Monday, February 28, 2011

Teachers and Farmers

I've said several times in the last week that there was something unpleasant about watching teachers in Madison last week insisting that the quality of education Wisconsin's children receive will suffer if the legislators there restrict teachers' right to collective bargaining. There's also something distasteful, I think, about demanding that the people who subsidize one's livelihood guarantee salary and benefits in excess of what they themselves enjoy.

Victor Davis Hanson, who has worked in both the private and public sector, places the issue in perspective in an article at NRO.

He begins with these ruminations:
So far the angry teachers of Wisconsin have not yet won over the public. They have not convinced the majority that, in an age of staggering budget deficits, they — or, indeed, public employees in general — must as a veritable birthright enjoy salary, benefits, and pensions on average far more generous than those of their private-sector counterparts, who make up the majority of taxpayers.

Teachers are right that the crisis transcends compensation. Yet why, others might ask, would teachers’ unions oppose merit pay? Why should someone who did not join the union still have to pay its dues? Why should the state have to collect the dues from employee paychecks on behalf of the union? Moreover, when these questions are posed amid a landscape of teachers skipping classes to protest, urging students to join them, and soliciting fraudulent doctors’ notes to cover their cancellations of classes — while their supporters in the legislature hide out to prevent a quorum and thereby subvert the democratic process reaffirmed last November — the public becomes further estranged from their cause.

All of this evoked my own memories of a teaching life juxtaposed with farming in the private sector. After receiving a Ph.D. in 1980 I returned home to work the trees and vines for five years in hopes of helping to restore a run-down farm. I then was employed first as a part-time teacher and then as a professor at California State University, Fresno, for 21 years (1984–2004). Some of that time I continued to farm on weekends and in the summers.

The experience was schizophrenic. In farming, almost everyone I met was constantly hustling — welders, independent truckers, contractors. There was no guaranteed income, no pension other than Social Security, and no health benefits of any kind. I bought a Farm Bureau–sponsored private health plan with a $1,000 deductible — catastrophic coverage that I never found occasion to use — and paid cash for doctor’s office visits. My first two children’s deliveries maxed out my Visa card.

There was no sick leave for the self-employed. A day with the flu meant the amount of work to do the next day doubled.
Personally, I agree with the NEA that merit pay is unworkable in a public school, but aside from that quibble I think Hanson makes some very important comparisons between a teacher's lot and that of the people paying his salary. It's a good read.

That Was Then

Inasmuch as neither Mr. Obama nor his comfy shoes have shown up in Madison, Wisconsin, I guess we can place this promise in the bulging "empty rhetoric" file:
Of course, security concerns make it impossible for the President to actually walk in the demonstrations, but nothing prevents him from flying out to Madison to appear in a secure venue and show solidarity with his union chums. The fact that he hasn't done so makes me wonder if private polling hasn't shown that the majority of Wisconsin voters support Governor Scott's position on cutting state spending and restricting public employees' unions right to engage in collective bargaining. President Obama can ill-afford to further alienate these voters since Wisconsin is a state he'll certainly need if he's to get re-elected in 2012.

Anecdotally, when I started teaching in Pennsylvania in 1969 annual salary for a full-time first year teacher was $6300. Taxpayers back then had a lot of respect and sympathy for the plight of teachers, but things have changed. Today the average starting salary in PA is $35,000 for 187 days of work. Throw in great medical and retirement benefits plus job security, and a lot of taxpayers are wondering why people whose salaries they pay should be better off than they are. Why, for that matter should any state employees live better than the people paying them?

Wisconsin voters decided last November that they've heretofore been very poorly represented in negotiations with the state employees' unions, so they voted to elect people who would strengthen their bargaining position. Now the unions are crying foul, but isn't that how the system is supposed to work? Whoever has the strongest bargaining position gets to impose his will on the other side. This is what public employee unions have done for half a century, but when the other side does it they talk as if this is a great national catastrophe.

If union members have a complaint it's not with the governor of Wisconsin or the state Republicans. It's with the people of the state who said last November that they've awarded their employees enough for their service, and that it's now time to stop.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blame Game

The liberal media insists on perpetrating the myth that conservatives are racist rednecks prone to ugly rhetoric and violent behavior. This is a slander with little or no basis in fact, but that doesn't prevent some people from repeating it or the uninformed from believing it. One wonders if, when they indulge in these attempts to discredit conservatives, the left-leaning media isn't engaging in a little projection, i.e. imputing to their opponents the very behavior they observe among their friends.

After all, left-wing protests in this country, from the recent shenanigans in Madison all the way back to the Vietnam era, have been consistently vulgar and riddled with hateful messages. Some of them, the 1968 riots in Chicago and the protests of the WTO meetings come to mind, have been marked by violence and vandalism. I've never heard of a group of conservatives, even when they mass in the hundreds of thousands, as they have in pro-life rallies and the like, doing any damage to property or any violence to anyone. When the Left masses the police turn out in riot gear. When conservatives mass the police don't have to even show up. When the Left rallies it takes days to clean up the mess. When conservatives rally the place is cleaner when they leave than when they arrived.

More seriously, almost every presidential assassin or would-be assassin was a person of the Left. Almost every terrorist prior to the rise of Islamic terrorism was a person of the Left. Most home-grown terrorists today are left-wing environmentalists. This is not to say that there's no one on the right who could be violent - I guess it could be argued that Timothy McVeigh was on the right (although I think that's debatable). It's just that the ones who are from the right are the exception, not the norm.

Michelle Malkin analyzes the liberals' penchant for assuming that violent political crimes are perpetrated by conservatives or people influenced by conservatives until the perpetrator is caught and almost always turns out to be either mentally deranged, a leftist, or a Muslim extremist (Muslim extremists are often leftists). Here's her condensed history for those too young to remember or whose memories are short:
In April 2009, a disgruntled, unemployed loser shot and killed three Pittsburgh police officers in a horrifying bloodbath. The gunman, Richard Poplawski, was a dropout from the Marines who threw a food tray at a drill sergeant and had beaten his girlfriend. Was this deranged shooter who pulled the trigger to blame? Nope. Despite evidence that Poplawski's homicidal, racist tendencies manifested themselves years before Obama took office, lefty publications asserted that the real culprit of the spree was the "heated, apocalyptic rhetoric of the anti-Obama forces" (according to mainstream liberal Atlantic Monthly pundit Andrew Sullivan), along with Fox News and Glenn Beck (according to mainstream liberal journalist Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly online).

That same month, a sick, evil man named Jiverly Voong ambushed an immigration center in Binghamton, N.Y. Recently fired from his job, Voong murdered 13 people, critically wounded four others and then committed suicide. The instant psychologists of the left knew nothing about the disgruntled man of Vietnamese descent and undetermined political affiliation. But within hours of the shooting, liberal mega-website Huffington Post commenters had overwhelmingly convicted GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, the National Rifle Association, Fox News, Lou Dobbs and yours truly. Liberal radio host Alan Colmes pointed his finger at the "huge anti-immigrant backlash in this country" -- never mind that tens of millions of legal immigrants and naturalized citizens have coped with hardship, overcome racism and embraced assimilation without going bloody bonkers.

In June 2009, a depraved, elderly anti-Semite named James von Brunn gunned down a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent and lefty Center for American Progress think-tank fellow Matthew Yglesias immediately invoked the Obama administration's report on right-wing extremism, leading to a wider chorus of condemnations against the tea party, talk radio and the entire GOP. The truth? Von Brunn was an unstable, equal-opportunity hater and 9/11 Truther conspiracy loon who bashed Jews and Christians, George W. Bush and Fox News, and had also threatened the conservative Weekly Standard magazine.

In late August 2009, as lawmakers faced citizen revolts at health care town halls nationwide, the Colorado Democratic Party decried a window-smashing vandalism attack at its Denver headquarters. State Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak singled out tea party activists and blamed "people opposed to health care" for the attack. The perpetrator, Maurice Schwenkler, turned out to be a far-left transgender activist/single-payer anarchist who had worked for a labor union-tied political committee and canvassed for a Democratic candidate.

In September 2009, Bill Sparkman, a federal U.S. Census worker, was found dead in a secluded rural Kentucky cemetery with the word "Fed" scrawled on his chest with a rope around his neck. The Atlantic Monthly's Andrew Sullivan rushed to indict "Southern populist terrorism, whipped up by the GOP and its Fox and talk radio cohorts" in an online magazine post titled "No Suicide," which decried the "Kentucky lynching." Liberal author Richard Benjamin blamed "anti-government" bile. New York magazine fingered conservative talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh, "conservative media personalities, websites and even members of Congress." So, who killed Bill Sparkman? Bill Sparkman. He killed himself and deliberately manufactured a hate crime hoax as part of an insurance scam to benefit his surviving son.

In February 2010, ticking time-bomb professor Amy Bishop gunned down three of her colleagues at University of Alabama-Huntsville, and suicide pilot Joseph Andrew Stack flew a stolen small plane into an Austin, Texas, office complex that contained an Internal Revenue Service office. Mainstream journalists from Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart to Time magazine reporter Hilary Hylton leaped forward to tie the crimes to tea party rhetoric. Never mind that Bishop was an Obama-worshiping academic with a lifelong history of violence or that Stack was another Bush-hater outraged about everything from George W. Bush to the American medical system to the evils of capitalism to the city of Austin, the Catholic Church and airlines.

In May 2010, liberal New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to preemptively pin the Times Square bombing attempt on "someone with a political agenda that doesn't like the health care bill or something." The culprit was unrepentant Muslim jihadist Faisal Shahzad.

In August 2010, Democratic supporters of Missouri Rep. Russ Carnahan blamed a "firebombing" at the congressman's St. Louis office on tea party suspects. The real perpetrator? Disgruntled progressive activist Chris Powers, who was enraged over a paycheck dispute.
Andrew Klavan gives us his own humorous take on this same subject in this video:
For more of Malkin on this topic go here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Debt Clock

A reader named James calls our attention to a graphic that illustrates pretty dramatically just how rapidly our national debt is rising. It also shows the growth of a number of other interesting parameters such as debt per citizen and debt per taxpayer. It also offers similar information for each state. For example, did you know that roughly one out of every 12 of Pennsylvania's 12,700,000 citizens receives food stamps?

There's lots of useful information at the site. Check it out here.

Conservatism vs. Liberalism and Libertarianism

Matt Lewis makes a case for the superiority of conservatism vis a vis liberalism and libertarianism in a piece at Politics Daily. He draws the following distinctions:
Liberals tend to set up equality as the highest good. Equality is the end goal of most liberal policy. The conservative asks, "Why does that idea become valued over all others?" Equality is certainly good, but as a highest end and goal, it can lead to devastating consequences.

Likewise, the pure libertarian (as opposed to those of us who have some libertarian leanings) sets up liberty as the highest good. Liberty is the end goal of all policy. The conservative looks to the libertarian and asks, "Why does that idea become valued over all others?" Liberty is obviously a great good, but as the highest end goal, it can also lead to devastating consequences.

The conservative argues that the greatest instructor on what laws should exist in a civil society is human experience. So, it would seem libertarianism hits its own walls when it ventures out of its world of make-believe theories and steps into the world of reality.

Alternatively, traditional conservatives believe the rise and success of Western society was not merely a lucky accident or the result of a couple Enlightenment period thunderbolts, but rather the product of diligent work, trial and error, and human experience -- and in may ways the result of Christian civilization.

As such, [conservatives] argue that preserving a strong moral order -- an order that took shape over millennia -- is vitally important to a functioning society (including a functioning economic system).
There's more at the link.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dealing with Piracy

In the wake of the tragic murders of two American couples aboard their hijacked yacht at the hands of Somali pirates an article at Strategy Page caught my eye. The piece describes some of the quiet measures shipping companies are taking to protect their vessels and crews from these predators:
As Somali pirates move farther from the coast (using stolen fishing vessels as mother ships), most shipping in the Indian Ocean is at risk of attack. In response, more ships are putting armed guards on board, even though this practice risks running into laws barring firearms on merchant ships entering their ports or territorial waters. Recently, the ICS (International Chamber of Shipping), a trade organization representing 80 percent of all shipping companies, urged its members to put armed guards on ships moving through pirate infested waters. This now includes most of the Indian Ocean between India and Africa. There are problems with this, beyond gun restrictions. Some countries forbid ships flying their flag from carrying armed guards.

None of this has stopped several private security companies from offering armed guards for ships. The security companies operate from countries that allow them (sometimes after payment of bribes) to have military grade weapons. The security teams sometimes travel unarmed to a port where they can pick up their weapons, and board the ship they are guarding. That works because some shipping companies are carrying rifles and machine-guns on board, but keeping them hidden from port and cargo inspectors.

Large merchant ships have lots of places to hide things like a dozen rifles and pistols and a few thousands rounds of ammo. Other security companies will send out a small ship with the armed men on board, and transfer them to the merchant ship in international waters. In short, no one wants to talk openly about how this security business operates. But there's a growing demand, and no shortage of security companies willing to fill the need.

This makes lawyers for shipping companies nervous, because of the risk of innocent fishermen getting shot if they approach a guarded ship in a way that makes the merchant crew nervous....But the shipping companies have reached the point where they would rather handle these lawsuits than more ransom negotiations with pirates.
Piracy in the region has been largely risk-free for the perpetrators for a decade or so. Now the shipping companies are raising the stakes for the pirates. Perhaps this will drive all but the most audacious off of their boats and back to their huts.

Illustrating Political Correctness

Dennis Prager has a very good column on the nature of "political correctness" in our society. Here's his lede:
The most common left-wing objection to the right is that it wants to control others' lives. But, both in America and elsewhere, the threat to personal liberty has emanated far more from the left. In the past generation, the left has controlled so much speech and behavior that these controls are now assumed to be a normal part of life.

Through the use of public opprobrium, laws and lawsuits, Americans today are less free than at any time since the abolition of slavery (with the obvious exception of blacks under Jim Crow).

Public opprobrium is known as political correctness, and it has suppressed saying anything -- no matter how true and no matter how innocent -- that offends left-wing sensibilities.
This is followed in the column with a dozen or so examples of how this suppression plays out in the culture. It's pretty good and worth a read.

More on Single Parenthood

The post titled "Nobody Gets Married Anymore, Mister" continues to attract thoughtful comment. Here's an example from a reader named Mike:
I am a Christian, and therefore hold to the traditional idea that sex and child rearing are intended exclusively for marriage. I have been married for almost 15 years, and my wife and I have five children. In our experience, the traditional Christian conviction of sex and parenthood only within marriage has shown itself to be true on a number of different points. One of the most important has been the well-being of our children.

All of my four school-age children attend public schools. The oldest is twelve and has recently become aware of, and been troubled by, the very unstable family lives of his friends. Some are in single-parent homes. Some have moms and dads living with boyfriends and girlfriends. Some have parents who are in the process of getting divorced. If I had not understood before I was married why marriage is so important for bringing up children, I certainly do now.

In such a churning sea of dysfunction and relational uncertainty, it is an anchor of assurance and stability to my children that they know their parents are committed to each other, for better or for worse, in sickness and health, for good times and bad, as husband and wife, till death do us part. Commitment necessarily means the elimination of certain options. Marriage commitment should mean that divorce is not an option (thus "'till death do you part"). The fact that my wife are committed to each other in this way is communicated to my children by the fact that we are married.

I have never understood a legitimate reason why a couple who is logistically and financially able to get married would choose not to. It has always seemed to me that making the choice to live together and even to have children without being married is for each person in the relationship to communicate the following to the other:

"I have strong feelings for you, and enjoy your company. I'm sexually attracted to you and want us to be sexually involved with each other. My feelings are so strong for you that I would even like for us to have a child together. But ultimately my commitment to you is based on how you make me feel. Though I don't necessarily want it to happen, I realize there may come a time in the future when my feelings for you will fluctuate, and because those feelings are the basis of our relationship, it would be good if we are able to part ways at that time without too many strings attached. So let's not make trouble for ourselves in the future by becoming husband and wife now and taking on all the potential legal burdens. I do love you, but ultimately you're not worth banking my entire future on."

I'm not saying that this is what's in the minds of all unwed parent/couples, but I do have a hard time seeing anything but this, or something like it, at work in the decision making of couples who intentionally choose not to get married. What am I missing?
Thoughts? Is Mike missing anything?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Rape of Lara Logan

Andrew McCarthy writes at NRO that the rape of CBS reporter Lara Logan by a mob of several hundred Egyptians in Cairo is not surprising given the teaching of Islamic clerics on the subject. He cites several Muslim authorities who teach that women who fail to dress in Muslim garb are "asking for it":
Sheikh Qaradawi contends that women bring sexual abuse on themselves if they fail to conform to Islamist conventions of modest dress. Shahid Mehdi, a top Islamic cleric in Denmark, has explained that women who fail to don a headscarf are asking to be raped, an admonition echoed by Sheikh Faiz Mohammed, a prominent Lebanese cleric, during a lecture he delivered in Australia.
McCarthy closes with this:
The Koran pronounces that “Allah has made men superior to women” (Sura 4:34). As documented in “Sharia Law for Non-Muslims,” a study published by the Center for the Study of Political Islam, Mohammed declared that women are inferior to men in both intelligence and religious devotion (Bukhari hadith 1.6.301), and that women will make up most of those condemned to Hell. (Bukahri 7.62.132). Sexual abuse is encouraged not only by hadith but — as I related in discussing the recent case of a teenager flogged to death in Bangladesh — by sharia standards that make rape practically impossible to prove and subject women to a death sentence for adultery or fornication if they come forward with an accusation but cannot prove it.

Islamic scriptures endorse wife-beating (Koran 4:34 again). Female genital mutilation is rampant in the Muslim world and scripturally based.

As Caroline Glick notes, the World Health Organization reports that 97 percent of Egyptian women and girls have been subjected to this form of barbarism.

This despicable treatment is fortified by standards that treat women’s testimony as inferior to men’s, permit men to marry up to four women, and deny women the right to hold many public offices — particularly those that involve the construction of Islamic law and issuance of fatwas.

The unmistakable message at the core of sharia is that women, like non-Muslims, are less than fully human.
There is a fundamental chasm between the Western worldview and that of the Muslim world. It's a difference that cannot be bridged simply by dialogue. Indeed, it's a difference that probably can't be bridged at all inasmuch as Muslims demand that the West compromise its values and adopt theirs, and that until such a capitulation occurs there'll never be peace between the two worlds. In other words, there'll be jihad until the whole world is Islamic and living under a law that looks the other way when Muslim men rape women whose dress is insufficiently decorous.

The Western world, stumbling along on the rapidly diminishing capital of its Christian heritage, still nevertheless places a premium on the values of love, forgiveness, and compassion. The Islamic world, on the other hand, values, or at least too often appears to value, hate, vengeance, and cruel punishment. It's unfortunate but it's hard to imagine how these twain could ever meet.

On a somewhat related note a representative of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) took the occasion of a recent town hall meeting to challenge newly-elected GOP congressman Allan West (an Iraq war vet) to show where it says in the Koran that Muslims should kill Americans - a claim that West had allegedly made.

The man was posing a specious challenge, obviously, and West made light work of the fellow's pretension, to the great delight of the crowd at the meeting:
It seems that the November 10th election has ushered into political office an entirely new class of politicians, a group of men and women who are not inclined to be deferential to "aggrieved" minorities and who know how to exert leadership.

What's Wrong with Public Employee Unions?

David Brooks has a pretty good piece at the New York Times on the battle going on in Wisconsin between the GOP and the public employees' unions. Brooks notes that public employees and private employees are two disparate species, and their unions are different as well. Brooks writes:
[P]ublic sector unions and private sector unions are very different creatures. Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers. Private sector union members know that their employers could go out of business, so they have an incentive to mitigate their demands; public sector union members work for state monopolies and have no such interest.

Private sector unions confront managers who have an incentive to push back against their demands. Public sector unions face managers who have an incentive to give into them for the sake of their own survival. Most important, public sector unions help choose those they negotiate with. Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races.

As a result of these imbalanced incentive structures, states with public sector unions tend to run into fiscal crises. They tend to have workplaces where personnel decisions are made on the basis of seniority, not merit. There is little relationship between excellence and reward, which leads to resentment among taxpayers who don’t have that luxury.
In other words, when public employee unions negotiate with state legislators and governors they're often bargaining with people who owe their careers to the very people sitting across the table. In such an environment the taxpayer doesn't stand a chance. The public employees' unions bankroll the campaigns of Democrats with their contributions and get them elected through their votes. What are the chances that the Democrats are going to care more about the well-being of the taxpayer than of the union to which they owe their livelihood?

The problem is compounded by the fact that the benefits politicians award the unions in return for their support are often long-term goodies like pensions, etc. which won't come due until long after the politicians have retired.

The whole system is a scam on the people who pay taxes, and the ruckus in Wisconsin and elsewhere is due to the fact that Republicans are refusing to play the game any longer. The unions recognize that Wisconsin is simply the nose of the camel, that if they lose their ability to engage in collective bargaining over pensions and working conditions they'll no longer have the power to extort even more benefits from the hapless taxpayer by threatening to withhold services.

This is the problem with a public employee union (I belonged to one myself for a number of years). It's unjust to hold taxpayers hostage to the demands of the union. It's unjust for teachers to hold the education of children hostage. It's unjust for police and fire personnel to hold the safety of citizens hostage, and it's unjust for state workers to hold the checks of the elderly and poor hostage. Workers should have the right to strike against a private corporation, they should not have the right to strike against the taxpayer. Nor should they have the right to negotiate with the very people they elevate to office over how much of the taxpayer's money they're going to be given.

Some in the media are accusing the Wisconsin Republicans of trying to break the union, but if that's what ultimately happens the union bosses will have only their own greed to blame.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Re: The Singularity

A reader writes to comment on our post on Ray Kurzweil and his prediction of the coming Singularity - the view that in just a few decades human beings will be able to download the entirety of their mental contents into a computer and thereby achieve immortality. Kurzweil thinks computers will supplant the human brain, being able to perform all the functions that the brain now performs. This reader raises an interesting point:
When I was a music major in the early 80s, music and computers were a hot topic of discussion among musicians. One day in music theory class our professor said, "Listen to this piece of music and tell me what you think of it when it's over." He played a short piece written in the style of a J.S. Bach invention, yet it was not appealing to me or any of the other students in the room. The prof asked "What's wrong with it?" He went on to tell us that it adhered to all of Bach's rules for four part harmony perfectly and was performed well in its Time meter.

One of my classmates said something like "It has no soul." We all agreed it sounded as if a technically proficient musician who lacked feeling had performed it. The prof then told us a computer had been programmed with Bach's writing rules and had then composed the piece of music and performed the music. That was in 1981 or 1982, computers were no good at writing or performing music to the discriminating ear then.

Before I began this reply I went to You-Tube and tried to find a piece of music composed by a computer. I could find no such posting. I find for art to be art it has to have the human element which a computer can't imitate successfully.
Maybe someone can help with this. Can computers compose and perform music today that is indistinguishable from a human composition or performance?

Stymied

A contest of wills is playing out at the entrance to the Suez canal where two Iranian warships were preparing to transit into the Mediterranean Sea. This was seen by most observers as an Iranian provocation calculated to exploit the chaos in North Africa and also test American resolve to preserve peace in the region.

The Iranian ships, however, have been blocked by the American fleet and are unable to enter the canal. Debkafile has some interesting details. Their report closes with this:
By positioning the Enterprise opposite Iran's 12th Flotilla at the Red Sea entrance to the Suez Canal on Feb. 17 Washington has confronted Tehran with a hard dilemma, which was practically spelled out by US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley a day earlier: "If the ships move through the canal, we will evaluate what they actually do," he said. "It's not really about the ships. It's about what the ships are carrying, what's their destination, what's the cargo on board, where's it going, to whom and for what benefit."

This was the US spokesman's answer to the debkafile disclosure of Feb. 16 that the Kharg was carrying long-range surface missiles for Hizballah. It raised the possibility that the moment they venture to sail into the Suez Canal, the two Iranian warships will be boxed in between the Enterprise and the Kearsarge and called upon to allow their cargoes to be inspected as permitted by the last round of UN sanctions against Iran in the case of suspicious war freights.

According to debkafile's intelligence sources, the flurry of conflicting statements from Cairo and Tehran [about whether the Iranian ships had actually transited the canal or not] were issued to muddy the situation surrounding the Iranian flotilla and cloud Tehran's uncertainty about how to proceed. The next date announced for their passage, Tuesday night, Feb. 22, will be a testing moment.
It looks like the Iranian vessels will either have to turn back or submit to an American inspection. Either course of action will be humiliating for the Iranians. Too bad.

More Stories about Our Welfare System

The topic of "Poverty in America" [scroll down for more posts on the topic]continues to elicit personal stories and strong feelings. Here are two examples:
I work in the mental health field doing accounts payable work. We have over 250 consumers who are either on SSI or Social Security Disability. We receive their income and set them up with a budget and pay all the bills for them. When all is said and done, whatever is left is usually theirs to do with how they please. Usually there is not too much left. These people are on PCAP for their electric bills, CAP for their gas bills, LIFELINE for their phone bills, and using the Lehman Center as a daycare.

I see the system being abused all the time and it aggravates me because this is my job. I know a majority of these people are very able to work and try to get on disability. But it’s so easy to just collect a check every month rather than having to work....I don’t want to discuss my clients though in my response. I want to discuss two of my co-workers.

I worked with a girl who had 3 daughters. She was receiving well over $500 per month in foodstamps. She was receiving cash assistance and she was on section 8. I am sure the benefits didn’t stop there. She really worked the system. She had the father of her youngest daughter living with her. He was working under the table cutting hair. She never reported he was living with her and therefore, [the authorities] were not aware of his income either. She withdrew cash from her Access card to get her nails done. She always had the newest Nike shoes and he always had the hottest Timberlands. What did their children have? Who knows! She would come in to work and discuss how she offers her foodstamps for 50% off. So basically, someone would give her $50 cash and she would allow them to use $100 of her food stamps.

The other co-worker is now off work, pregnant with her 4th child to the 4th different father. She does not have custody of her youngest. My co-worker's father does. This co-worker was living with one guy, got pregnant to another guy with her 3rd child. She had pregnancy complications and her doctor put her on bed rest for a while. She came back to work with a new boyfriend, a third guy in the picture. She was out on disability with migraines from May-August 2010. She came back to work and had magically gotten pregnant (not to the new boyfriend she met while pregnant with child number 3) with her 4th child while she was to be on bed rest.

She was certainly in her bed alright. She had the government sending a check to our employer every month, so she could cover her children through our insurance. She is back off work and has been since October 2010 and is due in March 2011. She is collecting short-term disability payments from our employer. She also was on foodstamps and although living with multiple men during my employment, she never once reported their income or that they were living with her when she filled out the medical assistance and food stamp applications.

I honestly feel like she keeps popping out children because the government pretty much pays for all their needs. She doesn’t need to work with all the help they are giving her.

It is people like these who make it look bad for [those who actually deserve help]. Too many people abuse the system. Cash assistance is there to pay for clothing and other non-food items that aren’t covered with foodstamps, not to get your nails done every two weeks. If you are on “disability” and supposed to be on full bed rest, you should not be meeting a new boyfriend at the Lincoln Race Track. And when you are out with migraines you shouldn’t have met another new boyfriend while you are supposed to be on bed rest. I don’t know how she still has a job, which is my current dilemma.

I know with the first co-worker drugs were involved. I work in a non-profit so drug testing is unheard of. But typically, to obtain a decent job with a decent level of pay you have to pass a drug test. I think if you want to slide by on the system, you should also have to pass a drug test. Not just at the beginning but also randomly throughout.

I think it is a shame the worker’s comp people were “snooping” around this person’s family. As long as this story is legit, my heart goes out to this family [This is a reference to the story posted here]. These are the people who truly need to use governmental assistance and usually are the ones who have the hardest time getting anything. Why can’t the Department of Public Welfare do some similar snooping.

It’s no wonder we are/were in such an economic hardship. The government gives out money to anyone nowadays. Heck, people even get free cell phones through a program called SafeLink. How about the Cash for Clunkers program? Really! And the $8000 first time homebuyers credit? I feel like Obama was directly aiming these programs at the people who live in poverty to try to “help” them. Instead, I think it got them in much deeper than they were to begin with. The government needs to be the ones snooping.

------------

After reading all three accounts of each person's own view of the government welfare system, I'm in agreement partially with all three. I come from an inner city where there are numerous people on the welfare system and just like the first account, there are so many people who abuse the system. They have become complacent in life and because the government supports them, they feel no desire to make anything better of themselves. But is it right to "eliminate" the system? Should a few bad apples spoil the ENTIRE bunch?

Take for instance a hard-working college student who has a child. Is it right for him/her to be forced to drop out of school and pick up a full-time job? I'm not so sure. I feel as though in situations like these, they should be given some government assistance and still be able to receive their education.

Are there people who abuse the system? Without a doubt. I personally have family members who feel as though that is the answer to everything in life: "the welfare system".

There are positives and negatives to the welfare system. Despite the fact that I believe some people become too reliant and dependent upon welfare to the point of complacency in life, I believe there is a true need for this government safety net. However, there should be a revision as to how much assistance is given, and the requirements in order to receive assistance. I feel that the welfare system should be better designed. It seems as though people get on welfare with no thought of ever getting off.
No one begrudges assistance to those who are trying hard to get by without it, but whose circumstances, through no fault of their own, place them in a position of need. On the other hand, there are few people who don't resent those who are exploiting the system and making no effort to improve their condition, content instead to be parasites on the productive members of society.

Taxpayers will only tolerate this so long before their patience, or their money, runs out.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Re: Deep Desire

A friend named Mike writes to comment on our post titled Deep Desire:
Great post on the "wish fulfillment" argument. It brought something to mind--a thought first evoked by C.S. Lewis' chapter on hope in Mere Christianity.

I think one very weighty (but sometimes overlooked) piece of evidence that demonstrates the reality of God is the nature of the incorrigible human desire for love, purpose, justice and permanence. Aside from the question of how this desire (or lack thereof) prejudices our theological inquiries, the simple fact that this desire exists and is so tenacious in virtually every person would be utterly senseless if we were only purposeless accidents. Lewis says, ducks have an innate desire for water, there is such a thing as water. People have a desire for food, there is such a thing as bread, etc.

By definition, our innate desires are not implanted by external factors. They are an ontological fact about human beings. And it would be fundamentally irrational if we were to believe that such innate desires corresponded to nothing external to ourselves, but were caused by accidental forces. This would be like looking at an electrical socket on a wall and refusing to believe there is any separate component necessary for the life and function of the socket.

This being the case, any time an atheist begins an argument by saying something like, "Yes it would be nice if there were life after death" or "That's a comforting fairytale to believe there is a God who gives our lives purpose," then he is already undermining his position because the mere fact that we would find comfort in the idea of God and meaning is itself an evidence that God exists.

In order for an atheist to have solid footing from which to even begin his argument, he would need to say, "Life is completely meaningless. We will all die and cease to exist. And that doesn't bother me in the least." But most of them don't talk like that. And the ones who do betray themselves the moment they express sadness or indignation over a perceived tragedy or injustice.
We've mentioned on previous occasions that almost every atheistic view of life contains in it the tacit acknowledgement that we should live as if there were a God. Why is it that naturalism (or atheism) is not able to escape this need for God and sustain an intellectually consistent life on its own terms?

Holding Back Progress

The contretemps in Madison, Wisconsin presages perhaps the most sweeping social revolution in this country since the 1930s. Indeed, it represents a decisive turning away from the 1930s model of Big Government and Big Labor.

Jane McAlevey laments the senescence of the labor union movement and urges progressives to fight on to preserve big Government and Big Labor, i.e. to keep us bound to the twentieth century.

Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest sees in this upheaval, which he argues is absolutely necessary and which will be soon sweeping well beyond Madison, an opportunity to create something entirely new.

Both articles are lengthy but make for very informative reading.

It's noteworthy that one of the left-most writers at Time magazine, Joe Klein, seems to recognize the absurdity of the Democratic "strategy" in Wisconsin. Klein writes:
Isn't it, well, a bit ironic that the protesters in Madison, blocking the state senate chamber, are chanting "Freedom, Democracy, Union" while trying to prevent a vote? Isn't it ironic that the Democratic Senators have fled the democratic process? Isn't it interesting that some of those who--rightly--protest the assorted Republican efforts to stymie majority rule in the U.S. Senate are celebrating the Democratic efforts to stymie the same in the Wisconsin Senate?

An election was held in Wisconsin last November. The Republicans won. In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees unions, are exempt from that. There are no guarantees that labor contracts, including contracts governing the most basic rights of unions, can't be renegotiated, or terminated for that matter.

We hold elections to decide those basic parameters. And it seems to me that Governor Scott Walker's basic requests are modest ones--asking public employees to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, though still far less than most private sector employees do. He is also trying to limit the unions' abilities to negotiate work rules--and this is crucial when it comes to the more efficient operation of government in a difficult time.
It is indeed ironic. Progressives in Wisconsin are holding back the progress that conservatives are trying to unleash.

Ten Charts

BusinessInsider.com features ten charts which illustrate the magnitude of our fiscal crisis. Here's one that shows the growth of the national debt from 1940 to the present:
If you go to the site be sure to check out chart #3

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On Wisconsin

Michelle Malkin has a sampling of the fine examples Wisconsin's teachers are setting for their students in Madison. I won't put the images up here because they're too vulgar. It's pretty much a disgrace that these are the people we hire to teach our children.

Then there's this excellent summary of events in Madison at PowerLine which includes videos of doctors writing sick notes for people who called in sick to attend the protest. These doctors are defrauding the taxpayers and violating their professional code of ethics. If there's justice in Wisconsin they'll have their licenses to practice suspended or revoked. Here's one of at least two different doctors implicitly admitting to professional malpractice:
I don't know which is more dishonest, if either: Doctors writing fraudulent excuses or teachers using phony excuses in order not to lose pay for the days they missed.

By the way, if you go to these two sites notice the difference in the tenor of the signs of the Democrats and the tea partiers. The mainstream media hasn't had much to say about any of this, but you can bet it would be all over the Sunday shows and evening news if tea partiers, or (conservatives or Republicans) had behaved like the union members, liberals, and Democrats have behaved in Madison this week.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ten Most Admirable

In response to our post about President Obama titled Who Is He? in which I suggested that it would help us to know who he is at his core if we knew who the people are whom he most admires, a reader wrote to ask who I would place on my own list.

Knowing that I risk omitting someone I shouldn't, and limiting the list to ten people from the last 100 years, and excluding anyone who is still alive (and my father), I came up with the following ten men and women:

Thomas A. Edison

Winston Churchill

Raoul Wallenberg

Oscar Schindler

Irene Sendler

Richard Wurmbrand

William F. Buckley

Ronald Reagan

Mother Teresa

Richard J. Neuhaus

I'm sure there are many others who deserve to be on such a list. Indeed, I would include many of those who died or suffered for their faith or in defense of our country. However, these ten come immediately to mind. I welcome suggestions from readers as to who else might be included in such company. UPDATE: How could I have forgotten Mohandas Ghandi and Martin Luther King?

Where Has All the Money Gone?

I applaud Alan Grayson for his pursuit of the Auditor General of the Federal Reserve in this video (which must have been made before last November's election when he was defeated). The subject matter is perhaps a bit arcane but the take home message is that the Obama administration is spending trillions of dollars that we don't have, and nobody seems to know where the money is going:
After spending almost a trillion dollars in stimulus money last year Mr. Obama is asking for more in his current budget. Yet no one can say where the bulk of the last stack of money went. This has to strike anyone who watches it, even a left-wing progressive like Grayson, as insane.

What Do They Hope to Accomplish?

I really hope this guy isn't a teacher. I'm not referring to the one with the microphone, but the other one, the guy in the crowd who seems to be some sort of lobotomized wind-up toy:
Good old Ed Schultz. He can always be counted on to be a voice of calm reason amidst a sea of turmoil and strife.

Anyway, I was wondering as I read the news about the Wisconsin teachers calling in sick for a third straight day in order to attend the protest in Madison, how many sick days their contract allows them and whether there will be any repercussions for taking sick days, for which they're paid by the same taxpayers from whom they're demanding benefits that few of those same taxpayers enjoy, in order to tend to personal business. I don't see how this could possibly do their cause any good or help them to rise in the esteem of the citizens of Wisconsin.

Nor do I see how hiding in a motel somewhere at taxpayer expense in order to block the state senate from doing its work will help the electoral prospects of Wisconsin's remaining Democratic senators, but who knows?

How long do these guys think they can remain squirreled away? A month? Two months? Will they insist that the citizens of Wisconsin pay them the whole time they're in absentia? What's the point of this stunt, anyway, other than to show their constituents in the unions that they're willing to make complete fools of themselves in order to stand foursquare for the right of public employees to drive the state into bankruptcy?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Popperazi

Famous science writer John Horgan takes a whack at another famous science writer, Brian Greene, for his speculations on the multiverse. There are different multiverse theories, but essentially they share in common the idea that reality consists of an uncountable number of universes, or worlds in our own universe, each one different from the next.

There's no way to observe any world but our own, of course, but the theories have gained a measure of popularity, especially among atheistic scientists, because if there really are a near infinite number of worlds then the probability of a world like ours existing goes from almost nil to inevitable. Otherwise, if ours is the only world there is, its extraordinary fine-tuning makes it exceedingly unlikely to have happened apart from the intervention of an intelligent agent. This is an unacceptable state of affairs for an atheist, thus the concept of the multiverse is seen as something of an intellectual lifesaver.

Horgan writes:
These multiverse theories all share the same fundamental defect: They can be neither confirmed nor falsified. Hence, they don't deserve to be called scientific, according to the well-known criterion proposed by the philosopher Karl Popper. Some defenders of multiverses and strings mock skeptics who raise the issue of falsification as "Popperazi" - which is cute but not a counterargument. Multiverse theories aren't theories - they're science fictions, theologies, works of the imagination unconstrained by evidence.
Horgan goes so far as to call such speculations immoral because they divert scientists from the crucial task of saving the world from serious threats.

I think it's nonsense for Horgan, who is himself an atheist, to be making moral judgments, but I do agree with what he says in the quoted passage. Speculation about multiverses is not science, its metaphysics. There's no way such universes could be empirically observed or tested for which is the sine qua non for science.

The irony is that although many scientists agree that such "theologies" aren't genuine science no one, as far as I know, complains much about anybody talking about them in a physics class. Yet let someone introduce intelligent design into a biology class, and the screeching and howling from the defenders of scientific purity is ear-piercing. ID is not testable, they protest, it's not falsifiable, it's not science, it's theology, etc. All of these asseverations are dubious, but let's grant them. Why then is ID verboten but multiverse speculations are not?

For that matter, why is the Darwinian claim that natural processes are sufficient to produce life in all its variety admissable, but the basic ID claim that natural processes are not adequate to produce complex, specified information is not?

Of course, we know the answer. Multiverses and Darwinism both provide intellectual cover for atheistic naturalism and are thus welcome. Intelligent Design, however, is compatible with theism and is thus to be banned, proscribed, censored, and exiled at all costs.

The debate, in other words, is not about science, it's about which metaphysical beliefs our children will be suffered to hear in their classrooms. Count me among the "Popperazi", but also count me among those who think that all such speculations should be permitted in the science classroom as long as the teacher wants to present them and as long as there's time for the rest of the curriculum to be taught.

Presidential Prevarications

The New York Times has an interactive graphic breakdown of President Obama's 2011 budget. You can see the whole thing at a glance, and by moving the cursor over a particular spending area you can get a comparison of this year's budget to last year's spending.

It's a useful way to illustrate the magnitude of the problem and where the cuts have to be made.

Mr. Obama's recent defense of his budget was, by all accounts, disingenuous. Most egregiously, he claimed the budget would be in balance by 2015, but there is clearly no year in the next ten when the deficit would be anywhere near closed. By that time the debt will be so high that we will have long since hurtled over the cliff of national default.

He justified his prevarication by not counting payment of interest on the debt incurred by the previous administration as spending. This is a dissimulation. Federal spending is still spending no matter whether we're spending to pay the interest on the debt or spending to build a bridge. And federal spending is still spending no matter which administration incurred the obligation.

With every public appearance Mr. Obama makes it harder to believe anything he tells us. I resist the conclusion that he is fundamentally dishonest, but it becomes less resistable almost every day.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Lessons Are They Teaching?

Teachers and other union members in Wisconsin are outraged by the attempt led by Republican Governor Scott Walker to return fiscal sanity and solvency to the state. Here's a summary of what the Governor proposes:
Walker proposed reducing spending by $30 million in the 2010-2011 fiscal year by making changes to public employee benefits programs. The changes include making state, school district and municipal employees pay half of the annual contributions to their pension programs through the Wisconsin Retirement Systems. He also proposed increasing employee health insurance premium payments from 6 percent to 12.6 percent.

Walker also recommended tighter controls on collective bargaining with unions representing state employees. He wants to require a voter referendum for any new contract that would increase wages at a faster pace than the consumer price index inflation rate. He recommended limiting terms of state worker contracts to one year and to require annual votes by state employees over whether to remain part of a union. The bargaining limits would not affect state troopers, building inspectors and local law-enforcement and fire employees.

University of Wisconsin employees, on the other hand, would be prevented from participating in collective bargaining.

The state could save $165 million in the current fiscal year by deferring payments on existing debt to future years, according to Walker’s budget.

Walker’s proposal also would order the Department of Health Services to revise state Medicaid programs to help reduce a $153 million gap between fiscal year 2011 costs and money earmarked to pay for the program. Walker also plans to increase the amount of state money dedicated to pay for Medicaid.
He has also pledged not to lay anyone off if the bill passes, but if it doesn't he'll have to lay off up to 6000 state employees. There are not enough Democrats in the Wisconsin senate to stop passage so they took a bus to Illinois where they're staying (at taxpayer expense?) at a Best Western. This prevents the GOP-dominated senate from reaching the quorum needed to conduct business. It strikes me as a little futile, and a waste of taxpayer money. After all, they aren't being paid by the taxpayers to hole up in a hotel in Illinois. Nor are they being paid to run from the state's budget crisis.

Anyway, the Governor wants to make it more difficult for public employees to extort the taxpayers which has roused a thousand or more Wisconsin teachers to call in sick (a violation of professional ethics) to march on Madison in an ugly protest. Left-wing protests, as we've come to learn over the years, are often ugly. The video below is pretty funny, though, juxtaposing as it does the buffoonish allegations by liberals about the source of hate-filled rhetoric in this country with video of the signs carried by some of the Madison protestors:
And just think, these are the people who are teaching our children. If it weren't for the fact that I knew so many wonderful, selfless, dedicated teachers in my 35 year career in public education this demonstration would make me ashamed to be numbered among them.

Re: Nobody Gets Married Anymore, Mister

The post titled Nobody Gets Married Anymore, Mister got a lot of attention from readers. Some of the responses were captivating reading, and I'd like to share a few of them, all written by young women, with you. Names have been changed to protect anonymity. Dashed lines separate the replies:
Garibaldi's article, sadly, didn't shock me at all. In today's sexually driven society, it's no surprise that teen pregnancy has become such a major issue. The thing I appreciate most is that Garibaldi raises the issue of marriage having become a burden among these girls. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I hear adults complain about the show "16 and Pregnant" on MTV. The problem these days, though, is that they complain about the show glorifying teen pregnancy, but when MTV ran a similarly made show called "Engaged and Under-aged" it received the same criticisms.

I graduated with 75 students in my high school class. Three of those girls were pregnant at some point in their high school career (one in ninth grade, the other two were senior year). One dropped out. Teen pregnancy is not a huge "issue" for my school district because it has become a norm. Last year a good friend of mine broke that norm in a practically unheard of way, and she fell under scrutiny of many an angry parent.

My friend was 17 when she realized that she was pregnant. Her boyfriend was 20. Soon after she broke the news, they started wedding plans. I went to their wedding last May, they lived in the basement of my home (they were previously sleeping in their car) for several weeks last summer, and I was there with her in the hospital when she was having complications with her pregnancy. Their baby boy was born, healthy, in September of last year. Getting married was the right thing to do, wasn't it? Well, apparently what was right in the fifties and what is right today are two completely different things.

My dear sweet friend, who was not your stereo-typical pregnant teen, was ridiculed not for her pregnancy, but for her marriage. She went through four high school friends as matron of honor, because mothers refused to allow their daughters to participate in such an event, before a friend with a sister in a similar situation stepped up. My friend's own mother almost didn't go to the wedding and would not even hug her daughter afterward. What saddens me the most is that no one was upset about the pregnancy. All of the problems were with the marriage. It should be noted that this couple had been engaged for two months before her pregnancy and had planned on marrying as soon as she graduated high school.

When did we become a society in which teen pregnancy is okay as long as the mother intends to remain single and finish high school? When did our views switch? Never have I met a guy so loving of the mother of his child, yet they do what once would have been thought of as right and have their faces spit on. I guess I'm still just an old-fashioned thinker, but I believe we need to reevaluate our ways of thinking as a society.

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I am not going to lie. When I read the title to this article, it intrigued me. I thought it could go so many different ways. Before I met my fiancĂ©, I was so against getting married and swore I never would. Too many people get married and within a year divorce. What was the point? You can love someone without a ring and a different last name. When I started reading the article written by Gerry Garibaldi and realized it was about unwed mothers, I immediately began to get defensive. I am an unwed mother of a beautiful 2 year old (going on 13) boy. Yes, my fiancĂ© is my son’s father. We did not get engaged until Valentine’s Day of 2010.

We met and shortly after I realized he was different from other men I have dated. We exchanged the “L” word, and shortly began talking about children. He is 5 years older than I am and did not want to be 30 when he had his first child. We made the decision for me to come off birth control after reading many reports that it takes almost a year to conceive when you have been on birth control regularly for a while.

Oops! Two months later and we had a positive pregnancy test. We were shocked, to say the least, that it happened so quickly. But we both made an adult decision to try to have a child. My situation is different than the girls in this article. My pregnancy was planned (maybe not so soon), but it was discussed and not the result of not taking the proper precautions.

My heart began to go out to these girls. I have the utmost respect for single mothers. Although I carry the title “single mother”, I do not feel that I am a single mother. It is a difficult job learning the ins and outs of how to be a good parent. I am sorry these girls grew up learning that being a single mother is practically the "norm" for urban residents. I am so thankful I have someone to share the responsibility with. If I didn't, I am certain I would have managed, but it would have been much more difficult. I currently work a full-time job, take 9 credits/semester, and my fiance works a 12 pm - 8:30 pm shift with lots of overtime. Again, if I didn't have our families to help, I would not be able to do any of this.

As far as welfare goes, they make it seem like it will all be just dandy with all the perks of having a baby and being on welfare. Welfare starts the day you find out you a pregnant and get a WIC appointment. You get food stamps, WIC checks, cash assistance, help with daycare, help with housing, assistance from numerous agencies, sometimes Social Security Income if you can no longer work because you need to take care of a child. It sickens me all the benefits they give children who have children. I don't know how the sex-ed programs are in schools anymore, but I know what I learned wouldn't have been enough to stop me from getting pregnant sooner. I think they need to show the gruesome labor and delivery videos, videos of everything that can wrong if you don't take care of yourself. I think there need to be more programs on adoption awareness.

These young girls think they can raise a child on their own, but most of them end up dropping out of high school. Why not allow someone who is having trouble conceiving raise your child in an environment that would be better suited for the baby than what you can give them? Give someone the gift of a baby.

I work in York City and I also see young girls pushing babies in strollers. Better yet, I work in the mental health field. We have a few consumers who are pregnant and/or have children. It is difficult to work with these people because I (and everyone around) know this person should never have had a child, but they're stubborn and think they can make it. Then they're always dropping their children off at the Lehman Center, which is a center for people who feel they're at their wit's end. You can drop your child off there for a few days until you cool down. It is great there is a place like this, but if you feel you are reaching that point a lot, don't you think you should consider adoption?

I worry so much about the welfare of these babies. I think a lot of these mothers are being greedy. Allow your child to have a good life, not be raised in a house with 15 other people. Or by a boyfriend who will beat your child to death with a playstation remote, which is my other concern.

Abuse rates in single-parent households are way too high. Mothers allow their boyfriends to come in and help raise their children but also lose their minds. Most recently in York, there was a story about 2 year old Darisabel Baez where the boyfriend beat her to death with a playstation control.

The documentaries from the York City police, detectives, hospital personnel was heart-breaking. That little girl never stood a chance. There is a program in MD called Justice for Justice where the father shook his baby to death. He is on trial. There was 5 year old Dominick Calhoun in Michigan where again the mother's boyfriend tortured and beat the little boy until he died. This story is also on trial right now. It breaks my heart to read these stories which is why I have become an advocate for child abuse prevention. These are the stories they need to show the 14, 15 year old girls who want to get pregnant, or already are pregnant and not sure what to do.

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This article caught my interest and relates to me personally. First I will start by saying that I personally know many, many young women (many my own friends) who have had children out of wedlock. Not only that, but many of them have multiple children to multiple fathers. And many were born when the mother was very young. My friend Ashley, for example, is 29 years old. She had her first son (which was an "accident") at age 20.

I remember going with her to tell the father. He was at the time, seeing someone else. She never even asked him to be in the child's life. She just said to him, "I just want you to know I am pregnant, It is your baby, and you do not need to be in its life, my parents will help me support it." And that was it. She never did make him help, never made him see the little boy, and her parents helped her raise him. I personally don't know why anyone would do that. Especially with their first child. All the emotions and hormones and decisions to make.... How can anyone do that alone?

Anyway, long story short, she wound up pregnant again a few years later, and the scenario was much the same. This time she did take the father for child support, but he lived in another state, so he was never in the child's life. Finally, she did meet someone, who by the grace of God was a very respectable man, who took in her two illegitimate children as his own, and they were married a few years later. Things did wind up OK in the end for her, but I still don't know how she could have made it through those years before she found him.

Supportive parents or not, I feel it is ultimately YOUR responsibility to raise your own children, but I do find that many young mothers depend on their parents to help them raise, if not raise entirely, their children.

I myself was raised by my grandmother, my mother was hardly ever around, and I was the product of a what you call a "one night stand", so, needless to say, my parents were never married. I actually never met my real father until I was 20 years old. And like the article said, I grew up thinking that that was normal. Children who had "real" families seemed to me to be the abnormal way of life. I didn't have the easiest childhood, but I made the best of it, and of myself. I made the choice to never have a child before I am married, and to wait until I know for sure that the person I marry will be the one I will stay with my entire life. Life is ultimately what YOU make it to be.

Another issue that came to mind when I read this article, is the fact that so many people see marriage as a not so serious commitment any more. Divorce is so common, that I feel like many people feel they should be "allowed" to make a sudden and rushed decision to marry, because they know that they can easily just say, "OK, I meant what I said in my vows a year ago, but now I have changed my mind", and move on to the next one.

Marriage is a serious commitment. And a serious promise. I really don't understand how people today don't see that. Again, I have a friend, Nadia, who is 29, has been married 3 times, and has 3 children, each with one of her husbands. I think that that is ridiculous! I cant even imagine how her children feel when it comes time to go see daddy. I bet they wonder which one?

Bottom line, I feel that people should be held to take on the responsibility of their own actions. In this case, a father taking care of his children, and people in general just being more careful about unwanted pregnancies, and not rushing into the decision to get married right away. Because even if two people find out they are pregnant, getting married isn't always the answer. Many times, because the pregnancy was a result of a lack of judgment in the first place, the marriage will just end in a divorce. And the only person really suffering from all of this is the children, who had nothing to do with any of it in the first place.

All of this really comes down to the image of children and marriage that our society deems as acceptable. And from what is seen in the movies and on the news daily, this way of life is acceptable. I feel that if we as a people began to portray this way of life as it really is (single mothers who wind up living on welfare because they can't support themselves or their children, pregnant teenagers dropping out of high school, ultimately ruining their future because they can no longer continue their education, deadbeat fathers who never learn responsibility because they are never made to, and the children growing up in these families thinking that this is "normal", to name a few...), instead of how the media portrays it (because realistically, those single moms can afford to raise their children alone on their million dollar salaries), then maybe the youth of America will start to be more cautious and really think about the decisions they are making, and how it will affect them, as well as others, in the future.
There's a lot of wisdom, some of it learned the hard way, in these letters. Unwed motherhood is a calamity for most people who find themselves in that situation. Consider the prospects of both mother and child in that circumstance. The young mom, who usually has no marketable skills, has to struggle to provide the minimum for her child who is often raised by the child's grandmother who's often herself single and poor. What resources does such a child have to draw upon?

Compare this unfortunate child to another child born to a mother who waited until she was out of school and who's married to the biological father of her child. Both parents have at least some job skills and both share in providing for the child. The child, if a boy, has a positive male role model to teach him by example what it means to be committed to a woman. If the child is a girl she feels loved and valued by her father and will thus be less inclined to seek male acceptance in the back seat of a car when she's a teenager. Moreover, that child also benefits in many cases from having two sets of grandparents who have worked and saved all their lives for the sole purpose of being able to shower their accumulated wealth on their children and grandchildren whom they adore.

What happens when the first child needs a loan to go to college, to buy a car or a home? What happens when grandmother is sick and can't care for the child, but mom has to work? Compare the predicament of the child of a single mom to what happens in the case of the child with both parents and two sets of grandparents when it needs a financial boost. The second child has a tremendous head start in life simply by virtue of the fact that his or her parents got married and stayed married.

If people want to know why there's generational poverty in this country all they need do is look at the generational cycle of fatherlessness and single motherhood. As long as that continues we'll never end poverty no matter how much money we spend on it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Deep Desire

The writings of "New Atheists" Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, et al. are replete with suggestions, implicit and explicit, that people who believe in God are irrational, delusional, superstitious and guilty of sundry other crimes against reason. Believers, to borrow from Ludwig Feuerbach, are simply projecting their deepest longings onto reality and reifying a Being which actually exists only in their hopes and dreams. As Freud puts it, theistic believers are indulging in "wish fulfillment" - wanting something to be true so fervently that they convince themselves that it is.

These are odd objections, though, coming as they do from atheists, none of whom have ever been able to offer a compelling argument against the existence of God, or even, for that matter, a convincing reason for rejecting the belief that God's existence is more plausible than His non-existence. Moreover, many of these skeptics openly acknowledge that their own unbelief is a consequence of little more than their profound desire that God not exist.

I was reminded of this while reading a piece by philosopher Jim Spiegel in an article on Christianity Today's website in which he quotes two famous admissions from two well-known contemporary philosophers.

In his book The Last Word Thomas Nagel wrote: "I want atheism to be true .... It isn't just that I don't believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I'm right about my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that."

Spiegel also recounts the words of atheist turned Catholic the late Mortimer Adler. Adler was a philosopher who converted late in life and who gave this explanation for his life-long atheism:
Adler (who was baptized quietly at age 81) confessed to rejecting religious commitment for most of his life because it "would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of my day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for …. The simple truth of the matter is that I did not wish to live up to being a genuinely religious person."
I think one could, had one pressed them hard enough, elicited similar admissions from many of the famous atheists of the last two centuries, particularly Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Russell, Sartre and Camus. All of these men were atheists, but none of them ever gave much of a reason for their unbelief other than that they found theism unattractive. Their atheism, I suspect, was due largely to a desire not to have to "live up to being a genuinely religious person".

At any rate, the criticism that theism is somehow disreputable because it stems from a deep desire that there be a God strikes me as perverse. Why, given all the evidence that a God exists, is it disreputable to desire it be so and to take the further step of believing it is so? Why is it intellectually disreputable to want there to be a ground for meaning, morality, justice, hope, human rights, human dignity and human worth, none of which can be grounded in anything more substantial than our own whim if atheism is true? If there were very good reasons to disbelieve then perhaps it might be wrong to believe, but there aren't.

On the other hand, it does strike me as intellectually disreputable to fail to believe simply because one has a deep desire that there be no God. One should have more of a reason than that to deprive oneself, and others, of a belief that those things I just mentioned have a ground more substantial than our own tastes.

The Bloom Is Off the Rose

Andrew Sullivan, perhaps President Obama's most prominent groupie at The Atlantic, has had enough. The President, by presenting a budget that does nothing substantive to trim the deficit or our debt, has shown himself, in Sullivan's view, to be unserious about averting the fiscal disaster that looms in our nation's near to mid-future.

As you read this understand that it was written by one of the more starry-eyed of Mr. Obama's media adorers in the last election:
[T]his president is too weak, too cautious, too beholden to politics over policy to lead. In this budget, in his refusal to do anything concrete to tackle the looming entitlement debt, in his failure to address the generational injustice, in his blithe indifference to the increasing danger of default, he has betrayed those of us who took him to be a serious president prepared to put the good of the country before his short term political interests. Like his State of the Union, this budget is good short term politics but such a massive pile of fiscal bull.... it makes it perfectly clear that Obama is kicking this vital issue down the road.

To all those under 30 who worked so hard to get this man elected, know this: he just screwed you over. He thinks you're fools. Either the US will go into default because of Obama's cowardice, or you will be paying far far more for far far less because this president has no courage when it counts. He let you down. On the critical issue of America's fiscal crisis, he represents no hope and no change. Just the same old Washington politics he once promised to end.
If Andrew Sullivan is talking like this how many of Mr. Obama's less infatuated admirers are beginning to think that they'd allowed themselves to be seduced by a smooth-talking empty suit?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Singularity

Ray Kurzweil is a brilliant man who has been writing for decades about artificial intelligence (AI) and the extraordinary growth of computing power. The development of microchips and the increasing quantities of data that can be stored on a microchip has risen exponentially since the 19th century and Kurzweil sees no reason to think the growth won't continue.

This means that at some point computing power will skyrocket and when it does computers will be able to do everything, Kurzweil believes, that our brains can do. People will be able to scan their brains' contents, including their ability to produce states of consciousness, onto a computer and leave the physical body behind. It will be the end of humanity as we know it.

Kurzweil thinks that, at present rates of increase in the power of our computers, this point, what he calls The Singularity, will be reached by 2045.

Lev Grossman at Time has a fascinating essay on Kurzweil and his ideas. Here are a few excerpts:
Computers are getting faster. Everybody knows that. Also, computers are getting faster faster — that is, the rate at which they're getting faster is increasing.

So if computers are getting so much faster, so incredibly fast, there might conceivably come a moment when they are capable of something comparable to human intelligence. Artificial intelligence. All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating whatever it is our brains are doing when they create consciousness — not just doing arithmetic very quickly or composing piano music but also driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties.

The one thing all these theories have in common is the transformation of our species into something that is no longer recognizable as such to humanity circa 2011. This transformation has a name: the Singularity.

We will successfully reverse-engineer the human brain by the mid-2020s. By the end of that decade, computers will be capable of human-level intelligence. Kurzweil puts the date of the Singularity — never say he's not conservative — at 2045. In that year, he estimates, given the vast increases in computing power and the vast reductions in the cost of same, the quantity of artificial intelligence created will be about a billion times the sum of all the human intelligence that exists today.

Once hyper-intelligent artificial intelligences arise, armed with advanced nanotechnology, they'll really be able to wrestle with the vastly complex, systemic problems associated with aging in humans. Alternatively, by then we'll be able to transfer our minds to sturdier vessels such as computers and robots. He and many other Singularitarians take seriously the proposition that many people who are alive today will wind up being functionally immortal.
Grossman also discusses some of the objections to Kurzweil's vision, but one which he doesn't mention and which would seem to be a strong possibility is that when growth of anything - population, global temperature, speed - goes "hockey stick" (i.e. the graph looks like a hockey stick laying on its spine with the blade pointed up), some constraining factor always gets activated which causes the growth to stop or collapse. I don't know what the constraints might be on exponentially increasing computing power, or at what point they would kick in, but I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't turn out that there are such limits on how powerful a computer can get.

Anyway, what is just as interesting about Grossman's article is his discussion of how telomerase is being used to slow or reverse the aging process. You'll have to read the article to see what that's all about.

More Questions about Egypt

A few more miscellaneous thoughts about the situation in Egypt:

1. During the Iraq war many in the media were saying that the Iraqi people were unaccustomed and ill-suited for democracy. During the Egyptian upheaval no one was saying that the Egyptian people were unaccustomed and ill-suited for democracy. What's the difference?

2. What effect did our willingness to throw Mubarak under the bus have on other despots in the region who have cooperated with the United States because they trusted us to stand by them in a crisis? I don't say that we should have propped Mubarak up, but I don't think either that we will know the ramifications of our willingness to see him go for a long time. Meanwhile, leaders looking for a more reliable ally might be looking eastward toward Tehran or Beijing for friends less punctilious than we are about authoritarianism. Debkafile reports that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is outraged at the Obama administration and has already moved to strengthen ties to Iran.

3. Has there ever before been a military coup that the Left was excited about? What makes the coup in Egypt different from others for the Left?

4. The other day the people on MSNBC's Morning Joe interviewed Harvard historian Niall Ferguson who has a cover story in this week's Newsweek titled How Obama Blew it. The MSNBC folks are all supporters of the President so their guest's thesis wrankled, but by the end of his interview they seemed to have little to say. ?

One thing to notice as you watch the video - which really is worth watching even if you don't think the Obama administration actually "blew it" - is how the hosts simply assume that since things appear to have gone well in Egypt, at least so far, that therefore it must be a result of the President's policies. It never occurs to them that the Egyptians may have been completely oblivious, indifferent, or even angry with the President's actions during this crisis.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Aren't those Brits enviably adroit thinkers and speakers? They always amaze me.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Miscellaneous Thoughts on the Egyptian Revolution

Throughout the eighteen days of drama in Cairo a number of thoughts about what was going on both there and here kept recurring. Here are a few of them:

1. Why were the thousands of protestors some of whom were seen throwing stones and heard expressing hate for Israel treated by our media as heroes when thousands of tea party demonstrators in the U.S. who threw no rocks and displayed no bigotry were immediately and persistently said to be nothing more than racist, red-necked, rabble?

2. When the young people demonstrated in Iran and were subsequently arrested and some even executed our government said almost nothing. In Egypt, however, our government quickly took the side of the demonstrators. How do they decide which side to take? Is it that the Iranian government is hostile to the U.S. and the Egyptian government was friendly? Is it our policy to appease those who hate us and throw away those who help us?

3. What is the essential difference between what the tea party folk were demanding in Washington and what the Egyptian protestors were demanding in Cairo? The tea party wanted to end the hegemony of the Democrat party which was doing little to create jobs while piece by piece taking away our freedoms. The Egyptian protestors wanted to end the hegemony of a party that was doing little to create jobs and which had deprived the people of many of their freedoms. Yet President Obama ignored the tea party, which was calling for the defeat of Obamacare and of his party in November, but demanded that the Mubarak government heed the will of the people and begin immediately to hand over power.

4. Our Director of National Intelligence told Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood was a secular Muslim organization. Isn't the term "secular Muslim" an oxymoron? Any Muslim will tell you that if one is secular one is not a Muslim, and if one is Muslim one is not secular. Could the DNI actually be that ignorant of the nature of one of the most powerful Islamic organizations in the world? Shouldn't his ignorance fill us all with a certain trepidation that a man so uninformed about Islam is heading a major intelligence agency?

5. Why are so many people jubilant that Mubarak resigned? I don't mean the Egyptian protestors who are understandably euphoric, but rather I refer to our own media and government personnel. Does no one among these celebrants remember the Iranian revolution? The Cuban revolution? The Russian revolution? In each of these one tyrant was overthrown to the great joy of the people only to have him replaced by a worse tyrant. Do any of those in the media and elsewhere know how the Egyptian imbroglio is going to play out? Our lack of insight into how all this is going to wind up should be sobering rather than thrilling.

OK Go Meets Thomas Aquinas

Watch this OK Go video and then there'll be a test. Pay special attention to the beginning and the end:
OK Go probably had no idea they were doing it, but their video serves as a fine illustration of two of medieval philosopher/theologian Thomas Aquinas' famous Five Ways of demonstrating the existence of God. Here are two questions that might help clarify the relationship between Aquinas' argument and the video.

First question: What do you think are the chances of an entire system like this one coming into existence apart from the very intelligent engineers standing on the platform at the end of the video? What would have happened, do you suppose, if one of those dominos was missing? Do you think it reasonable to believe that the system could have resulted from the chance arrangement of its parts?

The atheistic materialist has to believe something very like this about our universe which is far more complex than the Rube Goldberg device designed by these engineering students. The materialist, though, doesn't hesitate to tell those who believe that the Rube Goldberg device required the input of intelligent engineers that they're being irrational. Just read Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett or their epigones.

Second question: If the series of causes and effects that comprise our universe had a beginning, like the sequence of events in the video, then it must have had a cause that triggered it. What was that cause?

The skeptic could buck the consensus of modern cosmologists and try positing an infinitely old universe that had no beginning, but that means the sequence of dominos would be infinitely long with no first falling domino. If there is no first falling domino then it's hard to imagine how the series of falling dominos would ever get started.

The skeptic might retreat to the safety of granting the reasonableness of believing that there was an initial cause of the universe, but then ask why anyone should think the cause is the God of theism. Consider, though, what's entailed by the acknowledgement that the universe had a cause: An adequate cause or explanation of the universe must, it's reasonable to assume, be very powerful and very intelligent. It must also be outside the universe and outside time, and it must be a personal being since what it causes or explains contains personality (human beings). This may not be precisely the God of traditional theism, but it's certainly something very much like Him.

The skeptic, in full flight now, might just say, as many have, that the universe is just there, a brute fact. It has no cause and no explanation. It just is. But, of course, not only is this a waving of the white flag of surrender and fleeing the field, it's also a science-stopper. It's also more than a little ironic because it's a favorite retort of the opponents of intelligent design to allege that ID is the science-stopper. The charge is false in the case of ID, but it's certainly not false to identify the view that the universe has no explanation a science-stopper.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Who Is He?

Who is Barack Obama? What does he really believe? What is his vision for the nation? Despite having written two books telling us about his life, most people still see him as an enigma and many are skeptical that he really is the moderate pragmatist he has sought to portray himself as since the November elections.

Perhaps he could do much to allay Americans' concerns about him by answering these two questions:

1. What ten books that you've read in the last ten years have been most influential in your personal and political life, and what is it about them that you found most significant to you?

2. What five persons alive or dead do you admire most and why?

We can learn much about a man by knowing the books which have influenced him and the people he admires. It would be very helpful in understanding Mr. Obama if we could see those two lists.