Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Out of Ammo

The Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer, as if having read the last couple weeks of Viewpoint posts, makes the same point we've been making here, albeit with far less skill and eloquence than Krauthammer commands. When liberals find themselves on the short end of an argument, which is almost always, they resort to name-calling. Specifically, they attempt to discredit their foes, and thereby "win" the argument, by smearing them as bigots. A bigot's beliefs, after all, are ipso facto absurd and disreputable. Here's Krauthammer on this quaint habit of the liberal mind:
Liberalism under siege is an ugly sight indeed. Just yesterday it was all hope and change and returning power to the people. But the people have proved so disappointing. Their recalcitrance has, in only 19 months, turned the predicted 40-year liberal ascendancy (James Carville) into a full retreat. Ah, the people, the little people, the small-town people, the "bitter" people, as Barack Obama in an unguarded moment once memorably called them, clinging "to guns or religion or" -- this part is less remembered -- "antipathy toward people who aren't like them."
That's a polite way of saying: clinging to bigotry. And promiscuous charges of bigotry are precisely how our current rulers and their vast media auxiliary react to an obstreperous citizenry that insists on incorrect thinking.
  • Resistance to the vast expansion of government power, intrusiveness and debt, as represented by the Tea Party movement? Why, racist resentment toward a black president.
  • Disgust and alarm with the federal government's unwillingness to curb illegal immigration, as crystallized in the Arizona law? Nativism.
  • Opposition to the most radical redefinition of marriage in human history, as expressed in Proposition 8 in California? Homophobia.
  • Opposition to a 15-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero? Islamophobia.
Now we know why the country has become "ungovernable," last year's excuse for the Democrats' failure of governance: Who can possibly govern a nation of racist, nativist, homophobic Islamophobes?

Note what connects these issues. In every one, liberals have lost the argument in the court of public opinion. Majorities -- often lopsided majorities -- oppose President Obama's social-democratic agenda (e.g., the stimulus, Obamacare), support the Arizona law, oppose gay marriage and reject a mosque near Ground Zero. What's a liberal to do? Pull out the bigotry charge, the trump that preempts debate and gives no credit to the seriousness and substance of the contrary argument.
A friend of mine maintains that it's a little unfair of Krauthammer to imply that it's a conscious strategy on the part of liberals to lie about their opponents. He argues that many of them, at least, actually believe that their opponents really are the nefarious devils they make them out to be.

Be that as it may, I don't think it changes much. All it does to mitigate the name-caller's sleaziness is to remove the stigma of having deliberately lied in order to disgrace his opponent and replace it with the stigma of being the sort of person who will say the worst things about others without taking the trouble to discover whether his claims are true. The technical name for this thoughtless, small-minded, irresponsible character assassination is slander.

Krauthammer's columns are almost always excellent, but this one is especially so. Give it a read, and in the meantime remember that whenever you hear a liberal brandishing the charge of bigotry, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. it's almost always a tacit admission that they're out of intellectual ammunition and are fighting a losing battle with the sticks and stones of personal insult.

Krauthammer finishes up his column with this:
It is a measure of the corruption of liberal thought and the collapse of its self-confidence that, finding itself so widely repudiated, it resorts reflexively to the cheapest race-baiting (in a colorful variety of forms). Indeed, how can one reason with a nation of pitchfork-wielding mobs brimming with "antipathy toward people who aren't like them" -- blacks, Hispanics, gays and Muslims -- a nation that is, as Michelle Obama once put it succinctly, "just downright mean"?
Yes. Don't try to reason with the yahoos, just throw lots of mud and hope that some of it sticks.

Football Follies

Hot Air's Allahpundit sees this disastrous play as a metaphor for the Obama administration:
The electorate takes the snap, flips the ball to Obama, and watches in horror as he fumbles the stimulus and races in the wrong direction with ObamaCare. Then, near his own goal line, with the GOP closing in, he gets the brilliant idea to weigh in on the Ground Zero mosque…
I invite readers to submit their own interpetation of the metaphor this poor young man's series of errors offers us. I imagine he got an earful from his coaches when he came off the field.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Drastic Education Reform

National Review's John Derbyshire has a plan for reforming education. Fed up with the fleecing the educational establishment and their political enablers have administered to the public, Derbyshire delivers himself of the following proposal:
Here is my prescription for a reform of the nation’s education system. First, destroy all the schools. Cart away the rubble for landfill and sow the ground with salt. Abolish the federal Department of Education and all state equivalents. End all education funding from public sources. If the inhabitants of any district then wish their kids to be educated in schools, let them raise the necessary funds themselves. Then let them build the schools themselves, like zeks. There should be just one federally approved model: an unheated wood-and-tar-paper structure with plastic sheeting for windows.
Any person above the age of twelve who wishes to attend school should have to stand outside the school gate for a month, in all weathers, pleading to be admitted. There should be a constitutional amendment banning any community from employing non-teaching staff in its schools at any ratio to teaching staff higher than one percent. And let’s have a federal penalty of 25-to-life for anyone attempting to form a teachers’ union.
Crazy, you say? No: Spending half a billion dollars you don’t have on a school to educate 4,200 students, some high proportion of whom are in the country illegally, is crazy. Shoveling seven hundred million dollars into the public sector of a state whose private sector is withering on the vine is crazy. Pretending that by spending enough money you can turn every child into a bookish child is crazy.
The proposal is satire, of course, but like all good satire it conveys a lot of truth. There is much waste in public education. The taxpayers are being squeezed to throw a lot of money on needless programs and hopeless causes. If Tea Party folks want to do something really constructive in their local communities they might publicize a line item breakdown of their school district's budget. It'd be an eye-opener.

Tolerating Terror

Andy McCarthy offers a test for distinguishing between moderate adherents of Islam and extremists: Simply ask them whether they agree with the Obama State Department that Hamas is a terrorist organization. If they refuse even to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist group, much less condemn them for it, they are implicitly condoning terrorism and can hardly be considered "moderates." It's not unlike someone refusing to condemn the KKK lynchings during the Jim Crow era. One would have to wonder why someone couldn't bring himself to renounce such atrocities.

It turns out, by the way, that when Feisal Rauf, the promoter of the Ground Zero mosque, was given this test he failed:
During a WABC radio interview, Aaron Klein three times pressed Rauf to admit that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Rauf bobbed and weaved in classic Islamist style. “I’m not a politician,” he replied, as if only politicians trouble themselves over whether terrorists are terrorists. “I try to avoid the issues. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” Avoid the issues? You don’t say!
I'm reminded of the young college student who, at a David Horowitz lecture, stood up and, sounding very reasonable, asked for a clarification about something Horowitz had written. In the course of his response Horowitz asked her if she would condemn Hamas. She refused. He then cited the statement by a leader of Hezbollah who said that he hopes all Jews return to Israel because it'll save Muslims the trouble of hunting them down and killing them. They can just kill them all in Israel. Horowitz asked the young lady whether she agreed with that statement, and her immediate, straightforward reply was that she did. Pretty chilling:
Surely there are pious, peaceful Muslims who are aghast at this young student's reply to Horowitz and who will not hesitate to speak out against terrorism and violence and those among their co-religionists who employ it, but unless they rise up and seize their faith back from the extremists and those who abet them, non-Muslim Americans will more and more come to think that the concept of the "moderate Muslim" is really just a myth. When all one hears are the radical voices it's inevitable that one begin to think that radicals are the mainstream.

Whites Need Not Apply

It wasn't long ago that the lament was frequently heard that minorities and women had to be twice as good as white men just to have the same opportunities as white men enjoyed. The complaint might still be heard today, but it certainly doesn't have the resonance it once did. Indeed, it could with justification be turned on its head.

According to a column by Pat Buchanan,  being a white applicant to Harvard is a real liability to a prospective student. Minority students have an enormous competitive advantage just because they're not white:
Being Hispanic conferred an admissions boost over being white ... equivalent to 130 SAT points (out of 1,600), while being black rather than white conferred a 310-point SAT advantage. Asians, however, suffered an admissions penalty compared to whites equivalent to 140 SAT points. To have the same chance of gaining admission as a black student with a SAT score of 1100, a Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have a 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550.
Buchanan goes on to ask:
Was this what the civil rights revolution was all about -- requiring kids whose parents came from Korea, Japan or Vietnam to get a perfect SAT score of 1600 to be given equal consideration with a Jamaican or Kenyan kid who got an 1150? Is this what it means to be an Ivy League progressive? What are the historic and moral arguments for discriminating in favor of kids from Angola and Argentina over kids whose parents came from Poland and Vietnam?
Of course there are no historic or moral justifications for this. When liberals decide they're going to promote diversity, morality and fairness become expendable. Buchanan concludes with this:
Lower-class whites prove to be all-around losers at the elite schools. They are rarely accepted. Lower-class Hispanics and blacks are eight to 10 times more likely to get in with the same scores. Many of these elite public and private colleges and universities benefit from U.S. tax dollars through student loans and direct grants. The future flow of those tax dollars should be made contingent on Harvard and Yale ending racial practices that went out at Little Rock Central High in 1957.
There's much more in the column to make you wonder what ever happened to the idea that a just society is one which does not discriminate on the basis of the color of one's skin.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What's the Difference?

One of the criticisms leveled at the Glenn Beck Restoring Honor rally held today was that it was at best insensitive of Beck to hold the rally on the day and at the place where Martin Luther King gave his famous I Have a Dream speech 47 years ago. That place and that date are sacred in the minds of African-Americans, the complaint goes, and for a white conservative talk show host to hold his rally at that venue on August 28th was an affront to the memory of Dr. King.

Set aside the silliness of this objection and consider instead its similarity to what we heard in the Ground Zero mosque debate. Liberals think Beck is sullying the site of one of the greatest moments in civil rights history and are overwhelmingly sympathetic with those who oppose his rally. Yet those Americans who believe that placing a mosque in proximity to the sacred ground of the most heinous crime ever committed on American soil, a crime committed in the name of Allah, is an affront to the memory of the almost 3000 who died there, these people are called intolerant bigots.

If opponents of the mosque are bigots why are not opponents of the Glenn Beck rally also bigots? What's the relevant difference between the two cases? Or is this not about reason and rationality at all, but rather about political and ideological demagoguery on the part of the left? Unfortunately, this is not a tough question.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beat Whitey Night

Have you heard anything about this in the mainstream news? Me neither, but had it been "beat blacky night" you can bet that it'd be all over the MSM. You can also be sure that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would be everywhere they could find a microphone and a camera to remind us how sick and racist white America still is. There would be interviews all across the cable tv broadcast day with sociologists and psychologists scrutinizing the deep-seated flaws in the white soul. But, since the perps were, as they almost always are in these kinds of attacks, black youth, neither the media nor our professional race hustlers seem interested:
In the media subconscious, apparently, white savagery is news, but black savagery is not. This is another example of what's been called the bigotry of low expectations. It's an insidious form of racism. We need not publicize black crime against whites, the thinking goes, because, well, it's not really surprising, and besides we can't expect blacks to behave otherwise. After all, a hundred and fifty years ago their ancestors were slaves.

If ever we're going to achieve the racial comity dreamt of by those who struggled and sacrificed in the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties, all of us are going to have to realize that blacks, whites and browns must be held to exactly the same standards of behavior and merit. We can expect no less of one group in our society than we do of another and we must treat the actions of each group the same way we'd treat them were they being done by another group. To do otherwise, to give one group preferential treatment, only fosters bitterness and resentment and just keeps picking at the scabs of the old wounds, keeping them from healing.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Missing the Point

Here's a question for those who think that everybody who opposes the Ground Zero mosque is a right-wing hate-monger and bigot:
Do you believe opponents of the war in Afghanistan have a constitutionally guaranteed freedom to exercise their opposition by demonstrating against the war at funerals of fallen soldiers?
If you answer yes, then do you also think that they should conduct their demonstrations at those sites? No matter how you answered, do you think that those who believe they should not, who think it's insensitive and insulting, who believe they should take their demonstrations to other venues, do you think those people are cowardly right-wingers filled with hatred and bigotry and animated by the basest of political motives?

Frank Rich of the New York Times does. Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post does. So do some of the prime time hosts on MSNBC. They don't say exactly this, of course, but it's the logic of their position.

These pundits have made it clear that they consider everyone who opposes the GZ mosque to be disreputable people, either hate-filled demagogues themselves or useful idiots easily manipulated by the right-wing extremist media. It doesn't matter to them that opponents of this mosque do not deny that its backers have a legal right to build their cultural center near the site of the 9/11 attack - one of the most horrific crimes ever committed in the name of Allah. It doesn't matter that their opposition, in the main, stems from their belief that it's just insensitive and offensive for them to do so.

Members of Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist church flaunt signs at the funerals of fallen servicemen and women saying things like "God Hates Fags" because they believe that the deaths of these soldiers and Marines are God's judgment on a military and country that tolerates homosexuality. Should they have the right to express these views? Yes. Do the families of the dead have the right to be offended and to demand that they be kept at a distance from the place where they grieve for their loved ones?

The logic of the position held by Robinson, Rich and the MSNBC hosts, leads to the conclusion that to object to Mr. Phelps' presence, as the families of the deceased loved ones invariably do, is a symptom of an underlying ugliness in the character of those family members and their sympathizers. It is an expression of appalling ignorance, intolerance and prejudice. It manifests a disdain for the first amendment.

But of course this is all nonsense. What opposition to Mr. Phelp's protests manifests is a contempt for his boorish insensitivity. It may also manifest a contempt for his beliefs, but it doesn't signify anything at all about the attitude toward the first amendment held by those who want Mr. Phelps nowhere near the site of their grieving.

This is, however, a distinction apparently too complex for columnists like Robinson and Rich, and commentators like Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann to grasp. Or maybe they grasp it but ignore it because they think there's some political advantage to be gained by smearing as "right-wing Republicans" the almost 70% of Americans who oppose the mosque.

Liberal Hate Speech

Quick quiz: When you think of nasty, cruel, hate-filled political rhetoric who do you think of, liberals or conservatives? If you answered "conservatives" I challenge you to come up with an example of anything said by any conservative that's even remotely as contemptible as some of what Media Research Center has documented from the Left:
Since late 2007, the Media Research Center has collected numerous examples of the outrageousness of left-wing radio hosts. And, unlike the Left — which attempted to smear Rush Limbaugh with phony quotes — readers can find an audio or video of every one of these quotes posted at our Web site: www.MRC.org.

This report includes examples of over-the-top rhetoric from left-wing hosts Mike Malloy, Stephanie Miller, Randi Rhodes, Ron Reagan, Jr., Ed Schultz and Montel Williams, all of whom currently or at one time broadcast to a national audience on either the Air America network or via XM and/or Sirius satellite radio. Among the lowlights:

Conservatives Want to Kill Barack Obama: “I really think there are conservative broadcasters in this country who would love to see Obama taken out.” (Ed Schultz)

Conservatives Are Terrorists: “Do you not understand that the people you hold up as heroes bombed your goddamn country? Do you not understand that Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly are as complicit of the September 11, 2001 terror attack as any one of the dumbass 15 who came from Saudi Arabia?” (Mike Malloy)

Conservatives Want You to Die: “If, in fact, the GOP doesn’t like any form of health care reform, what do we do with those 40 to 60 million uninsured?...When they show up in the emergency room, just shoot ’em! Kill them!...Do we have enough body bags? I don’t know.” (Montel Williams)

Conservative Congresswoman Would Have Liked the Holocaust: “[Representative Michele Bachmann is] a hatemonger. She’s the type of person that would have gladly rounded up the Jews in Germany and shipped them off to death camps....This is an evil bitch from Hell.” (Mike Malloy)

Dick Cheney Eats Babies: “Cheney, by the way, looks very ruddy. I couldn’t get over that. Like, he must have feasted on a Jewish baby, or a Muslim baby. He must have sent his people out to get one and bring it back so he could drink its blood.”(Mike Malloy)

Dick Cheney Should Die: “He is an enemy of the country, in my opinion. Dick Cheney is an enemy of the country....Lord, take him to the Promised Land, will you? See, I don’t even wish the guy goes to Hell, I just want to get him the hell out of here.” (Ed Schultz)

Rush Limbaugh Should Die: “I’m waiting for the day when I pick up the newspaper or click on the Internet and find that he’s choked to death on his own throat fat, or a great big wad of saliva or something, whatever. Go away, Limbaugh, you make me sick.” (Mike Malloy)

Michele Bachmann Should Die: “So, Michele, slit your wrist! Go ahead! I mean, you know, why not? I mean, if you want to — or, you know, do us all a better thing. Move that knife up about two feet. I mean, start right at the collarbone.” (Montel Williams)
From a somewhat different corner of the same putrid cesspool, there's a story out today about threats to tea party activists:
One of Washington's principal supporters of the Tea Party movement, former GOP Majority Leader Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, has been receiving death threats and profanity-laced phone calls as it gets involved in the fall elections. The number and intensity have reached such heights that the organization is leaving its downtown location near the FBI and moving to a high-security building near the U.S. Capitol.

FreedomWorks provided some of the recordings of the threatening calls to Whispers and they include physical threats and profanity aimed at the group, Tea Party spokesmen and even conservative talkers. "You guys better watch it," says one caller. "Now, we are going to destroy and obliterate Rush [Limbaugh] and Sean Hannity," said another. "Those two guys are dead."
This sort of thing might be considered just an unpleasant aberration were it not so common on the Left. Vicious, violent, hateful rhetoric has been a hallmark of those who call themselves progressives ever since the early Marxists (including Marx himself). It reflects not only upon their character, but upon the reliability of their opinions, discrediting both. If civil discourse and disagreement dies out in this country it will be largely because the progressive Left decided long ago that their arguments cannot stand on their merits and that they can prevail only by destroying not their opponents' arguments but their opponents themselves.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Mystery of Consciousness

David B. Hart begins a fine meditation on the mystery of consciousness by recounting the story of a personal tragedy:
I was fairly close to both Angela and Jacob throughout our teens; at least, we were all part of the same circle. I briefly entertained the hope of something closer between Angela and myself, and for a few weeks she was more or less my girlfriend; but Jacob “swept her off her feet,” and they were at one school and I at another, so I had no chance. It made no difference to our friendship, though.

Unfortunately, I largely lost touch with Angela when I started attending university. Over the course of the next six months, we crossed one another’s paths only three times or so. On the last occasion, she had just returned from a visit to Paris, from which she had brought home, among other things, the PlĂ©iade edition of Montaigne she proudly showed me.

And that was that. Two and a half years later she was killed when a drunk driver struck her car in an intersection; she was alive for several hours after the collision, but never regained consciousness. That was twenty-five years ago tomorrow.
Be sure to read the rest of his essay at First Things. His review of Marilynne Robinson's new book, Absence of Mind, is also worth checking out if one is interested in the question of consciousness and the implications it holds for the materialist's belief that all we are is a lump of atoms arranged in a particular pattern.

There are at least five facts about human beings that militate against this view. Philosophers refer to them as intentionality, qualia, incorrigibility, exclusive access, and freedom of the will. A brief paper by Michael Egnor will be helpful to those who wish to explore exactly what philosophers mean by these terms.

The Chimera of Mideast Peace

Every president thinks it incumbent upon him to at least try to bring peace to the Middle East. This is a noble aspiration but a fool's errand. There never will be peace in the Middle East until either the Israelis or the Palestinians cease to exist. Every concession forced upon Israel is simply seen by the Palestinians as a sign that victory is in the offing. The Palestinians don't want peace as the West understands the word. They want the complete destruction of Israel as a state and the Jews as a people.

This is the point of a recent article in Strategy Page:
The goal of the peace talks is to work out how to establish an independent Palestinian state. Israel agrees with that goal, but the Palestinians don't, at least among themselves. That's why these peace talks tend to go nowhere. The latest talks are doomed by the fact that many Palestinians in the West Bank openly oppose them, and the Islamic radical group Hamas that runs the Gaza Strip (which contains 40 percent of Palestinians) refuse to cooperate in the talks. Hamas and Fatah-controlled media both talk of destroying Israel, not making permanent peace. Any peace deals are strictly tactical moves to further the ultimate goal of wiping Israel off the map. All Palestinian maps of the area already do that.

For the last two generations, it has been Palestinian policy to preach the destruction of Israel, not coexistence. Increasingly, over the last few decades, Palestinians have been indoctrinated with anti-Semitic propaganda, which encourages the young to become suicide bombers and terrorists. This is a very public campaign, and the terrorist killers are showered with praise in the media. In the Palestinian territories, there are hundreds of places (streets, squares, buildings) and events named after terrorists.

Anyone who has killed an Israeli is a hero, and anyone who died trying is worthy of admiration. This goes beyond honoring "war heroes." The propaganda campaign portrays Palestinians as in a life-or-death struggle with "the Zionist entity" (what Palestinians like to call Israel). Since God is on their side, the Palestinian propaganda pushes the idea that it's only a matter of time before Israel is destroyed. It's tough to negotiate a peace deal when one side has this attitude.
It's also tough to sell your fellow Palestinians on a genuine peace settlement that allows Israel to continue to exist when so many of their loved ones have willingly sacrificed their lives in the cause of eradicating Israel.

As long as there are Jews living in the midst of Palestinian Muslims any peace between them will be ephemeral and chimerical. The sooner our politicians recognize what everyone in the region already knows, the better it will be for everyone involved.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Creating Jobs

The worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, the Gulf oil leak, appears to itself be history, and its impact on the environment looks to be relatively minor compared to what was feared. For this we can thank mother nature which evidently gobbled up the oil via rapidly reproducing carbon-consuming microbes.

On the other hand the economic damage wrought by the Obama administration's reaction to the leak may haunt the Gulf for a long time. The moratorium he declared on American oil drilling in the Gulf, according to the Wall Street Journal, is believed to eventually cost as many as 23,000 jobs, many of which will never return.

Deliberately putting thousands of people out of work seems an odd way to create jobs during a recession, (so, by the way, does this), but that's what the wise men in the White House chose to do. One wonders which will turn out to have been the bigger disaster, BP's leak or Mr. Obama's handling of it.

Twilight of al Qaeda

According to Strategy Page the news from the front in the war on terrorists and Islamic radicalism is mostly encouraging:
Intelligence agencies are at odds over how many al Qaeda are in Afghanistan. The estimates vary between a "hundred or so" and "less than a thousand." There is also some dispute as to who exactly qualifies as a "member" of the terrorist organization. For example, do local Afghans, hired for security or support jobs qualify? Or only non-Afghan terrorists who were chased out of places like Iraq, Yemen or Chechnya? The CIA tends to go with the experienced terrorists being the only true members, while other intel outfits are inclined to include local hires and trainees. All agree that the al Qaeda footprint in Afghanistan is small, and isn't much larger in Pakistan. Al Qaeda has become more of an idea (and not a very good one) than an organization.

Meanwhile the "Taliban comeback" keeps getting headlines in the media. But it's the Taliban who are increasingly under attack. There hasn't been a "Taliban Spring Offensive" for the last two years, and the key Taliban financial resource, heroin in Helmand province, has been under attack as well. The opium crop declined over 25 percent this year. The Taliban hoped that drug gang profits, al Qaeda assistance and Pakistani reinforcements would turn the tide. But al Qaeda is a very junior, unpopular, and shrinking partner, and the Pakistani Taliban are sending refugees, not reinforcements. With all that, violence nationwide was up, mainly because there are more foreign troops in the country, being more aggressive against the Taliban and drug gangs.
There's more on this story at the link. All I can say is it's a darn good thing we elected Barack Obama to lead us in fighting this war. Who knows how bad off we'd be had Bush's generals been implementing his policies of surging troops and winning the hearts and minds of the indigenous people for the last two years.


Glenn Beck raised an interesting question the other day. How long should Americans continue to pay unemployment compensation to those who are not working? As it stands the unemployed can get compensation for 99 weeks. Senator Debbie Stabenow has introduced a bill that would extend benefits for another 20 weeks, but to what purpose? Many people simply choose to live off unemployment until a few weeks before it runs out before they bestir themselves to look for work. Giving them another 20 weeks of leisure seems rather counterproductive and unfair to taxpayers:
After explaining the plight of the 99ers [a group of people whose 99 weeks of unemployment compensation are soon up] and showing footage of a recent 99er demonstration on Wall Street, Beck offered the unemployed workers his two cents.

"Don't spend your remaining money on travel to get to a protest," he said. "Go out and get a job. You may not want the job. Work at McDonald's. Work two jobs. There has been plenty of times in my life I've done jobs I hated, but I had no choice. Two years is plenty of time to have lived off your neighbor's wallet."

"How many weeks of unemployment are enough? Really," Beck asked. "If 99 weeks is not enough, how much is? 100, 200? A lifetime? Or is a job a right?"
Here's the video footage from the segment:

No doubt there are people who struggle assiduously to find work but can't and who deserve some help. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the responsible thing to do is to provide assistance only to those who are really trying to help themselves. To simply dole out cash without monitoring the effort made by the recipients isn't charitable, it's foolish. Beck is right. Two years is more than long enough for those who refuse the jobs available to them or who decline to even look for work.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Palestinian Refugees

City Journal's Sol Stern has written a marvelous piece on the genesis of the Palestinian refugee problem. The history he recounts has been obscured and forgotten in the current debates over who bears what responsibility to whom in the Middle East, but it's crucially important that we understand how the Palestinian refugees came to be, and why the camps still exist 62 years after the refugees' grandparents fled Israel.

These paragraphs are just two of the many which help us to understand what happened in those turbulent days following WWII:
During the 1948 war and for many years afterward, the Western world—including the international Left—expressed hardly any moral outrage about the Palestinian refugees. This had nothing to do with Western racism or colonialism and much to do with recent history. The fighting in Palestine had broken out only two years after the end of the costliest military conflict ever, in which the victors exacted a terrible price on the losers. By that, I don’t mean the Nazi officials and their “willing executioners,” who received less punishment than they deserved, but the 11 million ethnic Germans living in Central and Eastern Europe—civilians all—who were expelled from their homes and force-marched to Germany by the Red Army, with help from the Czech and Polish governments and with the approval of Roosevelt and Churchill.

Historians estimate that 2 million died on the way. Around the same time, the Indian subcontinent was divided into two new countries, India and Pakistan; millions of Hindus and Muslims moved from one to the other, and hundreds of thousands died in related violence. Against this background, the West was not likely to be troubled by the exodus of a little more than half a million Palestinians after a war launched by their own leaders.
For anyone who cares about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict this article is a "must" read.

A New Twist on Birthright Citizenship

One element of the illegal immigration debate that raises hackles is birthright citizenship, i.e. the idea that the 14th amendment to the constitution declares that children born on U.S. soil to parents of illegal aliens are ipso facto United States citizens.

Some legal experts, however, are claiming that the assumption that such children have what is called "birthright citizenship" is actually based on an erroneous reading of the 14th amendment.

Section 1 of that amendment states that:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
To the layman the intent of this passage certainly seems to be pretty straightforwardly declaring any children born on our soil to be citizens, but Law School Dr. John C. Eastman, Donald P. Kennedy Chair in Law and former Dean at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, California thinks not.

Eastman makes the case that the words "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" actually deny birthright citizenship, not just to children of illegals, but also to anyone in the country legally but temporarily:
That text has two requirements: 1) Birth on U.S. soil; and 2) Being subject to the jurisdiction of the United States when born. In recent decades, the opinion has taken root, quite erroneously, that anyone born in the United States (except the children of ambassadors) is necessarily subject to its jurisdiction because everyone has to comply with our laws while physically present within our borders. Those who drafted and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment had a different understanding of jurisdiction.

For them, a person could be subject to the jurisdiction of a sovereign nation in two very different ways: the one, partial and territorial; the other full and complete. Think of it this way. When a tourist from Great Britain visits the United States, he subjects himself to our “territorial jurisdiction.” He has to follow our laws while he is here, including our traffic laws that require him to drive on the right rather than the wrong (I mean left!) side of the road.

He is no longer subject to those laws when he returns home, of course, and he was never subject to the broader jurisdiction that requires from him allegiance to the United States. He can’t be drafted into our army, for example, or prosecuted for treason for taking up arms against us.
In the balance of his essay Eastman looks at the jurisprudential history of the relevant phrase and concludes that granting citizenship to children born in the U.S. to parents who are themselves not citizens is not warranted by that history.

It's an interesting, and surprising, development in the controversy over illegal immigration.

Atheism's Good News

Media talkers at MSNBC and elsewhere are incredulous that so many people (24%, apparently) persist in believing that President Obama is a Muslim. How can these rubes be so benighted, the media mavens ask each other.

Something similar is happening in terms of the number of people who refuse to accept the Darwinian version of evolution. Despite all the efforts of Darwinians in the academy and the media to inculcate Darwinian materialism in the last three generations of students the American people stubbornly refuse to believe it. Marvin Olasky comments on this in a brief essay at Patheos.

Olasky writes:
The results of Gallup polls over the past three decades are consistently extraordinary. Picture a Gallup pollster reading this statement: "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." Would you think that year after year since 1982 some 44-47 percent of Americans have agreed? If you remove the number of years, which some "old earth" Christians do, the number of anti-evolutionists jumps to 53 percent.

And that's not all. Another 35-38 percent of Americans say that "human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process." Only 9-14 percent support Darwinist materialism: "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in the process." All the atheist best sellers of recent years -- Sam Harris's The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, and Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great -- have not greatly enlarged the beachhead.

It's ironic that soon after Alister McGrath wrote a fine history, The Twilight of Atheism, the "new atheists" came out in force. But don't be fooled. They bring not a new dawn but a night of the living dead. Their honest advocates are biologists like Bruce Alberts, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, who announced, "We have come to realize humans are more like worms than we ever imagined." If that's an insufficiently winning statement for you, hear Charles Zuker, biology professor at the University of California at San Diego: "In essence, we are nothing but a big fly."
If this is the Darwinians' notion of glad tidings, is it surprising that Darwinism and the materialist worldview which it presupposes haven't gained more traction among the American people? Any view of life which entails that we are deluded if we think that there's anything special, meaningful, or significant about being human better have overwhelming evidence in its favor.

It's hard to get excited about a view of life that offers no hope, no meaning, no basis for distinguishing between right and wrong, and no reason to think that there's anything unique about human beings. Most ordinary people, when offered such an unappetizing dish, are just going to say "no thanks."

But, the New Atheists insist, Darwinian materialism is true and we should accept it not for its consequences but for its truth. Well, we might agree with that were it clear that materialism is true, or if there were any compelling evidence that it's true, but as Olasky notes, that's far from being the case. The materialist is in the awkward position of trying to persuade us to accept on faith the idea that we're just worms. That's a pretty hard sell.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Just Call 'em Bigots

Charles Krauthammer skewers the intellectual sloth of those who criticize the opponents of what has come to be known as the GZ Mosque (Ground Zero Mosque) in an essay for the Washington Post. The critics are quick to impute the worst motives to the mosque's opponents - bigotry, political opportunism - but, as Krauthammer writes, they rarely come to grips with the opponents' arguments. Perhaps that's because they have no actual argument of their own.

Anyway, here's his intro:
It's hard to be an Obama sycophant these days. Your hero delivers a Ramadan speech roundly supporting the building of a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York. Your heart swells and you're moved to declare this President Obama's finest hour, his act of greatest courage. Alas, the next day, at a remove of 800 miles, Obama explains that he was only talking about the legality of the thing and not the wisdom -- upon which he does not make, and will not make, any judgment.

You're left looking like a fool because now Obama has said exactly nothing: No one disputes the right to build; the whole debate is about the propriety, the decency of doing so.

It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What takes courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect upon the wisdom of the project and to consider whether the imam's alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor's offer to help find another site.

Where the president flagged, however, the liberal intelligentsia stepped in with gusto, penning dozens of pro-mosque articles characterized by a frenzied unanimity, little resort to argument and a singular difficulty dealing with analogies.
In the balance of the piece Krauthammer does a fine job of exposing the superficiality of efforts such as those by Richard Cohen and Michael Kinsley to demean and discredit those who prefer that the mosque be built elsewhere than at the site of perhaps the greatest crime in U.S. history, a crime perpetrated in the name of Allah and Islam. Give it a read.

Lying for a Living

Isn't this interesting. Jim Wallis recently responded to a blog post by Marvin Olasky by stating that Olasky, like Glenn Beck, lies for a living. The immediate provocation that led to Wallis' intemperate remark was Olasky's claim that Wallis' magazine, Sojourners, has accepted money from left-wing financier George Soros' organization Open Society Institute. Wallis, perhaps forgetting for the moment that he's supposed to be a Christian, reacted with a twofer, calling both Olasky and Beck (who, as far as I know, had nothing to do with this) liars. Turns out, though, that Olasky was correct and Wallis was ..... mistaken.

Details of Mr. Wallis' faux pas can be found at No Left Turns which concludes their post with this:

The Open Society Institute's tax returns show that it made three grants to Sojourners between 2004 and 2007, for a total of $325,000. Either Sojourners is drowning in money or Wallis is succumbing to dementia, because he says, fessing up, that the "OSI made up the tiniest fraction of Sojourners' funding during that decade--so small that I hadn't remembered them." The other possibility, that Wallis lies - not for a living, exactly - but when it appears convenient for the greater good of articulating the biblical call to social justice, is too far-fetched and cruel to entertain for as long as it takes to pose the thought.
Wallis owes Olasky an apology, but, if one has been tendered, I haven't heard anything about it. He also needs to go to confession, even if he's not Catholic.

Solving Problems

This is making the rounds on the internet:
Everyone concentrates on the problems we're having in Our Country lately: Illegal immigration, hurricane recovery, alligators attacking people in Florida . . . . Not me -- I concentrate on solutions for the problems -- it's a win-win situation: Dig a moat the length of the Mexican border. Send the dirt to New Orleans to raise the level of the levees. Put the Florida alligators in the moat along the Mexican border.

Any other problems you would like for me to solve today? Think about this: 1. Cows 2. The Constitution 3. The Ten Commandments


Is it just me, or does anyone else find it amazing that during the mad cow epidemic our government could track a single cow, born in Canada almost three years ago, right to the stall where she slept in the state of Washington? And, they tracked her calves to their stalls. But they are unable to locate 11 million illegal aliens wandering around our country. Maybe we should give each of them a cow.


They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq ...why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it has worked for over 200 years, and we're not using it anymore.


The real reason that we can't have the Ten Commandments posted in a courthouse is this -- you cannot post 'Thou Shalt Not Steal' 'Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery' and 'Thou Shall Not Lie' in a building full of lawyers, judges and politicians, it creates a hostile work environment.
Pretty good.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The President's Religion

The recent media kerfuffle over Barack Obama's religious inclinations presents us with a couple of ironies:

For example, why are the White House and its media mouthpieces so anxious to deny that Mr. Obama is a Muslim? Do they think there's some taint that attaches to that religion that they don't want the president tarnished by? Do liberals think there's something wrong with being a Muslim? If not, then why is the perception among so many Americans that Mr. Obama is a Muslim any more alarming to his supporters than the perception that he's Catholic, or Jewish?

For another example, why are Mr. Obama's supporters so eager to affirm that the President is, in fact, a devout Christian? Wasn't it just a few years ago that the media scoffed disdainfully at George Bush for his Christian piety? Wasn't it just yesterday that alarums were being raised about imminent theocracy now that a serious "Christianist," i.e. George W. Bush, was in the Oval Office? Weren't we admonished almost daily of the dangers of having someone in the presidency who took his Christian religion seriously? It seems amusingly odd that these same folks are now at pains to assure us that Mr. Obama is as committed a Christian as anyone since St. Paul.

We might also wonder why it is that the president's defenders are so surprised that so many people (24% according to Time) say that they think he's Muslim. It's probably the case that many of the 24% who were read the question actually "heard" a different question. When asked whether they thought Mr. Obama was a Muslim I suspect they interpreted the query as asking whether they thought the President has a fondness and sympathy for Islam. One can certainly have a place in one's heart for the religion of one's youth even though one no longer practices that religion. I think that's obviously the case with Mr. Obama, and I think it's why almost one fourth of the poll respondents said that they believe he's a Muslim. In their minds they conflated affection for with practice of.

I for one doubt very much that Mr. Obama is a practicing Muslim, but I have no doubt that he's much more sympathetic to Islam than are most Americans, and that his sympathy translates in many minds into a commitment to.

The Social Network

Here's a question to ponder with your "friends": What's the future of Facebook? Is it going to last or will large numbers of people finally decide, like my friend Jason, that closing it out provides a sense of relief, a feeling of liberation? Will there be money to be made in operating recovery groups for Facebook addicts? Will people find that they have so many "friends" that they really don't have any friends? Will they finally decide they don't want any friends? Or will the social network continue to expand until everyone is everyone else's friend, and everyone knows everything there is to know about everyone else?

I have no idea, of course, but in the meantime there's a movie due to be released in about six weeks that recounts the origin of Facebook. I can't vouch for its accuracy, but I'm sure enthusiasts and skeptics alike will want to see it, or maybe not. Anyway, thanks to Jason we have the trailer here to whet your appetite:

You can read more about it at TechCrunch.

Buy your tickets in advance.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Greatest Americans

Right Wing News, a blog run by John Hawkins, surveyed several dozen conservative-leaning bloggers for the purpose of compiling a list of the twenty greatest people in American history. I didn't have much time to think about my nominees, and I'm sure I missed some who deserve to be included. I'm also quite sure that there are many great people whose work is unknown to most of us, especially to me, and whom, if we knew what they accomplished, we'd certainly want added to the roll.

I also resisted the temptation to list some currently living greats (David Petraeus, Bill Gates, Billy Graham) and limited myself only to those who've passed on. Here are my selections in approximate chronological order:

Jonathan Edwards

George Washington

James Madison

Alexander Hamilton

Thomas Jefferson

Lewis and Clark

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Abraham Lincoln

Thomas Edison

Alexander Graham Bell

Willis Carrier

The Wright Brothers

Teddy Roosevelt

Dwight Eisenhower

Jonas Salk

Martin Luther King

Ronald Reagan

William F. Buckley

Who did I miss?

To see the combined results of the survey go here.



I was in Paris last week and while my wife and daughter visited shops along the cobblestoned streets in Montmartre, I amused myself by watching a guy running a variation of a shell game on the top of a cardboard box. He had three black disks, each about the size of a CD, one of which had a large white spot on the bottom. He laid the disks out on the box and quickly and deftly moved them around, challenging onlookers to pick out the disk with the white spot. Of course it cost twenty Euros to play, and most players lost. They were certain they knew where the marked disk had wound up but they were wrong. Even so, they kept on trying, certain that they could pick out the devilishly elusive white disk.

Running the shell game was illegal. Whenever the police got near an accomplice would yell out and he would grab his disks and run. Even so, I couldn't help admire the skill and dexterity with which he fleeced his patrons.

I was reminded of this "flim-flam" man as I read Pete Spiliakos at No Left Turns who suggests that Mr. Obama is himself just that sort of a trickster. Like my admiration for the Parisian, Spiliakos can't help but marvel at President Obama's genial mendacity and the ease with which he delivers himself of the most outrageous falsehoods. His power to persuade (and mislead), Mr. Spiliakos avers, is not to be underestimated:

I got to watch some of Obama's town hall thing today (you could probably find it on YouTube or something) and it reminded me why he is such a canny opponent. Watching and listening to him is a strange and frustrating experience. I get frustrated by his persistent intellectual dishonesty, but can't help but be impressed at his skill.

Obama was utterly deceptive about how the introduction of private accounts into Social Security would work. He seemed to indicate that private accounts would involve older workers shifting all the money that would otherwise have gone to their Social Security benefits to the market. He had some vague easy answers ("tweaks") about how Social Security could be saved and threw in a reference to a commission to give himself some third party validation.

He was even better...er worse on Medicare. He repeated the amazing stupendous lie about how Obamacare extended the life of Medicare when Obamacare actually took hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicare to pay for a new entitlement. He was smart to use expert third party validation (from the Medicare actuaries who are required to credit the cuts as extending the life of Medicare because of arcane budget rules) so as to show how post partisan and nonideological he is. If you didn't know about the CBO's commentary on this practice (and most people don't), Obama sounded like the most reasonable guy in the world and not a refugee from Enron's accounting department.

The difference, of course, between Mr. Obama and the Parisian sleight-of-hand artist is that although the shell game was an inevitable loser for those suckered into playing, the man running it was doing nothing dishonest. He didn't lie or surreptitiously remove the white disk from the board. He simply moved the disks around so fast that the eye couldn't follow them. The deception was visual. With Mr. Obama, though, things seem to be, at least to Mr. Spiliakos, regrettably otherwise.

Read the rest of Spiliakos' piece here.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

The God Delusion

Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting pens for The New York Times' Opinionator blog an examination of Richard Dawkins' atheistic arguments in his book The God Delusion. Like almost every serious thinker who has written on TGD, theist and atheist alike, Gutting finds it long on eloquence and short on compelling, rational argumentation.

Gutting states:

Religious believers often accuse argumentative atheists such as Dawkins of being excessively rationalistic, demanding standards of logical and evidential rigor that aren't appropriate in matters of faith. My criticism is just the opposite. Dawkins does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires.

The basic problem is that meeting such standards requires coming to terms with the best available analyses and arguments. This need not mean being capable of contributing to the cutting-edge discussions of contemporary philosophers, but it does require following these discussions and applying them to one's own intellectual problems. Dawkins simply does not do this. He rightly criticizes religious critics of evolution for not being adequately informed about the science they are calling into question. But the same criticism applies to his own treatment of philosophical issues.

There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being, and there are competent philosophers who endorse arguments for God's existence.

Friends of Dawkins might object: "Why pay attention to what philosophers have to say when, notoriously, they continue to disagree regarding the 'big questions', particularly, the existence of God?" Because, successful or not, philosophers offer the best rational thinking about such questions. Believers who think religion begins where reason falters may be able to make a case for the irrelevance of high-level philosophical treatments of religion - although, as I argued in "Philosophy and Faith," this move itself raises unavoidable philosophical questions that challenge religious faith. But those, like Dawkins, committed to believing only what they can rationally justify, have no alternative to engaging with the most rigorous rational discussions available. Dawkins' distinctly amateur philosophizing simply isn't enough.

If you're interested in a philosophical critique of Dawkins' argument you might profit from Gutting's offering. Or you could check out our own more extended review of TGD in the Viewpoint Hall of Fame.


An Inclination Toward Tyranny

The progressives in the Democrat party continue to exhibit their utter disregard for the spirit of the First Amendment and their inclination toward totalitarian exercises of power.

Most recently Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called for investigations into those who oppose the building of the New York mosque. One of our most powerful political leaders wants to set government thought police to snooping into the backgrounds of those who have opinions which differ from her own. This smells of abuse of power, intimidation and an attempt to suppress freedom of thought and speech.

According to a report in Politico.com:

The California Democrat, in a statement provided to POLITICO, adopted the split position of the Interfaith Alliance, a nonpartisan group dedicated to religious tolerance and separation of church and state. Although it blasted the Anti-Defamation League for strongly opposing the Park51 project, the Interfaith Alliance also agreed with the ADL's argument that the public should know where the money for the center is coming from.

"I support the statement made by the Interfaith Alliance, that 'We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center,'" according to Pelosi's statement, quoting the Alliance's position. "'At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center.'"

"I join those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded," she said. "How is this being ginned up?"

This is either stupid or malevolent. What right do politicians have to investigate people for expressing an opinion? What does it matter who's spending money to oppose the mosque? Ms Pelosi wants us to believe that there's a symmetry in this matter where none exists. There's no equivalence between a pro-Hamas Muslim who has expressed anti-American sentiments in the past building a mosque in proximity to the site of 9/11 and the protestations of those who are offended by this project. [For the record, I don't think it's the government's business who is funding either side in this controversy. The mosque shouldn't be built whether it's being funded by Saudi Wahhabis or the estate of Mother Teresa.]

No one in the United States should ever be required to explain to any authority why they hold the opinions they do. No one should ever have their financial records sifted through just because they hold views that the ruling class doesn't like. Ms Pelosi is confusing the U.S. with the U.S.S.R.

We might also, while we're at it, ask her exactly who among the 70% of Americans who oppose the mosque is she going to have scrutinized? Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid has come out against the mosque. Will he be investigated? The families of 9/11 victims are average Americans who oppose the mosque. Will she have government gumshoes looking into their funding?

It's disconcerting to ponder that this woman is third in line to the presidency, but it's good for us to see the predilections of the progressive mindset. In the Orwellian world they inhabit intimidation and coercion of citizens who have committed no crime is a perfectly acceptable tactic. Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms are mere inconveniences, speed bumps on the road to more government control of Americans' lives. The inevitable endpoint of Ms Pelosi's kind of thinking is the tyranny of Big Brother.

She sounds like had she watched the movie The Lives of Others she would've been sympathetic to the East German Stazi.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ditziness on Parade

If you have little patience with muddled thinking you probably shouldn't watch this video of former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn weighing in on the New York mosque issue. If you do watch it, though, you might be struck by the incongruity of a woman who has acknowledged that she numbers among the people she admires Mao Zedong, the Chinese communist leader responsible for the murders of 50 to 70 million Chinese, blasting opponents of the mosque for "intolerance":

Throughout this segment Ms Dunn refuses to be deterred from her single-minded mission to smear Republicans, even though nearly 70% of Americans, including many Democrats, oppose building the mosque on the proposed site. In her eagerness to make this controversy about Republican bigotry, Ms Dunn makes herself sound foolish. Opposition to the mosque is not simply a matter of being intolerant toward a particular religion -although there's nothing wrong with personal, as opposed to legal, intolerance toward a religion that treats women like chattel, gays like felons, and non-believers like swine. Rather, it's a matter of insensitivity and insult. For people who adhere to the same religion that figured so prominently in the act of mass murder that took place on 9/11 to gratuitously place a facility that honors the religion that motivated the murderers adjacent to the site of one of the greatest crimes in America's history is extraordinarily offensive.

It would be, as we've said before, like Germans building a German heritage center in the shadow of one of their extermination camps at the conclusion of WWII or Japanese Americans building a shrine to Japanese militarism next to Pearl Harbor nine years after the attack on our naval base. It might not have been illegal, but it would've been either a deliberate thumb in the eye or an act of appalling insensitivity. In either case it should not be done.

This, however, is all too complicated for the robotic Ms Dunn whose mind can't seem to wander beyond the bounds of her ideological talking points.

Nothing she says, though, is as ditzy as Mika Brzezinski's baffling comment about peep shows in the neighborhood of Ground Zero. Ms Brzezinski evidently thinks the controversy is really about whether a mosque is more or less insulting to the families of the 9/11 victims than a strip club, and that if we accept the presence of the latter we should accept the former as well. This, however, is to grossly miscast, or misunderstand, the issue. This controversy is not about the relative moral value of Islam and sex shows, it's about whether it's appropriate for those who worship Allah to honor him at the spot where their coreligionists, in Allah's name, committed one of the worst crimes in the history of that violent religion. Unless Ms Brzezinski believes that peep show operators conspired with the Islamist terrorists to bring down the World Trade Towers their proximity to Ground Zero has nothing to do with whether an Islamic mosque should be placed there, too.

This video would have been an occasion for mirth were not the subject so serious and were it not the case that these people occupy positions of influence.

Thanks to the Daily Caller for the video.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Unnecessary Fall

The New Republic's senior editor John Judis evaluates the Obama presidency, assesses what he thinks are the reasons for Mr. Obama's sinking approval ratings, and concludes that Mr. Obama has too often sounded an uncertain trumpet, compromised too much in his assault on Wall Street bankers, and hasn't been liberal enough in his economic policies.

Judis makes a good case that the President has been inconstant in both his rhetoric and his actions, threatening yesterday to teach Wall Street a lesson and then today not only failing to follow through, but actually rewarding the fat cats he had criticized yesterday. This inconsistency is the mark of a man either unprincipled or unsure of his abilities, and the American people will quickly lose confidence in a leader who lacks confidence in himself:

Obama would periodically criticize bankers after embarrassing revelations-at various times calling the bonuses they gave themselves "shameful" and an "outrage"-but, after hearing complaints about his rhetoric from the bankers, he would back off. At a private meeting on March 28 with 13 Wall Street CEOs, the president, his spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "emphasized that Wall Street needs Main Street and Main Street needs Wall Street." And, in his Georgetown speech, Obama returned to his theme of collective responsibility. The recession, Obama said, "was caused by a perfect storm of irresponsibility and poor decision-making that stretched from Wall Street to Washington to Main Street."

Obama's policy followed the same swerving course as his rhetoric. One week, he would favor harsh restrictions on bank and insurance-company bonuses, but, the next week, he would waver; one week, he would support legislation allowing bankruptcy judges to reduce the amount that homeowners threatened with foreclosure owed the banks; the next week, he would fail to protest when bank lobbyists pressured the Senate to kill these provisions. But, more importantly, Obama-in sharp contrast to Roosevelt in his first months-failed to push Congress to immediately enact new financial regulations or even to set up a commission to investigate fraud.

There's much more in Judis' article to help one understand the failure of this President to provide effective leadership, especially in solving our economic woes. One can quibble with Judis' belief that Mr. Obama should have proposed a bigger stimulus than the $800 billion that the administration settled on, but so much else that he says has about it the ring of truth. If his essay were summed up in a single sentence it might be that Mr. Obama is simply unsuited for the position to which he has risen.

It's good that the folks at The New Republic are beginning to see what was plain to anyone who, in the summer of 2008, was thinking with his head about Mr. Obama and not with his heart.


The Future of Evangelicalism

Timothy Dalrymple at Patheos interviews historian Rodney Stark of Baylor University on the future of evangelicalism. Actually, the discussion winds up being more of a conversation on the future of "mainline" protestantism, but in any event Stark has some interesting things to say.

He challenges, for example, the notion that the decline of mainline protestant churches began in the 1960s, pointing out that the slide began much earlier and was in full swing in the mid-19th century, especially in Europe. The embrace of Enlightenment deism and theological and social liberalism by those who taught in protestant seminaries eventuated in the production of generations of church leaders who no longer believed the traditional doctrines of the church and who had nothing to offer their parishioners.

Stark comments:

If you take (liberal theologian) Paul Tillich's view of God, in which God is essentially something imaginary, then why do you bother to hold a church service in the first place? If there's nothing there to pray to, why do it? The liberal clergy lost their faith, but they continued to hold church.

The second factor was, when the clergy in the mainline denominations decided that they could no longer save souls -- because there were no souls to save -- they decided that they should save the world instead. They switched from religion to politics, and that was a politics of Left-wing radicalism.

It's fine, of course, to be a Left-wing radical. But it was far out of step with the people in the pews. The people in the pews still believed in God, and the people in the pews did not believe that they needed a socialist government next week. Consequently, they stopped sitting in those pews and started going to other pews.

Beginning in the mid-twentieth century the shrinking mainline churches accelerated and simultaneously evangelical churches which promoted a traditional interpretation of the gospel exploded. Even within the contemporary mainline, Stark points out, the healthiest churches are those led by theologically conservative pastors. Unfortunately, their liberal colleagues don't seem to care much about church growth and survival:

One fellow from the United Church of Christ -- which used to be the Congregationalists -- bragged to me, "It doesn't really matter what the members do. We have endowments that we can live on forever." Well, that's an interesting attitude, but it won't work. They will close down. Many have been living off their real estate for years; they close a church and cash in the property. But in this American market, denominations that cannot bring in new members and support will eventually close. That's the way it is.

The fact is that much of mainline protestantism is deistic and deism has little purchase on the hearts of those who are searching for meaning and forgiveness in their lives. It offers nothing for which one needs a church. It gives one no reason for which to rouse oneself from bed on a Sunday morning. Worst of all, perhaps, it's often hostile to the passionate faith of young believers:

Very early in my career, when I was a graduate student at Berkeley, I had contact with seminary professors as I was conducting studies. Since I was at Berkeley, a notoriously liberal institution, they were sure that I would be very sympathetic to their problem. So time and again I was told that their greatest challenge and their most important instructional duty was, and I'll quote, "to knock the Youth for Christ crud out of our seminary freshmen."

Well, they were pretty successful at it. They weren't successful at much of anything else, but they did manage to undercut the faith of a lot of their students.

On the question of whether evangelicals have resisted the technological innovations of the last two decades Stark proposes a test:

There's a notion amongst intellectuals that conservative religious people are hostile and uncomfortable with technology, while liberals are comfortable with it. But consider this. If you led me blindfolded into a church, and I didn't know whether it was a liberal or conservative church, then you ripped off my blindfold, I could tell you instantly whether it was a liberal or evangelical church.

Are there hymnbooks in racks on the back of the pews? If there are, it's a liberal church. Conservatives got rid of that stuff long ago, because they know we don't sing real well with our chins on our chests, and we spend too much time leafing through the hymn book. Better to project it up on a screen so that we can lift our chins and sing. It's true almost one hundred percent of the time. The notion that conservatives are Luddites is nonsense.

He also has some interesting thoughts on the question of whether the American church will follow European churches into senescence:

People want to talk about the low levels of religion in Europe, but it was always thus. There were almost no rural churches in the 14th and 15th centuries, at a time when almost everybody was rural. So the question is: How could they have gone to church? The answer is: They didn't. And they faced lazy state churches the whole time.

The clergy in Germany have a labor contract that says that if fewer than five people show up, they don't have to hold services. If I were a preacher in Germany, and I got a check even if I didn't hold church, I'd hold such terrible sermons that no one would come. It's a very effective incentive system for having the church close.

Europeans have always marveled at how religious Americans are, but the reason Americans are so religious is because, in an unregulated situation, all kinds of different churches and denominations will appear, with each one appealing for support. The marketplace will shake these out, so that you will slowly evolve a bunch of pretty effective organizations. The net effect of their efforts will be a relatively high level of public religiousness. Most people will get found and get recruited.

About the only misstep in the whole interview, I think, comes when Stark is asked about evangelicals on the left such as Jim Wallis:

I want to say one thing about the Leftist Christian movement in the 1930s. They were at least consistent. They hated charitable giving. They said it's ameliorative, an attempt to reduce the really sharp pangs of inequality and keep this corrupt system going. So they hated it. If there was good government, they thought, there would be no charitable giving. I suspect that there is still, underneath it all, a lot of that even in Wallis' movement.

The only thing I wonder is why he claims to be an evangelical. Except that he gets much more attention. If he did not claim to be evangelical, he would just be another liberal Christian. But this way, he gets to be the media's favorite evangelical. Martin Marty will invite him to the banquet.

I don't think this is at all fair to Wallis, with whom I have my own disagreements. Wallis is a big government liberal, to be sure, but to tie him to those who disdain personal giving is an allegation that shouldn't be made in the absence of supporting evidence, and Stark offers none.

Otherwise it's a good interview, and there's much else of interest beyond what I've recounted here. Check it out.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Character Matters

My friend Mike wonders why the NFL is aghast at the behavior of some of its stars but not that of others which in some respects seems just as unseemly. He has in mind specifically the recent behavior of Patriots' QB Tom Brady who, according to a Boston Globe article, got his girlfriend pregnant, broke up with her, and was dating someone else by the time the baby was born.

I suppose this is no big deal to execs who pay women to gyrate mindlessly on the sidelines while wearing next to nothing, but it should be. These people profess to being appalled, as Mike points out, by the abuse to which Michael Vick subjected animals and by the rough treatment to which Ben Roethlisberger subjected young women, but it's also abusive to children to grow up without their biological father present on a daily basis in the home. The fact that such arrangements have become common in American society over the last forty years does nothing to meliorate the harm done to kids by fathers who don't want to take responsibility for their development.

What Brady did violates no law so his is not an offense in the same category as those of Vick or Roethlisberger, of course, but it's very sad that he chose to end his relationship with his actress girlfriend once the two of them had conceived a child. Maybe the NFL poohbahs think that the personal lives of their players, as long as they don't commit any felonies, are none of the league's business, but if they're concerned about the NFL's image then they might encourage a higher level of character and responsibility among their stars.

At the very least, they could stop insulting us by putting women on the sidelines whose only apparent purpose is to promote the sexualization of the sport.


To Build or Not to Build

Two Muslims, Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah, have written a piece for the Ottawa Citizen in which they question both the need for a mosque near the WTC and the sincerity of those who seek to build it. Raza and Fatah sit on the board of the Muslim Canadian Congress and both have authored books. Raza is the author of Their Jihad ... Not my Jihad, and Fatah wrote The Jew is Not My Enemy, to be released in the fall.

Among the points the pair make in their column are these:

New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it's not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact is we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance such an act is referred to as "Fitna," meaning "mischief-making" which is clearly forbidden in the Koran.

The Koran commands Muslims to, "Be considerate when you debate with the People of the Book" -- i.e., Jews and Christians. Building an exclusive place of worship for Muslims at the place where Muslims killed thousands of New Yorkers is not being considerate or sensitive, it is undoubtedly an act of "fitna."

Do they not understand that building a mosque at Ground Zero is equivalent to permitting a Serbian Orthodox church near the killing fields of Srebrenica where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered?

As for those teary-eyed, bleeding-heart liberals such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and much of the media, who are blind to the Islamist agenda in North America, we understand their goodwill.

Unfortunately for us, their stand is based on ignorance and guilt, and they will never in their lives have to face the tyranny of Islamism that targets, kills and maims Muslims worldwide, and is using liberalism itself to destroy liberal secular democratic societies from within.

There's much more on this controversial issue in the column. Give it a look.

I myself have wondered why it is that people like Mayor Bloomberg and a number of liberal commentators seem to think that opposition to the mosque is a symptom of Islamophobia which, as Americans, is beneath us. What they seem to be missing is not whether Muslims have the legal right to build their worship centers, the question is why they would want to do so on this particular spot, a site close enough to the WTC that debris from the airplane crashed through the roof of the building that currently stands on it.

When the Israelis insisted upon their right to build housing in Arab East Jerusalem last year liberals, including President Obama, were outraged because, even though the Israelis had the right to do it, they were being terribly insensitive and provocative, it was said, to go ahead and do it.

Do some liberals actually believe that people need be sensitive to the feelings of others only when the others are Arab Muslims? If the others are the families of firefighters, policemen and capitalist office workers, then is sensitivity no longer such a big deal?


Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Enduring Question

The Philosopher's Magazine is surveying philosophers' opinions on the 50 best ideas of the 21st century. John Cottingham nominates as #9 the renewed interest among philosophers in trying to provide a cogent answer to the question whether life, or anything else for that matter, can have any real meaning or purpose in the absence of God. Cottingham writes:

The current intellectual landscape is exciting because many philosophers are finally, more than a hundred years after Nietzsche and Darwin, seriously addressing the challenge these two giants posed for our human self-understanding. Essentially that challenge is whether we can accept that all our values are merely the result of a contingent chain of events - the series of cosmic accidents and evolutionary pressures that shaped us. In place of the traditional religious idea that our deepest aspirations reflect the source of goodness that gives ultimate value and purpose to human life, the Nietzschean and Darwinian framework concludes that we have to find meaning and value for ourselves. In a godless universe, there are no "eternal" or "ultimate" values, merely whatever temporary goods we can secure from the projects we decide to pursue.

It's perhaps no accident that, against this background, the "God question" is also back on the agenda. Philosophers, to be sure, have always discussed arguments for or against God's existence, but the militancy of the so-called "new atheists" has brought religion to the foreground of debate, not just as a series of abstract academic puzzles, but as a question that lies at the centre of our human search for meaning and value. This makes philosophy more interesting, more connected to the wider concerns of ordinary thinking people, than it has been for some time.

This question does indeed deserve a lot more attention than it often receives. Many nontheists simply assume that life is full of meaning and that they don't need God to confer that meaning. Yet when asked in what sense life can be meaningful if ultimately nothing awaits us but nothingness, both as individuals and as a species, their answers seem less than satisfying.

It's true that in the best of cases (which only a relative few get to experience) we can manage to put our eventual fate out of our minds and occupy ourselves with the projects that fill our days - raising a family, working a job, learning, creating - but when we stop and step back from this activity and ask ourselves what's the point of it all, we realize that there is no point. We realize that our lives are sisyphean and most people just don't want to face up to that unpleasant reality. They avoid the existential pain of the answer by refusing to ever confront the question.

I say that only a relative few get to experience the best case scenario because for most people alive today, or who have ever lived, life has been nasty, brutish and short. Most people in the world have no work to speak of or their work is mind-numbingly tedious. Most people never create anything that lasts. Human life is as ephemeral as the light of a firefly. We're born, we struggle, we suffer, and we die, often due to some meaningless accident, illness, or crime. What's the point?

Even for the lucky few who are able to live a life of relative comfort and productivity the same question lurks in the interstices of their awareness. A man builds a big corporation or a housing development. He drives a nice car, takes nice vacations, eats in nice restaurants and then dies. What's the point? What does it matter that he built houses or made money or wrote books when his life is extinguished?

Perhaps the point is to love others and to have rich relationships, but even if one succeeds in this - and many don't - what do these things mean when everyone we've loved is dead?

I sometimes ask my students to tell me something, anything, about their great great grandparents. Most of them can't. They know nothing about them. It's as if their ancestors were anonymous, as if they never lived. Then I suggest that someday someone might ask their great great grandchildren to say something about their great great grandparents, i.e. my students, and those future descendents will just shrug their shoulders like my students did. It will be as if my students never lived. It's that way for all of us.

So here's the take home message. Our lives can only matter, life can only have meaning, if death is not the end, if what we do in this life somehow matters for eternity. If God exists life may have a point and a purpose, even if we don't have any idea what it is. But if He doesn't exist then we can be certain that our life, as Shakespeare puts it, is nothing more than "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

If atheism is right then life is an empty exercise in absurdity. If theism is right then life is, or could be, a richly meaningful prelude to eternity.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Not So Great Expectations

Byron passes along a study published in the AEI Outlook Series which examines the amount of time students in postsecondary schools devote to studying compared to the amount of time their predecessors in the fifties and sixties spent. The results are discouraging if not surprising. Whereas in 1961 students devoted on average about 24 hours a week to his or her books. Today that figure is 14 hours.

The authors of the paper, Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks consider a number of possible reasons for this decline all of which are plausible, but there are a couple of reasons, one they discuss and one they don't, that I think are surely among the top three or four factors exerting the most influence on students' study habits. Babcock and Marks say this about the first of these:

"A nonaggression pact exists between many faculty members and students: Because the former believe that they must spend most of their time doing research and the latter often prefer to pass their time having fun, a mutual nonaggression pact occurs with each side agreeing not to impinge on the other." Consistent with this explanation, recent evidence suggests that student evaluations of instructors (which exploded in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s) create perverse incentives: "easier" instructors receive higher student evaluations, and a given instructor in a given course receives higher ratings during terms when he or she requires less or grades more leniently. Because students appear to put in less effort when grading is more lenient, grade inflation may have contributed to the decline. Perhaps it is not surprising that effort standards have fallen. We are hard-pressed to name any reliable, noninternal reward that instructors receive for maintaining high standards--and the penalties for doing so are clear.

I think the fear of a bad evaluation by students is one of the chief forces causing instructors to be less demanding. It's not just that there's a concern that bad evaluations will affect tenure or pay or teaching assignments, though there is that, but also that many professors want to be popular. There's a certain amount of ego satisfaction in being rated a popular professor and having students want to take your classes and fawn over you. Rigorous profs, however, are often not very popular. They may be respected but given the choice of taking a course with a tough prof and taking the same class with a less demanding instructor, students will take the easier way out. It's human nature, I suppose, but it can lead to a gradual wearing down of the standards of the more difficult prof.

The second possible explanation, one the authors didn't consider in much detail, is that in their rush to fill their classrooms with bodies schools are eager to appear more congenial to more students which means that they accept weaker students who should not be going to school at all. Schools compete with each other for students, they're eager to appear well-disposed to minorities, they diversify their programs offering degrees for non-traditional students who work full-time jobs and have families, all of which exerts powerful pressure to lower standards to accommodate these folk and to enable them to "succeed."

Perhaps a third reason is that the modern work place has evolved to the point where many employers don't much care what an applicant studied in college. They're only concerned that he/she be educable so they can teach and train the person to perform the job they want done. Thus the pressure to excel in school is diminished. One only need do well enough to be awarded a diploma, and in a healthy job market something will be available to the graduate.

Now that the job market is no longer so healthy it'll be interesting to see whether this has an effect on the seriousness with which students approach their academic work.


Why So Much Hate?

When I was a callow undergrad in the mid-sixties my lefty profs delighted in smearing conservatives as "haters," pointing to Joseph McCarthy and, inexplicably, Barry Goldwater as though the mere mention of these bogeymen proved their point. They also cited bigots like George Wallace and Bull Connor to press home their case, despite the fact that neither of these men were ideological conservatives and both were, in fact, Democrats. Nevertheless, the charge of "hater" stuck and conservatives spent the next thirty years or more trying to shed the odious label their opponents had successfully pinned to their back.

The left is still at it today, of course, trying to stigmatize anyone with whom they disagree as a racist, sexist, or bigot, but the charge lacks the adhesive power it once had. One reason why is that it's obvious to anyone paying attention that the lion's share of hatred in today's political discourse is on the left. Lefties, or at least many of them, seem genetically predisposed to say and think the ugliest things about those who refuse to accept their view of the world and the internet has exposed this malignancy in their character for all the world to see.

In a recent column Dennis Prager reflects on this sickness and offers some reasons for it. He begins his piece with this:

Perhaps the most telling of the recent revelations of the liberal/left Journalist, a list consisting of about 400 major liberal/left journalists, is the depth of their hatred of conservatives. That they would consult with one another in order to protect candidate and then President Obama and in order to hurt Republicans is unfortunate and ugly. But what is jolting is the hatred of conservatives, as exemplified by the e-mail from an NPR reporter expressing her wish to personally see Rush Limbaugh die a painful death -- and the apparent absence of any objection from the other liberal journalists.

Every one of us on the right has seen this hatred. I am not referring to leftist bloggers or to anonymous extreme comments by angry leftists on conservative blogs -- such things exist on the right as well -- but to mainstream elite liberal journalists. There is simply nothing analogous among elite conservative journalists. Yes, nearly all conservatives believe that the left is leading America to ruin. But while there is plenty of conservative anger over this fact, there is little or nothing on the right to match the left's hatred of conservative individuals. Would mainstream conservative journalists e-mail one another wishes to be present while Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or Michael Moore dies slowly and painfully of a heart attack?

From Karl Marx to today, the Left has always hated people on the Right, not merely differed or been angry with them.

The question is: why?

Prager is not talking about average people who write nasty letters to the paper - although I think what he says applies just as much to them. Rather, he's talking about those in leadership on both the left and right, who shape the opinions of the rest of us. He's talking about journalists, major bloggers, media personalities, etc. With these in mind he goes on to elaborate on three possible answers to his question.

One possibility that Prager doesn't mention, though, is this: Many people on the left, if not most of them, are secularists; most on the right are not. A person who takes his religious faith seriously will be constrained by it to blunt the sharper edges of his political rhetoric. He'll tend to feel guilty if he allows himself to succumb to the temptation to be mean-spirited or hateful. No such constraints exist among secularists, however. Some may find such sentiments personally distasteful and avoid them, but for many secularists what's right is whatever works. If vile speech packs a punch, if it intimidates one's opponent, if it turns public opinion against one's opponent then not only is there nothing wrong with vile speech, but it's actually the right thing to do.

Conservatives, particularly Christian conservatives, are violating their deepest beliefs when they say or act hatefully. They're behaving inconsistently with the faith they profess. Secular liberals, on the other hand, are acting inconsistently with nothing when they allow the temptation to engage in vituperative discourse to get the better of them. They're violating no fundamental principle and have nothing to feel guilty about.

Given that state of affairs which group can be expected to more often indulge the hateful emotions Prager talks about?