Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chicken Littles

Apropos the global climate change contretemps Pajamas Media discusses a few of the dozens of environmental "scares" to which we've been subjected over the years. They focus on the mercury poison scare of the mid-nineties, but the commenters mention others (the population bomb, Alar, saccharine, electromagnetic radiation/cancer, DDT/cancer, global cooling, nuclear winter, et al). In fact according to a study cited by PM there have been twenty six such alarums within the memories of those of us who came of age in the sixties.

Here's an excerpt: As these costs [of the various alleged threats] rise, people will increasingly demand hard evidence that their sacrifices are worthwhile and are not merely based on sentimentalism and opportunism.

When people learn more about an issue, the persuasion formula that initially worked so well for alarmists breaks down. People become less persuaded by appeals to trust the authorities, less susceptible to fear, less willing to accept emotional appeals from celebrities, less gullible. Trends in polls show that this is already happening with the global warming scare.

Alarming forecasts of humans harming themselves and the environment by their actions are a common social phenomenon. They become widely believed for a time, cause unnecessary anxiety, and result in costly government policies, then fade from public attention as it becomes more difficult to maintain the alarm in the face of counter-evidence and closer public scrutiny.

As if to provide me an illustration of how this works some folks on a listserve to which I belong sent a link to a short video designed to frighten the bejabbers out of anyone who cares about bird life in North America. The video was accompanied by breathless appeals to not let this happen, and was put out by a left-wing environmental group called the National Resources Defense Council.

The NRDC purports to warn us of the enormous damage that mining energy from Canadian tar sands will do to our bird species and natural beauty. I'm not saying that mining tar sands will not have an impact on the ecology of the Canadian wilderness, but nothing in this video provides evidence of that. It's simply a series of images that the viewer is supposed to subliminally connect with tar sands mining, but no evidence whatsoever of any connection between the image and the mining is given. It's pure emotionalism and quite possibly dishonest:
Assertions are not necessarily facts. What a critical thinker trying to decide on these matters should ask for is not mere assertions, but assertions backed by unimpeachable evidence. Otherwise, even if the alarmist case is true, the audience they seek to reach will just become cynical.

Meanwhile, Uncommon Descent chips in with a parable for our times fetched from the treasure trove of wonderful social commentary limned by the great Walt Disney. Any similarity between the characters in this cartoon and any person living or dead is purely coincidental:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Difference Grandparents Make

We've on occasion tried to make the argument here that one of the many negative consequences of the modern breakdown of the family - which is itself a consequence of the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies - is that too many children are now growing up without the benefit of two full sets of grandparents.

This is a disadvantage that goes far deeper than not having someone to bake cookies for the children. Grandparents have usually worked most of their life, accumulated substantial savings and provide a deep economic resource for their children and grandchildren. Their children and grandchildren are able to enlist the grandparents' aid to buy homes, go to college, take vacations, and enjoy life experiences that the children of single parent families simply cannot. Children in single parent families often have only a maternal grandmother to draw upon for help when they need it and she herself is often not in a position to offer much financial support.

Now comes an article by Hope Yen that discusses some of these same issues. Ms. Yen has a lot of interesting things to say about the crucial role grandparents play, and, by implication, what a sociological tragedy family breakdown has been. Here are some excerpts:
America is swiftly becoming a granny state. Less frail and more involved, today's grandparents are shunning retirement homes and stepping in more than ever to raise grandchildren while young adults struggle in the poor economy. The newer grandparents are mainly baby boomers who are still working, with greater disposable income. Now making up 1 in 4 adults, grandparents are growing at twice the rate of the overall population and sticking close to family — if their grandkids aren't already living with them.

"We help out in terms of running errands, babysitting, taking the grandkids to doctors' appointments, and for back-to-school shopping," said Doug Flockhart of Exeter, N.H., listing some of the activities that he and his wife, Eileen, do for their five kids and seven grandchildren. But that's just the start.

They also pitch in with health care payments for family members due to insurance gaps, and their pace of activity has picked up substantially since their daughter, who lives three blocks away, gave birth to her first child this month. Flockhart, a retired architect, likes the family time even if he and his wife worry about their grandkids' futures.

"It's not so much the day in and day out, it's the big picture as to how these young kids will grow up and pay for a college education and buy a house," he said.

Flockhart's situation is increasingly common, demographers say. "Grandparents have become the family safety net, and I don't see that changing any time soon," said Amy Goyer, a family expert at AARP. "While they will continue to enjoy their traditional roles, including spending on gifts for grandchildren, I see them increasingly paying for the extras that parents are struggling to keep up with — sports, camps, tutoring or other educational needs, such as music lessons."

In all, there are 62.8 million grandparents in the U.S., the most ever. They are projected to make up roughly 1 in 3 adults by 2020. Nearly half the states had increases of 40 percent or more over the last decade in the number of grandchildren living with grandparents.

[T]he stereotype of grandparents who are frail, receding and dependent is changing. [U]nemployment among workers ages 25 to 34 last year was double that of Americans aged 55 to 64. U.S. households headed by baby boomers also commanded almost half of the nation's total household income, and are more likely to be college graduates than grandparents in previous generations.

These grandparents reject living in senior communities in favor of "aging in place" in their own homes, near family. In 2009, households ages 55 or older spent billions of dollars on infant food, clothes, toys, games, tuition and supplies for grandchildren, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Grandparents are supposed to be old, gray-haired people tottering around, but the vast majority are actually in the work force. There is not much doubt that the recent recession has brought grandparents and grandchildren together.
Back in the sixties and seventies we were frequently assured by feminists and others that women didn't really need a husband, that there are lots of different kinds of workable families. Perhaps, but the traditional two parent family with two sets of grandparents offers the children so many advantages that it's hard to understand why it's not more strongly held up as the ideal by liberals who profess to care about children and why we instead seem to be doing everything we can, from winking at cohabitation and premarital sex to making divorce easy, to guarantee that fewer children will be able to benefit from those advantages.

Let's Treat Climate Change Skeptics Like Racists

Al Gore has performed a useful service by calling our nation's attention to climate change, but in his zeal he seems to have lost the ability, or willingness, to make basic distinctions. In a recent interview, for example, Gore compares the attempt to "win the conversation" on climate change to the attempt earlier in our history to win the conversation on racial equality.
Mr. Gore certainly knows that the campaign for equality was a moral, not a scientific, debate. The controversy over climate change, on the other hand, is a debate over methodology, reliability and interpretation of data. To juxtapose the two is, intentionally or not, to subtly smear his opponents as the same kind of people as racists.

The second thing to which to object in his comparison is that the debate over how we should treat minorities was conducted largely by showing people how their behavior failed to conform to their own moral principles and thus essentially shame them into changing their behavior. There should be no place for shaming people in the debate over climate change unless they have behaved unethically. The debate should be conducted in the realm of empirical facts. The use of public censure, which Mr. Gore seems to endorse against his critics, is antithetical to a dispassionate scientific attempt to follow the evidence.

Third, Mr. Gore implies that the evil polluters are motivated by greed whereas the humble scientists, or at least the ones who agree with him, are motivated simply by a noble desire to find the truth. This is naive. Scientists are just as human as corporate CEOs. They may be motivated by different inducements, but they're often still driven by concerns such as the desire for professional prestige, a commitment to advancing a political ideology, lucrative book contracts and speaking engagements, etc. Mr. Gore may be correct that the polluters have selfish motives and the climatologists warning about climate change do not, but he doesn't know this or offer us reasons why we should believe it. Given our lack of insight into the motives of the players it's best to assume, pending further evidence, that one's opponents are simply mistaken without assuming that they're evil.

One further point of interest in Mr. Gore's attempt to subtly treat climate change skeptics* as the modern equivalent of 20th century racists is that his own father opposed equality for blacks and voted against the Civil Rights Act as a member of the U.S. Senate. One wonders if Gore, Jr. ever expressed toward his own father the moral opprobrium and indignation with which he says his generation challenged the older generation during the days of the civil rights movement.

Pat Gray had some fun with this yesterday on Glenn Beck's radio show. Actually, I think Gray is being a bit unfair to Gore, Jr. here since he doesn't know what transpired between father and son, but even so, his diatribe raises a pertinent question about Mr. Gore's pontification on this issue in his interview. How fervently did the young Gore press his own father on the matter of social justice for blacks?

Thanks to Hot Air for the links.

*Actually the term "climate change skeptic" is probably a misnomer. Most people I've read on this subject are not skeptical of climate change itself but rather of the claim that whatever change is occurring is 1. definitely a bad thing, and 2. man-caused.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fracking Fallacies

I'm very glad there are people who's life work it is to protect our natural lands and beautiful spaces. I'm glad that there are people concerned about habitat loss and the effects of man's activities on the ecological diversity of a region. I belong to The Nature Conservancy and have visited probably 90% or more of the nation's national parks and many of our national wildlife refuges. But sometimes some of the people engaged in the work of insuring that our natural heritage is available for our descendents to enjoy give the impression that they're just a bunch of Luddites.

A case in point is the campaign to stop the use of a technology called "fracking" which is used to mine natural gas from subterranean rock. There may be good reasons not to "frack" but according to an article at American Thinker the objections some environmentalists have raised against the practice seem either trivial or dishonest. According to the AT article:
Hydro-fracking has a long history of success. First introduced in 1908, forty years later it became a commercially viable method to safely extract America's most abundant energy from bedrock strata. Over one million gas wells have been fracked without a single incident of environmental impact. This didn't stop Ian Urbina of the New York Times from citing a case from 1984 in an August 2011 article warning of tainted water and the possibility of benzene in fracking fluid.
Urbina's article was based on the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency requires that drillers file Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for every chemical used on the drill site. Benzene, as well as a lot of other chemicals, are used in the vehicles and machinery on site, but are not part of the fracking fluid.
Ninety percent of fracking fluid is water with 9.5% sand the other half percent the secret ingredients, common household chemicals we all flush daily into the municipal gray water system.

The AP sounded the alarm highlighting three compounds that appeared on the lists because of the risks they pose to human health -- naphthalene, toluene and xylene. Eco-activists had a field day claiming that deadly BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene) in fracking fluid will poison the water, killing fish, flora, and fauna while releasing fatal concentrations of the green death into the atmosphere.

It was much ado about nothing. Scott Perry, the director of DEP's Bureau of Oil and Gas Management, accepted the blame because he provided the AP with the comprehensive list of all chemicals used at PA's well sites. Not just the chemicals pumped deep underground but also those stored or used on a well site, including fuel and brake fluid for vehicles. DEP spokesman Tom Rathbun, said of hydraulic fracturing fluids, that a fear that those chemicals will interfere with drinking water aquifers is misplaced.

"It's our experience in Pennsylvania that we have not had one case in which the fluids used to break off the gas from 5,000 to 8,000 feet (1,500-2,400 m) underground have returned to contaminate ground water," said John Hanger, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
EPA bureaucrats, however, don't seem to care about inconvenient details. Residents in a Texas suburb had natural gas in their water wells for years before any fracking took place. The methane was a natural constituent of the town's water, but that didn't hinder the EPA from closing down the wells. Fracking was going on nearby, methane was in the water, ergo fracking must be responsible for the methane. The EPA shut down the drillers and put dozens of people out of work.

Little wonder that government bureaucracies and those who staff them, particularly the EPA of the Obama administration, are the butt of so much grass-roots mistrust and contempt.

Kill Bill and Al Qaeda Succession

There's a scene in one of the Kill Bill movies where a horde of Japanese swordsmen attack the Uma Thurman heroine pretty much one at a time. As they attack she mows them down seriatim with her own exquisite swordplay until there are none left to fight. I was reminded of that scene when I read the news that al Qaeda's number two man had come a cropper at the business end of an air to surface missile in Waziristan recently.

This is apparently as big a setback for al Qaeda as was the death of bin Laden because this guy, Atiyah al Rahman, was a serious talent in the al Qaeda network:
Brian Fishman of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point calls Rahman the communications glue of the organization and says that losing him will damage AQ as much as losing Bin Laden did. If you doubt him, take 30 seconds to re-read this post from last month.

Rahman was so important that Bin Laden appointed him as the group’s official emissary in Iran, which allowed him to arrange transit through the country for AQ operatives. Rahman was also Bin Laden’s point man on a plot to attack the United States on the anniversary of 9/11 this year, which is all you need to know about how far his ambitions extended.

This was not a guy who operated locally only, against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He was thinking big. And judging by how frequently he communicated with Osama, he was clearly someone for whom the group had high hopes. Says Steve Hayes at the Standard, “If Atiyah Rahman is indeed dead, as it appears, [it's] hard to overstate how significant a blow that is for AQ. And win for us.” Indeed.
According to sources, there were two missiles fired. One at a house and one at a car carrying four suspected terrorists. Which missile took out al Rahman is unknown.

So what does this have to do with the scene in Kill Bill? It seems like every month another one of these top echelon chaps is sent to his reward and a successor rushes in to take his place, like the assassins attacking Uma Thurman, only to have himself promptly dispatched to his 72 virgins within days or weeks of assuming his new duties. Like the Japanese swordsmen, they're eager to rush into the fray, but it's hard to figure out why.

Just What We Needed

Hot Air's Green Room has us all excited about the President's new executive order:
Perhaps to counter claims that he is off vacationing while the country goes to hell in a hand basket, President Obama took time away from the golf links to attend to affairs of state.

So what matter was so important that it demanded the president’s immediate attention? Did he get sudden inspiration on ways to cut the deficit, or did he hit upon a strategy or two to add to his soon-to-be-announced jobs plan (demoted to an outline)? Nope. He signed an executive order calling for the creation of an Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

The goal of the plan, as described by Judicial Watch, is to “eliminate demographic group imbalances in targeted occupations and improve workforce diversity. To attain this, special initiatives have been created targeting specific groups, including Hispanics, African Americans, American Indians, women and gays and lesbians.”
Everyone but white males. Apparently there are already too many white males in a lot of occupations.

What this means of, course, is that this new bureaucracy will insure hiring on the basis of quotas and racial and gender preferences.

The President had this to say about his latest effort on the job creation front:
We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society, and our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspectives are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges.
Actually, this is not true. We are at our best when the best people, regardless of ethnicity and gender, are performing the work, but it's perhaps too much to expect a man who himself rose to the nation's highest office with absolutely no qualifications or talent for the job to think that qualifications should matter for any other government position. If Mr. Obama was elected largely because of his minority status, well, why shouldn't others have the same opportunity?

It's a strange way to effect national healing and good feeling to tell qualified people that they're the wrong color or sexual orientation for the job they seek. It was unjust when such thinking worked against minorities and it's as unjust today when it works for them.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ugly Americans

Hard feelings continue in Wisconsin where Governor Scott Walker visited a private parochial school to read to the students, and protestors marched outside chanting superannuated slogans, bullying women and the school's headmaster, and acting like, well, like students in public schools too often act. All of this followed vandalism at the school the night before Walker's visit.

I don't know how many of these people are teachers themselves, but I sure hope for the sake of the profession that the number was zero. If this is how Wisconsin's public school teachers comport themselves it's no wonder parents opt for private schools for their children. Watching the video one can't help but be struck by the contrast between the behavior of the kids and the behavior of the adults in the street.
I wonder what would be said in the media if this sort of behavior occurred at a tea party rally. Since it was union members and their sympathizers behaving thuggishly it appears to have gone unnoticed. It is, after all, the sort of behavior the media apparently expects from such people.

HT: Hot Air

Blame the Sun for Climate Change

One of the arguments global warming folk employ is that man-caused (anthropogenic) greenhouse gas emissions are causing greater cloud cover in the atmosphere resulting in higher temperatures as those clouds trap more heat near the earth's surface. One counter-argument has been that anthropogenic greenhouse gasses are a relatively insignificant cause of cloud formation and that other factors such as volcanism and solar activity play a much greater role.

Andrew Orlowsky at The Register reports on a study conducted by CERN scientists and just published in the journal Nature which offers substantial support to the view that any global climate change presently occurring is the result of factors beyond our control and that the human contribution is relatively minor. Orlowsky writes:
CERN's 8,000 scientists may not be able to find the hypothetical Higgs boson, but they have made an important contribution to climate physics, prompting climate models to be revised.

The first results from the lab's CLOUD ("Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets") experiment published in Nature today confirm that cosmic rays spur the formation of clouds through ion-induced nucleation. Current thinking posits that half of the Earth's clouds are formed through nucleation.

This has significant implications for climate science because water vapour and clouds play a large role in determining global temperatures. Tiny changes in overall cloud cover can result in relatively large temperature changes.

Unsurprisingly, it's a politically sensitive topic, as it provides support for a "heliocentric" rather than "anthropogenic" approach to climate change: the sun plays a large role in modulating the quantity of cosmic rays reaching the upper atmosphere of the Earth.
CLOUD's lead physicist Jasper Kirkby is quoted in the accompanying CERN press release:
"We've found that cosmic rays significantly enhance the formation of aerosol particles in the mid troposphere and above. These aerosols can eventually grow into the seeds for clouds. However, we've found that the vapours previously thought to account for all aerosol formation in the lower atmosphere can only account for a small fraction of the observations – even with the enhancement of cosmic rays."

[Test] results confirm that cosmic rays increase the formation of cloud-nuclei by a factor of 10 in the troposphere, but additional trace gasses are needed nearer the surface.
CERN's supporting literature states that:
"[I]t is clear that the treatment of aerosol formation in climate models will need to be substantially revised, since all models assume that nucleation is caused by these vapours [sulphuric acid and ammonia] and water alone.
Orlowsky concludes:
[T]he father of the theory [of solar genesis of condensation nuclei] Henrik Svensmark says he believes the solar-cosmic ray factor is just one of four factors in climate. The other three are: volcanoes, a "regime shift" that took place in 1977, and residual anthropogenic components.

When Dr. Kirkby first described the theory in 1998, he suggested cosmic rays "will probably be able to account for somewhere between a half and the whole of the increase in the Earth's temperature that we have seen in the last century."
In short, if the findings of this research are accurate, by far the most significant factor in global warming is not the CO2 and other emissions we're pumping into the atmosphere but rather ionizing radiation produced by the sun and the rest of the galaxy. The earth may be warming, but, pace Al Gore, the extent to which humans are responsible is far from a settled matter.

There are lots of links at The Register.

The Tomasky Principle

So desperate are Mr. Obama's supporters to rescue his presidency from the ash heap of historical ignominy that they're writing pieces like Michael Tomasky's recent column in The Daily Beast. Mr. Tomasky concedes that Mr. Obama has been an unfortunate domestic-policy leader, but that he can still be a great foreign policy president. How? By standing aside and letting events run their course. If things work out well then it will redound to Mr. Obama's credit and history will judge him to be exceptional.

Perhaps in years to come those who teach leadership skills will call this the Tomasky Principle: Do nothing and hope you're lucky.

Let me quote to you from Tomasky's essay:
Barack Obama hasn’t been much of a domestic-policy president from nearly anyone’s point of view. And it’s a little hard to picture how he might ever be seen as such—that is to say, even if he’s reelected, he’ll probably have a Republican House or Senate (or both) that will thwart him at every turn, so the best he’ll be able to say is that he presided over a slow and very difficult economic recovery, which presumably will finally happen by January 2017. But foreign policy could be a completely different story. Here one can see how he might become not just a good but a great foreign-policy president.

Obama has been more in the mold of George H.W. Bush and his secretary of state, Jim Baker, when the Eastern bloc was throwing off Moscow’s shackles. Offer encouragement and stability, give a few speeches about freedom, but otherwise let them do their own work.

Obama took a lot of stick for not being more forceful on Egypt in February, but he was right to be cautious—there were lots of stakeholders involved, and sorry, but the president of the United States just can’t say every sweet thing romantics would like him to say. He then, as noted, took heat for moving too slowly on Libya, but here again he was correct. The nature of the Libyan regime is not a direct national-security issue, so there absolutely had to be a specific trigger to justify acting. That trigger was Gaddafi’s threatened assault on Benghazi.

That was completely the right thing to do. It was as textbook a fulfillment of “R2P,” or “responsibility to protect,” as one could imagine.One of the best things an American administration can do when big changes are afoot somewhere in the world is stay out of the way and not act as if we can will an outcome just because we’re America.

Next comes Syria. Conservatives are pushing Obama to take stronger steps. Maybe he should. I argued back in the spring, before Obama imposed sanctions on Assad, that he needed to be more forceful. But now he has imposed those sanctions and said Assad should step down. Doing much more seems dubious. Bashar al-Assad will go. It’s a matter of when. Better to let it play out. If a true R2P situation arises, then Obama will have to make some decisions. But it’s far better to let the Syrians do this themselves, if they can. We cannot prevent every casualty.

That’s starting to sound like a doctrine to me. Call it the doctrine of no doctrine: using our power and influence but doing so prudently and multilaterally, with the crucial recognition that Egypt is different from Libya is different from Syria is different from someplace else.

This does not yet greatness make. These dramatic changes have to work out for the better, and here the United States has a huge role to play. With respect to Libya, for example, we have control of about $37 billion in assets we can dole out to the transitional council. And yes, we probably are interested in its oil. But that doesn’t have to mean stealing it. All the Western countries that backed the rebels have to play a constructive and non- (forgive me for such a dated word) imperialist role in helping the country build its future.
Mr. Tomasky makes a virtue out of necessity. There's not much an American president can do in these situations so it's the mark of greatness to not do it. Historic presidents are those who stand aside and let events play out. If things go well then whoever is in the White House at the time will be seen as a foreign policy president of the highest accomplishment.

Thus, the time Mr. Obama spends on the golf course or on his numerous tax-payer subsidized vacations should be seen as his way of implementing the Tomasky Principle. He's not doing anything to shape events and is thereby proving his extraordinary talent and foreign policy skill.

Who would have thought that greatness could be achieved so easily?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Is Targeting Civilians Ever Justified?

Was dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima morally justifiable? Could using nuclear warheads against civilian populations be justified today? These questions have been asked repeatedly for 65 years, but unfortunately the treatment they're often given in secular venues is nonsensical. The secular man can offer no moral objection to killing civilians whether by nuclear weapons or conventional weapons. For the secularist might makes right. If you can do it then you're not wrong to do it.

But for those whose moral judgments are grounded in an objective, transcendent moral authority rather than a subjective, "whatever feels right to you" ethic the questions take on serious urgency. Here are some further questions: Is the use of nukes really the issue or is the issue any type of action that results in the deliberate deaths of innocent civilians? Was the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima any different, really, than the use of incendiary bombs on dozens of other Japanese cities? Is it ever justifiable to deliberately target civilians? Isn't that what morally bankrupt terrorists do?

Joe Carter, a former Marine, meditates on the use of nukes in a very thoughtful column at First Things and describes how his thinking on this issue has evolved.

He opens with this:
As I walked along the streets of Hiroshima I tried to imagine the city on fire. Fifty-six years earlier the atomic bomb “Little Boy” had set the area aflame, killing nearly a third of the population within twenty-four hours. According to the local prefectural health department estimates, of the people who perished on the day of the explosion, 60 percent died from flash or flame burns. Most of the dead were “noncombatants”—innocent men, women, and children.

Like many Americans I had always believed that dropping the atomic bombs on Japan had been a necessary evil, the only way to end the bloody, protracted war. Now, looking into the faces of smiling children strolling down the bustling sidewalks, I wasn’t so sure. Civilians just like the ones I was watching—mothers fussing over infants, grandmothers holding the hands of little girls—had been targeted by my country in order to bend the will of Japan’s political and military leaders.

Being an American, I had heard all of the arguments for why sacrificing these noncombatants was the only way to spare the lives of thousands that would be killed in the inevitable invasion. Being a Christian, though, I struggled with a more essential question: How is it ever justifiable to target innocent men, women, and children?
Carter's evolution on this question parallels my own. My objection is not, in principle, to the use of nuclear weapons. My problem, and I confess to vacillation on this point, is with the deliberate use of any kind of weapon against civilians. Carter's thoughts on this will not settle the debate, but they'll make you think and that's a good thing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Socially Acceptable Bigotry

For those who find political talk shows entertaining there's been ample opportunity for chuckles provided by the talking heads and media sages who've been commenting with great derision and superciliousness on the religious beliefs of those fringy, tea party-type conservatives. Rarely do any of these opinionators actually understand the people or the beliefs they smugly lampoon, but that hardly deters them. Intent on embarrassing their target they often wind up embarrassing themselves thereby affording their viewers much mirth and merriment.

Mike Gerson writes a fine piece on this very topic in the Washington Post. Gerson chooses to focus on the utter silliness of the guilt by association tactic to which a number of writes have resorted in order to smear Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. What's intended is to marginalize Perry and Bachmann as a couple of religious freaks, but what results is that, not only do the writers make themselves look silly, they manage to caricature as loony the religious beliefs of millions of Americans who believe pretty much what Perry and Bachmann believe.

Here's Gerson's take on the attempt to discredit the tea party by painting its members, particularly Perry and Bachmann, as some sort of American Taliban:
Now the heroes of the Tea Party movement, it turns out, are also closet theocrats. “If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry,” argues Michelle Goldberg in Newsweek/Daily Beast, “understanding Dominionism isn’t optional.” A recent New Yorker profile by Ryan Lizza contends that Bachmann has been influenced by a variety of theocratic thinkers who have preached Christian holy war.

The Dominionist goal is the imposition of a Christian version of sharia law in which adulterers, homosexuals and perhaps recalcitrant children would be subject to capital punishment. It is enough to spoil the sleep of any New Yorker subscriber. But there is a problem: Dominionism, though possessing cosmic ambitions, is a movement that could fit in a phone booth. The followers of R.J. Rushdoony produce more books than converts.

So it becomes necessary to stretch the case a bit. Perry admittedly doesn’t attend a Dominionist church or make Dominionist arguments, but he once allowed himself to be prayed for by some suspicious characters. Bachmann once attended a school that had a law review that said some disturbing things. She assisted a professor who once spoke at a convention that included some alarming people. Her belief that federal tax rates should not be higher than 10 percent, Goldberg explains, is “common in Reconstructionist circles.”

The evidence that Bachmann may countenance the death penalty for adulterers? Support for low marginal tax rates.

Bachmann is prone to Tea Party overstatement and religious-right cliches. She opened herself to criticism by recommending a book that features Southern Civil War revisionism. But there is no evidence from the careers of Bachmann or Perry that they wish to turn America into a theocratic prison camp.

It is a common argument among secular liberals that the application of any religiously informed moral reasoning in politics is a kind of soft theocracy. Dominionism is merely its local extension. As always, this argument proves too much, making a Dominionist of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Obama, by this standard, would be a theonomist as well, on the evidence of his Call to Renewal speech in 2006 — a refutation of political secularism.

Such secularism shows a remarkable lack of self-consciousness. Like any ideology, this one has philosophic roots that are subject to argument. Yet secularists often assume their view is the definition of neutrality and thus deserves a privileged public place. The argument that religion is fundamentally illiberal thus provides an excuse to treat it illiberally. Pluralism is defined as the silencing of religious people.
In other words, when the other side has good ideas and good arguments the tactic of choice is to smear them somehow. The smear doesn't have to be true, it just has to be scary. Facts don't matter, they just confuse people anyway. It's best to just throw a bunch of empty shibboleths (like "Rick Perry is a Dominionist") at the wall and hope one of them sticks.

We see a version of this tactic in the charge that those who doubt global warming is the threat Al Gore claims it is, or who doubt that mechanistic Darwinism is the correct explanation for the emergence and diversity of life, are "anti-science". It's amusing to hear media types who know little about the reasons for doubting the global warming alarums and even less about the reasons for questioning Darwinian evolution scoff at any public figure (or I should say any Republican public figure) who's skeptical of either or both of them.

It would be fun if some politician, upon being grilled about their doubts concerning Darwinism by Chris Matthews or any of the other pomposities at MSNBC, simply asked the individual firing the questions to explain exactly what it is he means by the term "evolution", and then sit back and enjoy the ensuing stutters, stammers, and other manifestations of ignorance from across the table.

Anyway, once you've read Gerson's piece try out Rod Dreher's column at First Things. It's just as good.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vouchers Win

A series of studies have been completed in which the performance of students who were selected in lotteries to receive vouchers to attend successful schools were compared to students who were not selected in the lottery. By comparing these two cohorts comprised of students similar in every relevant way except that one won the lottery and the other didn't the study eliminates all variables except the quality of school the student ultimately attended.

A column by Gary Jason at The American Thinker discusses the results:
Greg Forster ("A Win-Win Solution: the Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers"), reviews the literature on voucher programs, and it is quite positive. He notes that of the ten "gold standard" studies of vouchers -- that is, studies that look at the performance of kids who won the lottery to go to voucher schools versus those who entered the lottery but lost (so had to attend public schools instead) -- nine show statistically significant gains in academic performance, and the one exception did show gains, just not at the level of statistical significance.

By comparing students who got the vouchers with those who tried but didn't get them, these studies effectively rule out other possible explanations for the academic gains, such as parental or student ambition.

Forster also reports that of the 19 empirical studies of the impact voucher schools have on the surrounding public schools, 18 confirm what one would expect a priori, viz., that competition from the voucher schools would force the public ones to improve their services. The remaining study shows no impact -- but no harm, either.

Another study by Matthew Carr ("The Impact of Ohio's EdChoice on Traditional Public School Performance") provides yet more evidence of the validity of the voucher concept.

Carr's study focuses on the crucial claim that voucher schools make public schools improve their quality of service through the force of competition (what he terms "the voucher threat"). Carr found that the public schools facing the voucher threat showed statistically significant gains in reading compared with those who didn't.

Interestingly, the gains are most concentrated in the "tails of the Bell-shaped curve" -- that is, the most advanced and least advanced students. As he puts it, this suggests that the public schools facing voucher competition put their focus on improving their services to the two groups they view as most likely to flee to private schools.

Even more exciting is the recent work by researchers investigating the effects of voucher programs on such non-academic but still vitally important phenomena as graduation rates and rates of campus violence. Here the results are even more dramatic.

The 2010 study of the D.C. voucher program done by the U.S. Department of Education -- a study that President Obama shamefully suppressed while he killed the D.C. voucher system (even as he was finding the best private school for his own privileged children) -- shows that the students who went to voucher schools had a 21% higher graduation rate than students who applied for vouchers but lost the lottery (91% versus 70%).

A similar study of the Milwaukee voucher program showed an 8% higher rate of graduation among voucher students than among the voucher applicants who went to public school (77% versus 69%).
Having taught in a fine public school for thirty five years I long ago came to be of the opinion that the problems of many schools has nothing to do with money, the quality of teachers, or the schools themselves, and everything to do with courts and legislatures that have piled so many restrictions and mandates on what schools can and cannot do that it's almost a miracle that as many kids succeed as do.

The opportunity every child should have is not to escape the public school in their school district but to escape the conditions that have been created in those schools by a panoply of overbearing laws, regulations, state school boards, teacher's unions, and lawyers.

Watch the documentary Waiting for Superman and weep for the students who want desperately to escape this system but find themselves trapped with no way out.

The Greater Miracle

An article at New Scientist opens by wondering how engineers might replicate the sophistication of the human brain. It answers by noting that:
IBM thinks it's found a way, and to prove it has built and tested two new "cognitive computing" microchips whose design is inspired by the human brain.
Now imagine that. Intelligent agents have engineered a microchip based on the design of the human brain which, according to materialists, is not actually designed. The design of the microchip surely required intelligence and would never have existed without the genius of the people who made it, but the brain upon which it is patterned didn't itself require any intelligent agency and is instead just the lucky product of blind, impersonal physical forces acting randomly over the span of a billion years or so.

Which is the greater miracle, that a mind engineered brains or that blind luck and chemistry did?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lowest Approval Index Ever

Here's some news to put a cloud on Mr. Obama's ten day vacation on Martha's Vineyard:
The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 19% of the nation's voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Forty-five percent (45%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -26.

This is the lowest Approval Index rating yet measured for President Obama. The previous low was -24 reached yesterday and also in September 2010. Additionally, the level of Strong Approval matches the lowest yet recorded. By way of comparison, President Bush had ratings near the end of his second term in the minus 30s.
The really disturbing part of this survey is that 19% of Americans strongly approve of the job the president is doing. Who are these people? It's understood that a lot of people want to be supportive of the president, but a person can support him while admitting the obvious that he's doing a pretty miserable job. How anyone who has not been living in a cave can strongly approve of the job Mr. Obama is doing is perplexing.

Perhaps many among that 19% are people who don't pay taxes. To those who don't pay income tax high unemployment, deficits, debt, and taxes are matters of little concern. They're unaware of being affected by any of those things. As long as the person is still receiving his check from the government every month the president, in his eyes, is doing a fine job, and if the president is trying hard to prize open the taxpayers' pocketbooks even wider to get even more cash flowing into his pocket, well, then, he's doing a great job.

For many among those who don't pay taxes a great job by the president is one in which he takes more money from those who work and gives it to those who don't.

Is the Debate Over?

Janet Daley of the UK Telegraph adds her thoughts to the cornucopia of opinion that's been written over the last two weeks about the London riots. She argues that the riots have, in the minds of many Brits, decisively settled the debate between proponents of the liberal and conservative worldviews and that liberalism has come out the loser. Here's her lede:
There is no national debate about the epidemic of riots and looting that spread through our cities like a bush fire. Out there in the real world, where people go about the normal business of life, there is no sign of the heated argument that the media is so determined to air. In fact, I cannot remember a time when there has been such crushing unanimity on a matter of public importance: the answers to the questions of why this happened, what went wrong when it began to happen and what needs to follow in its aftermath are considered so blindingly self-evident as to be beyond rational disagreement.

At the margins of this consensus, there are some distant noises. They are the desperate cries of those who fear that they have lost the argument of a lifetime and who want to persuade the great mass of the population that what it saw before its own eyes, hour by hour, night after night on the television news channels was something else altogether.

The Left-liberal camp is in overdrive in its campaign to rewrite history (or, in its own vocabulary, to alter consciousness): you did not see thousands of jubilant thugs rampaging through the streets, destroying livelihoods and property for the sheer exultant joy of it. What you saw were society’s victims responding to any or all of the following: bankers’ bonuses, MPs cheating on their expenses, unemployment, government spending cuts, poverty, social inequality, etc, etc. Their crimes were simply part of the same package of callous selfishness displayed by (as one particularly bizarre equation had it) tabloid phone hackers.
What follows is an excellent commentary on both the riots and on liberalism. Check it out.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Words Are Not Just Words

Kathleen Parker politely requests more courtesy and discrimination in the language we use in public. It's a request that's as welcome as it is overdue.

Our public discourse has been debauched and degraded for over 40 years, now, and it's making us a coarser, ruder, and tasteless people. The film and music industries have been in the vanguard of our culture's race to the bottom of the cesspool, and other institutions, like public schools, have largely given up trying to stanch the flow of noisome swill emanating from the mouths of so many of our youngsters.

Liberals, of course, never met a symptom of cultural decay which they didn't approve and sneer that those (like me) who have a problem with foul language should just get over it. It's just words, after all, they tell us, but of course this is absurd coming from people who would shriek in moral outrage if someone used the "N-word" or "faggot" in their presence.

Words are not just words. They have enormous power to hurt, to offend, to debase and to cheapen. Vulgarity, like the spray from a manure spreader, befouls not just the source but also whatever else is within range. The language people use is an indicator of their character and class, and to be in the presence of someone whose speech is a kind of moral halitosis is even more unpleasant than being in the presence of someone whose breath is foul. The latter is a symptom of inattention to the hygiene of one's mouth, but the former is a symptom of inattention to the hygiene of one's soul.

Anyway, here's Parker's lede:
Scene: An elevator in New York Presbyterian Hospital where several others and I were temporary hostages of a filthy-mouthed woman who was profanely berating her male companion. It wasn’t possible to discern whether he was her mate or her son, but his attire (baggy drawers) and insolent disposition seemed to suggest the latter.

Every other word out of the woman’s mouth was mother------, presumably a coincidental reference to any familial relationship. Finally, she shared with us bystanders her belief that said mother------ would not be welcome in her house (Hark! Good news at last!) and that he could very well seek shelter at his mother----ing father’s house. Aha, family ties established.

At this point, in a variation of deus ex machina, the elevator doors opened and we, the numb majority, were able to escape our too-close quarters, but not the diatribe, which continued unabated down the hallway, through the exit and onto the sidewalk.

A few of us made eye contact and returned the stare of recognition common among hostages. The understood sentiment is helpless indignation. What, really, can one do under such circumstances?

It was comical in a way. Seven or eight adults standing at attention, eyes forward, pretending that nothing is amiss or untoward, figuring we’d just get through this and thanking the stars and the moon that no children were on board and that this woman would not much longer be part of our lives.
Do read the rest of her meditation at the link.

It's Not Over 'Till It's Over

In the wake of the rebels' march into Tripoli yesterday the folks at debkafile ask a number of pertinent questions:
1. Where are the six government special divisions whose loyalty to the Libyan ruler and his sons was never in question? None of the 15,000 trained government troops were to be seen in the way of the rebel advance into the capital. The mystery might be accounted for by several scenarios: Either these units broke up and scattered or Qaddafi pulled them back into southern Libya to secure the main oil fields. Or, perhaps, government units are staying out of sight and biding their time in order to turn the tables on the triumphant rebels and trap them in a siege. The Libyan army has used this stratagem before.
2. How did the ragtag, squabbling Libyan rebels who were unable to build a coherent army in six months suddenly turn up in Tripoli Sunday looking like an organized military force and using weapons for which they were not known to have received proper training? Did they secretly harbor a non-Libyan hard core of professional soldiers?
3. What happened to the tribes loyal to Qaddafi? Up until last week, they numbered the three largest tribal grouping in the country. Did they suddenly melt away without warning?
4. Does Qaddafi's fall in Tripoli mean he has lost control of all other parts of Libya, including his strongholds in the center and south?
5. Can the rebels and NATO claim an undisputed victory? Or might not the Libyan ruler, forewarned of NATO's plan to topple him by Sept. 1, have decided to dodge a crushing blow, cede Tripoli and retire to the Libyan Desert from which to wage war on the new rulers?
6. Can the heavily divided rebels, consisting of at least three militias, put their differences aside and establish a reasonable administration for governing a city of many millions? Their performance in running the rebel stronghold of Benghazi is not reassuring.
7. Debkafile's military and counter-terror sources suggest a hidden meaning in Qaddafi's comment that Tripoli is now like Baghdad. Is he preparing to collect his family, escape Tripoli and launch a long and bloody guerrilla war like the one Saddam Hussein's followers waged after the US invasion of 2003 which opened the door of Iraq to al Qaeda? If that is Qaddafi's plan, the rebels and their NATO backers, especially Britain and France, will soon find their victory wiped out by violence similar to – or worse than – the troubles the US-led forces have suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If Qaddafi is still alive and has forces at his disposal it would not be surprising to see him wait until the rebels start fighting among themselves, which they almost assuredly will, and then gradually pick them apart. The rebels wouldn't stand a chance without outside help, and how long that help is going to be available to them is unclear.

There's a lot of celebrating going on in Tripoli today, but if Qaddafi is still on the loose it might all be quite premature.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Difference Faith Makes

A half dozen or so years ago British novelist and columnist A.N. Wilson abandoned atheism and made his way back to Christianity. He talks about his spiritual odyssey here. I mention this because knowing it helps to understand the column he wrote in the MailOnline in the wake of the London riots. In that essay he puts the blame for the wanton destruction and bloodshed squarely on the secularism and materialism that have dominated British society since WWII.

To make his point he contrasts the barbarous, anomic rioters with some of their victims. He introduces us, for example, to the father of one of the three men killed by the thug who deliberately ran his car into a group of men trying to protect their stores from looters:
Raw with grief, in a voice steady but tight with emotion, his appeal for calm on Wednesday was a beacon of hope amid the tumult and carnage of a horribly dark week for Britain.

Hours before he spoke, Tariq Jahan had lost his 21-year-old son Haroon, murdered in the Winson Green area of Birmingham by thugs who drove at him in their car in what appears to have been a racist attack. No one could be more aware of the simmering racial tensions between Asians in his neighbourhood and those of Caribbean ancestry.

Yet Mr Jahan had the dignity, the compassion and the common sense to demand an end to the violence that had shattered his life. ‘Blacks, Asians, whites — we all live in the same community,’ he said. ‘Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home — please.’

There was no mention of feral rats or of the sickness in our society. There were no calls for revenge. If he had screamed for retribution, if he had chosen the emotional occasion of his son’s death to denounce whole swathes of the community, there could easily have been an unspeakable outbreak of racial violence.

Instead, Mr Jahan made an open and straightforward declaration of his faith. ‘I’m a Muslim. I believe in divine fate and destiny, and it was his destiny and his fate, and now he’s gone,’ he said. ‘And may Allah forgive him and bless him.’

It was a solemn, peaceful message that will make everyone who stereotypes Muslims as terrorists and fanatics feel ashamed of themselves. Tariq Jahan is a deeply impressive man, and like the great majority of Muslims in this country, he is hard-working, clean-living, guided in his conduct by religious belief, and unshakeable in his devotion to the ideal of family life.
But it's not just Muslims like Tariq Jahan Mr. Wilson wants to praise:
In London at the height of the riots, we saw another clear expression of faith when more than 700 Sikhs lined up to defend their temples from potential arsonists in the suburb of Southall to the west of the capital. The Sikhs have a proud tradition of valuing each human being, male and female, as equal in God’s eyes. Theirs is a religion in which family is paramount.

We do not know the size of the bank balance of those Sikhs, any more than we know how wealthy are the Muslims of Winson Green. From looking at the streets and houses where they live, and the shops where they buy their food, it is safe to assume that they are not rich.

It is probable, too, that their teenagers would like to have large-screen televisions and fashionable trainers and BlackBerries. But you can pretty well guarantee they would not have been among the looters.
So what makes the difference between these good people and the looters, destroyers and murderers? Here's Mr. Wilson's answer:
Instilled into them would have been the importance of working hard for money to buy these things, rather than hurling a brick through a shop window to help themselves.

Paramount among their moral values would be concern for others, a sense of altruism that could not be more different from the sense of self-entitlement that has been so grotesquely on display this week. The reason for this is that they are from religious families.

All the main religions are unshakeable when it comes to self-evident truths about right and wrong; about stealing, harming others, coveting goods, instant gratification and so on.
There's much more in Wilson's column to reflect upon, but his message is basically that secular materialism offers society no basis for what most would regard as moral behavior. A secular society is one that produces young people who kill, rob and destroy just for the fun of it, or because they feel somehow entitled to do it. A society that no longer believes in objective, transcendent moral values will soon believe in no moral values at all and significant portions of it will devolve into nihilism as we saw in London a week or so ago.

I wonder how Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, two writers who have loudly and insistently made the absolutely fatuous claim that religion is the source of most of society's problems, would explain the difference between the behavior of the Sikhs or Tariq Jahan and the young secular savages that destroyed so much that was precious to their victims.

"But," someone will object, "not all secularists would behave in such debauched fashion. It's unfair to generalize from the fact that these rioters have been raised in a Godless world to the assertion that secularism itself is the reason for their execrable behavior and lack of values." This objection, though, is a bit like saying that just because not everyone who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day dies from respiratory disease that it's unfair to argue that smoking is harmful.

Secular, materialist worldviews offer no grounds whatsoever for thinking in terms of right and wrong. They tell us that we're really nothing more than animals and that the only values are power, survival, and the gratification of our appetites. They offer no basis for thinking that burning, looting and killing are in any way morally wrong. They have no concept of sin, and consequently they're a moral carcinogen to a society.

You can read the rest of Wilson's thoughts on the riots at the link. They're worth pondering.

The Book on Perry

Pesky Truth has a very well-researched, very even-handed piece on pretty much all of the substantive criticisms, along with responses, that have been leveled at Texas Governor Rick Perry. In all, there are seventeen criticisms examined in the post, and now that Perry's in the race for the presidency you might want to bookmark this site since these criticisms will surely be given wide circulation by the Democrats and their media allies in the months ahead.

The seventeen include:
  • The Gardisil controversy
  • The trans-Texas corridor controversy
  • The fact that he was formerly a Democrat and Al Gore's Texas campaign manager
  • The secessionist controversy
  • The charge that Texas jobs are mostly low-wage
  • The charge that Texas' education system is sub-par
  • The charge that Perry supports in-state tuition for illegals
  • The charge that Perry is gay
  • The charge that Perry is squishy on immigration
There are more at the site. Pesky Truth treats these allegations seriously and strives to give both sides of the story. I'm not particularly enthusiastic about Rick Perry at this point, but I think that what the Left and other of his political opponents are already trying to do to him is shameless.

Yesterday, for example, the left-wing site had an article titled, "Does Rick Perry Have a Porn Problem?" The title implies that Perry has a personal addiction to pornography. It turned out that his problem was that in 1995 he owned stock in a chain of video stores which carried pornographic videos among their other titles. It may be that he didn't even know he owned the stock or what type of merchandise was in the store's inventory.

This type of smear is pretty low, but it's typical of the sort of thing we can expect during the campaign, so it'd be wise for anyone interested in fairness and decency, whether they support Perry's candidacy or not, to at least know the facts about the more common allegations that'll be brought against him.

There are links at the site to other information on Perry as well.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Double Standard

A report at debkafile on NATO plans to ship arms to Syrian resistance forces contained an interesting detail:
Debkafile's military sources affirm that contrary to earlier reports, the Syrian missile ships cruising offshore took no part in the attack on Latakia. Their function is to blockade the port against arms smuggling. Nevertheless the weapons used by Palestinians fighting in Latakia Sunday came from Lebanon aboard smugglers' boats. There are almost daily incidents of Syrian ships firing on suspect vessels.
In other words, Syria is maintaining a naval blockade designed to prevent arms from reaching Palestinian fighters in Syria and firing on boats that try to run the blockade. Where's the moral outrage at this atrocity that we witnessed from the Left when the Israelis did essentially the same thing except without the gunfire? Where are the flotillas of European peace-workers organizing to run this blockade?

Perhaps for the Left it's only heinous to blockade the Palestinians when Israelis do it. When Syrians do it, well, they probably have good reasons.

Compressing the Spring

An article in the Washington Times talks about the decision the State Department has to make regarding whether to go ahead with construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to pump oil from Canada to Houston. It begins with this:
Here’s what [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] should say: Even if the U.S. government adopts stringent policies to cut oil use, the United States will be dependent on crude for decades. Oil demand across the world, meanwhile, is rising, which applies upward pressure on prices — and makes it economical to extract oil from Canada’s tar sands. Canada will produce its oil.

We will burn a lot of it, no matter what, because there’s still spare capacity in existing U.S./Canada pipelines. But when Canada produces more oil than it can send south, the Canadians won’t just leave it in the ground; they will ship it elsewhere. And America won’t be kept from importing and refining more low-grade crude oil; the United States will just get it from the Middle East, the Energy Department has concluded.

[W]e asked John Baird — Canada’s new foreign minister, who was in Washington recently to speak with Ms. Clinton — which nations would buy oil that America decided not to take. His answer was quick and unequivocal: the Chinese. New pipeline infrastructure will transport oil between the tar sands and Canada’s west coast from which tankers can ship it across the Pacific Ocean.
Building the pipeline would not only create thousands of jobs, it would help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and improve our balance of payments just as drilling offshore would do. Indeed, unleashing our energy industry would have an enormous impact on job creation and economic growth, yet the Obama administration, despite assurances that they really do want to create jobs and enable the U.S. to become energy independent, continues to drag its feet on doing what we could do to accomplish this. It's a head scratcher.

Here's another puzzler:

In a column by Steve Milloy in the same paper we learn that the EPA is going to impose draconian ozone emission standards on American industry that would cost as much as $1 trillion annually and the loss of more than 7 million jobs by 2020.

Milloy talks about the rationale for this regulation and argues convincingly that it's based on very dubious science, but the EPA plans to go ahead with the new standards anyway. Why? Why impose standards that are going to depress jobs even more when there's no compelling health reason to do so?

Switching the metaphor, the economy is like a coiled spring upon which Mr. Obama is placing the weight of the entire government. The burden has compressed the spring flat, and it'll stay flat until the President eases up on the downward pressure. He thinks that all that's needed to make the spring expand is a little stimulus lubricant sprayed onto the coils, but no amount of lubricant will make the spring uncoil until the crushing weight of taxes and regulations is removed.

For reasons Mr. Obama is unwilling to forthrightly explain, he won't do that, and that mystifies me.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Getting Enough Exercise

A study published in Lancet this week has great news for exercise-phobes and those too busy to do a regular workout:
Current recommendations call for adults to do at least 150 minutes, or a total of 1.5 hours, of physical activity weekly.

But the new study finds that doing even half that — 15 minutes daily is about 105 minutes a week — still provides benefits.

The study included more than 400,000 people in Taiwan who were followed for an average of eight years.

The people in the low-activity group exercised for an average of 92 minutes per week, or just under 15 minutes a day. Compared to those in the inactive group — who did almost no physical activity — those in the low-activity group were 14 percent less likely to die from any cause, 10 percent less likely to die of cancer, and had a three-year longer life expectancy, on average.

Every additional 15 minutes of daily exercise beyond the minimum 15 minutes further reduced the risk of all-cause death by 4 percent and the risk of cancer death by 1 percent.
I wonder if moving the recliner back and forth while pressing the tv remote counts as exercise.

Infiltrating the White House

From The Blaze: A liberal Marxist activist and devout Muslim (isn't there a contradiction in there somewhere?) named Tarek Fatah makes the unsurprising claim that the Muslim Brotherhood has a fascist agenda, but, more shocking, he also asserts that The Brotherhood has infiltrated our government all the way up to the White House:
The Blaze article goes on to suggest who Fatah is probably referring to. Fatah is very concerned that the Brotherhood and other radical Islamists are embarked on a program to destroy Western culture. That ambition is the nexus between radical Islamists and the Left and presumably, as a Marxist, Fatah would have no problem with that. His concern seems to be that it's the goal of organizations like The Brotherhood to impose Islam by force, and as a liberal he finds that alarming.

Anyway, read the rest of story at The Blaze. It has lots of supporting links.

One Plausible Scenario

My friend Jason, a historian by profession, sent along his perspective on how the primary spectacle will unfold this year. He offers an interesting prediction of what the Republican "team" will be in November 2012:
The historian in me believes this is the most important Republican primary season since Ford-Reagan in 1976. The economic stakes alone are the highest in my lifetime.

Enter Rick Perry. I’ve lived in Texas long enough to find him a ruthless campaigner. I’m sure that Karl Rove has already advised him that no other moment in United States electoral history is better for his campaigning style. Perry makes the late Lee Atwater look like the poster child for party teamwork and bipartisan friendship. I think this is why the Bush family despises him.

This past Texas gubernatorial election, Perry first blasted Senator Hutchinson and proceeded to thrash former Houston mayor White by simply taking one or two of their positions and bashing them over the head with it via television ads. He knew, with the political climate so toxic nationally, the primaries simply required bashing Hutchinson over her support of the bailout.

In the general election, White, whom anyone could’ve defeated given his failed progressive agenda as mayor of Houston, had such a laconic style that Perry realized winning meant simply avoiding a substantial debate so as not to put his foot in his own mouth.

Herein lies my biggest criticism of Governor Perry and, honestly, all Texas politicians – he avoids debating complex issues, instead always goes for a campaign win by fanning the flames of voter anger and cashing in with the good ol’ boys club. Perry isn’t proven as an effective executive in crisis because he never defeated, let alone confronted, a formidable one.

How does Perry measure up, for example, on immigration reform against other Republican governors like Jan Brewer of Arizona? Economically, I believe firmly that Texas survived turmoil the past 3+ years because of the Texas state constitution. It requires the legislature submit a biannual budget; consequently, planning for the worst and hoping for the best, the state has garnered a formidable rainy-day fund to date, which both parties had no problem raiding this past budget cycle. Taxes don’t go up in the state unless the voters agree to the raises via referendum. It doesn’t take a smooth-talking governor to convince voters NOT to raise his/her own taxes.

Perry, given his campaign style and the current national economic climate, will raise blood pressure in the GOP primaries, but he won’t win the nomination. He’ll come close, though, and in the process serve two very important functions. In the short term, Perry will harness the economic grievances of the Tea Party into a candidacy more coherent and, most importantly, much more palatable electorally than Bachmann or Paul. In the long run, though it will become clear heading into the general election that the country can’t take another evangelical Texas governor.

Ultimately, Perry will convince all conservatives (economic and social, the latter sitting angrily on the sidelines) with a stirring campaign speech to unite behind Mitt Romney for the good of the country. Romney, bloodied after a tougher than expected primary and now a better candidate for it, will do what all pragmatic Massachusetts politicians running for president and with a religion problem do in United States history: select a Texan as a running mate to balance the ticket and assuage concerns of political principles and religious faith.

Romney/Perry, 2012.
Of course, if Christie, Ryan or Palin get into the race (they have until November to declare) that would change everything.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Want proof that Rick Perry's a racist? MSNBC has it for you. Perry referred to U.S. debt as a black cloud hanging over America. What else can the black cloud be but secret code for Barack Obama? Get it? Our first black president? Black cloud? What could be more obvious? In case anyone should still have their doubts Ed Schultz edited the tape of Perry's speech to make it even more clear, a faux pas for which he subsequently had to apologize. Here's the whole thing:
If anyone thinks that this is some indication of racism lurking in Perry's heart then they're just as nutty as the tinfoil hat crowd trying to pick up signals from outer space.

Next thing they'll be telling us that anyone who puts Mr. Obama's name in boldface type is using secret code to emphasize his blackness.

A Subtle Call for Violence

Radical lefty Claire Potter, who teaches feminism, cultural criticism and political history at Wesleyan University, reflects on the London riots and wonders why American youth are comparatively so blasé. Her post, which is carried by the Chronicle of Higher Education, gives us a glimpse into how the Left in America thinks. She writes:
This [the London riots] has all caused me to reflect on the extraordinary passivity of Americans, and of American students, who respond to reduced access to education by studying harder, getting better grades, and stepping on the people who can’t — or aren’t in a position to – compete any longer.
You might think that, except for the part about stepping on people, Potter is praising American students since studying harder to get better grades would seem to most people to be virtuous, but Potter doesn't intend to be taken that way. In her mind, those who work harder and succeed are somehow oppressing those who don't, or can't, compete. The better you do in life the more of an oppressor you are. Thus students shouldn't work hard, she implies, because there will be those who get left behind and that's unfair. Better for everyone to be mediocre than for some to excel.

This is egalitarianism on steroids. I wonder if she believes it's unjust to those of her students who are academic slouches to give them a lower grade than those who excel in their work.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch Waiting For Superman (Davis Guggenheim, 2010), a movie that promotes the idea that the problem with public education is that there just aren’t enough (privatized) charter schools.
The idea the movie actually promotes is that many public schools are failing our kids. Many of our schools have been rendered ineffective by liberal social and educational policy and self-aggrandizing unions. The kids in those districts need an alternative and public schools need competition. This offends the Left because once kids escape a failing public school not only will they have a better chance of success, which means others will be oppressed, but they'll have escaped the secular and left-wing indoctrination camps which many public schools have become.

The problem with public schools is not that there aren't enough private schools, although there aren't. The problem with public schools is that they're more concerned with students' rights and privileges and not enough with creating and maintaining the sort of atmosphere in which education can take place.
What have we done in the face of a government, a political class, and a monied class that is dismantling a country that prided itself (for what now seems like a shockingly short time, roughly 1933-1973) on its capacity to provide dignified lives for working and middle income citizens? Nothing. Nothing except elect a president whose capacity to give away the liberal store exceeds even that of the neoliberal Clintons.
How exactly is the country being dismantled by imposing fiscal sanity upon government? How are state governments (which I presume Potter is talking about here) depriving people of their "capacity to provide dignified lives" by taking measures to avoid bankruptcy? Does she really think that a bankrupt state, one with no money, no jobs, and no hope, would offer people a greater capacity to lead "dignified" lives?
I mean think about it. To take one example, over the course of the last twenty years, one of the finest educational systems in the world has been systematically dismantled and privatized with malice aforethought. The liberal and fine arts have been de-funded, degraded, mocked and reserved for a special few: shockingly, we are not even particularly interested in funding a proper science and math education in the vast majority of schools.

Practical educations for the new economy — accounting, telemarketing, hotel management, home health aid — that will consign people to a life of service at a flat, non-negotiable wage, have taken the place of an education that allows all citizens to dream about transforming their own lives.
Training people to succeed in the sorts of jobs that are available is bad, according to the professor, because now students are not taking courses in women's studies, queer theory and other "life-transforming" fields but are instead preparing themselves for work which will actually generate an income and enable them to support a family.

The sheer arrogance of people like Ms. Potter is astonishing. Who is she, after all, to demean careers like accounting and hotel management? Are these fields somehow less noble than being a university professor who spends her time talking about feminist theory and writing papers that nobody but a handful of colleagues reads and which will be forgotten five years from now? I thought leftists disdained this sort of insufferable elitism, but apparently they only disdain it when it's manifested in people other than themselves.
How do Americans respond to this? By having an orderly march on Washington, in August, so that nobody has to even strike a day of school to attend it and everyone is on vacation.
Imagine. Orderly, peaceful protest demonstrations. How quaint, but Ms. Potter doesn't want violence. Oh, no:
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to see cities burn. I lived through that once, and never want to watch it again.
She wants protest but not the sort that's orderly nor the sort that's violent. That doesn't seem to leave many options, but actually she's being disingenuous. She really does seem to want violence. Why else offer us a subtle justification for it in the next paragraph:
I also understand that Americans pride themselves on their capacity to find peaceful resolution of political issues. This belief about our essentially peaceful political culture flies in the face of the actual history of a country that has seen repeated epidemics of violence, and that continues to enforce its imperialist policies abroad with violence.

But never mind: at some point Americans decided that the strategies of nonviolence espoused by radical activists like Barbara Deming, Bayard Rustin and (most famously) Martin Luther King, Jr., represented what the United States really was. To underline: these visionaries have been the exception, not the rule. Violence has almost always accompanied political change in this country, from the Revolution forward.
Her syllogism seems straightforward: Violence accompanies political change. We need political change. Ergo, the implied conclusion is, we need violence. There really are some constants in the universe and one of them is the penchant for violence that has infected the Left ever since its founding in the French Revolution of 1789.

Incidentally, Ms Potter is mistaken in saying that Americans think we are a peaceful people. She'd be more correct to say that Americans aspire to be a peaceful people and to eschew violence, especially domestic political violence. She should eschew it, too.

It's hard to read her next sentence without feeling incredulous:
Furthermore, while many conservative politicians continue to incite violence (in the form of strong rhetorical appeals to anti-statism, massive resistance to integration and abortion rights, and a citizenry armed to the teeth);
In the Orwellian catechism of the Left it's apparently an incitement to violence to yearn for smaller, more responsible, and less onerous government, to stop the violence against the unborn, and to afford people the ability to protect themselves from violent criminals. She probably also thinks it's an incitement to violence to recite the Bill of Rights and to sing the Star Spangled Banner.

And where she came up with the positively bizarre idea that conservatives are mounting massive resistance to integration is mystifying, but then it's also mystifying how anyone could find reasoning such as Professor Potter's compelling.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Britain's Decline

Mark Steyn hits a home run in his genuinely funny commentary on the sad estate to which once great Britain has fallen. It's dark humor, though, since there's much tragedy in the destruction wrought by the welfare state and also because the policies that produced the mindset of the rioters in Britain are precisely the same as are being promoted in the U.S.

You'll enjoy the whole piece, but here are a couple of appetizers to whet your palate:
There is literally nothing you can’t get Her Majesty’s Government to pay for. From page 205 of my book:
“A man of 21 with learning disabilities has been granted taxpayers’ money to fly to Amsterdam and have sex with a prostitute.” Hey, why not? “He’s planning to do more than just have his end away,” explained his social worker. “Refusing to offer him this service would be a violation of his human rights.”

Why do they need a Dutch hooker? Just another hardworking foreigner doing the jobs Britons won’t do? Given the reputation of English womanhood, you’d have thought this would be the one gig that wouldn’t have to be outsourced overseas.
This is the logical dead end of the Nanny State. When William Beveridge laid out his blueprint for the British welfare regime in 1942, his goal was the “abolition of want” to be accomplished by “co-operation between the State and the individual.” In attempting to insulate the citizenry from life’s vicissitudes, Sir William succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

As I write in my book: “Want has been all but abolished. Today, fewer and fewer Britons want to work, want to marry, want to raise children, want to lead a life of any purpose or dignity.” The United Kingdom has the highest drug use in Europe, the highest incidence of sexually transmitted disease, the highest number of single mothers, the highest abortion rate. Marriage is all but defunct, except for William and Kate, fellow toffs, upscale gays, and Muslims.
Steyn's good. Check him out.

Falling from Mt. Olympus

President Obama's approval numbers have now fallen below 40% which means that his support even among Democrats is starting to erode.

Norman Podhoretz, former editor of Commentary, finds the growing disenchantment on the left with Mr. Obama to be an interesting development. It is indeed quite a contrast with the starry-eyed adulation of so many of his devotees two years ago. Podhoretz opens his column in the Wall Street Journal with these thoughts:
It's open season on President Obama. Which is to say that the usual suspects on the right (among whom I include myself) are increasingly being joined in attacking him by erstwhile worshipers on the left. Even before the S&P downgrade, there were reports of Democrats lamenting that Hillary Clinton had lost to him in 2008. Some were comparing him not, as most of them originally had, to Lincoln and Roosevelt but to the hapless Jimmy Carter. There was even talk of finding a candidate to stage a primary run against him. But since the downgrade, more and more liberal pundits have been deserting what they clearly fear is a sinking ship.

Here, for example, from the Washington Post, is Richard Cohen: "He is the very personification of cognitive dissonance—the gap between what we (especially liberals) expected of the first serious African American presidential candidate and the man he in fact is." More amazingly yet, Mr. Cohen goes on to say of Mr. Obama, who not long ago was almost universally hailed as the greatest orator since Pericles, that he lacks even "the rhetorical qualities of the old-time black politicians." And to compound the amazement, Mr. Cohen tells us that he cannot even "recall a soaring passage from a speech."

Overseas it is the same refrain. Everywhere in the world, we read in Germany's Der Spiegel, not only are the hopes ignited by Mr. Obama being dashed, but his "weakness is a problem for the entire global economy."

In short, the spell that Mr. Obama once cast—a spell so powerful that instead of ridiculing him when he boasted that he would cause "the oceans to stop rising and the planet to heal," all of liberaldom fell into a delirious swoon—has now been broken by its traumatic realization that he is neither the "god" Newsweek in all seriousness declared him to be nor even a messianic deliverer.

Hence the question on every lip is—as the title of a much quoted article in the New York Times by Drew Westen of Emory University puts it— "What Happened to Obama?"
Of course what happened to Obama is that he got elected and has attempted to put his big government ideology into practice. He has enjoyed some success in this, much to the detriment of the country. People on the left, sympathetic to his aims, are dismayed that profligate spending and onerous regulations don't work, but they don't, and now Mr. Obama has nothing left to try to turn the economy around, if, indeed, he actually wants to.

As a candidate he could thrill audiences with soaring rhetoric and platitudes about "hope and change," but now people are demanding specifics. That's why his speeches sound flat. Abstractions and generalities suitable, perhaps, for campaigning no longer impress people looking for concrete solutions, and Mr. Obama has no solutions to offer. He urges us simply to do more of what hasn't worked before, and that just moves any viewers who aren't wedded to the left's vision of an egalitarian utopia to sigh and turn off the television.

Kinesin Motor

Anyone who has ever seen the computer animation of the processes occurring inside a living cell titled Inner Life of a Cell (produced by Harvard University) has marveled at the kinesin motor which transports organelles through the cell by "walking" along microtubules. This video explains some of the amazing complexity involved in this process and how the kinesin performs its "walk":
If you've never seen the animation of the kinesin in the Harvard video it's at the two minute mark here:
Please keep in mind that everything you see here is solely the end product of many fortuitous convergences of chance mutations and natural selection. Anyone silly enough to think that such precision, complexity, and design requires an intelligent agent to engineer them is simply not thinking scientifically and should consult with Judge John Jones of the 2005 Dover School Board trial who is an expert on these matters and who will be able to school you in the proper way to understand them.

HT: Evolution News and Views

Monday, August 15, 2011

Real Life Heroes

I recently watched a film that was released in 2009, and as I sat down I wondered why I had never heard of it until a couple of weeks ago. After all the film was highly rated and advertised to have all the elements that generally send the media into promotional hyperdrive. It's a true story with racism galore and an oppressed minority fighting the government in ways that can only be described as heroic despite beatings and death threats from the racist majority. I'm not exactly immersed in contemporary culture so I thought perhaps I had missed all the publicity about it and didn't give matter much more thought.

As the film unfolded, however, a dark suspicion overtook me. I tried hard to fend it off, I really did, but I couldn't help it.

The suspicion was that the film didn't receive much notice because though it had all the elements that are catnip to the media, those elements just didn't fit the left's preferred narrative. The heroes of the story are white, and worse, the racists are black. The tyrannical government is actually putting socialist principles into practice, and, ensuring complete media silence about the film, the heroes happen to be Christians with a strong, unabashed faith in God.

The movie is a documentary, much of it filmed surreptitiously, of the horrific treatment suffered by white farmers in Zimbabwe at the hands of a clearly racist black government that's confiscating white-owned farms that have belonged to those families for generations and giving them to political cronies. The government, under the execrable Robert Mugabe, offers no compensation for the confiscated land and beats and/or murders those who refuse to leave.

One family, the Campbells, was resolved to withstand the intimidation, and the film documents what the elderly Campbells, their daughter, and their son-in-law had to endure as they fought their government in international court in 2008. Their courage, tenacity, and faith are absolutely remarkable, as is the almost preternatural absence of bitterness and desire for retribution against their persecutors.

It's a film that should be watched by those, like Nancy Pelosi, who think that it's racist to oppose Mr. Obama's policies. They may learn what real racism looks like. It would also be salutary viewing for some of our liberal academics who think that racism is an exclusively white malaise.

The film is titled Mugabe and the White African. Watch it with a liberal friend, especially if he or she is a secularist. It'd be a fun evening were the story not so terribly tragic.

Why Are They So Angry?

It's an interesting question, laden with psychological overtones, as to why academic Darwinists get so angry with those who disagree with them about evolution, especially those who dissent from the view that natural processes and forces are sufficient to account for the vast panoply of life we see in our world.

David Klinghoffer offers an interesting and plausible explanation, but I think it's only part of the answer. Here's a portion of what he writes:
You may have wondered why Darwinists in academia get so worked up about intelligent design. Reading what they write about our scientists and their work, you picture these guys turning red and sweating a lot. Alternatively, they try to mask their rage by getting all sarcastic and pseudo-witty -- a man of mature age like Larry Moran, for example, calling other adults "IDiots."

Clearly, it's irrational because anger is almost always irrational. (I should know.) But even irrational fury typically has a trigger, and you might reasonably doubt whether the publications of scientists associated with the Discovery Institute are really, in a direct sense, that trigger.

[These people]aren't driven to their fury directly by the scholarly work of Michael Behe, Doug Axe or Stephen Meyer, but rather indirectly every time a student brings it up in class. Every year a new cohort of young people comes through the lecture hall and some number of them -- probably a growing number -- have been exposed somewhere to ID's critique and alternative to neo-Darwinism. Every time a student puts her hand up and politely asks something along the lines of, "But what about irreducible complexity?" it throws the class discussion down a totally different corridor of the mind than the professor meant it to go.

The professor can either dismiss the student with a hand wave and a casual invocation of "creationism," which makes everyone else wonder what this is all about, or he can explain the issue and try to refute Behe or Meyer, but that just raises more questions in the minds of some students who are inclined to doubt his authority.

Either way, how annoying for him! That's not on the syllabus! It's not supposed to be the program at all. It really puts our professor into an uncomfortable position. This explains P.Z. Myers's undisguised outrage when questioned in a non-academic setting -- a pub in Glasgow -- by a young person fresh out of college and on his way to grad school. The young man, our Jonathan M., was a stand-in for other students that professors encounter in their own classrooms and whom they, in that setting, are generally disallowed from abusing the way Myers abused Jonathan.

The thing is, these challenges from students are something that keeps happening year after year and class after class. It's a persistent irritant to our [professional academics], with personal and professional consequences for them. It's like having an ache in your neck or back that keeps coming back and you can never seem to rid yourself of it no matter what you do. Physical discomfort like that drives people to irritability that can seem both irrational and inexplicable, until you understand what actually drives it.

The intelligent-design movement is reaching these students and thereby their teachers, throwing the latter into chronic peevishness that we, in turn, see manifested in their public comments.
The other part of the explanation, I think, is that these challenges and questions have only somewhat to do with science and mostly to do with religion. Most of the acidulous, angry Darwinians are metaphysical naturalists, they believe that nature is all there is. Naturalism is, for all intents and purposes, their religion and Darwinism is a critical support pillar in that religion. Students with the temerity to doubt Darwinism call into question the naturalist's deepest beliefs, but not only that.

They also call into question the intelligence, competence, credibility, and authority of professors who have invested their lives in preaching the Darwinian gospel. These people have egos, and to be questioned by a mere novice in front of a class full of postulants preparing for initiation into the sacred rites of Darwinian orthodoxy is humiliating and insufferable. The querulousness they display is directly proportional to the affront to their egos and professional reputations.

Unable to make a convincing case, at least a case that's convincing to someone who's not already a believer, they lash out in anger against anyone who puts them in that embarrassing position. It's not the man who's confident in his convictions and able to defend them compellingly who resorts to rudeness and insults. It's the man whose noetic structure is fraught with insecurity and a sense of his own inadequacy in making a case for ossified dogmas that never before had to be defended who gets "peevish" when confronted with the need to do so.