Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Single-Payer Omelet

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not nobody. She's the chair of the Democratic National Committee and a congresswoman from Florida. So when she's asked whether the Democrats have a plan to save Medicare, a plan that consists of something more substantive than just demagoguing the Republican plan, her answer is implicitly "No":
Set aside Ms. Wasserman Schultz's last line where she inadvertently reveals her inner nanny possessed by almost all liberals (What's wrong, exactly, with allowing mature adults to "figure it out" for themselves?). Consider instead that doing nothing means that the system goes bankrupt in a decade, and doing nothing is what the Democrats evidently plan to do.

Grandfathering everyone over 55 into the present system and then giving future retirees a voucher that enables them to buy their own insurance, which is the GOP/Paul Ryan plan, may not be the best idea, I don't know, but at least the elderly will have something. If the Democrats don't soon present a viable alternative the elderly are certain to have nothing.

I suspect, but can't prove, that Democrat opposition to the Ryan plan stems from the fact that if people are given public money to buy insurance, insurance companies will benefit. President Obama has as much as said that he wants to put insurance companies out of business in order to create a single-payer (government-run) system (see below). Thus, he and his fellow lefties will oppose anything that empowers the private market and diminishes the power of government.

The elderly are merely the eggs that have to be broken to cook this socialist omelet.

Above the Law

President Obama, with the connivance of both Democrats and Republicans, is traducing the rule of law by not abiding by the 1973 War Powers Resolution. So says George Will and so say I. Here's Will:
Enacted in 1973 over President Nixon’s veto, the WPR may or may not be wise. It is, however, unquestionably a law, and Barack Obama certainly is violating it. It stipulates that a president must terminate military action 60 days after initiating it (or 90, if the president “certifies” in writing an “unavoidable military necessity” respecting the safety of U.S. forces), unless Congress approves it. Congress has been supine and silent about this war, which began more than 70 days ago.
The President has attempted to avoid the WPR's constraints by saying that our involvement in Libya is to provide a "supporting role". Will correctly labels this both ludicrous and meretricious. He goes on to add that:
Liberals are situational ethicists regarding presidential warmaking: Imagine their comportment if Obama’s predecessor — who got congressional authorization for his uses of force — had behaved as Obama is doing regarding Libya. Most conservatives, who preen about their commitment to keeping government on a short leash, seem anesthetized by the administration’s sophistries.
I suppose "situational ethicists" is accurate, but I think "hypocrites" is moreso. For an example of the absurdity of GOP spokespersons on the issue he turns to Senator John McCain who said that, “No president has ever recognized the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, and neither do I. So I don’t feel bound by any deadline.”

This is frankly startling. It's the sort of thinking that occurs in the early stages of tyranny. When our President considers himself not constrained by any law he finds inconvenient he's arrogating to himself the powers of a despot. It's the sort of behavior we see in people like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Mr. Obama has evinced such inclinations in the past, and no one is really surprised that he regards himself as unaccountable to Congress. It's a bit surprising, though, and disconcerting, to see McCain agree with him.

Meanwhile, our "watchdog" media are all aflutter, not over Mr. Obama's disdain for the rule of law, but over Sarah Palin's bus tour. Go figure.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Honoring Vets

Memorial Day seems a fitting time to show this trailer for a coming documentary on the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. Honor Flight is a project to fly as many WWII vets to Washington as possible so that they can see the WWII Memorial before they die:
Hot Air has more details on the Honor Flight film project here.

Singer's Evolving Ethics

There's a simple and compelling argument that goes like this:

1. If there is no God then there are no moral duties.
2. There are moral duties.
3. Therefore there is a God.
Of course, both premises need to be defended, but I don't think it's hard to defend 1. (though 1. is precisely the assertion Sam Harris wishes to deny in his book The Moral Landscape) and denying 2. leads the denier ineluctably to moral nihilism. So, it seems that if 1. can be defended one either has to believe there is a God or be a nihilist.

Few non-believers are prepared to embrace moral nihilism so they're in an awkward position. Unwilling to accept belief in God they're also unwilling to accept the logical conclusion of their atheism.

This appears to be the predicament in which Princeton ethicist Peter Singer has come to find himself. The Guardian's Mark Vernon explains why. Here's the key graph:
[Singer] described his current position as being in a state of flux. But he is leaning towards accepting moral objectivity because he now rejects [David] Hume's view that practical reasoning is always subject to desire. Instead, he inclines towards the view of Henry Sidgwick, the Victorian theist whom he has called the greatest utilitarian, which is that there are moral assertions that we recognise intuitively as true.

At the conference, he offered two possible examples, that suffering is intrinsically bad, and that people's preferences should be satisfied. He has not yet given up on ... utilitarianism. Neither is he any more inclined to belief in God, though he did admit that there is a sense in which he "regrets" not doing so, as that is the only way to provide a complete answer to the question, why act morally? Only faith in a good God finally secures the conviction that living morally coincides with living well.
Or to put it differently, Singer seems to be recognizing that unless there exists a transcendent moral authority, an omniscient and perfectly good God, there's no non-arbitrary reason for being a utilitarian rather than an egoist. In a world without such a moral authority nothing one does can be morally wrong, and it'd certainly not be wrong to simply live for oneself or adopt a might-makes-right ethic. However we choose to live, if there is no God, is purely a matter of taste and to say that one should be a utilitarian is nonsense. The word "should" implies a moral duty and if there is no God there are no moral duties.

The only surprise in Singer's last sentence above is that it has taken someone of his intellectual stature so long to see it.

Cyber Warriors

An operation like the one which took the life of Osama bin Laden requires tough, hard, highly disciplined warriors, but much of modern warfare is being waged not by men such as these but by guys who considered themselves geeks and nerds when they were in high school.

Take, for example, what's going on in the cold war between Israel and Iran. Strategy Page explains:
Israel makes no secret of what it thinks about its Cyber War capabilities. Over the last year, Israel has revealed that its cryptography operation (Unit 8200) has added computer hacking to its skill set. Last year, the head of Israeli Military Intelligence said that he believed Israel had become the leading practitioner of Cyber War. This came in the wake of suspicions that Israel had created the Stuxnet worm, that got into Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment equipment, and destroyed a lot of it.

Recently, Iran complanied that another worm, called Star, was causing them trouble. Usually, intelligence organizations keep quiet about their capabilities, but in this case, the Israelis apparently felt it was more useful to scare the Iranians, with the threat of more stuff like Stuxnet. But the Iranians have turned around and tried to attack Israel, and are apparently determined to keep at it for as long as it takes.

This struggle between Israel and Iran is nothing new. Seven years ago, Israel announced that Unit 8200 had cracked an Iranian communications code, an operation that allowed Israel to read messages concerning Iranian efforts to keep its nuclear weapons program going (with Pakistani help), despite Iranian promises to UN weapons inspectors that the program was being shut down.

It's .... unusual for a code-cracking organization to admit to deciphering someone's code. Perhaps the Iranians stopped using the code in question, or perhaps the Israelis just wanted to scare the Iranians. Israel is very concerned about Iran getting nuclear weapons, mainly because the Islamic conservatives that control Iran have as one of their primary goals the destruction of Israel.

In response to these Iranian threats, Israel has said that it will do whatever it takes to stop Iran from getting nukes. This apparently includes doing the unthinkable (for a code cracking outfit); admitting that you had successfully taken apart an opponent's secret code.

Israel is trying to convince Iran that a long-time superiority in code-breaking was now accompanied by similarly exceptional hacking skills. Whether it's true or not, it's got to have rattled the Iranians. The failure of their counterattacks can only have added to their unease.
One almost imagines teams of Woody Allen look-alikes sitting in front of their monitors saving the world from a nuclear holocaust while seasoning their successes with a little trash-talk directed at the opposition. God bless 'em.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Casey as Metaphor

People who support Israel in their effort to resist the aggressions of their enemies in the Middle East are sometimes asked why they do. There are lots of reasons which come to mind, of course - our shared democratic values, shared language, the awful treatment that Jews have suffered throughout history, their courage, their status as victims of terrorism, their admirable ability to defend themselves repeatedly against overwhelming odds, the fact that their enemies are driven by an irrational hatred and a desire to kill every Jew (and every American for that matter), and so on.

Perhaps another reason is that so much of the world, not just Arabs and Muslims, is hostile to Israel. They criticize Israel simply for trying to defend itself. They criticize Israel for using "disproportionate" force in defending itself. Israel is expected to perpetually turn the other cheek while no such demands are ever made of the Arabs who attack them with rockets every day, blow up school busses full of children, and sneak into their homes to slit the throats of entire families. The world seems to treat such atrocities as what is to be expected from Arabs, but if the Israelis retaliate, or build a wall to keep the murderers out, then they're denounced at the U.N. for "brutality".

It all reminds me of a video that was the talk of the web a few months ago. In the video an Australian boy named Casey was being punched and taunted by a little punk - an ordeal he had had to endure on previous occasions as well. Finally Casey defended himself and a surprising number of commentators sniffed that the poor kid overreacted, that he shouldn't have resorted to violence, that he could have hurt his tormenter. Casey was essentially condemned for protecting himself and giving his antagonist the thrashing he deserved.

I'm sure the Israelis sympathize with Casey:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Swinburne on the Soul

Having read several of Richard Swinburne's philosophical works over the years and having just this winter reread his book The Existence of God, I was eager to listen to an interview he did recently on the soul. Swinburne is a highly prominent philosopher of religion at Oxford, a Christian, and a substance dualist who conflates soul and mind.

By that I mean he assumes soul and mind are essentially two words for the same thing. This is not the only view of the soul a dualist(one who believes that there are at least two disparate substances comprising reality - mind and matter)could hold, but it's probably the dominant view.

Swinburne's argument against physicalism (the belief that there is no non-physical substance) is that if the self just is the material body then if my body exists then I must exist. However, there is a possible world in which a body just like mine exists, but in which I don't exist. If so, then it's possible to have a body like mine but not have me, or, in other words, my body and I are not identical.

In the course of the 17 minute discussion he touches upon the problem of personal identity, the problem of mind/brain interactionism (i.e. the problem of believing that two disparate substances can somehow interact), and makes an interesting distinction between how he came to believe in God as opposed to why he continues to believe. His reply toward the end to the interviewer's suggestion that he only believes what he does about the mind/soul because of his theological commitments is excellent.

The interview can be listened to at The Microphilosopher.

Thanks to First Thoughts for the link.

Ditchkins

Here's an amusing send-up of atheists Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchens. The guy who does the composite "Ditchkins" sounds almost exactly like Dawkins:
Thanks to Uncommon Descent for the link.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Palestinian Refugees

Peter Wilson at American Thinker tells us a few interesting things about the Palestinian refugee situation which was at the center of the recent dust-up between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu. Here's part of his column:
Controlling the vocabulary is a crucial part of any political debate, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, specifically the 1948 exodus -- or one should really say, the 1948 departure -- of Palestinians from Israel, is no exception. A typical formulation, chock-full of code words, appeared in a recent letter to the Boston Globe: "Generations of families living in squalor in refugee camps still await their right to return under international law to their homeland Palestine."

Many, including Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in his meeting with Obama, have pointed out how the "right to return" would impose an untenable situation for the Israeli democracy. The 860,000 or so who left in 1948 have grown to 4.8 million "registered refugees" living in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Of this number, 1.4 million are "RRCs" -- registered refugees in camps. An influx of this magnitude, added to the 1.2 million Israeli Muslims, would create a Muslim population of 6 million, outnumbering Israel's 5.6 million Jews, potentially turning Israel into a sharia state. In other words, whatever "right to return under international law" may be asserted, as Netanyahu said, "it's never going to happen."

Describing Palestinians as "refugees" living in "refugee camps" is a further example of politicized word choice. The original group of Palestinians in 1948 left their homes in the face of an impending aggression by Arab countries and moved into canvas tents with primitive sanitation. Regardless of arguments about whether Israeli Palestinians "fled" or, as Noam Chomsky would have it, were pushed out by a campaign of ethnic cleansing, this original group can rightly be called refugees. However, to continue to call their descendants refugees sixty-three years later, as Obama did in his Middle East/North Africa speech, distorts the truth of their situation.

Sixty-three years is time enough for three, perhaps four, generations. Imagine the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of Jewish refugees who came to Brooklyn or Brookline after the Holocaust referring to themselves as refugees. My own family includes a number of refugees from the Cambodian killing fields, and my nieces and nephews would never think of claiming refugee status and a right to return to Cambodia.
Wilson writes a pretty informative piece, one with whose content everyone should be familiar.

One cluster of questions that it raised in my mind is one which was implicit in Mr. Netanyahu's sermon to Mr. Obama in their presser: Why is it that the Palestinians are still refugees? There was a roughly equal number of Jews evicted from their homes in Arab countries in 1948 as there were Palestinians who fled from Israel. The Israelis were assimilated into Israel almost immediately, but the Palestinians still live in "camps" segregated from their Arab hosts. Why are the Palestinians still "refugees" but the Israelis are not? Why do not the vast Arab nations assimilate the Palestinians like tiny Israel assimilated Jewish refugees?

Is it that the Arabs really don't care about the Palestinians except insofar as they can be used as a cudgel with which to beat the Israelis over the head?

Odious Ed

Why is there so much misogyny among the people who claim to feel so strongly that misogyny is wrong? Keith Olberman at MSNBC once called Michelle Malkin a "big mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick". I don't know what that is, exactly, but I'm sure Olby did not intend it as an expression of respect.

Bill Maher called Sarah Palin a vulgar sexual pejorative that I won't repeat, and then followed it a couple of days later by calling both Palin and Michelle Bachman "bimbos".

Now Ed Schultz, the guy MSNBC moved into Olberman's slot after Olberman grew too insufferable even for the MSNBC poobahs, calls Laura Ingraham a "slut":
What is it about so many liberal males that they so glibly insult women in such vile fashion? When will more liberal groups finally bestir themselves to be outraged? Why does the media not demand that these people be fired? Will progressives like Jim Wallis who rightly urge us to maintain a higher level and quality of public discourse have anything to say about the steady miasma of sleaze emanating from spokespersons of the Left?

Would we be asking these questions if the sleaze was coming from conservatives?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Left's Doomsday Predictions

When religious eccentrics predict that the world is coming to an end, as Harold Camping did last week, it's the occasion for much merrymaking in the media, but as Dennis Prager points out, when it comes to failed doomsday predictions it's hard to outdo the record amassed by the Left.

In the sixties it was out-of-control population growth, written about by Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 book The Population Bomb, that was supposed to unleash the four horsemen of the apocalypse on the world by 1990.

In the seventies it was the fear of nuclear catastrophe which would precipitate a "nuclear winter" that would cause mass extinctions and starvation as depicted by television specials like ABC's The Day After.

In the eighties and nineties it was the AIDs epidemic that was going to sweep the globe decimating the world's population. Heterosexuals as well as homosexuals were at risk and there seemed to be nothing anyone could do to avoid it.

In the 21st century we are assured that global warming is going to raise the seas and alter the earth's geography causing widespread ecological and sociological catastrophe.

To be sure the jury is still out on climate change, although it's not looking good for Al Gore's troops, but in each of the other cases, as well as several more that Prager cites, the Left's prediction turned out to be just as wrong, and just as ludicrous, as that of Rev. Camping.

Strangely, though, there was no guffawing among the media sophisticates, like there was over Camping's silly prognostication, when the Left's prophesies of impending doom failed to come to pass. Why is that?

A Vanishing Breed

Speaking of doomsdays and extinctions (see above), Byron forwards us a piece that contains the frightening news that we're now down to our last one hundred grown-ups in the U.S. It has apparently been confirmed that adults are on the same trajectory as the passenger pigeon. I kid you not. It must be true because it's in The Onion. Here's the article's lede:
According to alarming new figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation's population of mature adults has been pushed to the brink of extinction, with only 104 grown-ups remaining in the country today.

The endangered demographic, which is projected to die out completely by 2060, is reportedly distinguished from other groups by numerous unique traits, including foresight, rationality, understanding of how to obtain and pay for a mortgage, personal responsibility, and the ability to enter a store without immediately purchasing whatever items they see and desire.

"Our grown-ups are disappearing at a much faster rate than we previously believed," said Census Bureau chief Robert M. Groves, who believes the decline in responsible adults may now be irreversible. "Unfortunately, we've only recently noticed this terrible trend, perhaps because of this group's unusual capacity to endure hardships with quiet dignity instead of whining loudly to draw attention to themselves."

"If nothing is done, these wondrous individuals, with their special ability to consider the long-term consequences of their own behavior and act accordingly, will be wiped-out completely," Groves added.

According to recent data, the grown-up population has plummeted dramatically since 1950, when a Census count found that more than 24 million Americans could both admit when they were wrong and respect a viewpoint other than their own. Today, only one in three million citizens can provide thoughtful advice to a fellow human being instead of immediately shifting the topic to their own personal issues or what they had for lunch.
If you're as concerned for your country as you should be you need to read the whole thing. The article even has a remarkable photo of one of America's last remaining grown-ups.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Justified?

Here's a summary of what happened: A 53 year old woman was getting out of the shower when she saw a man in her bathroom wielding a kitchen knife. The man forced her into the bedroom where there was a struggle. The woman managed to retrieve a revolver from her night table and emptied it into her assailant who ran out of the house, collapsed and later died.

Questions: What do you suppose would have happened to the woman had she not had the means to defend herself? Should the woman have had the right to keep a loaded weapon in her home? If so, should she have the right to carry such a weapon on her person when in public? If not, why not? If you are opposed to allowing people to own and carry firearms exactly what would you say to this woman - that it would have been better had she been raped and possibly murdered than that she be allowed to have access to the means to prevent such a crime?

Only those opposed to the private ownership of handguns need respond. While mulling over your answers you might want to listen to the 9-1-1 call:
It's unfortunate that a man died in this episode, but one thing is certain: He'll never subject anyone else to the terror to which he subjected this woman.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Free Speech for Our Side, but Not for Yours

This video would be funny if it weren't so pathetic. Dozens (judging from the number of signatures) of college students and adults signed a faux petition to have conservatives banned from television and radio even as they affirmed their unwavering support of the principles of the First Amendment:
"I'm for free speech," these signers are saying, "except for speech that I don't like."

It's sad enough that college students who are supposed to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the Bill of Rights and the freedoms upon which America was founded would not see the absurdity of signing the petition, but they are, after all, young and perhaps we shouldn't expect too much intellectual rigor from them.

What was really distressing about the video was the number of adults who blithely assented to sign. Presumably these people are faculty and administrators on a campus which is supposed to be a marketplace for the free exchange of ideas, and for them to sign a petition that effectively called for the elimination of the speech of people with whom they disagree is deplorable.

Is there not something hypocritical (or stupid) in educated people affirming their belief in free speech even as they happily sign a petition to ban it?

Computers and Brains

Stephen Hawking recently made the much commented upon remark that he regards the brain as a computer "which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

Vjtorley has an interesting post at Uncommon Descent where, inter alia, he discusses eleven fundamental differences between brains and computers. According to vjtorley brains don't differ from computers merely in terms of the matter from which they're made, they're a completely different kind of entity altogether.

The discussion might not mean much except to those with some background knowledge of how computers work, but it's worth reading if you're interested in the debate over whether human beings are just biological machines or whether they're something unique.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cosmic Expansion

Recent studies have confirmed that the cosmos in which we live is in the grip of an accelerating force called dark energy which is causing the universe to expand at ever increasing speeds. This is bizarre because gravity should be causing the expansion, generated by the initial Big Bang, to slow down. Nevertheless, all indications are that it's accelerating. Science Daily has the story:
A five-year survey of 200,000 galaxies, stretching back seven billion years in cosmic time, has led to one of the best independent confirmations that dark energy is driving our universe apart at accelerating speeds.

The findings offer new support for the favored theory of how dark energy works -- as a constant force, uniformly affecting the universe and propelling its runaway expansion.

"The action of dark energy is as if you threw a ball up in the air, and it kept speeding upward into the sky faster and faster," said Chris Blake of the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia.

Dark energy is thought to dominate our universe, making up about 74 percent of it. Dark matter, a slightly less mysterious substance, accounts for 22 percent. So-called normal matter, anything with atoms, or the stuff that makes up living creatures, planets and stars, is only approximately four percent of the cosmos.
This last point is a fascinating detail. All that we can see with our telescopes makes up only 4% of what's out there. The rest is invisible to us because it doesn't interact with light the way normal matter does.

Here's another interesting detail. We don't know what the cosmic dark energy is, but we do know that its density is fine-tuned to one part in 10^120. That means that if the value of the density of this mysterious stuff deviated from its actual value by as little as one part in 10^120 a universe that could generate and sustain intelligent life would not exist. That level of precision is absolutely breathtaking.

Add to that the fact that the mass density, the total mass in the universe, is itself calibrated to one part in 10^60, and it is simply astonishing to realize that a universe in which life could exist actually came into being.

Imagine two dials, one has 10^120 calibrations etched into its dial face and the other has 10^60.

Now imagine that the needles of the two dials have to be set to just the mark they in fact are. If they were off by one degree out of the trillion trillion trillion, etc. degrees on the dial face the universe wouldn't exist. In fact, to make this analogy more like the actual case of the universe there would be dozens of such dials, all set to similarly precise values.

So how do scientists explain the fact that such a universe does, against all odds, exist? Some of them assume that there must be a near infinite number of different worlds, a multiverse. If the number of universes is sufficiently large (unimaginably large), and if they're all different, then as unlikely as our universe is, the laws of probability say that one like ours must exist among the innumerable varieties that are out there.

The other possibility, of course, is that our universe was purposefully engineered by a super intellect, but given the choice between believing in a near infinity of worlds for which there's virtually no evidence and believing that our universe is the product of intentional design, a belief for which there is much evidence, guess which option many modern scientists choose.

The lengths people go to in order to avoid having to believe that there's something out there with attributes similar to those traditionally imputed to God really are remarkable.

Sobering Up

Nothing like having to make one's way in the real world to disabuse oneself of all those silly liberal ideas one picks up in college. The Daily Caller has the results of a survey of recent grads who voted for Obama in 2008. A lot of them are saying, in effect, that they won't make that mistake again:
A very large proportion of recent university graduates have soured on President Barack Obama, and many will vote GOP or stay at home in the 2012 election, according to two new surveys of younger voters.

The scope of this disengagement from Obama is suggested by an informal survey of 500 post-grads by Joe Maddalone, founder of Maddalone Global Strategies. Of his sample, 93 percent are aged between 22 and 28, 67 percent are male and 83 percent voted for Obama in 2008. But only 27 percent are committed to voting for Obama again, and 80 percent said they would consider voting for a Republican, said New York-based Maddalone.

The bad news for Obama was underlined May 19 with a report by the job-firm Adecco that roughly 60 percent of recent college-grads have not been able to find a full-time job in their preferred area. One-in-five graduates have taken jobs far from their training, one-in-six are dependent on their parents, and one-in-four say they’re in debt, according to the firm’s data.

“People have had time to reflect on how they voted in 2008, and now they’re thinking about whether they have a job or like their job,” said Maddalone. As their trust in the federal government shrinks, they’re becoming more self-reliant, as their attitude shifts from “‘yes, we can,’ to ‘yes, I can,’” he said.
In other words, these grads are becoming more conservative. They're realizing that "hope and change" doesn't pay the bills and that it doesn't make sense for a young person out looking for a job to support an administration whose policies discourage employers from hiring.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Embarrassing Tutorial

Mr. Obama's speech Thursday on the Middle East situation was fairly prosaic and unexceptionable until he drew close to the end. When he started talking about the Israeli/Palestinian difficulties he lobbed this stink bomb into the room and hence around the world:
We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
In two sentences the President managed to throw the "peace process", such as it is, into chaos. There is no way Israel is going to return to the pre-1967 borders which made the tiny country only nine miles wide at its narrowest point. To do what the President proposes would be to commit suicide.

Secondly, what does Mr. Obama mean by saying that the Palestinians should have a "contiguous" state? Right now there are two Palestinian entities, one on the West Bank and one in Gaza (See map). There is no way to make a contiguous Palestinian state unless a Palestinian corridor is created to connect the two territories, but such a corridor would bisect Israel which means that Israel's borders would then not be contiguous. Does Mr. Obama really think that cutting Israel in half is a viable proposal? If not, what alternatives did he have in mind?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited with Mr. Obama today, and on national television politely instructed him on the realities in the region. Mr. Obama appeared a bit embarrassed at having to sit quietly through Mr. Netanyahu's gentle rebuke, but the lesson, sadly, was much needed (Netanyahu begins speaking at about the 7:30 mark):
Except for the unfortunate paragraph above Mr. Obama tried to sound like a neutral broker between the interests of the Israelis and the Palestinians, but it's very hard to be neutral when the aspirations of the two parties are so different.

It is the goal of the Israelis to live securely in their homes and at peace with their neighbors. It is the goal of the Palestinians, or at least that faction of them which wields all the power, to destroy Israel and the Israeli Jews. They've said so countless times. How can one be neutral between those two objectives?

As we consider the President's proposals we need to ask whose goals would his proposals further? Would returning to the 1967 borders improve the security of the Israeli people or would it make their destruction an easier task for the Palestinians? The answer is obvious and for that reason the President's attempt to sound impartial rings hollow. He sounds either very much disposed toward the Palestinians or very naive, or both.

It's no wonder, then, that Mr. Netanyahu felt the need to give him the embarrassing tutorial.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Immigration and Assimilation

Bruce Thornton has a column at City Journal which puts into words what a lot of people feel intuitively about immigration and the multicultural enterprise. He argues that modern immigration differs in one crucial respect from earlier influxes - assimilation. Whereas early immigrants expected to adopt, or at least adapt to their new home modern immigrants often demand that their new home adapt to them.

Thornton writes:
[W]hatever the degree of assimilation, most accepted a fundamental truth: that whatever affection they had for their homes, for their native tongue, or for their old ways and customs, those cultures had in some significant way failed them. Thus they had made a difficult, costly choice: to become Americans. If America’s core principles—such as individual rights, freedom of speech, the rule of law, and religious tolerance—conflicted with those of the old country, then the latter had to be modified or abandoned.

The choice was hard, at times even brutal. Racism, ethnocentrism, and prejudice could make the work of becoming American notoriously difficult. But people understood that to have a nation composed of immigrants, there had to be a unifying common culture in the public sphere. Transmitting that common culture was the job of the schools.

My mother’s mother came from Maschito, an Albanian village in southern Italy. Many Maschitans settled in Fresno, where every year they celebrated the feast of their ancestral village’s patron saint, Santa Elia. But I never heard a word about any of this in school. We were busy learning about George Washington and the Constitution, Valley Forge and the Gettysburg Address, the nation’s history and heroes, its virtues and ideals — and, crucially, those core American principles.

It was at school that the immigrant learned American history and celebrated the leaders who had created the country, fought in its defense, and embodied its most cherished values. In short, he learned how to be what he or his parents had freely chosen to become: American.

This process has been compromised over the past 40 years as the ideology of multiculturalism has colonized schools, government, and popular culture. Today, immigrants learn to embrace a sense of entitlement and grievance and to demand that schools and government acknowledge and atone for America’s sins. School curricula have degenerated into ethnic cheerleading and feel-good symbolism. The effect is to divide, not unify, to pit group against group as each tries to out-victim the other in a zero-sum competition for political clout and slices of the public [pie].
Those who come here for whatever reason generate resentments when they demand that taxpayers pay for schools in which they are taught the history of the culture they've left rather than the history of the culture they've chosen. When immigrants refuse to assimilate, when they nurse resentments toward America and insult indigenous Americans, as the university student group called MEChA (National Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan) does*, then our nation is destined to Balkanize and our sense of community, common purpose and concern for each other is doomed to disintegrate. Our infatuation with multiculturalism and uncontrolled immigration is producing a social disaster, as does almost every policy promoted by the Left in the last fifty years.

*Thornton explains:
Aztlan is the mythical territory, comprising northern Mexico and the American Southwest, that was allegedly stolen and plundered by Americans. MEChA promotes a politicized Mexican identity called “Chicanismo” that “involves a personal decision to reject assimilation and work towards the preservation of our cultural heritage.” As such, MEChA “is committed to ending the cultural tyranny suffered at the hands of institutional and systematic discrimination that holds our Gente [people] captive.”

If you need further evidence that this ideology is hostile to American culture and identity, just read a poem published recently at California State University Fresno in La Voz de Aztl├ín, a state-subsidized campus newspaper that functions as MEChA’s house organ: “America the land robbed by the white savage / the land of the biggest genocide / the home of intolerance / the place where dreams come to die / the place of greed and slavery,” and so on for another two dozen lines.
It's people who think like this whom the American taxpayer is expected to welcome with open arms, grant citizenship, subsidize the education and health care of, and make eligible for public welfare. And those taxpayers are called xenophobes by the Left if they resent having to do it.

What a country.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Limits of Knowledge

A journal called The European has an interview with Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director of the European Organization for Nuclear Research and the head man at the CERN laboratories in Switzerland.

Toward the end of the piece Heuer is asked about his thoughts concerning the interface of what we can demonstrate empirically and what we believe on other grounds, i.e. the interface of science and philosophy or theology. Here's the exchange:
The European: Do you think it is conceivable that we will eventually learn something about before the Big Bang?
Heuer: I doubt it.
The European: How do you make sense of that paradox? You want to expand the realm of knowledge but at some point, there is a definite boundary that you cannot cross. Do you simply have to accept the fact that nothing was prior to the Big Bang?
Heuer: I wasn’t saying there was nothing, I am saying that we don’t know anything about what was before – if there was a before. But here we are crossing the boundary between knowledge and belief. I think many famous scientists have struggled with this question and people today also struggle with it.
The European: So at the very borders of human knowledge, science and belief tend to converge?
Heuer: In the scientific community we don’t tend to discuss such things too often. But the more we investigate the early universe, the more people are trying to connect science to philosophy. That is a good thing. Since we are struggling with the limits of knowledge, maybe philosophy or theology struggle also with our research.
It's an interesting consequence of modern science that the more the field advances the more naive the claims that science has disproven the existence of God appear.

In the last few decades many physicists have come to believe that the materialist view of 19th century science is just wrong and that what we call matter is simply an illusion. Our minds process the world in such a way as to present it to our conscious selves as a substantial something when in fact its substantiality is only an artifact of our being the size we are. Were we very much smaller, say the size of an atom, a brick wall would appear to be almost entirely empty space and the atoms in the wall would have the appearance of mere concentrations of energy or forces.

Many physicists have also come around to the belief that not only is the fundamental "substrate" of reality not matter, it's consciousness.

All of this, of course, is pretty much what theologians have been saying for centuries - the universe is not only the product of a divine intelligence, like a painting is the product of the artist, but it's also grounded in that intelligence, much like an idea is grounded in a mind.

In any case, the physicalism of modern atheism seems with almost every revolution in physics to grow more and more unlikely, simplistic, and obsolete.

Brinksmanship

One aspect of the assault on bin Laden's compound that has received little mention in the press is that the United States was prepared to go to war with Pakistan had they interfered with the operation. Strategy Page has the details:
[B]ecause the Pakistani government was full of bin Laden fans, the U.S. did not inform Pakistan about the raid until it was underway. Apparently, that message included a reminder that if the U.S. troops in the bin Laden compound were attacked by Pakistani forces, there would be instant, and far-reaching, consequences.

The extent of those consequences have since been pieced together, from unclassified information. By May 2nd, the U.S. had assembled a huge naval and air force in the region, that was pointed at Pakistan. This force would attack any Pakistani troops or warplanes that went after the U.S. forces in the bin Laden compound, or who might be able to do so.

The U.S. had assembled three aircraft carriers, hundreds of air force aircraft in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, and dozens of helicopters, and thousands of troops, in Afghanistan. Most of these troops didn't know what they were alerted for. Such alerts happen all the time, often for no reason (as far as the troops are concerned.) But this time, as word of the bin Laden raid got out, it became obvious (at least to those who know how these things work) that the alerts throughout the region were to prepare for the possible need to quickly get the American raiders out, and destroy any Pakistani forces that sought to interfere.

Not surprisingly, the Pakistanis did not interfere. In fact, local Pakistani forces surrounded the bin Laden compound and kept anyone from getting in, or out, by land. The Pakistanis did not enter the compound until the Americans had flown away, with bin Laden's body, and documents.
If Mr. Obama keeps up with this sort of thing - lobbing cruise missiles at Libya, threatening Pakistan - pretty soon the media'll start calling him a "cowboy", or they would, anyway, if he were a Republican.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Weight of Days

I'm not sure why it's news, but in a recent interview with The Guardian physicist Stephen Hawking made a claim that's been repeated at a number of news sites as if it were somehow revelatory. Hawking is being quoted as claiming that heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.

Well, maybe. Or maybe not. Whether there's a life after this one or not, though, he's very much mistaken about the significance of the belief that there is. It's not so much a story for people who are afraid of the dark (or of death). Rather belief in an afterlife is the best explanation for why we have the existential yearnings we do.

What I mean is that human beings have a deep need for meaning and purpose, for a basis for moral judgment, for justice, for human rights, and so on. If death is the end of our existence then none of those needs can ever be fulfilled. There really is no purpose for life if the world is as Hawking conceives it, nor is there any justice, nor is there a ground for moral judgments and human rights. We are insignificant specks in a cosmos completely indifferent to our existence and nothing we do matters at all. We fool ourselves into thinking our life matters, that moral duties exist, that people have natural rights, and so on, but these beliefs are simply delusions that make our day to day existence bearable.

As Albert Camus once said, for one who does not believe in God "the weight of days is dreadful."

Given all this, none of which is really controversial, Hawking's answer to another question in the interview is perplexing. He was asked, "So here we are. What should we do?" His answer was, "We should seek the greatest value of our action."

This is perplexing for a couple of reasons. First, we might ask "seek the greatest value" for whom? Presumably for oneself, but what if I place a high value on ethnic purity? Would I be wrong if I acted on that value by exterminating the weak and the ethnically other? Suppose you place high value on kindness and I place a high value on cruelty. Which of us would Hawking say is right? If he says you are, then what is he basing that response on, if not just an arbitrary preference?

Hawking's view, in other words, is that death is the end so might makes right, and each man should do whatever he wishes, whatever produces the greatest value for himself.

Secondly, his answer is perplexing because if there's no life after death, if our lives are as ephemeral and insignificant as the light of a firefly on a summer night, then why should we do anything? What's the point? What difference does it make whether we discover a cure for cancer or write books on the structure of black holes? If death brings it all to a close, if death is the big eraser, why should we care about anything at all except maybe getting as much pleasure as we can while we're waiting to die?

Leo Tolstoy, in his Confessions, tells a parable that goes something like this: While walking down a path a man is confronted by a ravenous beast. The man runs from the beast and jumps down a well to escape it. As he falls he grabs on to a branch growing out of the wall of the well. He looks up as he hangs there and sees the beast waiting for him at the top of the well. He looks down and sees a dragon at the bottom with its jaws agape. He can't go up and he can't go down. He then notices two mice, a white one and a black one - day and night (time) - nibbling away at the base of the branch. His situation is hopeless, death is inevitable. But he notices a few drops of honey on the leaves of the branch and so while he waits for his annihilation, he strains to lick the honey.

For Tolstoy, the man's act is utterly pointless and absurd, but that is the predicament we're all in if this life is all there is. We're all hanging from the branch stretching to lick a drop or two of honey before we die, like a passenger on the Titanic scurrying about the cabin making his bed and folding his clothes while the ship is sinking.

Heaven isn't a fairy tale for those who are afraid of death. Rather belief that heaven exists is the logical consequence of believing that human existence is meaningful, that moral obligations do exist, that justice is possible, that people have value, that what we do in this life isn't just licking honey while waiting for time to run out.

If one believes what one does in life really matters one must also believe that death does not end his or her existence. Contrarily, if one believes that this life is all there is then one has no grounds for believing that what one does in the years given him really matters.

People who believe in heaven aren't necessarily afraid of the dark. They just believe that their life matters.

Thanks to Ethan for the link.

From Alarmist to Skeptic

David Evans has impressive credentials. He consulted full-time for the Australian Greenhouse Office (now the Department of Climate Change) from 1999 to 2005, and part-time 2008 to 2010, modeling Australia’s carbon in plants, debris, mulch, soils, and forestry and agricultural products. He is a mathematician and engineer, with six university degrees, including a PhD from Stanford University in electrical engineering.

He is also a man who formerly believed that carbon dioxide emissions were about to cause an ecological calamity via anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming, but he has looked at the evidence and has rethought his former fears. He concludes an article at The Financial Post with this observation:
Even if we stopped emitting all carbon dioxide tomorrow, completely shut up shop and went back to the Stone Age, according to the official government climate models it would be cooler in 2050 by about 0.015 degrees. But their models exaggerate 10-fold — in fact our sacrifices would make the planet in 2050 a mere 0.0015 degrees cooler!
He explains the reasons for his conversion from alarmist to skeptic in the rest of the article. According to Evans there's no reliable evidence that global warming is occurring and the belief that it is is based on a false assumption about how the atmosphere handles water vapor and sloppy temperature measurements.

It's an informative piece. If you're interested in the issue and/or concerned about President Obama's plans to curtail greenhouse gas emissions through green energy and cap and trade, you should certainly read it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Come Out and Fight, Richard

When Richard Dawkins came out with his book The God Delusion he was feted as the champion of atheism, the St. George who was slaying the dragon of theism and religion. Dawkins has argued that atheists should confront believers and show them and the world the foolishness of belief in God.

Well, philosopher William Lane Craig is planning a trip to England this summer and has said he would like to debate Dawkins, but the mighty hero apparently wants no part of such a contest.

Here are some details from a report by Tim Ross in The Telegraph:
Richard Dawkins has made his name as the scourge of organised religion who branded the Roman Catholic Church “evil” and once called the Pope “a leering old villain in a frock”.

But he now stands accused of “cowardice” after refusing four invitations to debate the existence of God with a renowned Christian philosopher. A war of words has broken out between the best selling author of The God Delusion, and his critics, who see his refusal to take on the American academic, William Lane Craig, as a “glaring” failure and a sign that he may be losing his nerve.

Prof Dawkins maintains that Prof Craig is not a figure worthy of his attention and has reportedly said that such a contest would “look good” on his opponent’s CV but not on his own.

Four invitations to take part in public debates were sent to Prof Dawkins from The British Humanist Association, The Cambridge Debating Union, the Oxford Christian Union and Premier Radio. Prof Dawkins declined them all.

“I have no intention of assisting Craig in his relentless drive for self-promotion,” he said.

Some of Prof Dawkins’s contemporaries are not impressed. Dr Daniel Came, a philosophy lecturer and fellow atheist, from Worcester College, Oxford, wrote to him urging him to reconsider his refusal to debate the existence of God with Prof Craig.

In a letter to Prof Dawkins, Dr Came said: “The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part.

“I notice that, by contrast, you are happy to discuss theological matters with television and radio presenters and other intellectual heavyweights like Pastor Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor Keenan Roberts of the Colorado Hell House.”
There's more at the link. I suspect that Mr. Dawkins has seen Craig's debates with other atheists and knows that his own position on the non-existence of God is indefensible against a debater of Craig's caliber. He also knows the whole world would be watching, he knows he'd get clobbered, and he knows his inevitable defeat at the hands of an evangelical Christian would have a seismic impact on the popularity of modern atheism, not to mention his book sales.

Thus he contents himself, like a man who has no confidence in the strength of his position, by hurling insults at his opponent from afar while evading the challenge to come out and fight like a man.

Anyone who writes a best-selling book on the foolishness of theism ought to be willing to defend his thesis against the most able antagonists. To write the book and then avoid serious challngers is like being declared the heavyweight boxing champion and then refusing to defend the title against any but lightweight challengers and also-rans. It's not the sort of behavior that anyone would think particularly noble, confident or courageous.

Divorce Agreement

A "divorce agreement" between conservatives and liberals is making the rounds on the 'net. It's a clever, if perhaps a little uncharitable, way of illustrating the difference between the two groups. The agreement is supposedly drawn up by a conservative and is addressed to his liberal partner:
We have stuck together since the late 1950s for the sake of the kids, but the whole of this latest election process has made me realize that I want a divorce. I know we tolerated each other for many years for the sake of future generations, but sadly, this relationship has clearly run its course.

Our two ideological sides cannot and will not ever agree on what is right for us all, so let's just end it on friendly terms. We can smile and chalk it up to irreconcilable differences and go our own way.

Here is a model separation agreement:

1. Our two groups can equitably divide up the country by land mass, each taking a similar portion. That will be the difficult part, but I am sure our two sides can come to a friendly agreement. After that, it should be relatively easy. Our respective representatives can effortlessly divide other assets since both sides have such distinct and disparate tastes.

2. We don't like redistributive taxes, so you can keep them.

3. You are also welcome to the liberal judges and the ACLU.

4. Since you hate guns and war, we'll take our firearms, the cops, the NRA, and the military.

5. We'll also take the nasty, smelly oil industry and you can go with wind, solar, and bio-diesel.

6. You can keep Oprah, Michael Moore, Ted Turner, Sean Penn, Martin Sheen, Barbra Steisand, Jane Fonda and Rosie O'Donnell. We'll keep capitalism, greedy corporations, pharmaceutical companies, WalMart, and Wall Street.

7. You can have your lifelong welfare dwellers, food stamps, homeless homeboys, hippies, druggies, and illegal aliens. We'll keep the CEOs, entrepreneuers, and rednecks.

8. We'll keep the Bibles and Judeo-Christian values. You're welcome to Scientology, Humanism, political correctness, and Shirley McLain. You can also have Hollywood and the U.N.

9. We'll keep the SUV's, pickup trucks, and oversized luxury cars. You can take every Subaru station wagon you can find.

10. You're welcome to give everyone healthcare, if you can find any practicing doctors. We'll continue to believe healthcare is a luxury, not a right.

11. We'll keep "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "The National Anthem." I'm sure you'll be happy to substitute "Imagine" or "We Are the World".

12. We'll practice trickle down economics and you can continue to give trickle up poverty your best shot.

13. Since it often offends you, we'll keep our history, our name and our flag.

In the spirit of friendly parting, let's bet on which one of us will need whose help in 15 years.

P.S. You won't have to "Press 1 for English" when you call our new country.
Homework assignment: What, if anything, in the above is unfairly tendentious?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Obama's War On Free Enterprise

The administration's National Labor Relations Board is inadvertently giving us a revealing glimpse into the totalitarian predilections of the folks we elected to run the country in 2008.

Boeing Corporation, the airplane manufacturer based in Seattle, having grown weary of repetitious labor strife and strikes, has decided that a new plant they intend to build will be constructed in a Right to Work state (South Carolina). This means the workforce of the new facility will be non-union which fact the Obama administration finds completely unacceptable. The NLRB has sought to prevent Boeing from building the South Carolina plant on the grounds that it violates the rights of it's employees. Rich Lowery at NRO explains what passes for their reasoning on the matter:
The board accuses Boeing of “interfering with, restraining, and coercing” its union employees in the exercise of their rights by making a thoroughly understandable business decision.
Well, does it? Here's Lowery:
A writer at the liberal The New Republic says it “may be the most radical thing the Obama administration has done.” It’s an attempt to keep companies with the misfortune of operating in union-heavy states in perpetual thrall to organized labor.

The CEO of Boeing stands accused of saying the company could ill afford the “strikes happening every three to four years in Puget Sound.” In a memo, paraphrased in the NLRB complaint, Boeing management said it wanted “to reduce vulnerability to delivery disruptions caused by work stoppages.” What’s notable about these statements is that they are so obvious, they should go without saying.

As the NLRB itself notes, Boeing suffered strikes with some regularity, in 1977, 1989, 1995, 2005, and 2008. These job actions weren’t good for business, or the unions wouldn’t have undertaken them: Their express purpose is to inflict pain on the company. The logic of the NLRB’s position is that businesses shouldn’t notice strikes, and if they do, they should learn to like them and never factor their potential cost into investment decisions. At bottom, the executives of Boeing are guilty of a thought crime.

Boeing....is leaving its Washington State facility intact. In fact, Boeing has expanded it, adding 2,000 jobs. When the Charleston facility is brought online, Boeing will build ten of its 787 Dreamliners a month — seven of them still in Washington State.
How this harms Boeing's workers is a mystery that the NLRB chooses not to clarify. Rather they prefer simply to employ a raw exercise of government coercion to prevent Boeing from building a facility where they and their workers can prosper without having to bear the financial burden of an insatiable union. To make it worse, the NLRB relies on shameless stupidity to justify their attempt to deprive Boeing of a fundamental freedom.

It reminds me of this Billy Madison clip. I think he was talking to representatives of the NLRB trying to explain why they oppose Boeing's move:

The progressive rule of thumb seems to be that when you don't have good reasons for limiting free enterprise, bad reasons will do, and if the bad reasons make you look like a moron, then at least be a resolute, unapologetic moron.

George Will has much more detail on this matter, none of it flattering to either the NLRB or the Obama administration.

Red-necked Phalarope

For those who get excited about such things our humble little county in Pennsylvania was visited by a lovely rarity yesterday (and today). The bird breeds in the arctic and winters out in the ocean so it's rarely seen inland. Nevertheless, one was discovered yesterday at a local lake (Lake Redman) and was still there as I write this on the morning of May 14th. The bird is a Red-Necked Phalarope (No, it doesn't display the Confederate flag and chew tobacco).

Here's a picture:

Female Red-necked Phalarope

One of the interesting things about phalaropes is that unlike just about every other species of bird, the phalarope females are the more brightly plumaged and the males care for the young. I leave it to you to prise out the social significance of that twist of nature. As for me, I wonder how such a phenomenon ever developed in the first place. How many genes must have been altered in order to produce this role reversal and how did those gene mutations occur?

It's an interesting question.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Facts, Shmacts

More and more Mr. Obama demonstrates a troubling indifference to the facts of the matters about which he speaks. At yesterday morning's town hall the President delivered this howler, evidently without even a tinge of embarrassment:
“The reason the unemployment rate is still as high as it is, in part, is because there have been huge layoffs of government workers at the federal level, at the state level, at the local level,” he said. “Teachers, police officers, firefighters, social workers– they have really taken it in the chin over the last several months. And so, what we’re trying to do is to see if we can stabilize the budget.”
Jim Geraghty at NRO runs the numbers and shows that this is simply false. In fact, Geraghty opines, it's hard to imagine how it could be any more wrong than it was. At the very worst, total government layoffs amount to about 2% of current unemployment, and probably account for less than that.

I know. Mr. Obama is a postmodern kind of guy, and we need to remember that for postmoderns it's the narrative that matters, not something as out of fashion as truth, but doesn't it bother people that our President is either so uninformed or so dishonest that such whoppers have come to seem typical of him?

Auditioning for the White House

Daily readers will have noticed that several recent posts were deleted last night. Blogger apparently had a maintenance problem that required them to reset all their blogs to last Tuesday while they fixed it. During that time our posts were deleted and we were unable to post to the blog.

Evidently they have everything fixed, and I'd like to celebrate with a rap that I jotted down as I reflected on Michelle Obama's invitation to the rapper "Common" to attend a poetry reading at the White House. I thought that if I could compose a rap maybe I'd get invited, too. So here's the first two stanzas of my effort to win Ms Obama's approval:
If you want a White House rappin' gig, just rap 'bout how you shoot a pig. Or rhyme 'bout offin' the previous POTUS, cuz that's what delights the current FLOTUS.

She 'parently digs the sentiment, even tho' denyin' that's what was meant. So rap on 'bout misogyny and killin,' and soon 'nuf you'll be in the White House, chillin'.
What do you think? Do I have a chance at a White House invite, yo?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Company We Keep

Imagine, if you will, that Laura Bush invited to the White House a celebrity who had praised people who had murdered blacks and whose writings and utterances contained veiled references to the merits of assassinating President Clinton. Do you not think that the nation would be appalled and that the outrage would be so incandescent as to force Mrs. Bush to rescind the invitation?

Now imagine that so far from the First Lady revoking the invitation the White House Press Secretary actually defended it by asserting that the overall body of work of this celebrity includes many positive messages and that he shouldn't be judged on the basis of a few unfortunate artistic flourishes. Do you think that would fly? Should it?

Surely not, but if it wasn't Laura Bush who brought this celebrity into the White House, but rather Michelle Obama, and the invited guest was a rapper who praised a cop-killer and suggested that George Bush be "burned", well, then, judging by the left's indifference to Ms Obama's invitation to this gentleman, that's apparently no big deal.

It really is enlightening to see the sorts of people the Obamas consort with and how the left reacts to their associations. It tells us much about who they are.

Another guest at Ms Obama's soiree was a black female writer named Jill Scott who acknowledged in a column at Essence that she "winced" when she learned that a black male friend had married a Caucasian woman. "Winced"? Aren't we past that? Would a white poet receive a hearing in the White House if she had admitted that she winced when she learned that a white male friend had married a black woman?

Ms Scott denies that her comment was motivated by racism and she gives, I think, a reasonable explanation for why she said what she did, but how many white people have had their careers ruined for remarks that were just as innocent? Remember Trent Lott saying on the occasion of Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday that he would have made a fine president? No one has heard from Lott since. Indeed, how many people have been called racist for no other reason than that they opposed Mr. Obama's profligacy?

Apparently, what's considered racism when a white person says it is considered unexceptional when a black person says it. At least that seems to be the case in the Obama White House.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Epidemic of Sex-Trafficking

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner has built quite a legacy, but it's not the legacy that most people will talk about when he finally shuffles off this mortal coil. His real legacy can be found in an article by Chuck Neubauer in The Washington Times. Neubauer never mentions Hefner nor anything that's usually associated with the man who more than any other single person gave the sexual revolution its impetus and its intellectual justification, but his legacy is implicit in every paragraph of Neubauer's column.

Neubauer writes about the epidemic of sex-trafficking in the United States and the stories he tells and the statistics he cites are truly shocking. The whole article should be read, but meanwhile here are a few facts he cites about sex abuse, not in Thailand or Africa, but in the U.S.:
1.6 million children younger than 18 — native and foreign-born — have been caught up in this country’s sex trade.

Analysts say the number of children sexually exploited in the U.S. or at risk of being exploited is between 100,000 and 300,000.

The average age of entry into the sex trafficking industry in the U.S. is between 12 and 14 years old.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the lead agency in trafficking investigations, has estimated that 800,000 people are trafficked into sex and forced-labor situations throughout the world every year.
The story of "Jane" is typical:
Jane’s fall into the world of sex trafficking began in May 2008, just before her 15th birthday. Jackson, her pimp, forced her to work as a prostitute in Portland. When she protested, he beat her. “He made me believe I was not human and I was just for one thing — to make money for him,” she said, calling her life a nightmare and suffering bruises and scars from many beatings.

Asked why she didn’t leave, she said, “I had nowhere to go. I didn’t know anybody. Where was I to go? He threatened to kill me all the time.”

On one occasion when he got mad because she had not made enough money, she said, he pushed her down and punched her in the face, saying, “You are going to die tonight.” She said she pleaded for her life and promised to do whatever he said: “Just don’t kill me. I thought I was going to die.”

Of that beating, the FBI later said, “She awoke to find Jackson holding a firearm at her head and swearing on his mother’s life that he would kill her.” The bureau said that “several times a week,” Jackson choked her, pulled her hair, pushed her and struck her with his hands, a belt and a coffee pot, and that he “tried to bite off her finger.”

“I trusted him even after all this stuff. After he abused me, I still thought it was love — I thought that this is how it was supposed to be. … Most of our arguments were about money,” she said, adding that she had sex with six men a day, sometimes eight or nine. “I was bringing him $600 a day, but he wanted more.”

Jane got out of that life when she was arrested in October 2008 and an FBI agent asked her whether she wanted to go to Children of the Night, where she now lives. She said it was the first time she was treated like a victim instead of a criminal. “I had the FBI on my side. I could actually tell they were trying to help me,” she said.
So what does any of this have to do with Hugh Hefner? Hefner never advocated this kind of thing, did he? He was big on consensual, uncoerced, recreational sex with no strings attached, wasn't he? Yes, but.

Hefner's Playboy empire gave Americans and others a big push out on to a hedonistic slippery slope. He persuaded the post-war generation to detach sex from morality and thus from marriage. When sex is detached from marriage it is perforce detached from commitment. When sex no longer entails a commitment then marriage as an institution is gravely weakened. When that happens millions of girls grow up either without a father or in the same house as their mother's live-in boyfriend.

Fatherless girls become easy prey for male sexual abuse. The most dangerous place for a young girl is in a home where there are adult males who are not her biological father, and the number of such homes exploded in the 1970s as marriages fell apart. The increase in fatherless homes was due largely to three interrelated phenomena: easy divorce, easy contraception, and the belief that sex had little, if anything, to do with marriage, a belief that was central to Hefner's "Playboy Philosophy".

Today that "philosophy" is bearing its tragic fruit in the epidemic of sex-trafficking which ensnares and ruins the lives of countless thousands of girls every year. These girls by the tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands are sexually abused, forced into prostitution, or forced into pornography, or, commonly, all three. A "never-ending stream" of abused girls, as one who works with these girls put it. That's the legacy of the sexual revolution. That's the legacy of the Playboy Philosophy.

Way to go Hef.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tracking Down the FOOLs

A piece at Strategy Page explains the significance of the data seized in the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. Here's the crux of it:
It works like this. In the last five years, counter-terror operations in Iraq were increasingly concentrating on chasing down specific terrorists and their organizations. The amount of intelligence residing in databases, plus the daily flow of new information made it possible to track terrorist cells and chase after them with high confidence that they would be caught. There were a lot of Islamic terrorists out there in Iraq, but by 2007 they had to spend most of their time on OpSec (operational security, making sure that they, or their bomb making workshops, are not discovered.)

For years, every night in Iraq, about a dozen known bad guys were hauled in. Some of these men gave up their buddies, or incriminating documents or other evidence (often fingerprints) would do it. Since about 2005, U.S. troops were fingerprinting every suspicious character they came across. The guy they turned loose several years earlier for lack of evidence, may end up on a wanted list today because his prints were now found all over some warm weapons or bomb making materials. Prints can even be lifted off some fragments of exploded bombs.

The army and marines have been doing the same thing police forces and corporations have been doing for over a decade; taking data from many different sources and quickly sorting out what all the pieces mean. It's called fusion and data mining, and it's a weapon that is having a dramatic impact on what many thought was an unwinnable war.

The final factor in this trend was the parallel growth of raiding and command techniques. American troops developed organizations, equipment and tactics that enabled them to rapidly and safely (for both the raiders and the arrested) go after suspects in dense residential areas (or farms in rural areas). You didn't hear much about this, because these raids did not generate casualties or the kind of violence that grabs headlines.

American commanders and headquarters also learned how to plan and execute these raids very quickly (sometimes within minutes of new information being discovered.) This meant that, after a terrorist hideout was raided, information found there could generate additional raids in less than an hour. The new raids often caught terrorists who had not yet heard of the earlier raid that turned up the data putting them on the American radar. Speed was a weapon, and it took years to develop a superior amount of it.

The same techniques were applied in Afghanistan, and to the war on terror in general. Thus seizing all that data in bin Laden's house provided thousands of links, and data on who did what for who and when. Added to existing data, and using the specialized software and databases, will provide sufficient information to launch more raids.

They are probably already underway. But you won't hear about it until somewhat later, because more valuable information, and suspects, will be picked up and lead to still more raids. After weeks, or months, the names of "most wanted" suspects that were arrested or killed will get out. But the big damage is done to the organization of these terrorist groups, and the confidence they once had in their communications, and the people they once trusted.
What I don't understand is why we announced to the world that we had all the data. Why not concoct a story that our SEAL team had to evacuate too quickly to gather up all the computers and thumb drives and so forth? Why not put out a story that we were surprised by how little stuff OBL had on the premises and disappointed that the raid yielded so little information on other terrorists? At least this may have created some uncertainty.

As it is, if all the potential targets the new intelligence helps us find know we have information on them they're bound to hop in their SUVs and head for the nearest cave, but if they were uncertain that we had the information they may have taken the chance that we didn't and stayed in their comfy air-conditioned hideouts.

Anyway, it looks like there'll be some anxious days ahead for the FOOLs (Friends of Osama bin Laden). Come to think of it, I wonder how many of those FOOLs are in the U.S.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Islam Will Dominate the World

Several hundred Muslims protested in London the other day promising death to America and other tedious banalities as they voiced their outrage at the killing of Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden, it must be remembered, has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans, not just on 9/11 but throughout the 1990s, but according to the perverse logic by which extremist Muslims live America had no right to hold him accountable. Osama was a Muslim and, in their febrile minds, it's an intolerable outrage for infidels to avenge themselves against a Muslim. Thankfully, the majority of London Muslims think that the protesters were "nuts", a trenchant assessment to be sure, but the protest still raises questions nonetheless.

For example, the demonstrators displayed signs saying that "Islam Will Dominate the World" which suggests that the demonstrators see the attack on bin Laden as an attack on Islam. Yet many Muslims have insisted that bin Laden is not a true Muslim, so why do the London Muslims view his death as an affront to Islam? Or do these extremists just believe that anyone who is a terrorist and murders innocent Westerners is a quintessential Muslim hero? Is this what Islam has become, at least for them - a religion for terrorists?

I saw a statistic today that said that the population of U.S. Muslims will double by 2030. It's expected that their demographic will rise from the current .8% of the population to 1.7% of the population within twenty years.

This should be cause for some concern given the experience of other countries around the globe with disaffected Muslim populations, and given that many Muslims tend to hold America and our traditional freedoms in very low esteem.

In a book titled Slavery, Terrorism and Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat, Dr. Peter Hammond writes that (I'm paraphrasing) Islam in its fullest form is a complete, total, 100% system of life. It has religious, legal, political, economic, social, and military components. The religious component is a beard for all the other components. Islamization begins when there are sufficient Muslims in a country to agitate for their religious privileges. When politically correct, tolerant, and culturally diverse societies agree to Muslim demands for their religious privileges, some of the other components tend to creep in as well.

Hammond goes on to observe that as long as the Muslim share of the population is around 2% they live peacefully in their communities, but as their percentage of the population grows they become increasingly fractious.

When they achieve about 5% of the population they begin to demand that the larger society bend to their will, particularly by allowing them to have their own laws and their own courts based on the Koran.

When Muslims approach 10% of the population, Hammond claims, they tend to increase lawlessness as a means of complaint about their conditions. In Paris, we already see car-burnings, riots, and murders. Any insult by a non-Muslim results in violence and threats, such as in Amsterdam where cartoonists have been threatened with death over their depiction of Mohammed in cartoons and Theo Van Gogh was murdered and Ayaan Hirsi Ali had to flee for her life after making a film critical of Islam.

Nations in which the Muslim population reaches 20% have experienced severe social turmoil and conflict with burnings of churches and synagogues, and as the population climbs so does the conflict until bloodletting becomes commonplace.

As Leon Uris has a Muslim character say in The Haj:
"Before I was nine I had learned the basic canon of Arab life. It was me against my brother; me and my brother against our father; my family against my cousins and the clan; the clan against the tribe; and the tribe against the world. And all of us against the infidel."
Frankly, I don't know what Mr. Choudary is talking about when he says that Islam has so much to offer the West. Looking at the nations where Islam has ruled for over a thousand years it's hard to find one that even Muslims want to live in, which is why, I suppose, there's so much emigration from these countries to the West.

Perhaps as Muslims grow in numbers in the U.S. they'll follow the pattern of so many immigrant groups before them and lay aside the ways of the old country and assimilate into their new home, developing as they do a deeper sensitivity to the rights of those who don't share their beliefs and a deeper appreciation for the value of religious, economic and political freedom. The experience of European Muslims does not give much hope that this will be the case, unfortunately, but then America is not Europe.

Satisfaction and the Nanny State

A couple of things about this piece at Science Daily puzzled me. The article discusses a study that purports to show that people living in countries where there are a lot of government social service programs are generally more satisfied with life than those who live in countries where government is less involved in providing such programs:
Dr. Patrick Flavin, assistant professor of political science at Baylor, said the effect of state intervention into the economy equaled or exceeded marriage when it came to satisfaction. The study is published in the spring issue of the journal Politics & Policy.

The study measured government intervention into the economy in four ways: government tax revenue as a percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP), government consumption of GDP, generosity of unemployment benefits and a country's welfare expenditures as a percentage of GDP.

"In many cases, less government intervention can allow for a more efficient economy, but greater economic efficiency doesn't necessarily translate into greater contentment with one's life," Flavin said. "If you get sick and can't work or lose your job and there are few social protections in place, you're more likely to be anxious and less satisfied."
Well, I guess so. People who don't have to worry about making a living are probably going to be a lot more content than those who do. They'll also doubtless be more content than those who are making a living and paying for the contentment of those who aren't.
Flavin said the research is focused only on the link between government intervention and life satisfaction and not whether intervention achieves economic growth or such goals as reducing poverty or violent crime. But "to the extent that it is a primary task of democratic governments to secure the well-being of their citizens, studying what government activities make citizens happier helps inform the 'politics vs. markets' debate,'" he said.
This raises an important question. Is it really the primary task of government to "secure the well-being of its citizens"? I don't think so. The primary task of government is to guarantee that citizens are free to pursue their own well-being. When the well-being of citizens is elevated by the state above the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. we usually wind up with some form of totalitarianism.

That government is best which protects our borders, protects our citizens from crime, and protects the rights of citizens to pursue their own dreams. To the extent that government moves beyond these proper functions it inevitably becomes more oppressive.

In any event, I wonder how significant this study is. Just because one can establish a statistical correlation between two variables it doesn't follow that therefore there's a causal connection between them. In other words, the fact, if it is a fact, that those who happen to live in social welfare states are somewhat more content than those who don't doesn't mean that the social welfare state is what's causing the contentment.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

God, Science and Atheism

William West at Mercatornet reviews a book by Oxford mathematician John Lennox. Lennox's book, God’s Undertaker – Has Science Buried God?, is, evidently, a powerful summation of why modern atheism has degenerated into an intellectual zombie. It's still walking around scaring people, but for all intents and purposes, the life is gone out of it. In every arena of public debate atheism is showing itself bereft of the philosophical vigor, vitality and conviction it enjoyed during its prime in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Despite the great success of books written by the New Atheists - or maybe because of that success - more people are experiencing a dawning awareness that atheism simply has few good arguments left in its arsenal and has none that are actually compelling. Atheism has become the naked emperor of modern intellectual life.

Here are a few paragraphs from the first half of West's review:
While “new atheists” Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have been grabbing headlines with their bold claims that modern science has killed off God, an Oxford professor has been quietly chipping away at the ground they stand on. John C Lennox, Professor of Mathematics and Fellow in the Philosophy of Science at Oxford’s Green Templeton College, has been popping up at debates around the globe to take issue with the most prominent new atheists.

Lennox’s arguments are outlined in his book, God’s Undertaker – Has Science Buried God? As The Spectator’s Melanie Phillips has written, Lennox’s book provides an “excoriating demolition of Dawkins’s overreach from biology into religion”.

The brilliance of Lennox’s approach is that it does not just concentrate on one academic discipline, like biology. It spans all of the most relevant fields, including cosmology, physics, philosophy, theology and mathematics, offering a compelling case for the view that scientific knowledge, rather than killing God off, actually makes a divine creator necessary.

Drawing on his own discipline, mathematics, Lennox calculates the odds of life arising by chance and concludes that anyone who would bet on those odds must be either deluded or just plain mad. Of course, in the best academic traditions, Dawkins refrains from using such colourful language, but the force of his arguments leaves no room for any other conclusion.

Beginning with the big picture of the universe and planet earth’s place in it, he notes that the ruling view in science is that the universe is not eternal but began with the “big bang” – a view that had not always been accepted by the scientific community.

“The remarkable picture that is gradually emerging from modern physics and cosmology is one of a universe whose fundamental forces are amazingly, intricately, and delicately balanced or ‘fine tuned’ in order for the universe to be able to sustain life,” he writes. “Recent research has shown that many of the fundamental constants of nature, from the energy levels in the carbon atom to the rate at which the universe is expanding, have just the right values for life to exist. Change any of them just a little, and the universe would become hostile to life and incapable of supporting it.”
Here are a few examples Lennox gives of the exquisite precision of the universe's physical structure:
As theoretical physicist Paul Davies confirms, if the ratio of the nuclear strong force to the electromagnetic force had been different by one part in 1016 (that's ten to the sixteenth power) no stars could have formed.

The ratio of the electromagnetic force-constant to the gravitational force-constant must be equally delicately balanced to produce the right size of star to sustain a planet with life. A variation here of only 1 part in 1040 and life becomes impossible. (Davies has commented that this feat is akin to a marksman hitting a coin at the far side of the observable universe, 20 billion light years away.)

An alteration in the ratio of the expansion and contraction forces of the big bang by as little as one part in 1055 at the Planck time (just 10-43 seconds after the origin of the universe) would have led to either too rapid an expansion of the universe with no galaxies forming or to too slow an expansion with consequent rapid collapse.

Lennox goes on to list even more mind-boggling examples of precision-tuning in the universe. Such features of cosmic design were what led Sir Fred Hoyle to state that “there are no blind forces in nature worth talking about”, and Paul Davies to conclude, simply, “ the impression of design is overwhelming”.
Of course, an atheist could abandon his commitment to science and posit the existence of an infinitude of different universes among which, the laws of probability tell us, there'd have to be at least one just like ours, but then the atheist would have to explain why believing in an infinitude of other universes for which there's no real evidence is not an irrational leap of faith. He'd have to explain why his belief is not more irrational, in fact, than believing that there's an intelligent mind which has engineered the cosmos, a belief for which there is considerable evidence.

It's a whole lot easier to just pretend the problem doesn't exist or to obscure it by going on, as the New Atheists like to do, about the horrors of religious fanaticism, as if that had anything at all to do with the question of whether God exists.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Re: The Gathering Storm

On April 19th and 20th we ran a couple of posts that gave my brother Bill's view of the nation's near-term economic future. Bill is pessimistic that it will work out well. A reader named D.P. who works in the financial sector wrote a response to Bill to which Bill then replied. We give D.P the last word:
Frankly, I was again disappointed in Bill's response, as it included quotes used out of context, and some references that were downright misleading or confusing. For instance, after responding to my "expertise" quote, Bill says "you don't have to be an expert", and immediately references Bill Gross, whom I presume he considers an expert. But, while this retort was confusing, it was also blatantly disingenuous in that I could list a whole cadre of "experts" who have moved the exact opposite of Mr. Gross. It seems Bill missed my general point, which is that no one knows with any certainty what will come tomorrow, and that those sounding off with certainty serve to alarm folks.

Bill's next rebut is aimed at my observations regarding inflation, to which he offers a definition. I searched the web for a definition consistent with his and couldn't find it. Most definitions of inflation were along the lines of this one which I found in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: "a continuing rise in the general price level usually attributed to an increase in the volume of money and credit relative to available goods and services". Of course, as I mentioned in my original note, the government’s actions are intentionally inflationary, but so far inflation itself, the broad increase of prices for goods and services, has been very low for a long time. As evidence of inflation Bill focuses on a very narrow example of commodity prices over a very brief period of time (3 months).

This is, of course, not very scientific (and totally, purposefully misleading). I could just as easily reference housing prices or technology or average wages, and for significantly longer periods, to argue for disinflation. My ultimate point is, Bill doesn't know; in fact, industry academics are generally split on what the future holds for prices.

Next, Bill makes a flippant and vapid retort to my critique of his observation that gold is cheap. Come on, Bill, is that the best you could do? I look at the COMEX pricing of gold every day and have yet to see them post it as follows: CHEAP!

As for the dollar's fall, "the point", as Bill says, is to protect one's self from dollar devaluation RELATIVE TO GOODS AND SERVICES PURCHASED! See broad inflation data and previous definitions for reference.

In Bill's next two challenges he attempts to defend himself from my critiques of his use of absolute statements (he should know better!) The first is his reference to a "zero-risk investment". I am dumbfounded that he took issue, as I rightly pointed out that there was, in fact, risk involved. His defense was just as confounding, as he argued, it seems, that the time value of money risk I rightly referenced was minimal (note that he DID NOT argue that it was ZERO!), then his example was no less minimal. Next, he observed that "no entity" was interested in U S debt.

Of course, the US debt is the single largest daily volume security class in the world, but let's not let the facts get in the way. As for his concerns about the FED's involvement, I agree and share his concerns. If this had been his original argument I would not have had anything to critique. Again, confusing.

As for my hope, while I agree it is not a strategy (nor did I present it as such), I stand behind my argument that the future of economic success lies with the individual and one’s drive to live a better life for one's self and one's family. Of course Bill can find narrow examples of human failure, like his Katrina example, but the broader examples in human history, in fact OF human history as a whole, support my argument, and my hope. When faced with an economic doomsday virtually NO ONE I KNOW will curl up in a corner and wither. Rather, they will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to deliver a better life for themselves and their families. Consider everyone you know and see if you don't come to the same conclusion!
Whether D.P. or Bill is correct about the economic future is, as D.P. says, something no one knows. It's my untutored opinion that Bill is surely correct that the FED can't keep printing money, and the government can't keep spending it, without driving us over the cliff. Until the FED and Congress put the brakes on, and until fuel prices stop climbing, I don't see how we can avoid a calamitous outcome. Even so, I hope D.P. is right that things aren't as dire as Bill forecasts and I fear.