Tuesday, June 22, 2010

General McChrystal

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

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

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


Geological Catastrophism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arches N.P.

Bryce Canyon N.P.

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

QED. Or something.


Unfounded Fears

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

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

This chart compiled by Mark Chavez provides the data:

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

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

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