opens his essay with this puzzling remark:

But to begin a war and then an occupation of Afghanistan was the wrong policy, quickly killing more Afghan innocents than the American innocents who died on September 11.

I don't know how he knows how many innocent Afghan civilians were killed by American troops, but grant that the number exceeds the three thousand killed on 9/11. Of what importance is that? Does Wallis think that we went to war in Afghanistan in order to kill as many of their civilians as the al Qaeda terrorists killed of ours? By Wallis' reasoning we should have stopped fighting WWII as soon as we killed as many Japanese civilians as were killed at Pearl Harbor.

Here's the metric: Has our primarily military policy in Afghanistan and Iraq killed more terrorists than it has recruited? I think we know the answer to that.

Well, if we do I don't know how we do, and I doubt that Wallis does either. The implication is that going to war has generated and inspired more terrorists than would have been arrayed against us had we not gone to war. How could Wallis, or anyone, know this to be the case? Could it not be just as plausibly argued that had we not gone to war, Islamic youth by the millions would have smelled weakness and joined up with Osama bin Laden to be in on the destruction of the Great Satan?

A new strategy in Afghanistan that focuses on humanitarian assistance and sustainable economic development, along with international policing, was also never tried. It could have been led by NGOs, both faith-based and secular, who have been in the region for years, have become quite indigenous, and are much more trusted by the people of these countries than are the U.S. military. But such assistance would have to be provided, as much as possible, by independent civilian and non-governmental organizations -- both international and local -- rather than using aid as a government adjunct to military operations.

Here again Wallis makes a claim for which he fails to offer any support. How does he know that the Afghan people trust these NGOs more than they trust the military? If the Taliban are kidnapping their leaders or stealing their property who do the people turn to, do you think, to get it stopped? NGOs or the American military? Moreover, if Wallis thinks that we have not already spent a fortune on aid to the people of Afghanistan then he just hasn't been reading the same stuff everyone else has.

Yes, after taking over the country, we do have a responsibility not to simply walk away. There are ethical and moral issues that need to be considered: legitimately protecting Americans from further terrorism; protecting the lives of U.S. servicemen and women; protecting the Afghan people from the collateral damage of war; defending women from the Taliban; genuinely supporting democracy; and of course, saving innocent lives from the collateral damage of war, to name a few.

And if all these missions require 100,000 troops, numerous operations and lots of dead Taliban should we declare that the price is just too high? Wallis says, on the one hand, that we should get out of Afghanistan for moral reasons and on the other that we need to stay there for moral reasons. Well, which is it?

Non-military strategies should have led the way, rather than the other way around, as counter-insurgency doctrine requires. We should not have made aid and development weapons of war by tying them so closely to the military; rather, we should have only provided the security support needed for the development work to succeed -- led by respected, well-established international organizations with strong local connections.

This is pie-in-the-sky nonsense. The fact is that we went in to Afghanistan to get the people who launched 9/11, not to deliver hot lunches to Afghan shepherds. Once we drove al Qaeda and the Taliban out we had an obligation to keep them from flooding back into the country as soon as we left, so we have tried to create a secure environment for the people of Afghanistan. We undertook to strengthen both the government and the nation's infrastructure. Humanitarian efforts only work in areas which are free of the fear of the Taliban, which means our first mission has to be to pacify the countryside. No international organization is going to be keen on sending their workers into areas where they're likely to lose their heads as soon as they show up.

The article told story after story about families being separated by repeated deployments in an endless war. Soldiers who are fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters are dying for a wrong-headed, ineffective, failed, doomed, arrogant, theologically unjust, and yes, immoral war policy. And of course, the ones dying are not the young people headed for our best universities and successful professional careers, but rather they are the ones who have fewer options, or who see the military as their only option. Those with the least opportunities, and their families, are again the ones to sacrifice and suffer. It's not right and it's not fair.

Set aside the fact that despite what he might think of himself, Wallis is not a prophet. He doesn't know that this effort is "wrong-headed, ineffective, failed, doomed, arrogant." We should remember that this is exactly what the progressive opponents of George Bush were saying about Iraq, which Joe Biden is now claiming as an Obama administration success. We should also bear in mind that we have a volunteer military which means that the people fighting this war chose to make the sacrifices that Wallis enumerates. Moreover, his claim that the ones who are making these sacrifices are young men and women who see the military as their only option is utter nonsense. They joined the military because they saw it as a good option, not their only option. Wallis, like Senator Kerry in 2004, would have us believe that our troops are really life's losers. It says more about Wallis' view of those who go into the military than it does about the young men and women themselves.

Neither has Wallis made even a glimmer of an argument that the Afghanistan war is "theologically unjust, and immoral." He simply asserts it and expects us to nod our heads in agreement. But, never mind. As I said at the outset, almost the entire thrust of his essay is irrelevant. I say that because Wallis is a pacifist and would oppose any use of force in Afghanistan no matter how it was carried out. In other words, his argument is disingenuous. He's not opposed to the way our troops have been used, he's opposed, in principle, to any use of troops. It would be nice if he had the forthrightness to tell us that up front, rather than try to convince us that the reason he thinks we should leave Afghanistan is that the war is being managed badly, that it can't be won, and that the military is not being employed to maximum effect.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

When the Bush Tax Cuts Expire

The Heritage Foundation has sent out a mailing in which they make the following claims about the consequences for you and me when the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire in January. I have no link for this, but according to what they say:

When the cuts expire it will be the equivalent of a $2.4 trillion tax increase on families, seniors and businesses.

One hundred million families will face an average tax increase of $1716 per year.

Seventeen million seniors will see their taxes rise an average of $2034.

Small business owners will be socked with an average increase of $3637.

Set aside Mr. Obama's promise that he would not raise taxes on those with incomes less than $250,000 a year. Few believed he was telling us the truth when he made that promise anyway. The question now is, what effect will this additional financial burden have on poverty levels and the average standard of living in this country? The former will necessarily rise and the latter will perforce decline.

Where does this money go? Well, in 2009 $19.6 billion went for frivolous "pork" projects that rewarded special interest groups. Much of it also goes to pay for the administration's stimulus programs that have been such a colossal failure in creating jobs, and, of course, a bloated federal bureaucracy takes their cut.

If you complain that you're being bled dry by our congressional phlebotomists, that you won't be able to manage on what you have left over, then you're told that you're not being patriotic, or that you're just callous, mean-spirited and unwilling to help the less fortunate. Besides, the country voted for hope and change, and, by golly, the Obama administration is going to give it to us. So shut up, stop complaining, fork it over, and have a nice day.


Black Haters

Imagine that our Department of Justice decided not to prosecute a couple of white klansmen who were intimidating blacks at the polling booths. Imagine that the klansmen had already forfeited, amounting to a guilty plea, and all that the white Attorney General needed to do was sentence them, but he inexplicably dropped the case. Imagine the outrage that would be fulminating across the airwaves until the administration relented.

Of course, something very much like this did happen in the Obama/Holder administration and the only place there's any outrage is on Fox News. Everywhere else, all one hears is the sound of crickets. Nothing from MSNBC, the New York Times, Jim Wallis. Just silence.

Who was the racist whacko that Holder let go? Watch him in action and marvel at the racial double standard in this country. What white racist would be allowed to do or say what this creep is saying?

If a white guy was doing this he'd be hauled off the street and thrown in jail for incitement to violence, as he should be. Not only that, but he would be justly pilloried for 24/7 on the nation's cable news shows his savage and moronic beliefs. In Obama's America, however, black haters get a pass from the liberal left. Why? Are liberals so racist themselves that they think that this is somehow just blacks being blacks? Or are they so otiose that they think we can improve race relations by holding blacks to a lower standard than we hold others?

J. Christian Adams was an attorney in the Department of Justice who resigned because he refused to be complicit in the corruption of the DOJ's Voting Rights Division. He writes:

Based on my firsthand experiences, I believe the dismissal of the Black Panther case was motivated by a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law. Others still within the department share my assessment. The department abetted wrongdoers and abandoned law-abiding citizens victimized by the New Black Panthers. The dismissal raises serious questions about the department's enforcement neutrality in upcoming midterm elections and the subsequent 2012 presidential election.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has opened an investigation into the dismissal and the DOJ's skewed enforcement priorities. Attorneys who brought the case are under subpoena to testify, but the department ordered us to ignore the subpoena, lawlessly placing us in an unacceptable legal limbo.

Most disturbing, the dismissal is part of a creeping lawlessness infusing our government institutions. Citizens would be shocked to learn about the open and pervasive hostility within the Justice Department to bringing civil rights cases against nonwhite defendants on behalf of white victims. Equal enforcement of justice is not a priority of this administration. Open contempt is voiced for these types of cases.

Some of my co-workers argued that the law should not be used against black wrongdoers because of the long history of slavery and segregation. Less charitable individuals called it "payback time." Incredibly, after the case was dismissed, instructions were given that no more cases against racial minorities like the Black Panther case would be brought by the Voting Section.

Refusing to enforce the law equally means some citizens are protected by the law while others are left to be victimized, depending on their race.

What Adams reports here is contemptible and frightening. Under President Obama and Attorney General Holder the chief law enforcement institution in the nation is subordinating equal justice to racial preference. I can think of no better way to stoke the fires of racial hatred and violence in this country than to abandon the principle of equality under the law and to turn a blind eye to black crime.

Congress needs to be looking at ways to remove Mr. Holder from his position and the American people need to be looking at ways to remove Holder's party from Congress in November and from the White House in 2012.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Religion of Peace

I'm sure there are moderate Muslims who just want to live in a country where their children can grow up without having clerics making their lives miserable. Unfortunately, there are also too many like this Australian fellow:

How many Muslims just like this guy are we hosting in this country - here illegally, living off the taxpayers, and plotting to kill as many of us as possible? But don't let it worry you, lots of Muslims are moderates.


Religion of Compassion

We have on several occasions talked about the film The Stoning of Soraya M. a true account of the judicial murder of an Iranian woman in the 1980s falsely accused of adultery. Now history is about to repeat itself as another Iranian woman, Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, having already been lashed 99 times and imprisoned for five years for alleged adultery has now been sentenced to die by stoning:

Keep in mind two things: The barbaric laws that enjoin such punishments are precisely what millions of Muslims, even in this country, wish to foist on the rest of the world, and the people who do this sort of thing to women will soon have nuclear weapons unless the world does something to stop them.

Check out Hot Air for more on this horrific case.


Life at the Lighthouse - Day 11 (Conclusion)

I do apologize for being so off topic lately. I know full well you don't come to Viewpoint to read such mundane drivel. Unfortunately, circumstances necessitated that I give some of the parties involved an Internet presence in an effort to "persuade" them to be more reasonable. The good news is that it appears there is a satisfactory solution in the works.

Further, I hasten to add that no such coaching was needed for All My Sons Moving & Storage of Raleigh, NC to step up to the table to make things right.

I contacted Kenon Furlong, Manager of All My Sons Moving & Storage of Raleigh, NC and to my surprise, not only did he agree to a 3-way split but also raised the bar by offering to assume 50% of my share of the responsibility! He went on to encourage me to ask Mid-American Apartment Communities to do likewise, which would relieve me of the entire obligation!

Mr. Robert Donnelley from Mid-American Apartment Communities Customer Relations contacted me and, for the first time, I felt I was speaking to someone from that company who had a soul. He asked what I thought would be a fair arrangement. While it went against my sensibilities, I suggested a 3-way split of the expense by the moving company, the Lighthouse apartment complex, and myself. I mentioned Mr. Furlong's suggestion and he responded that it was a reasonable proposal! Mr. Donnelley even went so far as to suggest that my electric bill be adjusted for the cost of running three industrial-strength fans and a dehumidifier for several days to dry the place out. Finally, this issue is behind me.

There's so much more I'd like to mention about the good people and the bad that we encountered in this nightmare story but rather than dwell on that, I'll post an article or two from brother Dick who forwarded them to me before going out of town.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Life at the Lighthouse - Day 9

This is an open letter to the Board of Directors, the Management Team, and Investor Relations at Mid-America Apartment Communities.

Mid-America Apartment Communities
6584 Poplar Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38138
Mid-America Apartment Communities

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Yesterday I received my first threat of eviction by the Hatchet Lady, Laura Hulsey - Community Manager (904) 278-6006. She informed me that if the $750 bill for water damage cleanup is not paid, she cannot accept my rent check. Since she cannot accept the rent check, we will be evicted for not paying the rent. Showing that her heart (if she has one) is in the right place, she quickly offered to structure the cost into four "easy" payments. What a sweetheart!

The plumbing broke while the clothes washer hose was being connected to it. Note that it has not been determined precisely how or why the pipe broke. It was initially determined and claimed by the emergency service man - Guy, that the moving company that was installing the washer tightened the hose to the plumbing excessively. Were that the case, I wouldn't have much to write about, however, the next day I met with Guy and asked him if any tools were required to remove the broken plumbing from the washer hose to which he replied "No". So, in fact, the washer hose was "finger tight" and not tightened excessively. Several other stories have been crafted in attempts to explain what happened, each one contradicting the other. The latest version being that the man installing the washer "must have been standing between the washer and the wall and after hooking up the hose to the plumbing, either tripped on the hose while trying to climb out from behind the washer or tipped the washer over while climbing over it putting excessive stress on the plumbing". Well which is it? Neither, because the instant the leak began, my wife and I could see the man reaching over the washer trying to turn the water off.

All of the attempts to explain the cause of the problem are engineered to place the blame on the moving company (and me) and away from the apartment company.

All that is truly known at this point is that it could have been abuse of some nature but the fact that the hose was finger tight suggests no reason to suspect abuse. That leaves the possibility of faulty plumbing given the age and stress from people having moved in and out connecting and disconnecting their washers for the last ten years.

But Hatchet Lady, Laura Hulsey will not be reasoned with. Her position is that she will not be confused by the facts. Nor, sadly will Mr. Glenn Evers - Regional Manager (904) 363-2300.

You can read the background of events here...Day 6 here...Day 8 and here...Day 9

And so now I appeal my case to you ladies and gentlemen. I want to know if there is someone at Mid-Atlantic Apartment Communities that still has a sense of ethics and a grasp of the meaning of integrity.

Thank you,

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Update 2

Well, today marks the one-week anniversary of our moving debacle but I have to say I had a delightful conversation with Mr. Kenon Furlong, Manager - All My Sons Moving & Storage, Raleigh, NC yesterday and he has offered assurances that "they will not let us hang out to dry" regarding the expense of water damages that occurred when we moved into our apartment. As a matter of fact, perhaps 25% of the conversation was "business" related and the rest ended up being about unrelated topics of interest that we discovered were common to both of us. (See Viewpoint for the background of this thread. This is very encouraging as it gives us reason to believe there are still some business people of integrity. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing for the folks at The Lighthouse at Fleming Island in Florida.

On the morning after the flood, I visited Laura Hulsey - Community Manager (904) 278-6006 and instead of expressing any concern or interest for our situation, any inquiry as to our well-being, she matter-of-factly made it clear in no uncertain terms that I would be receiving an invoice for the costs of the water damage cleanup. My lightening-quick instincts (LQI) told me this was an evil, otherworldly creature that relishes every opportunity to abuse and oppress tenants. One look into that cold, stupid, lifeless stare of hers makes it intuitively obvious to even the casual observer that this is so.

Years ago I learned what I call the customer's algorithm. Here's the pseudo code...

while (level of service not = acceptable) do {
escalate efforts by contacting someone higher up the corporate food chain

if ((unethical mentality flows from top down = true or
entire corporate culture = polluted or
evidence of integrity = false) or
then {

This provides a simple way to discover the integrity and ethical fabric of an organization. In this case, I was lead to Mr. Glenn Evers - Regional Manager (904) 363-2300.

I spoke with Mr. Glen Evers two days ago and, after listening to my side of the story, he indicated he would get back to me before the end of business yesterday. When that didn't happen I was cautiously optimistic that he might have found reason to believe that I shouldn't be held liable for the water damage cleanup. I was sadly mistaken. This morning the ice lady, Laura Hulsey, called. Her idea of compassion is to give me the opportunity to pay for the expense in four installments.

Our worst fears were confirmed recently when we went to the local Home Depot and as soon as they learned it was The Lighthouse that we were dealing with, they literally expressed their condolences. Apparently the abusive reputation of The Lighthouse is well known locally and, trust me, it's now, as they say, about to go "viral".

Referring to my algorithm above, my next step will be to contact the Board of Directors, the Management Team, and the Investment Relations folks at:

Mid-America Apartment Communities
6584 Poplar Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38138
Mid-America Apartment Communities

I will appeal my case to them and also forward links to this thread so they can follow along as well.

Personally, I suspect I may be wasting my time by appealing to anyone at Mid-America Apartment Communities simply because, given the evidence so far, it appears that the mentality of greed is all-pervasive in the corporate culture of MAAC. Any modicum of ethics and integrity was sacrificed at the alter of Almighty Profits long ago.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


We recently moved to Florida and thought it good to rent an apartment for a bit while we get familiar with the area after which we will buy or build a home. The chaos mentioned in my earlier post was because while the movers were installing our clothes washer, the fitting and pipe broke causing the apartment to flood. It was about 6:00 pm and the main office was closed so we called the complex's emergency service and twenty minutes later a service man managed to turn the water off. On his way here he called the carpet service they deal with who eventually arrived to begin the clean up by tearing up the carpet and padding in several rooms and setting up industrial strength fans and a dehumidifier which ran for 48 hours.

After the place was dry the carpet service put down new carpet padding and reinstalled the carpet. Five minutes after they left an envelope was slid under the front door by the apartment management containing a bill for the work that had been done. As of this writing, the apartment management believes we are responsible for the expense of the cleanup.

Note that no tools were used to tighten the washer hose to the plumbing nor (as per the emergency service man) were any required to remove the broken piece from the hose. It was "finger tight".

I have contacted the moving company as well as the regional manager of the apartment complex and communicated what happened while trying to avoid the issue of liability and pointing fingers. If all of this can be resolved in a reasonable and fair manner, I will post an article to that effect giving credit where it is due.

If not, I will be posting weekly articles (with graphics) that will give all parties involved an Internet presence they would probably rather not have. I envision a section to the left of Viewpoint's web page either above or below the Hall of Fame titled Hall of Shame with a link to a page that displays a running compilation of all of the posted articles. I will provide the names of the businesses and individuals involved (and email addresses should you chose to express your outrage) so as to be sure they receive the credit they are due. And of course I will email a permalink to the BBB, apartment guides, organizations that review apartment living, and certainly the "We're On Your Side" television news programs, etc.

Stay tuned,


We're back!

I apologize for the delay getting the server back on line...this last week has been rather chaotic. I'll follow up with more info shortly.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Today marks the last day Viewpoint will be available until July 10th. Please check back with us then.


Incredible Shrinking Presidency

In previous posts we wondered why the administration has been so slow to respond to the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, especially after the criticism this president heaped on President Bush for his dilatory response to Hurricane Katrina.

Well, it has turned out that there were two big reasons for refusing offers of help from the Dutch and both of them are disgraceful. The first is that the Dutch skimmers remove a tiny fraction less oil from the water than EPA regulations permit and the second is that the use of Dutch skimmers would have meant that unionized American crews would be excluded from the work, which circumstance offends the labor unions in whose pocket our president is ensconced.

Tens of thousands of Gulf coast residents are losing their livelihoods but, hey, the unions are happy.

There's much more in the article at the link to cause you to despair of the competence and intelligence of the people in the White House who seek to assure us that they've been on top of this disaster from day one.

Democratic pollster Pat Caddell said recently that the administration has shown so much incompetence in their handling of the oil clean-up that it'll be a long time before anyone has any confidence in the government's ability to manage a crisis.

Indeed, with every passing day both the confidence Americans have in government's ability to solve problems and the stature of President Obama diminish apace. Mr. Obama has become the political embodiment of the Incredible Shrinking Man, and nothing he says about the spill means anything to anyone any more. Maybe it's time for him to retreat to the links for another round of golf and just let the governors of the affected states handle the clean-up.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Who Did We Gain Our Independence From?

Jay Leno asks some people (including a college instructor!) some basic questions about American history, and the results are as depressing as they are funny. I know you can't draw sweeping conclusions from a small data set, but still ....

It's scary to think that these people probably vote. Gosh, come to think of it, I wonder who they voted for in the last presidential election.

Exit question: Is there some sociological significance in the fact that the only one on the film who knew the answers was the grandpa?

Thanks to Hot Air for calling our attention to the video.


Fourth of July Meditation

Most Americans know that Thomas Jefferson, at the age of only 33, was tasked with composing the Declaration of Independence, but we probably don't know much about how his selection came about. The following is a letter John Adams wrote to his secretary of State Thomas Pickering summarizing the selection process (and also giving a few hints as to Adam's personality, a personality captured very well, by the way, by Paul Giamatti in the excellent HBO miniseries titled John Adams).

Adams writes:

"You inquire why so young a man as Mr. Jefferson was placed at the head of the committee for preparing a Declaration of Independence? I answer: It was the Frankfort advice, to place Virginia at the head of everything. Mr. Richard Henry Lee might be gone to Virginia, to his sick family, for aught I know, but that was not the reason of Mr. Jefferson's appointment. There were three committees appointed at the same time, one for the Declaration of Independence, another for preparing articles of confederation, and another for preparing a treaty to be proposed to France.

Mr. Lee was chosen for the Committee of Confederation, and it was not thought convenient that the same person should be upon both. Mr. Jefferson came into Congress in June, 1775, and brought with him a reputation for literature, science, and a happy talent of composition. Writings of his were handed about, remarkable for the peculiar felicity of expression. Though a silent member in Congress, he was so prompt, frank, explicit, and decisive upon committees and in conversation - not even Samuel Adams was more so - that he soon seized upon my heart; and upon this occasion I gave him my vote, and did all in my power to procure the votes of others. I think he had one more vote than any other, and that placed him at the head of the committee. I had the next highest number, and that placed me the second. The committee met, discussed the subject, and then appointed Mr. Jefferson and me to make the draft, I suppose because we were the two first on the list.

The subcommittee met. Jefferson proposed to me to make the draft. I said, 'I will not,' 'You should do it.' 'Oh! no.' 'Why will you not? You ought to do it.' 'I will not.' 'Why?' 'Reasons enough.' 'What can be your reasons?' 'Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.' 'Well,' said Jefferson, 'if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.' 'Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.'

A meeting we accordingly had, and conned the paper over. I was delighted with its high tone and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning Negro slavery, which, though I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose. There were other expressions which I would not have inserted if I had drawn it up, particularly that which called the King tyrant. I thought this too personal, for I never believed George to be a tyrant in disposition and in nature; I always believed him to be deceived by his courtiers on both sides of the Atlantic, and in his official capacity, only, cruel. I thought the expression too passionate, and too much like scolding, for so grave and solemn a document; but as Franklin and Sherman were to inspect it afterwards, I thought it would not become me to strike it out. I consented to report it, and do not now remember that I made or suggested a single alteration.

We reported it to the committee of five. It was read, and I do not remember that Franklin or Sherman criticized anything. We were all in haste. Congress was impatient, and the instrument was reported, as I believe, in Jefferson's handwriting, as he first drew it. Congress cut off about a quarter of it, as I expected they would; but they obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was exceptionable, if anything in it was. I have long wondered that the original draft had not been published. I suppose the reason is the vehement philippic against Negro slavery.

As you justly observe, there is not an idea in it but what had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before. The substance of it is contained in the declaration of rights and the violation of those rights in the Journals of Congress in 1774. Indeed, the essence of it is contained in a pamphlet, voted and printed by the town of Boston, before the first Congress met, composed by James Otis, as I suppose, in one of his lucid intervals, and pruned and polished by Samuel Adams."

Rich Lowery has a brief but informative piece on the Declaration at NRO in which he says this:

Jefferson's words were more than rhetorical theatrics; they laid the philosophical bedrock of the American republic. In the space of three magnificent sentences in its preamble, the Declaration packs enough content to fill volumes of treatises on political theory.

In declaring that "all men are created equal," it insists that there's no such thing as a natural ruling class. Put another way, it tells us, as Jefferson wrote near the end of his life, "that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God."

Lowery also discusses several other of Jefferson's phrases and notes that they were borrowed from the writings of John Locke, particularly his Second Treatise on Government, in whose thought the Founding Fathers had been steeped. Lowery omits mention, though, of what may be Locke's most important idea: the notion that our rights are rooted in, and given to us, by God. This is important because if the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Jefferson replaced Locke's "property" with "pursuit of happiness") are grounded in anything else then they are not "unalienable." We can only have enduring, unalienable rights if they are endowed by our Creator. Nature certainly confers no rights upon us, and the rights bestowed by men are ephemeral and arbitrary.

Philosopher Todd May, in a rather peculiar essay on the Declaration at the NYT's Opinionator, declares that:

Most philosophers now agree that the rights we have are not rooted in nature or in a divine being but in our social practices, our ways of living together.

May might be correct that this is the view of most philosophers today, but if so we should be deeply troubled. Rights that are grounded in nothing more than our social practices are mere words on paper that can change with the social conventions of the time. Philosophers, and Supreme Court Justices, who think that the rights we have in the Constitution are rooted in 18th century social practices are not going to be zealous in defending and perpetuating those rights. Indeed, this is what Elena Kagan seems to believe, and it's one of the deepest concerns with her nomination. Such a view of the nature of rights, a view that grounds them in the shifting mores of social custom and fashion, is a path that leads straight to the might-makes-right philosophy of tyrants.

In any event, I urge you to take a few minutes this Fourth of July weekend to reflect upon the meaning, the grounds, and the contemporary threats to those freedoms and rights bequeathed to us by the founders of our nation.