Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Fukushima Fifty

The heroes of our culture, celebrities of one species or another who've done nothing particularly worth admiring, let alone lionizing, look insubstantial and superficial compared to the kind of men we read about in this article on the Fukushima Fifty:
Workers at the disaster-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan say they expect to die from radiation sickness as a result of their efforts to bring the reactors under control, the mother of one of the men tells Fox News.

The so-called Fukushima 50, the team of brave plant workers struggling to prevent a meltdown to four reactors critically damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, are being repeatedly exposed to dangerously high radioactive levels as they attempt to bring vital cooling systems back online.

Speaking tearfully through an interpreter by phone, the mother of a 32-year-old worker said: “My son and his colleagues have discussed it at length and they have committed themselves to die if necessary to save the nation.
I wonder how many of the pampered, narcissistic, morally effete, recipients of our adulation and encomiums, the people we so handsomely remunerate for entertaining us in one way or another, would make a similar commitment.

We have men and women like the Fukushima Fifty in our society, too, of course. We saw them in action on 9/11 climbing the stairwells of the World Trade Towers knowing they probably wouldn't come out. We read about them in accounts of combat in far off places and stories of everyday police work in high crime communities, and yet if you ask the average Generation Xer, or Yer, to name one of them or explain what they have done, most would be struck dumb. We cheer and worship someone who plays the guitar or drums with a modicum of skill. We put posters on our bedroom walls of film stars and athletes. We soak up all the information we can of the details of these persons' lives. But we know little or nothing of real heroes.

Why do we have such a perverse, shallow understanding of what and whom deserves admiration? The Fukushima Fifty have much to teach us about this if we can break away from American Idol and Entertainment Tonight long enough to learn from them.

Mountain Bluebird

I drove over to Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster, Co. PA early this morning to get a look at this beauty. It's a Mountain Bluebird, fairly common in the west but very rare in the east. In fact, the bird at Middle Creek is only the sixth record of a Mountain Bluebird in Pennsylvania.



The photo is not of the same individual that's at Middle Creek, but it's the same species. I've seen them at very close range (today's bird was a couple hundred yards out) in Montana and Colorado, and the blue just takes your breath away. An interesting fact about this is that in birds blue color, unlike most other colors, is not due to a pigment. In fact, the feathers of birds like the Mountain Bluebird are actually colorless. The appearance of color is due to the structure of the feather which causes the light to reflect in such a way that most of the waves cancel each other out, leaving only the blue light to travel to your eye. A common blue bird in the east in summer is the Indigo Bunting, which superficially resembles the Mountain Bluebird, but as brilliant as its color appears, it's not due to pigment but to wave interference which cancels out the other colors of light.

Indigo Bunting
Compare the two pictures and see if you can tell how the two birds differ.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Extremists

As is their custom, the Left is once again debasing the language, turning perfectly useful words into meaningless space-fillers and empty pejoratives. The latest example is their use of the word "extremist" as a means to smear their political opponents. Senator Charles Schumer was recently overheard telling his Democrat colleagues that he was instructed to use the word often when talking about the tea party, presumably in order to couple the words tea-party and extremist together in the public consciousness.

From the frequency with which Senator Harry Reid and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi employ the word it's likely that they all received the same memo.

But what does it mean, exactly? What is an extremist in the liberal lexicon? Here are a baker's dozen criteria by which you can discern whether someone, yourself even, is an extremist. You know you're an extremist in the minds of liberal Democrats if you believe any of the following:
  • The American people should be governed by what the Constitution says and not what we wish it said.
  • Government should not spend more money than what it has.
  • Paying a third or more of your income in taxes is quite enough.
  • Regulations and taxes on business depresses the number of people businesses can hire.
  • The best way to become energy independent in the short to medium term is to exploit the energy resources we have within our borders.
  • People who come to this country should do so legally.
  • Marriage should be between one man and one woman.
  • The military is not a laboratory in which to conduct social experiments like inserting women into combat units or using affirmative action in promoting officers.
  • Killing unborn children is not an acceptable means of birth control.
  • Able-bodied people should work for their living and not be permitted to live off the labor of others.
  • The United States was founded on principles that trace their genesis to the Christian tradition and that freedom of religion does not entail freedom from religion.
  • We oppress the poor by denying them the right to choose the schools to which they will send their children.
  • The most racially just society is one which is blind and indifferent to color. A society which makes color a criterion for special treatment is fundamentally unjust.
These are the beliefs held by the people it pleases Senator Schumer to disparage for their "extremism".

Here's an interesting thought experiment. Try to imagine what the views of the Left in this country must be if Mr. Schumer and his ideological soul-mates consider these views to be "extreme" by comparison.

Evolving Elites

First Things reports some fascinating statistics about the correlation between attitudes toward marriage, family and level of education.

The statistics, issued by the Institute for American Values, divides Americans into three groups: the least educated (no high-school degree), the moderately educated (a high-school degree and perhaps some college study), and the highly educated (at least a college degree).

Of these, the highly educated are much less likely to be divorced, cohabit, and bear out-of-wedlock children. They're also much more likely to attend church regularly, believe that divorce should be more difficult to obtain, and believe that premarital sex is always wrong.

This is striking in that it runs completely counter to what we often hear about these matters from our cultural mavens. The conventional wisdom is, or so I thought it was, that our educated elites are much more liberal in their attitudes toward family, sexuality and religion than were the less educated classes who tended in their ignorance to hold on to "traditional" values. The "redneck" conservative was generally portrayed as an uneducated rube, someone who clings bitterly to his Bible and his guns, as our president so inartfully put it, and as the folks in the tonier echelons of our culture imagine it.

It may have all been true thirty or forty years ago, but evidently it no longer is.

The editors at First Things opine that:
There is a certain view of culture, not an implausible one, that presumes the dominance of elite sensibilities: What the elite think and do now, everyone else will eventually think and do. The elites led the intellectual deconstruction of marriage fifty years ago. If they’re changing, and coming (finally) to see the necessity of marriage, perhaps everyone else will also. The moral fantasies of the 1960s generation are certainly due for retirement.
For our children's sakes, let's hope so.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Giving War a Chance

In his speech last night President Obama stated that, “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different, and as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”

Instead, he decided to slaughter young Libyan soldiers, and no doubt some civilians, probably by the hundreds and maybe by the thousands, a fact that seems to be rarely remarked upon by either Mr. Obama's supporters or his critics. Of course, if this was necessary to prevent the massacre of thousands of civilians by these soldiers it may have been justified, but before we resorted to violence against young men, most of whom are just doing what they're told to do by Moammar Qaddafi, whom they dread, why did Mr. Obama not simply issue an ultimatum against the one person whose death may have ended the slaughter before it all began?

I have no problem with stopping Qaddafi, just as I had no problem with stopping Saddam. My problem is that President Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, of all things, has chosen a policy that is guaranteed to result in more death and destruction than it need have. Had he announced to the world that if Qaddafi murders civilians we will hunt him down and kill him, the Libyan leader would either have refrained from slaughter or, if he went ahead with his mass murders, he'd be done away with and his forces would've been thrown into disarray and unable to continue their crimes.

Moreover, the mission tasked to our military has now expanded from the humanitarian intervention it was ostensibly supposed to be to actually assisting the rebels in their war against Qaddafi. This means that not only will there be more death and suffering as the fighting drags out, but that we are also now empowering people who, for all we know, will turn Libya into another Iran once they get the chance.

What I wish the President had done was:

1. Warn Qaddafi that any attacks on civilians would seal his doom and then let the combatants in Libya fight it out.

2. Encourage those outside parties with an interest in Libya to carry the ball themselves to protect the oil fields, or, if they wish, intervene on the side of the rebels. We have no national interest there, as attested by none other than Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, so we should stay out of the conflict. After all, Mr. Obama shows no inclination to intervene in Syria or the Ivory Coast where people are being murdered by the hundreds in the streets.

3. If Qaddafi had ignored our warning not to launch a mass slaughter then we should have gone after him with everything it took to get him. Once gone, his troops would have been leaderless and dispirited. If they nevertheless continued to attack civilians then we would perhaps have justification to intervene militarily. In fact, we would be precisely where we are now except that Qaddafi would be dead.

Wouldn't it have made more sense to make massive strikes against Libyan military facilities and armor a last resort rather than a first resort?

Four Myths about the Crusades

Way back in medieval times the Catholic Church launched a series of unprovoked, unjust wars, called crusades, against the Muslim world. These wars were motivated primarily by greed, and the cruelty and violence against innocent Muslims justifies Muslim resentment, hatred and suspicion of Christians that has plagued relations ever since.
This is what many Westerners believe. They've been taught it in their schools, as have Muslim students, and via films like Kingdom of Heaven (2005), but almost everything about it is, according to historian Paul Crawford, false.

In an essay at First Principles titled Four Myths about the Crusades Crawford explains why most of what people think they know about the Crusades simply isn't true.

His first myth is the belief that the crusades represented an unprovoked attack by Western Christians on the Muslim world. In fact, the Crusades were a response to four centuries of imperialist aggression, begun in the 7th century by Muslims, against the Christian world.

Crawford writes:
Nothing could be further from the truth [than the belief that the Crusades were unprovoked], and even a cursory chronological review makes that clear. In a.d. 632, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, North Africa, Spain, France, Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were all Christian territories. Inside the boundaries of the Roman Empire, which was still fully functional in the eastern Mediterranean, orthodox Christianity was the official, and overwhelmingly majority, religion. Outside those boundaries were other large Christian communities — not necessarily orthodox and Catholic, but still Christian. Most of the Christian population of Persia, for example, was Nestorian. Certainly there were many Christian communities in Arabia.

By a.d. 732, a century later, Christians had lost Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa, Spain, most of Asia Minor, and southern France. Italy and her associated islands were under threat, and the islands would come under Muslim rule in the next century. The Christian communities of Arabia were entirely destroyed in or shortly after 633, when Jews and Christians alike were expelled from the peninsula.6 Those in Persia were under severe pressure. Two-thirds of the formerly Roman Christian world was now ruled by Muslims.

What had happened? Most people actually know the answer, if pressed —though for some reason they do not usually connect the answer with the crusades. The answer is the rise of Islam. Every one of the listed regions was taken, within the space of a hundred years, from Christian control by violence, in the course of military campaigns deliberately designed to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Islam’s neighbors. Nor did this conclude Islam’s program of conquest. The attacks continued, punctuated from time to time by Christian attempts to push back. Charlemagne blocked the Muslim advance in far western Europe in about a.d. 800, but Islamic forces simply shifted their focus and began to island-hop across from North Africa toward Italy and the French coast, attacking the Italian mainland by 837.

A confused struggle for control of southern and central Italy continued for the rest of the ninth century and into the tenth. In the hundred years between 850 and 950, Benedictine monks were driven out of ancient monasteries, the Papal States were overrun, and Muslim pirate bases were established along the coast of northern Italy and southern France, from which attacks on the deep inland were launched. Desperate to protect victimized Christians, popes became involved in the tenth and early eleventh centuries in directing the defense of the territory around them.

The surviving central secular authority in the Christian world at this time was the East Roman, or Byzantine, Empire. Having lost so much territory in the seventh and eighth centuries to sudden amputation by the Muslims, the Byzantines took a long time to gain the strength to fight back. By the mid-ninth century, they mounted a counterattack on Egypt, the first time since 645 that they had dared to come so far south. Between the 940s and the 970s, the Byzantines made great progress in recovering lost territories. Emperor John Tzimiskes retook much of Syria and part of Palestine, getting as far as Nazareth, but his armies became overextended and he had to end his campaigns by 975 without managing to retake Jerusalem itself. Sharp Muslim counterattacks followed, and the Byzantines barely managed to retain Aleppo and Antioch.

The struggle continued unabated into the eleventh century. In 1009, a mentally deranged Muslim ruler destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and mounted major persecutions of Christians and Jews. He was soon deposed, and by 1038 the Byzantines had negotiated the right to try to rebuild the structure, but other events were also making life difficult for Christians in the area, especially the displacement of Arab Muslim rulers by Seljuk Turks, who from 1055 on began to take control in the Middle East.

This destabilized the territory and introduced new rulers (the Turks) who were not familiar even with the patchwork modus vivendi that had existed between most Arab Muslim rulers and their Christian subjects. Pilgrimages became increasingly difficult and dangerous, and western pilgrims began banding together and carrying weapons to protect themselves as they tried to make their way to Christianity’s holiest sites in Palestine: notable armed pilgrimages occurred in 1064–65 and 1087–91.

In the western and central Mediterranean, the balance of power was tipping toward the Christians and away from the Muslims. In 1034, the Pisans sacked a Muslim base in North Africa, finally extending their counterattacks across the Mediterranean. They also mounted counterattacks against Sicily in 1062–63. In 1087, a large-scale allied Italian force sacked Mahdia, in present-day Tunisia, in a campaign jointly sponsored by Pope Victor III and the countess of Tuscany. Clearly the Italian Christians were gaining the upper hand.

But while Christian power in the western and central Mediterranean was growing, it was in trouble in the east. The rise of the Muslim Turks had shifted the weight of military power against the Byzantines, who lost considerable ground again in the 1060s. Attempting to head off further incursions in far-eastern Asia Minor in 1071, the Byzantines suffered a devastating defeat at Turkish hands in the battle of Manzikert. As a result of the battle, the Christians lost control of almost all of Asia Minor, with its agricultural resources and military recruiting grounds, and a Muslim sultan set up a capital in Nicaea, site of the creation of the Nicene Creed in a.d. 325 and a scant 125 miles from Constantinople.

Desperate, the Byzantines sent appeals for help westward, directing these appeals primarily at the person they saw as the chief western authority: the pope, who, as we have seen, had already been directing Christian resistance to Muslim attacks. In the early 1070s, the pope was Gregory VII, and he immediately began plans to lead an expedition to the Byzantines’ aid. He became enmeshed in conflict with the German emperors, however (what historians call “the Investiture Controversy”), and was ultimately unable to offer meaningful help.

Still, the Byzantines persisted in their appeals, and finally, in 1095, Pope Urban II realized Gregory VII’s desire, in what turned into the First Crusade. Whether a crusade was what either Urban or the Byzantines had in mind is a matter of some controversy. But the seamless progression of events which lead to that crusade is not.

Far from being unprovoked, then, the crusades actually represent the first great western Christian counterattack against Muslim attacks which had taken place continually from the inception of Islam until the eleventh century, and which continued on thereafter, mostly unabated. Three of Christianity’s five primary episcopal sees (Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria) had been captured in the seventh century; both of the others (Rome and Constantinople) had been attacked in the centuries before the crusades. The latter would be captured in 1453, leaving only one of the five (Rome) in Christian hands by 1500. Rome was again threatened in the sixteenth century. This is not the absence of provocation; rather, it is a deadly and persistent threat, and one which had to be answered by forceful defense if Christendom were to survive. The crusades were simply one tool in the defensive options exercised by Christians.

To put the question in perspective, one need only consider how many times Christian forces have attacked either Mecca or Medina. The answer, of course, is never.
Read Crawford's analysis of the other three myths at the link. It's fascinating history.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Coffee Party

Some readers might be aware that liberal progressives, alarmed by the influence of the tea party on our electoral politics decided to start their own party - they called it the Coffee Party, which I thought was pretty clever - to serve as an ideological counterweight. Two of it's goals were to promote democracy and civility in our public discourse.

Unfortunately, three Coffee Party board members are resigning their posts. The reason they gave, ironically enough, is a lack of civility in the organization, a lack of democracy among the leadership, and an overall organizational chaos.

Well, a party comprised of the same people whose behavior was on display in Madison, Wisconsin last month can scarcely be expected to overflow with either civility or democracy, although admittedly they did seem pretty well organized.

How Liberalism Hurts Blacks

It is no secret that Viewpoint tends to think that on most matters of public policy conservative solutions are superior to those of liberals. Liberals, it seems to me, excel at discerning problems and calling them to our attention - the injustice of racial segregation, the need to preserve and protect our natural places are two examples that come to mind - but the solutions they propose often have unintended consequences that are counterproductive and even disastrous.

Economist Thomas Sowell discusses three examples of policies that, though intended to meliorate the plight of the poor, actually make them worse off than before. This is particularly true, as Sowell notes, of the black poor.

He explains first how the imposition of restrictions on housing construction in large areas of California have made it all but impossible for blacks to continue living in areas they have traditionally inhabited:
San Francisco's irrepressible former mayor, Willie Brown, was walking along one of the city's streets when he happened to run into another former city official that he knew, James McCray.

McCray's greeting to him was "You're 10."

"What are you talking about?" Willie Brown asked.

McCray replied: "I just walked from Civic Center to Third Street and you're only the 10th black person I've seen."

That is hardly surprising. The black population of San Francisco is less than half of what it was in 1970, and it fell another 19 percent in the past decade.

A few years ago, I had a similar experience in one of the other communities further down the San Francisco peninsula. As I was bicycling down the street, I saw a black man waiting at a bus stop. As I approached him, he said, "You're the first black man I have seen around here in months!"

"It will be months more before you see another one," I replied, and we both laughed.

Actually, it was no laughing matter. Blacks are being forced out of San Francisco, and out of other communities on the San Francisco peninsula, by high housing prices.

At one time, housing prices in San Francisco were much like housing prices elsewhere in the country. But the building restrictions — and outright bans — resulting from the political crusades of environmentalist zealots sent housing prices skyrocketing in San Francisco, San Jose and most of the communities in between. Housing prices in these communities soared to about three times the national average.

The black population in three adjacent counties on the San Francisco peninsula is just under 3 percent of the total population in the 39 communities in those counties.
Sowell goes on to wonder why liberal Democrats are allowed to get away with this, both by blacks and by Republicans.
If the Republicans did point out such things as building restrictions that make it hard for most blacks to afford housing, even in places where they once lived, they would have the Democrats at a complete disadvantage.

It would be impossible for the Democrats to deny the facts, not only in coastal California but in similar affluent strongholds of liberal Democrats around the country. Moreover, environmental zealots are such an important part of the Democrats' constituencies that Democratic politicians could not change their policies.
And it's not just housing policy that works to the disadvantage of the poor. Minimum wage laws which are ostensibly enacted to help the poor actually hurt them by making it more difficult for employers to hire more than just essential help. To be sure, minimum wage assists those lucky enough to get employment, but it also insures that many who might otherwise be hired are not. Sowell says, "[T]he facts are undeniable, and the Democrats cannot change their policy, because they are beholden to labor unions that advocate higher minimum wages."

Yet another area in which liberal policy hurts blacks is in their opposition to school choice which forces poor children to attend underperforming public schools. Liberals oppose school choice because it's opposed by the teachers' unions which are a major element of their base. As Sowell notes, "No one loses more from this policy than blacks, for many of whom education is their only chance for economic advancement."

Another liberal policy Sowell could have mentioned that hurts the poor are welfare programs which encourage a dependency upon the state which saps people of the incentive to improve themselves and climb out of poverty.

Yet the black poor are constantly instructed by their "leaders" that they have to vote Democratic, that it's the only real choice for them, so they do. Every election cycle urban populations elect Democrats to run their cities, but how are they helped by their loyalty? Their neighborhoods are crime-ridden shambles and their schools are dilapidated failures. Yet the black poor who suffer the most from ineffectual policies imposed by Democrats for decades are the most reliably Democratic voting bloc in the nation.

Why?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Manning Up

MyDaily.com has an interview with Kay Hymowitz, author of the new book titled Manning Up. In a nutshell her thesis is that contemporary men are choosing to prolong their adolescence well into their twenties and early thirties, which makes them unsuitable as partners for women who are achieving at higher levels and at earlier ages than many of their male counterparts.

The reason for this retardation (forgive me, but that's pretty much what it is) is that men, for the first time in history, are being made superfluous. Here's how the MyDaily.com piece opens:
Men. Who needs 'em? Colleges don't. Employers don't. Women don't. Even their own parents don't. At least, that's how it feels to a lot of guys, according to prominent social critic Kay Hymowitz's controversial new book, "Manning Up."

And those guys may be right, to an extent. Colleges have infamously lowered admission standards for males, young women in major cities earn over fifteen times more than their male peers, the number of "choice mothers" (single women who choose to have and raise a child on their own) is rapidly rising, and couples who are planning a family report a strong preference for baby girls.

Generation Y, which Hymowitz refers to as "preadults," is poised to take over the world. Or ... make that half of Generation Y. Twenty-something women far outnumber their male counterparts in practically every arena that counts. They may even be better at brushing their teeth. Actually, that's pretty much a given.

So where does all this leave guys?

Sitting around a crowded living room strewn with beer cans, playing Halo 34 with their buddies, obviously. (What? You don't think we'll get to Halo 34?)

In other words, failing to man up. And, strikingly, it may be the first time in history that they've had that luxury.
You should read Hymowitz's explanation of why this phenomenon is besetting us at the link. Her view of it differs somewhat from my own.

In my opinion, our culture is becoming increasingly hostile to masculinity. It seems often to send the message that masculine virtues are, to one extent or another, liabilities and that men are at best bumbling dolts and at worst evil predators. All one need do to confirm this is watch the television commercials of the last forty years and see how many times women are needed to instruct men on the best way to do home repairs or to do anything, for that matter. On the other hand, how many movies and televison shows depict an evil male defeated by a woman who is as brilliant and deadly as she is beautiful.

Males are made to feel unnecessary, especially in roles that have traditionally been seen as uniquely suited for men.

Whereas at one time fighter pilots and combat soldiers were exclusively male, today women are making historic inroads into these domains.

Girls are participating in and, in some cases, out-competing boys in sports like wrestling and soccer.

Women are taking over the leadership roles in churches, government, and to some extent, even big business. As women in increasing numbers occupy the pulpits of our churches it will become even harder than it already is to draw adolescent males into the pews.

The role of father, family protector, and bread-winner has been usurped in large swaths of our society by the government which provides for the well-being and financial needs of millions of women and children. Men are considered extraneous. Single motherhood is a generational phenomenon in many of our communities.

Schools punish boys for drawing pictures of guns or for getting in schoolyard scuffles, both of which are normal parts of growing up male. In other words, boys are often punished simply for doing what boys do.

Young men, having few roles left to them which are uniquely male, begin to feel that they serve no unique function in society and are really quite unnecessary in it.

When boys see that a role traditionally and uniquely filled by males is now occupied by women, the boys tend to opt out. I think an anecdote about high school sports is instructive. When I first started coaching sports in the very early 1970s every equipment manager of every boys' sport was a male student. Managing was a way for young men who may not have been able to actually compete on the athletic field to nevertheless feel like they were making an important contribution. Then girls took an interest in doing this job and once they started doing it, boys just stopped. Today it's as rare to find a male manager as it is to find a male cheerleader.

Young males need to affirm their masculinity and one way to do that is by performing tasks that only males can do or are permitted to do. When girls move in and do the task just as well, most boys lose interest.

In some cases they seek male companionship and outlets for their masculinity which are harmful to society. Gang behavior, for instance, is in large part a result of males seeking to affirm their masculinity in an environment that offers them few socially beneficial means to express it. So, too, is the practice of siring children as though one were a famous racehorse put out to stud.

Other boys find themselves unsuited for such expressions of machismo and retire to their parents' family room to play endless games of fantasy on the computer with other boys of similar temperament. They seem uneager to move into the world of adulthood because that world is often filled with women who don't understand them and who subtly and, perhaps inadvertently, emasculate them.

This is not to say that girls should be denied the opportunity to achieve in whatever arenas they can, but it is to say that there is a cost. A society in which masculinity becomes increasingly marginalized, unnecessary, and unwanted is a society that is going to have a lot of young men who are disinclined to be productive participants in it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bashir's Dilemma (Pt. II)

The dilemma posed to Rob Bell by Martin Bashir of MSNBC at the outset of his interview was whether God was unable to prevent evil or unwilling to prevent it. In an earlier post we noted that there are perhaps two kinds of evil: that which results from human volition, i.e. moral evil, and that which results from natural events like disease, famine, earthquakes, etc.

In that post it was argued that it may be that God could be both able and willing to eliminate moral evil but has a good reason for not doing so.

It remains to consider possible reasons as to why He doesn't eliminate natural evil.

One possible answer is that among the things that even an omnipotent creator may be unable to do is create a world governed by physical laws that has no potential for evil. A world that contains gravity, for example, will also contain the potential for people to fall. A world that includes the law of momentum will also have serious consequences for embodied creatures which fall. All of which is to say that it may be that the laws which regulate this world, or any world, may make natural evils, or at least the potential for them, inevitable.

An objection to this idea is that in Christian belief heaven is a world that God creates that will apparently have no evil, so is that not a counter to the claim that any world God creates will have the potential for natural evil?

A possible reply to this objection might be that heaven does contain the possibility of evil but that God's presence permeates that world, overriding anything which would result in harm to its inhabitants.

But then, it might be asked, if that's so why doesn't God permeate this world in the same way so that an earthquake off the coast of Japan does not result in the deaths of 20,000 people? The answer to this question in Christian theology is that God did indeed create this world as a place He would fill, but that a terrible betrayal called by theologians the Fall resulted in an estrangement between God and His creation.

In an act of cosmic infidelity Man aligned himself with evil. It was as if a good and faithful spouse came home one day to find his wife whom he adored in bed with his worst enemy. Heartbroken, God withdrew His presence from the world that He had built for His beloved and a profound emptiness and aloneness has haunted us ever since.

Man was left to face the world pretty much as it is without God's superintending care. Parenthetically, since our forlorness is a consequence of Man's choice it could be argued that natural evil, like moral evil, is also a result of human volition.

The story doesn't end there, of course. God is intent on wooing back to Himself His beloved despite her betrayal, which is the message of the Christian Gospel. Nevertheless, until that happy denouement we find ourselves in a world that was originally meant to be filled with God and in which natural evils, though inherent or potential in the laws of nature, would never be able to manifest their baneful consequences.

I'm not saying that this is the answer, only that it, or something like it, is a possible answer. Maybe the reason Rob Bell didn't offer something like this to Martin Bashir is that such an explanation is difficult to convey in a thirty second sound bite.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Acting White

Rob Kirkpatrick at HuffPost/AOL News writes a fine article that's ostensibly about college basketball, but is actually about some very serious racial problems besetting the African American community.

Kirkpatrick asks why there seems to be so much "hatred" of Duke's basketball program and cites evidence that the ill-feeling is due to the fact that the black players Duke recruits come from homes that have "white" values. Duke's coaches allegedly shy away from black players who have troubled backgrounds or a history that suggests that they'd be at academic risk. Evidently black players who take academics seriously, come from stable, two parent families, intend to graduate, and don't wear their pants at mid-buttock are considered sell-outs to their race. One commentator even called the Duke athletes Uncle Toms.

Kirkpatrick cites an excerpt from a book by political strategist Ron Christie:
As Ron Christie demonstrates in his recent book, Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur, the notion that blacks who sought social, cultural or intellectual advancement were "acting white" was a slur that originated during slavery and Reconstruction as a way for whites to keep down so-called "uppity" blacks....Since then, the stereotype of "acting white" also has taken hold within the African-American community as a form of black-on-black rhetoric that threatens to subvert the social and economic gains for which generations of blacks have fought.

A successful political strategist who happens to be black, Christie writes that he himself has been labeled as someone who "acts white" because he is well-dressed and well-spoken. In one instance while volunteering as a tutor and mentor for at-risk elementary children, one student asked him, "Is it cool to study and act white like you do?" When Christie asked the student what he meant, the student explained that everyone in his school knew that "if you study, pay attention in class, and do well, you're ACTING WHITE."
This is just great. A significant number of American blacks have been brainwashed into thinking that the values and virtues that lead to success in this country are somehow incompatible with being black and that if a black person adopts them then he or she is somehow betraying the race.

Asians don't think this way. Hispanics don't think this way. Just blacks, and, thankfully, just some blacks. Why? What sense does it make? Do they really think that they're better off not taking advantage of the educational opportunities they're being provided by the larger society? Or is their rejection of the path to success taken by others just a pose that enables them to rationalize an inability to compete in an academic environment?

In any case, I can't think of anything better suited to insure that blacks remain at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid than a refusal to do what they need to do to climb to a higher level of achievement because doing so would be "acting white".

Read the whole article, especially if you're a college basketball fan. I think you'll find it pretty interesting.

What They Should Have Said

Mr. Obama's Libyan adventure has certainly thrown the normal ideological categories into disarray. The President is getting criticism from both left and right for committing us to an act of war and for the uncertain, even incoherent, manner in which he seems to have done it.

Our stance in earlier posts was that we had no business going to war with Libya unless it was to avert a slaughter of civilians. The Obama administration evidently believed that just such a slaughter was imminent, and chose to intervene. If a massacre was indeed in the offing, he was right to try to protect people, but the manner of his intervention has been, it seems to me, needlessly destructive and counterproductive. We've now taken hold of the tar baby without having any good plan for extricating ourselves.

In fact, I think both Col. Qaddafi and President Obama have both bungled their handling of this conflict.

Here's what each of them should have said in order to accomplish their respective goals. Qaddafi first:

Setting aside the morality of his aims, Col. Qaddafi would have been wise to explain from the very beginning that he was under attack by armed insurgents, not peaceful demonstrators, and had the right to repel and defeat them. He then should have emphasized that he would take every possible precaution to prevent the loss of civilian life. It's hard to believe that, had he done this, the coalition that has coalesced to oppose him would have had any heart for the task. He could have insured his security from a coalition attack even more firmly had he invited U.N. observers into Libya to monitor the actions of his forces. He could have beaten back the rebels and no outsiders would have tried to stop him.

A Qaddafi sympathizer would have to conclude that attacking civilians was a blunder. It would have been a fatal blunder had he been confronted by someone other than President Obama.

Mr. Obama's blunder might have been even worse than Col. Qaddafi's. If the President had reason to believe that Qaddafi would show no mercy toward Libyans in the cities of the east, but would hunt them down and slaughter them, he should have "made it clear", as he is wont to say, that if Mr. Qaddafi proceeds to carry out that threat the U.S. will not waste time and money on "no-fly" zones and air attacks on Libyan military installations and soldiers. We will not spend billions to move a fleet offshore and maintain it there. We will, if Qaddafi initiates such an atrocity against his people, simply seek him out and kill him.

The prospect of being personally targeted by an American "bunker buster" would have had a sobering effect on the Libyan leader's ambitions and brought to an abrupt halt any thought of civilian massacres.

If Mr. Qaddafi was intimidated by the threat of certain death there would have been no civilian massacre. If he ignored the threat there would be no more Col. Qaddafi and minimal civilian casualties. Either way, Mr. Obama would have achieved his goal without squandering our resources and getting us entangled in yet another military action in the Arab world.

If such talk smacks of illegality or sounds too bellicose for the tender ears of the sensitive folk at the U.N. Mr. Obama could have couched his declaration in terms of the need to decapitate the Libyan chain of command. There would have been no uncertainty in Mr. Qaddafi's mind about what exactly that meant.

Instead, Mr. Obama and his spokespersons have issued conflicting and confusing statements as to what our goals are, insisting on the one hand that Qaddafi "must" leave and on the other that we're not really targeting the Libyan leader. The limited and ambiguous nature of our stated intentions has only managed to embolden Qaddafi and to enmesh us in a conflict that's beginning to look as if it can only end in abject embarrassment and confusion. The coalition, with no clear endgame in sight, is losing its will and falling apart, leaving Qaddafi holding on to both his life and power and continuing his crimes against his people - as well as the rest of the world.

Candidate Obama promised us "smart power". What he's delivered hardly measures up to this lofty promise.

Meanwhile, a video has come to light in which then Senator Joe Biden calls for President Bush's impeachment for doing in Iraq almost exactly what President Obama has done in Libya:
I wonder how Mr. Biden explains why he would have impeached Mr. Bush for attacking Iraq, but recoils from calls by members of his own party for Mr. Obama's impeachment.

It's no wonder politicians are held in such low esteem by the public.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mind: The Matrix of the Universe

One of the fascinating developments of modern physics has been the creeping suspicion among physicists that what we call "matter" is really a kind of illusion, or perhaps more accurately, it's an artifact of our perceiving the world on the scale of size that we do. Were we very much tinier than we are matter would disappear in a fog of energy or more startling still, matter would turn out to be nothing more than a manifestation of consciousness.

A recent article in the Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research by G.P.Smetham collates the evidence for the conclusion that the fundamental, irreducible ground of reality is not matter but consciousness. The article is rather long and in places a little technical, but here are some of the highlights:
[A] significant number of respected physicists and philosophers are now converging on the possibility that consciousness is a central feature of reality operating through the quantum ground. The physicists Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, in their important book Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness, are clearly making such a claim regarding the far reaching implications of quantum theory:

"The physical reality of an object depends on how you choose to look at it. Physics had encountered consciousness but did not yet realize it."

And:

"Consciousness and the quantum enigma are not just two mysteries; they are the two mysteries; … Quantum mechanics seems to connect the two."

The majority of the founding fathers [of physics] also came to such a view, a notable exception being Einstein. According to Schrödinger, for instance, "Mind has erected the objective outside world...out of its own stuff."

And Max Planck came to a similar conclusion: "All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force....We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter."

More recently, in an article in the New Scientist Michael Brooks, commenting on quantum entanglement experiments..., tells us that the conclusion reached by the physicists involved is that, "[W]e now have to face the possibility that there is nothing inherently real about the properties of an object that we measure. In other words, measuring those properties is what brings them into existence."

And Vlatko Vedral, quantum researcher at the University of Leeds commented that, "Rather than passively observing it, we in fact create reality."

The headline for the article proclaims that, "To track down a theory of everything, we might have to accept that the universe only exists when we are looking at it...."

The evidence is inexorably stacking up in favour of the view that the ultimate nature of the process of reality is mind-like, or idea-like, as Stapp puts it.
In other words, at the most fundamental level of our physical world "there is no substance, the quantum field is actually 'empty' of substance." Matter turns out to be something like a rainbow. There appears to be an arc of color in the sky, but it's an illusion. Smetham quotes physicist Jonathan Allday:
Now, from a philosophical point of view, this is rather big stuff. Our whole manner of speech ... rather naturally makes us think that there is some stuff or substance on which properties can, in a sense, be glued. It encourages us to imagine taking a particle and removing its properties one by one until we are left with a featureless "thing‟ devoid of properties, made from the essential material that had the properties in the first place. Philosophers have been debating the correctness of such arguments for a long time. Now, it seems, experimental science has come along and shown that, at least at the quantum level, the objects we study have no substance to them independent of their properties.

Because there is no substantiality (and here Allday is using the term substance to indicate "matter‟) within quantum field theory the term "particle‟ is dropped and the term "quanta‟ is used, and these are "objects which have properties but are not substances‟.
Smetham and the physicists he quotes are coming to believe that the universe arose out of a "sea of potentiality" that crystallizes into an actual universe upon being "selected" by a mind, but what sort of mind could perform such a feat? What sort of mind preexisted the universe? Smetham's answer is God, but, he is at pains to make clear, not the God of monotheistic religion. His reasons for his objection to the God of Christianity and other monotheisms strikes me as very weak, but I'll let him state it:
We are now in a position to resuscitate the notion of God after the Hawking and Mlodinow failed assassination attempt. However it must be made clear that the concept of God which can be revived is not that which is conceived of by most Christians....The problem with the notion of God as it is enshrined in Christian doctrine and practice is the large amount of religious and cultural baggage that comes along with it, baggage which in no way could ever logically follow from any resurrected quantum divine principle; significant examples would be the virgin birth and the resurrection for instance.
If I understand him, Smetham is saying that because quantum theory doesn't actually predict the virgin birth or the resurrection of Jesus the God believed in by those people who believe in the historicity of these events can't be the God pointed to by quantum theory.

This seems to me to be a non-sequitur. As long as the concept of God believed in by Christians is compatible with the theory and with the God the theory points to, then I don't see the problem. Smetham, though, seems to be partial to Buddhism and is eager to rule out other possibilities. At any rate he continues:
In his book Why There Almost Certainly Is a God Keith Ward gives an account of his "God hypothesis‟ which clearly maps quite snugly on to the Hawking/Mlodinow model [In their new book The Grand Design] in all but one detail [Smetham refers to the Hawking/Mlodinow model, for reasons not important to our purpose, as the HAM-TOE]:

The God hypothesis proposes that there is a consciousness that does not depend upon any material brain, or any material thing at all. In this consciousness all possible worlds exist, though only as possible states that may or may not exist. The cosmic consciousness can evaluate these possible worlds in terms of their desirability – their beauty or elegance or fecundity, for example. Then, being actual, it can bring about desirable states and enjoy them.

The first part of this metaphysical vision is isomorphic to the HAM-TOE in that it proposes that the universe comes into being as a vast web of potentiality, possible worlds or possible pathways of experience. As we have seen, a logical analysis of the structure of the HAM-TOE clearly shows that this vast maze of cosmic potentiality must be of the nature of consciousness or mind. However, when it comes to specifying the selection mechanism by which a privileged set of these potentialities becomes actual Ward falls back upon the traditional view of the omnipotence of God.

According to Ward's proposal it is God, apparently acting as an independent agent taking the position of external cosmic observer firing quantum beams of approval into the world of potential manifestation, who "selects‟ which of the possible worlds are "desirable.‟
Smetham goes on to argue that since human beings are conscious entities they, too, perceive the world and therefore "select" the world that will exist [and bizarrely, the world that existed in the past]. Human agents are, as it were, the senses of God:
In other words the universe uses the perceiving process within the dualistic world of experience in order to explore and experience its own nature. Human beings occupy a central place in this process because they are the universe's agents (leaving aside the issue of beings elsewhere in the universe) in the process of universal self-exploration, self-perfection and self-transcendence; a universal process of self-discovery which modern theologians may wish to call "God.‟
The idea that God creates the world through His observation of it, or, more precisely, perhaps, His thinking it, is not a completely new idea. George Berkeley (1685-1753) had a similar notion as did his close contemporary Isaac Newton (1643-1727):
Sir Isaac Newton, who suggested that space was the "sensorium of God.‟ In the Opticks Newton wrote:

"…does it not appear from phenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, who in infinite space, as it were in his sensory, sees the things themselves intimately, and thoroughly perceives them, and comprehends them wholly by their immediate presence to himself: of which things the images only carried through the organs of sense into our little sensoriums, are there seen and beheld by that which in us perceives and thinks."
Smetham closes with a passage that sounds like it could have been written by a contemporary advocate of intelligent design:
[A]t the ground of the process of reality there might be an infinitely potent, innately intelligent awareness which explores its own potentialities through manifesting the "little sensoriums‟ of all sentient beings. As quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger describes John Wheeler's quantum conclusion:

"…since we are part of the universe, the universe, according to Wheeler, creates itself by observing itself through us."

We are all part of the Grand Designer!
It's ironic that physics, traditionally the most materialistic of all the sciences, should be today coming to the conclusion that matter doesn't exist after all and that the ground of all reality is, in fact, a transcendent Mind.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mr. Obama's Abu Ghraib, and Worse

The job our military has been asked to do is difficult enough without having it be made even harder by the presence in the ranks of degenerate psychopaths.

The army is currently prosecuting five soldiers for committing horrible atrocities against innocent Afghan civilians, murdering them in cold blood, cutting off fingers as trophies, and video-taping the bloody corpses with the soldiers posed like big game hunters gloating over their kills.

Hot Air reports:
Investigators at Der Spiegel unearthed approximately 4,000 photos and videos taken by the soldiers. The accompanying article in the magazine provides shocking details about the depraved, sadistic behavior of the men. In one alleged incident from last May, a mullah captured by the team is forced to kneel down in a ditch, where he is summarily executed. According to the article, the team later claimed to their superiors that the mullah had threatened them with a grenade and that they were acting in self-defense. This account still fails to explain why Gibbs reportedly severed one of the dead man’s fingers and removed one of his teeth, presumably as gruesome “souvenirs.”
It all turns one's stomach, and for my part I'd have no trouble recommending the death penalty should these soldiers be proven guilty. Their despicable crimes deserve execution, and their iniquity is made even worse by the awful disgrace they've brought upon our military, our country, and those who have been grievously wounded and killed on our behalf.

So far, the White House, staffed by people quick to condemn the Bush administration for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, has released no statement regarding the photos or accounts. Neither has the New York Times, doubtless because Mr. Bush is no longer president.

The Obama Mysteries

President Obama may be doing the right thing in participating in the effort to stop Qaddafi from slaughtering the Libyan people, although why he didn't support intervention in Sudan where millions were slaughtered, or in Yemen where dozens have been gunned down, or in Syria or Iran where governments are killing their civilians is something of a mystery.

Also mysterious is how he squares his current willingness to kill Libyans with earlier criticisms of George W. Bush's Middle East policy. For example, in a 2002 speech Mr. Obama blasted his predecessor's apparent plans to invade Iraq with these words:
That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the middle east, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda.
What did he say here about Hussein and Iraq that does not apply equally as well to Qaddafi and Libya? Consistency is apparently not a very highly valued element in Mr. Obama's skill set. Later in the speech he says this:
What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income – to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.
Indeed. Then in a 2007 interview with the Boston Globe he was asked to identify the circumstances in which the president would have the constitutional authority to bomb Iran without first seeking authorization from Congress. He replied:
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.....As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch.
Mr. Obama, however, failed to advise Congress before launching missiles on Libya and killing who knows how many Libyans.

Here's another mystery. The problem in Libya is obviously Moammar Qaddafi. Because of this man's actions Mr. Obama believes we are justified in killing Libyan soldiers and perhaps some innocent civilians, but Qaddafi himself is not to be targeted. We are not to touch the man who is murdering his people, but because he is murdering his people we are evidently justified in killing his people, too. What sense does any of this make? What are the principles which govern the President's thinking? Are there any?

I've read that Mr. Obama and some of his male advisors were reluctant to order the strike on Libya, but the President was persuaded by his U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and an advisor named Samantha Power to do it. Someone on the radio this morning asked if anybody remembers the days when the feminists told us at every opportunity that if we wanted peace in the world we needed to put more women into positions of power. So much for that silly idea.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bashir's Dilemma (Pt. I)

Last week we posted an interview with pastor and writer Rob Bell in which the interviewer, MSNBC's Martin Bashir, pressed him with the ancient dilemma long favored by skeptics:
Since evil exists, it seems that it must be the case that either God is able to eliminate it but doesn't want to or that He wants to eliminate it but is not able to do so.
Bell never really answered the question which made it seem, perhaps, as if there is no answer to it, but there is. Philosophers have long pointed out that there's an obvious third possibility, i.e. God both wants to eliminate evil and is able to eliminate evil, but has good reason for not eliminating evil.

Of course, although the answer deflects the logical force of the dilemma, it raises the further question of what possible reason God could have for not doing something that any parent who sees his child suffer would do if he could. If human parents would alleviate their child's suffering, the question goes, why doesn't God?

Most philosophers prefer to break this question into two parts. They make a distinction between two kinds of evil, moral and natural. Moral evil is evil (or suffering) that results from human volition. Natural evil is evil that results from natural forces like, drought, disease, tsunami, earthquake, etc.

So the question bifurcates into why doesn't God prevent evil like the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan recently, and why doesn't God prevent the kind of evil in which one person treats another cruelly?

One possible answer to the latter question goes back to Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) and is called the Free Will defense. It says essentially that God desires to end evil and is able to end it, but the cost of doing so would be to override or strip us of our freedom to make our own choices.

Well, why doesn't God do that? What good is free will if so much misery results from it? The answer to that question goes, perhaps, to the reason He created us in the first place.

God created human beings to live in a love relationship with Him. Such a relationship, in order to be satisfying and meaningful, requires that both parties be free to choose to requite the love of the other. Thus God invested us with free will to enable us to choose to love Him or not. It is that freedom, the existentialists remind us, which makes us significant, which makes us different from everything else in the world. It's also that freedom that people abuse when they exercise it for the purpose of hurting others.

God could strip us of our freedom and compel us to love Him, but not only would that defeat the purpose of a loving relationship, it would essentially dehumanize us. It would make us less than human and it would drain God's relationship with us of any real significance. This is, in God's mind, apparently too high a price to pay.

Thus He tolerates evil in order to preserve His romance with His creatures.

There's much more to this question than what I've outlined in this short post, but this is at least a start of an anaswer. What, though, of natural evil? Why doesn't God prevent that? We'll take a stab at that question in a day or so.

In Casey's Shoes

We received a number of replies to our post titled Rough Justice, the account of how a boy named Casey who had been constantly picked on by the juvenile hyenas at his school, finally got tired of it. The following is typical of several of the stories we were sent:
This post hits far too close to home for me. I remember growing up in a public junior high school and always being taunted for the way that I looked and also for my weight. Ever since I can remember I have been a big boy. My mom would always tell me that I was just big boned, which I still hold to be true today. I found myself in junior high being like Casey, being harassed by the same group of kids over and over again. I can’t tell you how much that affected my self-image and even my self-worth.

Sadly I wasn’t like Casey, I never had the guts to stand up and punch that punk in the face, I was the kid however, that would walk different ways home and even take different hallways making myself late for classes so that I wasn’t harassed.

I am glad that Casey wouldn’t take it anymore and taught that kid a lesson that he would never have learned from school discipline.

The nonsense that surrounds bullying is all a joke anymore. School districts spend thousands of dollars to fund anti-bullying campaigns and yet never stop bullying or punish the correct kids. This is the same turnout in Casey’s case. Casey was punched in the face and punched in the stomach multiple times by his ignorant tormentor, and yet he is suspended for protecting himself? This is complete idiocy on the school official’s part. What are you trying to promote when you make these kinds of decisions?

I don’t understand it, and I didn’t understand it back when I was in Casey’s shoes. I think there are times when you need to stand up for yourself no matter the cost, and that’s what Casey did, and if he needs to do it again, so be it!

Better People

Deroy Murdock documents the awful behavior of the progressive left during the Wisconsin budget brouhaha. It's good that someone has documented it because it's awfully hard to find any mention of it in the major media which seems to have imposed a news blackout on anything that makes the Left look bad.

There have been literally dozens of threats against the lives of Republican legislators and their families during the weeks that this crisis unfolded. Many of those making the threats have been identified although no criminal action has as yet been taken against them despite the fact that their threats are violent, grisly, vile, and ugly, not to mention grammatically atrocious.

Here's Murdock's opening:
"We will hunt you down. We will slit your throats. We will drink your blood. I will have your decapitated head on a pike in the Madison town square. This is your last warning."

Is this a passage from Bram Stoker’s Dracula? A snippet from al-Qaeda’s latest missive? No, this e-mail reached Wisconsin state senator Dan Kapanke (R., La Crosse) on March 9, after he voted for GOP governor Scott Walker’s controversial budget and labor reforms.

Kapanke is not alone. While the mainstream media generally yawn, leftists threaten top Wisconsin Republicans with murder.
He goes on to provide lots of examples. The language is vulgar in many of them which you would expect considering the source, but I recommend that you read the rest of the article anyway so that you understand the nature of the people who comprise much of the base of the Democrat party.

It's also important to read this so that the next time someone complains about the "extremist rhetoric" of the tea party and their allies you can, after you've politely chuckled at their naivete (or blind prejudice), challenge them to produce even one example of anything that is a tenth as reprehensible as what you'll find in Murdock's piece.

Here's his close:
[W]here is the condemnation against the anti-Walker Left for its criminal behavior?

In the Battle of Madison, and perhaps beyond, death threats appear to be a virtually exclusive tool of the pro-union Left.

That suggests two possibilities:

Pro-taxpayer rightists would love to issue death threats, but resist temptation, knowing full well that the slumbering mainstream media would arise, showcase such a development, and discredit conservatives.

Or, maybe, free-marketeers have not issued death threats, because — compared to their left-wing counterparts — they simply are better people.
Actually, either way they're better people.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mr. Obama Goes to War

The Obama administration has determined that Moammar Qaddafi poses a significant humanitarian threat to his people and has decided that we will participate in - though not lead, the President has made clear - an attack on Mr. Qaddafi's ability to murder his own people.

Very well, if the administration believes that Qaddafi is about to commit mass slaughter we should do what we can to prevent it, but the President's tentativeness and timidity in this venture are disconcerting. He promises that we will be involved only for a few days, as if wars can be waged in between golf outings, and that we will not be deploying ground troops. Well, what if ground troops are the only way to stop the slaughter? What then? And why is he telling Qaddafi what we will do and not do? And what's wrong with American leadership, anyway?

One might think that we would have long ago learned a couple of lessons about these affairs. One lesson in particular is that it's folly to employ half-measures. If you're going to strike against the king, as Machiavelli advised some 500 years ago, you must kill him. To leave Qaddafi in place is sheer madness. Whether he is stymied in his attacks on the rebels or not he will almost certainly return to his support for terrorism against the West and probably on a greater scale than ever. He'll be a threat to every citizen in every nation in the coalition that has arrayed against him.

The President has made it clear (one of his favorite phrases) that getting Qaddafi is not part of our objective, we only want him to stop attacking the rebels, but if so we should never have launched missiles at Libya. Dealing with tyrants is not a pastime for dilletantes. We have essentially declared war (without consulting Congress, by the way), but we're going to allow the man who is responsible for that war to remain in place so that he can support more terror assaults against the West like the Pan Am 103 bombing. This makes no sense.

Mr. Obama has been at pains in his public pronouncements to tacitly stress that he is emphatically not George W. Bush. Unlike Mr. Bush's conduct in Iraq, Mr. Obama has instructed us that we are to make no mistake (another of his favorites), he has a coalition of nations with him, he is not leading those nations, he will not be inserting ground troops, and, apparently, he will not be cutting off the head of the snake.

He's right to insist that he's not George Bush, and it's most unfortunate that he's not.

Statistically Suspicious

Suppose there were some field of endeavor putatively open to minorities but in fact populated only by whites. There would, in such a case, almost certainly be a presumption of either discrimination or at least a hostile climate which deters minorities from entering that field. This rumination leads us to a piece in First Things about a concern raised by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt:
Social psychologists have “taboos and danger zones,” Haidt told a convention of his peers, drawing on his own observations and some statistical data. Harvard’s president Larry Summers asked why so many more men taught math and science at the nation’s top universities, and instead of reasonably considering his hypothesis that there may be “a sex difference in the standard deviation of IQ scores between men and women,” social psychologists stood by or joined the resulting attack on Summers as a sexist. “If you’re inside the force field, [Summers’ suggestion] is not a permissible hypothesis. It is sacrilege.”

And there is, Haidt continued, “a statistically impossible lack of diversity” in social psychology. He polled his audience of approximately 1000 social psychologists and found the ratio of liberals to conservatives was approximately 266 to 1. “When we find any job in the nation in which women or minorities are underrepresented by a factor of three or four, we make the strong presumption that this constitutes evidence of discrimination. And if we can’t find evidence of overt discrimination, we presume that there must be a hostile climate that discourages underrepresented groups from entering.”

Contrasting this to a Gallup data that showed that Americans are about two-to-one conservative, he concluded that “underrepresentation of conservatives in social psychology, by a factor of several hundred, is evidence that we are a tribal moral community that actively discourages conservatives from entering.”
The same sort of underrepresentation exists in the major media. A survey conducted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1997 found that 61% of reporters shared the beliefs of the Democratic Party. Only 15% said their beliefs were best represented by the Republican Party. The rest were undecided or Independent.

There's nothing wrong with unequal ratios if they result from a disinclination on the part of conservatives to enter these fields and as long as ideological bias is straightforwardly acknowledged by those who hold it. It's when the bias of the scholar or the journalist distorts and misrepresents the truth the general public trusts them to deliver that there's a problem, and when the public believes it's getting a slanted, inaccurate picture of things from the "experts" and those who report the news, that mistrust grows. That's the situation much of the media, and the academy, finds itself in today.

Ten Books That Shaped Modern Conservatism

My friend Jason turns our attention to an ISI article that discusses ten of the most influential books in the shaping of modern conservative thought. The ten are:
  • The Road to Serfdom ........................... F. A. Hayek
  • Socialism ................................... Ludwig von Mises
  • Memoirs of a Superfluous Man ...... Albert Jay Nock
  • Witness ................................. Whittaker Chambers
  • The New Science of Politics ............... Eric Voegelin
  • In Defense of Freedom ........................ Frank Meyer
  • The Conservative Mind ....................... Russell Kirk
  • Ideas Have Consequences ............... Richard Weaver
  • The Quest for Community .................Robert Nisbet
  • On the Democratic Idea in America .... Irving Kristol
The article gives a summary of each and discusses their impact. Anyone who wishes to understand the intellectual foundations of modern conservatism should be familiar with at least several of them, and the article at the link is a good starting point.
It might be noted that these books were all written between 1940 and 1960. There were a number of books written both before and after that period which have also been very influential in shaping conservative thought. Several that come to mind are:
  • The Federalist Papers ...... James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, et al.
  • Democracy in America ..... Alexis deToqueville
  • On Liberty ..... John Stuart Mill
  • Atlas Shrugged ..... Ayn Rand (actually written during the same period as the above works)
  • Conscience of a Conservative ..... Barry Goldwater
  • Almost anything written by William F. Buckley, including his magazine, National Review.
Perhaps one explanation of the current difficulties we face in America is that there are too many Americans who have never read any of these works.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Are Stings Immoral

Readers have perhaps heard of the surreptitious videotaping of Planned Parenthood staffers by pro-lifers who pass themselves off as underage pregnant girls or prostitutes. The "stings" have been carried out by Lila Rose’s group Live Action and involved deceiving Planned Parenthood staffers into revealing their actual practices and attitudes, which were shocking and sometimes illegal.

At First Things ethicist Robert George takes issue with the practice of lying, even in a good cause. Pro-lifers, he says, whatever their religious commitments, should:
reject lying even in the greatest of good causes. What we fight for is just and true, and truth — in its unparalleled splendor and luminosity — is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. It is the truth about the precious life of the child in the womb, and about the consequences of abortion for women and men, and the effects of abortion on families, on the medical profession, and on society more broadly, that will ultimately enable us to build a culture of life.
George holds that even though the other side lies about the nature of what happens in an abortion pro-lifers should not do as they do:
[I]n working to protect the victims of abortion, it is frustrating to hold ourselves to standards that so many on the other side freely disregard.”
He goes on to say that:
[T]here are no moral shortcuts to victory in this struggle. A culture of life can only be built on a foundation of truth. Lying may produce short-term victories, but it will, in the end, frustrate our long-term objective. Respect for life—like respect for every other great human good and every other high moral principle—depends on love of truth. Our efforts in the cause of life and every other worthy goal will, in the end, prove to be self-defeating if they undermine love of truth.
This is difficult for me to say because I sympathize with Professor George's insistence on the value of truth, but I don't think matters are as simple as he implies. I wonder, for instance, what he would say about the lies that must be told by undercover police or intelligence agents trying to pull off a sting of a gang of thieves or infiltrate a drug cartel or infiltrate a terror cell. I wonder, too, what he would say about the military putting out disinformation in order to deceive the enemy the better to defeat them in battle, or a government threatening the use of nuclear weapons to deter a nuclear attack even if they knew they would not, in fact, retaliate with nukes.

Truth is certainly among the greatest goods, one that is too much under-valued in modern society, but it is not the greatest good. It is not an idol. There are circumstances in which telling the truth would be a great wrong - for instance, if telling the truth would lead directly to the murders of innocents. Likewise, lying, though otherwise almost always wrong, would be a great good if it led to the saving of the lives of innocents.

Imagine, for example, that Col. Qaddafi is about to commit wholesale slaughter of the families of the rebels who rose up against him. Suppose further that our intelligence agents report that he will likely not do this if he thinks the American president would use force to stop him. Would it be wrong for the president to declare that the United States will invade Libya with the tacit purpose of killing Qaddafi if he begins his genocide, even if the president knows in his heart that he will do no such thing? Is political bluffing wrong?

Professor George would apparently say that it would be wrong for those hiding Jews from the nazis in the early 1940s or slaves from their owners in the underground railroad of the 1850s to lie to those who question them about their knowledge of such operations. If the nazis came to a home where Jews were being hidden and asked the homeowner if he knows where there are any Jews, does Professor George say that the homeowner should tell the truth and reveal their presence in his attic? Or should he lie to save their lives? What do you think?

Hell? No.

I've never watched Martin Bashir on MSNBC before nor have I ever read any of Rob Bell's books, but after watching this interview I'm convinced that I've been missing something by not watching Bashir and missing nothing by not reading Bell.

I don't think Bell lucidly answers a single question Bashir puts to him about his new book and each response he does make sounds like a contradiction of a position he holds in the book. Bashir prods him to answer whether it is irrelevant and immaterial how one responds to Christ in this life in terms of determining one’s eternal destiny, to which Bell replies that it is immensely important, but then he never really tells us why, and indeed, gives the impression that he doesn't really believe his own answer.

Bashir's summation is that Bell is trying to "amend the gospel" to make it "palatable" to modern people. It sounds to me like he might be hitting the nail pretty much on the head:
Bell's book is titled Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived and has apparently ignited a theological firestorm because allegedly (I haven't read it so I can't say with confidence) Bell argues for a position called universalism which is the belief that everyone will ultimately have eternal life with God. No one will be eternally separated from the love of God. God's love is so powerful that it will win even the most recalcitrant and obdurate to His bosom.

For the sake of his reputation I hope he does a better job in the book defending that view than he does in his interview with Bashir.

At any rate, without judging Bell's book, which, as I say, I haven't read, I recommend C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce as an alternative to universalism. Lewis illustrates nicely how human perversity creates its own hell and how many people willfully choose hell over heaven even if given a clear choice.

The video raises a couple of questions I'd like to explore over the next day or two. The first has to do with the dilemma that Bashir presents in the opening, and the second concerns God's justice.

Amateur Night

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had it with the weak leadership of the current White House. According to The Daily.com a Clinton insider reveals Ms Clinton's frustration with Mr. Obama:
Fed up with a president “who can’t make his mind up” as Libyan rebels are on the brink of defeat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is looking to the exits.

At the tail end of her mission to bolster the Libyan opposition, which has suffered days of losses to Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, Clinton announced that she’s done with Obama after 2012 — even if he wins again.

“Obviously, she’s not happy with dealing with a president who can’t decide if today is Tuesday or Wednesday, who can’t make his mind up,” a Clinton insider told The Daily. “She’s exhausted, tired.”

He went on, “If you take a look at what’s on her plate as compared with what’s on the plates of previous Secretaries of State — there’s more going on now at this particular moment, and it’s like playing sports with a bunch of amateurs. And she doesn’t have any power. She’s trying to do what she can to keep things from imploding.”

When French president Nicolas Sarkozy urged her to press the White House to take more aggressive action in Libya, Clinton repeatedly replied only, “There are difficulties,” according to Foreign Policy magazine.

“Frankly we are just completely puzzled,” one of the diplomats told Foreign Policy magazine. “We are wondering if this is a priority for the United States.”

Or as the insider described Obama’s foreign policy shop: “It’s amateur night.”
This is not surprising. We elected to the presidency a complete unknown, a man from nowhere, just because he spoke well and had an interesting racial identity. We swooned at his speeches and believed that we were witnessing the second coming. Now reality has set in, we've traveled to Oz and looked behind the curtain and found there a man who lacks any of the attributes required of someone who aspires to lead a nation. As others have noted, Mr. Obama clearly enjoys the perks of being president but seems to disdain the job itself. From the health care debate through every episode that has arisen in his tenure he has been disengaged, disinterested, and disinclined to lead. Throughout his short political career his predilection has been to vote present rather than to take a stand. It seems that inclination continues in the White House.

I suspect that Hillary knew this about him from the beginning, but thought she could help carry the man through his presidency. Evidently she underestimated the magnitude of the task.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why We Celebrate St. Patrick

Millions of Americans, many of them descendents of Irish immigrants, celebrated their Irish heritage by observing St. Patrick's Day yesterday. We are indebted to Thomas Cahill and his best-selling book How The Irish Saved Civilization for explaining to us why Patrick's is a life worth commemorating. As improbable as his title may sound, Cahill weaves a fascinating and compelling tale of how the Irish in general, and Patrick and his spiritual heirs in particular, served as a tenuous but crucial cultural bridge from the classical world to the medieval age and, by so doing, made Western civilization possible.

Born a Roman citizen in 390 B.C., Patrick had been kidnapped as a boy of sixteen from his home on the coast of Britain and taken by Irish barbarians to Ireland. There he languished in slavery until he was able to escape six years later. Upon his homecoming he became a Christian, studied for the priesthood, and eventually returned to Ireland where he would spend the rest of his life laboring to persuade the Irish to accept the Gospel and to abolish slavery. Patrick was the first person in history, in fact, to speak out unequivocally against slavery and, according to Cahill, the last person to do so until the 17th century.

Meanwhile, Roman control of Europe had begun to collapse. Rome was sacked by Alaric in 410 A.D. and barbarians were sweeping across the continent, forcing the Romans back to Italy, and plunging Europe into the Dark Ages. Throughout the continent unwashed, illiterate hordes descended on the once grand Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books. Learning ground to a halt and the literary heritage of the classical world was burned or moldered into dust. Almost all of it, Cahill claims, would surely have been lost if not for the Irish.

Having been converted to Christianity through the labors of Patrick, the Irish took with gusto to reading, writing and learning. They delighted in letters and bookmaking and painstakingly created indescribably beautiful Biblical manuscripts such as the Book of Kells which is on display today in the library of Trinity College in Dublin. Aware that the great works of the past were disappearing, they applied themselves assiduously to the daunting task of copying all surviving Western literature - everything they could lay their hands on. For a century after the fall of Rome, Irish monks sequestered themselves in cold, damp, cramped mud huts called scriptoria, so remote and isolated from the world that they were seldom threatened by the marauding pagans. Here these men spent their entire adult lives reproducing the old manuscripts and preserving literacy and learning for the time when people would be once again ready to receive them.

These scribes and their successors served as the conduits through which the Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the benighted tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruin of the civilization they had recently overwhelmed. Around the late 6th century, three generations after Patrick, Irish missionaries with names like Columcille, Aidan, and Columbanus began to venture out from their monasteries and refuges, clutching their precious books to their hearts, sailing to England and the continent, founding their own monasteries and schools among the barbarians and teaching them how to read, write and make books of their own. Absent the willingness of these courageous men to endure deprivations and hardships of every kind for the sake of the Gospel and learning, Cahill argues, the world that came after them would have been completely different. It would likely have been a world without books. Europe almost certainly would have been illiterate, and it would probably have been unable to resist the Muslim incursions that arrived a few centuries later.

The Europeans, starved for knowledge, soaked up everything the Irish missionaries could give them. From such seeds as these modern Western civilization germinated. From the Greeks the descendents of the Goths and Vandals learned philosophy, from the Romans they learned about law, from the Bible they learned of the worth of the individual who, created and loved by God, is therefore significant and not merely a brutish aggregation of matter. From the Bible, too, they learned that the universe was created by a rational Mind and was thus not capricious, random, or chaotic. It would yield its secrets to rational investigation. Out of these assumptions, once their implications were finally and fully developed, grew historically unprecedented views of the value of the individual and the flowering of modern science.

Our cultural heritage is thus, in a very important sense, a legacy from the Irish. A legacy from Patrick. It is worth pondering on this St. Patrick's Day what the world would be like today had it not been for those early Irish scribes and missionaries thirteen centuries ago.

Buiochas le Dia ar son na nGaeil (Thank God for the Irish), and I hope you have a great St. Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rough Justice

The big kid in this video is a boy named Casey. According to schoolmates he's picked on every day. In this case the aggressor apparently had a friend videotape his bullying so that he could show it to his buddies and gloat over what a tough guy he is. Unfortunately for him Casey finally got tired of it:
There's been much tut-tutting about "all violence being bad" and how Casey "should have told a teacher" that he was being picked on. Nonsense. Not all violence is bad and telling a teacher often doesn't do any good. Sometimes the best response is to humiliate the little punk who was trying to look big at Casey's expense. Maybe next time he'll be a little more hesitant to pick a fight with someone.

No doubt Casey is a hero to every kid who's ever been picked on in school, but incredibly, the school officials suspended Casey. Having been punched in the face he's now serving a suspension for protecting himself. Pretty pathetic.

What Caused God?

Science writer John Horgan acknowledges that scientists haven't a clue as to how living things could have developed out of non-living chemical precursors but, he cautions, those who think that perhaps there was some intelligent agent involved, a God, shouldn't gloat over the enormous implausibility of every naturalistic hypothesis thus far proposed:
Creationists are no doubt thrilled that origin-of-life research has reached such an impasse, but they shouldn't be. Their explanations suffer from the same flaw: What created the divine Creator? And at least scientists are making an honest effort to solve life's mystery instead of blaming it all on God.
Mr. Horgan surely knows better than to offer up such a jejunne objection. If the existence of life seems inexplicable apart from an Intelligent Causal Agent (ICA) then it is no argument against the existence of an ICA that we don't know what caused it.

After all, as Mr. Horgan reminds us, scientists don't know what caused life to exist either, but no one regards ignorance of the cause of life to be a reason not to believe that it does in fact exist.

An ICA is either contingent (i.e. dependent upon something else for its existence) or necessary (not dependent upon anything else; self-existent). Suppose it's contingent. If a contingent ICA exists then the fact that it's contingent matters little for the purposes of the naturalist such as Mr. Horgan. The naturalist wants to deny any non-physical causes operating upon the cosmos. They want to deny that any intelligence was involved in the origin of life. But if such an intelligence was involved it'd be small comfort to the naturalist that that intelligence is itself the product of an even greater cause. Whether there's just one ICA or a series of increasingly greater ICAs doesn't matter. As long as there is at least one ICA the naturalist has lost the argument to the Creationist.

Moreover, if there is a contingent ICA there must be something else which caused it, but as Aquinas points out in the Summa Theologica there cannot be an infinite series of contingent causes. The series must end somewhere, and it can only end with a cause that is itself necessary, self-existent, an uncaused cause of all else that exists.

Furthermore, it's a principle in philosophical and scientific explanation that causes should never be multiplied beyond what's needed to account for a particular effect. The simplest explanation is that there is not an indefinite series of ICAs but rather a single ICA that is the cause of life.

No matter how one looks at it, the question "What caused God?" is either philosophically naive or a rhetorical paper tiger. Mr. Horgan is just whistling past the graveyard by invoking it. He'd be better off just not calling the possibility to his readers' attention.

Don't Give Up on Nuclear Power

I have in the past urged that the U.S. be much more committed to developing nuclear power for domestic energy needs than we have been over the last several decades. Nothing that has happened in Japan in the last few days persuades me that I should change my mind.

So far as I know as I'm writing this no one has died from radiation exposure or has even been exposed to dosages that would be lethal or life-threatening. That may change, of course, but even if it does why should that inhibit us from developing nuclear power? More people die in coal-mining accidents in one year than have died as a result of nuclear contamination, but we don't stop mining coal. Coal causes more long-term health problems in the general population than did the Chernobyl nuclear accident, but we don't stop burning it. Even if the death toll in Japan turns out to be in the hundreds from radiation exposure that many people could die in an airplane crash, but we don't stop flying airplanes. Tens of thousands of people are killed and maimed in auto accidents every year, but we don't stop driving cars. Nor did we stop the space shuttle program after the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Nor should we declare a moratorium on nuclear power.

There are currently three nuke plants under construction in the U.S. and two dozen more in the pipeline. The plants currently under construction are designed to be safer than the Japanese plants, which are forty years old, and much less likely to suffer the perfect storm of circumstances that led to the reactor failures at Fukushima.

We're going to need all the electricity we can generate in the 21st century and windmills aren't going to help much. Let's not make the same mistake we're making with our refusal to drill for offshore oil. Let's continue to develop a power source that, compared to any plausible alternative, is clean and safe.