Friday, September 30, 2011

No One Died in Watergate

Frank Miniter at Forbes writes an excellent account of the whole sordid Fast and Furious affair and concludes that the extent of the attempt to cover up Department of Justice responsibility could make this the administration's Watergate scandal.

I respectfully disagree, however, with that comparison. No one was killed as a result of the Watergate break-in, but over 200 Mexicans and two American law enforcement officers have been murdered with some of the thousands of guns the Department of Justice intentionally put into the hands of drug thugs and murderers.

Miniter argues that the only plausible explanation for why the administration compelled gun store owners to violate the law and sell semi-automatic weapons to people who could not pass a background test was to give the president a rationale for imposing stricter gun-control laws.

This is a bit hard to believe because one recoils from thinking that an American president would do something so despicable, so stupid, and so self-serving. Yet, Miniter seems correct in saying that there seems to be no other plausible rationale.

At any rate, here's his lede:
Why a gun-running scandal code-named “Fast and Furious,” a program run secretly by the U.S. government that sent thousands of firearms over an international border and directly into the hands of criminals, hasn’t been pursued by an army of reporters all trying to be the next Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein is a story in itself.

But the state of modern journalism aside, this scandal is so inflammatory few realize that official records show the current director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), B. Todd Jones — yes the individual the Obama administration brought in to replace ATF Director Kenneth Melson Aug. 30 in an effort to deflect congressional criticism — also has questions to answer about his involvement in this gun-running scandal.

Fast and Furious was an operation so cloak-and-dagger Mexican authorities weren’t even notified that thousands of semi-automatic firearms were being sold to people in Arizona thought to have links to Mexican drug cartels. According to ATF whistleblowers, in 2009 the U.S. government began instructing gun store owners to break the law by selling firearms to suspected criminals.

ATF agents then, again according to testimony by ATF agents turned whistleblowers, were ordered not to intercept the smugglers but rather to let the guns “walk” across the U.S.-Mexican border and into the hands of Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.
Read the whole article. If you're too young to remember Watergate and don't know what it was about at least you can get in on the cutting edge of history with this scandal. In an administration that's beginning to look as if it's hip deep in scandals, this one, we better hope, seems to be the worst.

Effective Compassion

WORLD magazine, founded by Marvin Olasky, author of The Tragedy of American Compassion, has an annual contest called The Hope Award for Effective Compassion. First prize is a $25,000 gift to the organization selected from among all the nominees to be the most effective at turning lives around. The stories of these organizations are truly remarkable as they show how private effort can change people and turn losers into winners.

These organizations, though, enjoy a decided advantage over many charities, and certainly over government-run welfare programs. Each of these organizations places responsibility on the individual and each of them stresses the crucial importance of religious faith.

There are four finalists vying for the award and their stories can be found by following the links found at their home page.

Here's a brief excerpt from one of the stories:
In a warehouse nearby, Hope Now graduate Eddie Martinez stood over a long Trail-Gear warehouse table, making sure components for car kits are in the proper place. Messer calls Martinez "steady Eddie," saying he shows up on time and works hard. Martinez is proud that in his seven months on the job he hasn't missed a day.

Martinez—once involved with gang members and drugs—says the Hope Now program taught him how to manage his money and work with people. After graduation, he first worked for the sanitation department of the City of Fresno (an employer that regularly hires Hope Now graduates). When Martinez did well, he says Hope Now staffer Bill Murray helped him find better positions: "Every job they give me, I try to give it 100 percent, every time."

Hope Now executive director Roger Feenstra says cultivating relationships with men like Martinez is key: Feenstra has found that giving an "at-risk" man a job without giving him help to succeed often leads to failure. The pastor and former president of a Christian bookstore chain admits that he didn't know much about gang members when he came to Hope Now, but he quickly learned: "You relate to them like any other person. They need love and respect."

Feenstra says his staffers offer encouragement, accountability, and help with simple steps like getting a Social Security card, learning how to drive, tying a tie, and filling out a job application: "We do things a dad would do." Murray—the vocational counselor—says a Christian man's friendship is sometimes overwhelming to clients without fathers: "You tell them that you're proud of them and they just melt."
If you go to the site you can read the articles on each of the four finalists and cast your vote to help pick the winner of the $25,000 prize.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Just Joking

North Carolina's Democrat governor Beverly Purdue recently suggested that we should suspend elections so that Congress wouldn't have to worry about pressure from the voters and could actually give themselves to the task of solving the nation's problems. When her suggestion got out she was immediately pilloried by conservative media (if the liberal media found her suggestion offensive I didn't hear much about it from them). Her staff reacted to the criticism by saying she was just joking, but that's certainly not evident from the audio of her speech. It sounds to me like she was dead serious:
Ed Morrissey at Hot Air puts her comments in historical perspective:
We have had a number of depressions, including the Great Depression, in our history. We fought two world wars and a decades-long Cold War against an existential threat. During all of these times, the US held its normal Congressional elections. In 1862, Republicans lost 22 seats in the midterm elections, and in 1864, Lincoln faced a tough challenge to continue his role as Commander in Chief.

Both elections took place in the middle of the Civil War, while hundreds of thousands of Americans were dying on battlefields. Comparatively speaking, this is just a rough patch in the road.

We don’t put aside democracy in tough times. In fact, the tougher the times, the more accountability we need from our government, not less. As my friend and radio partner Mitch Berg wrote, “The dumb part? That a bunch of politicians, relieved of the pressure of having to justify their political existences to voters, would “solve” anything.”

Any politician arguing that our government needs less or no accountability to its constituents and citizens is a politician whose constituents should send into ignominious retirement at the first possible moment.
Ms Purdue's remark exemplifies the inclination toward the totalitarian solution that lurks in the hearts of many progressives. President Obama has himself said on occasion that he wishes he could simply bypass Congress and rule by fiat. It'd be easier to get things done.

Now, I'm not suggesting that either the governor or the president have any nefarious motivations for these comments. I'm sure they're just frustrated by the lack of progress in Washington, but what I do think is that among many progressives and liberals there's a feeling that separation of powers and the American constitution are seen as impediments to progress more than as welcome safeguards against tyranny.

This is a dangerous view even when held by good people. Bad views held by good people make it easier for evil people to impose tyrannical policies upon a nation.

Liberal Minds at Work

From time to time over the years we've had reason to feature on these pages examples of political correctness that reach so far into the realm of the goofy as to make us feel almost embarrassed for the perpetrators, who, we believe, despite the stupidity of their attempts to insure that no one anywhere is ever given any reason by anyone to ever feel in any way offended, are actually not unintelligent people.

Perhaps, though, we must now abandon that belief and recognize that we're approaching the outer limits of PC buffoonery and that the people who are taking us there can't possibly have what philosophers refer to as a "properly functioning cognitive apparatus".

This excerpt from a story from across the pond provides a summary of the details:
From the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz to Meg, the good witch from the Meg and Mog children's books, witches have always dressed in black.

But their traditional attire has now come in for criticism from equality experts who claim it could send a negative message to toddlers in nursery and lead to racism.

Instead, teachers should censor the toy box and replace the pointy black hat with a pink one, while dressing fairies, generally resplendent in pale pastels, in darker shades.

Another staple of the classroom - white paper - has also been questioned by Anne O'Connor, an early years consultant who advises local authorities on equality and diversity.

Children should be provided with paper other than white to draw on and paints and crayons should come in "the full range of flesh tones", reflecting the diversity of the human race, according to the former teacher.

Finally, staff should be prepared to be economical with the truth when asked by pupils what their favourite colour is and, in the interests of good race relations, answer "black" or "brown".

The measures, outlined in a series of guides in Nursery World magazine, are aimed at avoiding racial bias in toddlers as young as two.

According to the guides, very young children may begin to express negative and discriminatory views about skin colour and appearance that nursery staff must help them "unlearn".
There's more on this depressing inanity at the link. I'll bet next these good progressive "experts" will be launching a complaint against God for populating bright cheery skies with white clouds and gloomy, foreboding skies with dark ones. Rumor has it that they're already gearing up to get kindergartens to replace bright white lights in the classroom with black lights lest the little tykes be inclined toward racism by the color of their light bulbs.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Martyr in Iran

A 32 year-old Iranian pastor is fighting for his life in Iranian courts. His crime? He converted to Christianity as a teenager. He was arrested two years ago and charged with apostasy, a capital offense punishable by hanging under Islamic law, or at least as that law is being interpreted by Iran's clergy.
Yousef  Nadarkhani
The Iranian courts have given Yousef Nadarkhani a choice: either recant and renounce his Christian faith or hang. Here's the crux of the story which can be found in more detail at the link:
The case began in October 2009 when Nadarkhani protested at the local school of his two sons. The government had recently passed a law stating that Islam must be imposed on children in local school, and even on Christian children. Nadarkhani publicly protested at the school, stating the law was unconstitutional because it did not allow the free practice of religion. His protest caught the attention of the police and government.

Following investigation, the court in Rasht has ruled that Pastor Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim adult before becoming a Christian. However, the court has decided that he remains guilty of apostasy because he has Muslim ancestry. Pastor Nadarkhani’s lawyer, Mr Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, has made it clear to the court that the repeated demand for recanting is against both Iranian law and the constitution. The court replied that the verdict of the Supreme Court must be applied, regardless of the illegality of the demand.

The death sentence for apostasy is not codified in the Iranian Penal Code. However, using a loophole in Iran’s constitution, the judges in Rasht based their original verdict on fatwas by Ayatollahs Khomeini, the “father” of Iran’s revolution in 1979, Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and of Makarem Shirazi, currently the most influential religious leader in Iran.
The clergy who interpret Islamic law in Iran have decreed that no person of Muslim ancestry can ever convert to another religion, and if they do they must be killed. Here's a question for American Muslims: Either these mullahs are misinterpreting Islamic law, or they are interpreting it correctly. If the former, then do you agree that their demand is barbaric? If not, why not? If the latter, do you hold that a law that calls for execution for one who converts to Christianity is barbaric? If not, why not?

More on Poverty in America

I don't know anyone who doesn't want to help the disadvantaged, but sometimes the disadvantaged make it awfully hard to want to help them.

A woman named Tracy, who herself has intimate acquaintance with those who fall below the poverty income threshold, writes to comment about our post titled Poverty in America and the subsequent follow-up. She says:
I agree with the comments the reader made about people who are considered poor in America who are abusing the system. I also believe they should be given a higher economic class status. The people who are considered poor are living better than the average working person. I know if you were to enter some of their homes you would think they worked for a living, or you might consider them living the good life.

The reason I can relate to this is because I know someone who takes advantage of the system and enjoys doing it. She has never worked a day in her life, is over thirty and has a beautiful home. I asked her one day out of curiosity why she has doesn’t want to work? This is what she stated, “Why work when you can get free money, food and someone else can take care of you, I would be considered a fool to work”.
Surely such people are in the minority yet these anecdotes are heard so frequently that it's little wonder that so many people are demanding that government reform the welfare and entitlement system. As Tracy points out, people who are themselves working hard and struggling to support their families should not have to see their tax dollars go to subsidize the existence of people like the acquaintance she describes above.

Government has two obligations with respect to the poor: To provide a safety net so that no one who, through no fault of their own, needs public help goes without it, and to use our hard-earned tax dollars in the wisest, most efficient, most efficacious manner possible. At present our federal government is failing to meet either of these responsibilities.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Moral Individualism

A couple of weeks ago New York Times columnist David Brooks addressed himself to a phenomenon that has been one of the major preoccupations of this blog since its inception in 2004: The loss of what we might call a moral dictionary to whose authority individuals might submit their own moral judgments.

Brooks writes:
During the summer of 2008, the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith led a research team that conducted in-depth interviews with 230 young adults from across America. Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives, and the results are depressing.

The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, which Smith and company recount in a new book, “Lost in Transition,” you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so.

When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot.

“Not many of them have previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked,” Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.

The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. “It’s personal,” the respondents typically said. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”

Rejecting blind deference to authority, many of the young people have gone off to the other extreme: “I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.”

Many were quick to talk about their moral feelings but hesitant to link these feelings to any broader thinking about a shared moral framework or obligation. As one put it, “I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong.”

Smith and company found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism. Again, this doesn’t mean that America’s young people are immoral. Far from it. But, Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading.
Dennis Prager places his finger on the reason for the anomie Brooks describes among the young:
What is disconcerting about Brooks’s piece is that nowhere in what is an important column does he mention the reason for this disturbing trend: namely, secularism. The intellectual class and the Left still believe that secularism is an unalloyed blessing. They are wrong. Secularism is good for government. But it is terrible for society (though still preferable to bad religion) and for the individual.

One key reason is what secularism does to moral standards. If moral standards are not rooted in God, they do not objectively exist. Good and evil are no more real than “yummy” and “yucky.” They are simply a matter of personal preference. One of the foremost liberal philosophers, Richard Rorty, an atheist, acknowledged that for the secular liberal, “There is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?’”

With the death of Judeo-Christian God-based standards, people have simply substituted feelings for those standards. Millions of American young people have been raised by parents and schools with “How do you feel about it?” as the only guide to what they ought to do. The heart has replaced God and the Bible as a moral guide.

And now, as Brooks points out, we see the results. A vast number of American young people do not even ask whether an action is right or wrong. The question would strike them as foreign. Why? Because the question suggests that there is a right and wrong outside of themselves. And just as there is no God higher than them, there is no morality higher than them, either.
Prager's right. In a secular society there's no moral authority higher than one's own feelings which means that, since everyone's feelings are different, what I ought to do is whatever I feel like doing and can get away with. No one can say that I'm morally wrong if I choose to be selfish or cruel.

Thus, after a dozen or so jihadis flew planes into the World Trade Towers on 9/11 college profs in some major universities found that many of their students were reluctant to condemn the act. These students, weaned on moral relativism and subjectivism, simply lacked the moral resources to say that it was wrong to murder thousands of people.

Our secularized young are deeply confused and morally adrift. This confusion was illustrated by students in a class at Yale who had been hesitant to condemn the 9/11 attack, but who, when asked by their prof whether it would be wrong to wantonly kill a thousand whales or buffalo, agreed almost unanimously that it would be.

I take solace in the thought that every older generation despairs of the young.

Fading Confidence

Gallup has a new poll out that shows that the confidence of Americans in their government is hitting historical lows. For example, the polling organization found that:

  • 82% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.
  • 69% say they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government, an all-time high and up from 63% in 2010.
  • 57% have little or no confidence in the federal government to solve domestic problems, exceeding the previous high of 53% recorded in 2010 and well exceeding the 43% who have little or no confidence in the government to solve international problems.
  • 53% have little or no confidence in the men and women who seek or hold elected office.
  • Americans believe, on average, that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, similar to a year ago, but up significantly from 46 cents a decade ago and from an average 43 cents three decades ago.
  • 49% of Americans believe the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. In 2003, less than a third (30%) believed this.
This last view is much more pronounced among Republicans (61%) and independents (57%) than among Democrats (28%), although when George W. Bush was president, Democrats and independents were more likely than Republicans to view government as a threat.

Nevertheless, it shows that there's growing alarm about the intentions of those who are entrusted to run the country and increasing fears that they're succumbing to the temptation to circumvent constitutional safeguards and freedoms in order to avoid legislative opposition to their agenda.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cupcakes and Racism

The College Republicans at U.C. Berkeley (I know. I was surprised that there are Republicans at Berkeley, too) are having a bake sale that has some students very upset. It turns out that white students will be charged $2 for a cupcake, Asian students will be charged $1.50, and African American students will be charged $.75.

There are cries of "racism" being bandied about over this, but it's not clear from the article at the Blaze in what, exactly, the alleged racism consists:
"I’m ashamed to know that I go to the same school with people who would say stuff like this,” student Skyler Hogan-Van Sickle wrote Facebook. “I’m really trying to figure out how someone can be this hateful.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, more than 200 students responded to the event, mostly in opposition. One threatened to burn the table and set the cupcakes on fire. At least four student groups sent complaints to campus administrators, and a student-only meeting was set for Friday evening to discuss it.
Anyway, the ostensible purpose of the price differential is to highlight the young conservatives' belief that preferential treatment based on race is inherently unjust. Their eye is on the University's practice of offering preferential consideration to minorities in admissions. Making it easier for one group to get into college based on their race is unjust, they argue, in the same way that charging people for cupcakes based on their race is unjust.

Read the article and tell us what you think. If you maintain that the bake sale is racist please explain how it differs in a relevant way from racial preferences in admissions.

Darwin's Religious Beliefs

Students often inquire as to what Darwin's religious beliefs were or whether stories of a deathbed conversion are true. A piece at The American Thinker by Richard Weikart addresses the first question, and, as to the second, there's simply no evidence to substantiate the claim that Darwin ever had a change of heart.

Here's Weikart's summary of his essay:
So, what lessons can we draw about the relationship between religion and evolutionary theory from Darwin's own trajectory? First, as he developed his evolutionary theory, he moved from Christian belief in a personal God to a deistic position to agnosticism. It is not clear to what extent his religious views shaped his evolutionary theory, or vice-versa. It seems reasonable to think they developed in tandem.

Second, he rejected any divine intervention or even divine purpose in his evolutionary scheme. Third, he rejected the religious basis for morality. None of these points is good news for those trying to refashion Darwin into a religious believer whose evolutionary theory is no threat to religion, especially to traditional forms of Christianity.
Agnosticism is in fact atheism. An atheist is one who lacks a belief in God, and, since agnostics lack such a belief, they're atheists. The difference between an agnostic and an atheist like, say, Richard Dawkins, is that the Dawkins type atheist (What I call a "hard" atheist) asserts flatly that God does not exist or most probably does not exist. The agnostic, like Darwin, (what I call a "soft" atheist) does not make such a strong claim, but says that although God may indeed exist, there's not enough evidence to warrant believing that He does.

The only substantive difference between the hard and soft atheist is that, theoretically if not in actual practice, the soft atheist is more open to, and less dismissive of, theism than is the hard atheist.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Re: Troy Davis

A reader named Bill, having read the post on The Execution of Troy Davis, refers me to a column by Ann Coulter who lays out the facts of the case in her characteristically (and regrettably) acerbic style. It's not hard to see why none of Mr. Davis' appeals went anywhere. He certainly didn't have much going for his claim that he was innocent. Here's her lede:
For decades, liberals tried persuading Americans to abolish the death penalty, using their usual argument: hysterical sobbing.

Only when the media began lying about innocent people being executed did support for the death penalty begin to waver, falling from 80 percent to about 60 percent in a little more than a decade. (Silver lining: That's still more Americans than believe in man-made global warming.)

Fifty-nine percent of Americans now believe that an innocent man has been executed in the last five years. There is more credible evidence that space aliens have walked among us than that an innocent person has been executed in this country in the past 60 years, much less the past five years.

But unless members of the public are going to personally review trial transcripts in every death penalty case, they have no way of knowing the truth. The media certainly won't tell them.

It's nearly impossible to receive a death sentence these days -- unless you do something completely crazy like shoot a cop in full view of dozens of witnesses in a Burger King parking lot, only a few hours after shooting at a passing car while exiting a party.

That's what Troy Davis did in August 1989. Davis is the media's current baby seal of death row.
If you're interested in the official account of what transpired that night twenty two years ago (why does justice take so long?), and why none of the dozen or so courts which heard his appeals were moved to change the original verdict, read the rest of Coulter's column at the link.

Perhaps the most interesting fact that Coulter adduces was that all of the state's thirty four witnesses, and seven of the twelve jurors, were black. So much for the hoary old chestnut that since Davis was black and the twenty nine year-old policeman he murdered was white there must be white racism afoot in the court's verdict and sentencing.


A new video is out from Illustra Media that is both a paean to the beauty and wonder of butterflies and a challenge to Darwinian explanations of how these astonishing creatures could have arisen. The video is titled Metamorphosis: The Beauty and Design of Butterflies. Here's the trailer:
More information, including information on ordering the DVD or Blue-ray version, can be found here.

As you watch the process of metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly unfold keep in mind that there are essentially two basic explanations of how this process arose in the first place. Either it came about as a result of a series of blind, unguided, purposeless genetic mutations which by chance conferred a survival advantage on the caterpillar, or it came about as the result of intelligent, intentional engineering.

Which of the two requires the greater miracle and the biggest leap of faith to believe?

Faster Than Light

Ever since Einstein it has been a dogma of physics that nothing can exceed the speed of light, and for decades every time the principle has been tested it has been confirmed. Until now. Jason Palmer, Science and Technology reporter at BBC News, has the story:
Puzzling results from Cern, home of the LHC [Large Hadron Collider], have confounded physicists - because it appears subatomic particles have exceeded the speed of light. Neutrinos sent through the ground from Cern toward the Gran Sasso laboratory 732km away seemed to show up a tiny fraction of a second early.
Neutrinos are so tiny that they can pass through the entire earth without striking a single atom, which enables scientists to send a beam of them in a direct line to the detector some 440 miles away.
The speed of light is the universe's ultimate speed limit, and much of modern physics - as laid out in part by Albert Einstein in his special theory of relativity - depends on the idea that nothing can exceed it. Thousands of experiments have been undertaken to measure it ever more precisely, and no result has ever spotted a particle breaking the limit.

But Dr. Ereditato and his colleagues have been carrying out an experiment for the last three years that seems to suggest neutrinos have done just that.

In the course of doing the experiments, the researchers noticed that the particles showed up a few billionths of a second sooner than light would over the same distance. The team measured the travel times of neutrino bunches some 15,000 times, and have reached a level of statistical significance that, in scientific circles, would count as a formal discovery.
Dr. Ereditato has asked the world scientific community to investigate his result to try to find their error, if there is one, because much of the superstructure of modern physics will need to be revised if the result stands.
But the group understands that what are known as "systematic errors" could easily make an erroneous result look like a breaking of the ultimate speed limit, and that has motivated them to publish their measurements. "My dream would be that another, independent experiment finds the same thing - then I would be relieved," Dr Ereditato said.

But for now, he explained, "we are not claiming things, we want just to be helped by the community in understanding our crazy result - because it is crazy, and of course the consequences can be very serious."
We note in passing that this is a refreshing example of scientific humility. A well-established hypothesis stands to be over-turned but rather than trumpet their revolutionary discovery, the Cern team is asking for confirmation from other investigators or a theoretical explanation that would account for their anomalous result. Would that all scientists were as sober and circumspect in the conclusions they draw from their data.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Size of the Universe

Mike sends along a video of writer Francis Chan giving us a visual illustration of how vast our solar system, our galaxy and the universe are. It's literally awesome:
Here are some homework questions: In the last scene, a view of the entire universe, what's the black region outside the mass of galaxies that makes up the universe? It can't be space because space is a property of the universe. Is there really anything there or is there nothing? If the latter, what exactly is nothing? Does it go on forever?

Back in the U.S.S.R.

In a resolute effort to convince us that the attempt to fine hotels for using poorly fitted sheets on their beds was not a bizarre fluke of legislative perversity but rather typical of the sort of mindlessness one finds throughout the state of California, the good fathers of San Juan Capistrano are fining a couple $300 dollars for holding Christian Bible study sessions in their home, and have threatened to fine them another $500 for each future gathering:
City officials in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. say Chuck and Stephanie Fromm are in violation of municipal code 9-3.301, which prohibits “religious, fraternal or non-profit” organizations in residential neighborhoods without a permit. Stephanie hosts a Wednesday Bible study that draws about 20 attendees, and Chuck holds a Sunday service that gets about fifty.

The Fromms appealed their citations but were denied and warned future sessions would carry heftier penalties. A statement from the Pacific Justice Institute, which is defending the couple in a lawsuit against the city, said Chuck Fromm was also told regular gatherings of three or more people require a conditional use permit, which can be costly and difficult to obtain.

“How dare they tell us we can’t have whatever we want in our home,” Stephanie Fromm told the Capistrano Dispatch. “We want to be able to use our home. We’ve paid a lot and invested a lot in our home and backyard … I should be able to be hospitable in my home.”

According to the Dispatch, the Fromms live in a neighborhood with large homes and have a corral, barn, pool and huge back lawn on their property, so parking and noise aren’t a problem.

“There’s no singing or music,” Stephanie said. “It’s meditative.”

The Dispatch reported a code-enforcement officer gave the Fromms a verbal warning about the meetings in May, then returned to issue citations in June and July.
It's this sort of threat to personal freedom that causes people to say they want to take back their country from the progressive bureaucrats who would have been quite at home working as Kremlin apparatchiks and who have no regard for the constitutional protection of religious expression or the right to do what they wish in the privacy of their own home.

I wonder if the Fromms had been hosting fund-raisers for the Democratic party whether they'd have been hassled for it. I rather doubt it.

The Execution of Troy Davis

I have no idea whether Troy Davis was innocent of the crime for which he was executed Wednesday night. He was found guilty of having murdered a 29 year-old white policeman in cold blood and his death sentence became a cause celebre among the Left. Articles like this one promote the meme that capital punishment is racist and unjust, and although the writer raises concerns about the possibility that Davis didn't commit the crime for which he was executed, that's not really his main concern. What the Left really wants to do is end capital punishment, which is why it's odd that there was almost no mention made anywhere in the left-wing media of another execution that also took place Wednesday night in Texas.

Why not? Well, maybe because they knew that were the facts of this execution known it would not have done their cause much good.

The man executed in Texas was white supremacist gang member Lawrence Russell Brewer who was one of three men convicted for the infamous dragging death slaying of James Byrd Jr., a black man from East Texas:
Byrd, 49, was chained to the back of a pickup truck and pulled whip-like to his death along a bumpy asphalt road in one of the most grisly hate crime murders in recent Texas history.

Brewer, 44, was asked if he had any final words, to which he replied: "No. I have no final statement."

He glanced at his parents watching through a nearby window, took several deep breaths and closed his eyes. A single tear hung on the edge of his right eye as he was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m., 10 minutes after the lethal drugs began flowing into his arms, both covered with intricate black tattoos.

Byrd's sisters also were among the witnesses in an adjacent room.

"Hopefully, today's execution of Brewer can remind all of us that racial hatred and prejudice leads to terrible consequence for the victim, the victim's family, for the perpetrator and for the perpetrator's family," Clara Taylor, one of Byrd's sisters, said.

She called the punishment "a step in the right direction."

"We're making progress," Taylor said. "I know he was guilty so I have no qualms about the death penalty."
There were no protestors outside the prison weeping and lighting candles as there were for Davis. To publicize Brewer's death would have completely undermined the narrative of a racist system rounding up black men and unjustly punishing them for crimes for which whites were not punished. Brewer had committed a horrific crime and deserved to die. To deny this would have been risible in the eyes of most Americans.

A society which refuses to execute those who commit the most heinous crimes, regardless of the racial composition of the criminal and the victims, is saying to its citizens that their lives are really not worth all that much - not enough, at any rate, to justify taking the life of a man who murders one or more of them. To refuse to execute murderers is like fining rapists. Such a modest penalty would be a message to women that they're not valued enough to justify imposing a severe punishment upon someone who traumatizes them.

A society which places a high value on women will severely punish the thug who harms them. A society which holds human life precious will exact the highest penalty from anyone who wantonly destroys it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Palestinian Statehood

The Palestinians are at the U.N. petitioning that body to permit them to join, in essence declaring them a de facto state. Heretofore, all parties, even the Palestinians, were committed to achieving statehood through negotiations with Israel which has final say over the disposition of the land the Palestinians live on, but negotiations have not been productive and the Palestinians are losing patience. So what's the hang up?

The Palestinians could have peace any time they wish and probably a state, too, if they acknowledged Israel's right to exist and practiced rhetorical, religious and military co-existence. One has a right to question the motives and trustworthiness of people who claim they want peace, while sponsoring terror attacks, both in word and deed, against Israel.

One has to ask whose fault is it that the Palestinians don't have a state of their own. The Israelis offered the Palestinians their own state in 2000. They were willing to hand over to the Palestinians 97% of the land they had conquered in the 1967 war. This wasn't enough, however, to satisfy the Palestinians so they unleashed a wave of terror against Israeli citizens.

Today vast stretches of land are available throughout the Arab world, but no Arab country will give any of it to the Palestinians. Why not? Why won't Arab countries take in their Palestinian brothers just as Israel has taken in Jews (and Arabs) from all over the world?

The land in the West Bank and Gaza could become a Palestinian state, but Israel is rightly reluctant to grant such status to people who refuse to acknowledge their very right to exist.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said Wednesday that "The UN is the only alternative to violence. Our new heroes are Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King."

If the Palestinians really want to live in peace with their neighbors, if Ghandi, Mandela, and King really are their heroes, why won't they take the simple step of acknowledging Israel's fundamental right to exist? Why should anyone not think that their intransigence on this point is because they see statehood as just another step toward the destruction of Israel as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared just the other day? Why should Israel make concessions to people who daily fire rockets at Israeli civilians?

Until the Palestinians stop their terror attacks on Israel and until they affirm Israel's right to exist no one should feel any obligation to help them achieve their aspirations.


AP has done a little fact-checking on Mr. Obama's recent speeches touting his "Jobs bill". It turns out that Mr. Obama's dictionary apparently has a very expansive definition of "truth":
President Barack Obama makes it sound as if there are millionaires all over America paying taxes at lower rates than their secretaries. "Middle-class families shouldn't pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires," Obama said Monday. "That's pretty straightforward. It's hard to argue against that."

The data tell a different story. On average, the wealthiest people in America pay a lot more taxes than the middle class or the poor, according to private and government data. They pay at a higher rate, and as a group, they contribute a much larger share of the overall taxes collected by the federal government.

There may be individual millionaires who pay taxes at rates lower than middle-income workers. In 2009, 1,470 households filed tax returns with incomes above $1 million yet paid no federal income tax, according to the Internal Revenue Service. That, however, was less than 1 percent of the nearly 237,000 returns with incomes above $1 million.

This year, households making more than $1 million will pay an average of 29.1 percent of their income in federal taxes, including income taxes and payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will pay 15 percent of their income in federal taxes.

Lower-income households will pay less. For example, households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will pay an average of 12.5 percent of their income in federal taxes. Households making between $20,000 and $30,000 will pay 5.7 percent.

Obama's claim hinges on the fact that, for high-income families and individuals, investment income is often taxed at a lower rate than wages. The top tax rate for dividends and capital gains is 15 percent. The top marginal tax rate for wages is 35 percent, though that is reserved for taxable income above $379,150.
In other words, if the president plans to squeeze significant revenue from the rich, who derive most of their income from investments, he'd have to raise the capital gains tax, but this would be very foolish. It would punish the very entrepreneurship, business investment, and job creation that he says he wants to encourage.

Either the president doesn't know any of the foregoing, in which case he has no business being in the Oval Office, or he knows it but is trying to mislead the American people into resenting the rich for not paying "their fair share", in which case ditto.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fuzzy Science

It's a good rule of thumb, I think, always to be skeptical of scientific studies or discoveries which have political or metaphysical implications.

When, for example, fossilized single-celled organisms are claimed to have been found in meteorites, a discovery which would lend credence to the dogma that evolution of life is inevitable and will occur anywhere that conditions are right, it's wise to wait for further examination by experts to see if they concur that these really are fossilized organisms and not just inorganic artifacts. Likewise with any alleged discovery of remains of a putative link between homo sapiens and ape-like evolutionary ancestors.

Similarly, reports of alarming developments caused by climate change should be taken with a grain of salt until the reports have been subjected to the peer-review process. Often it'll be found that the assertions are either overblown or simply wrong. The case of the Himalayan melting glaciers last year is an example.

Another may be found in a story at
Erroneous data about how much ice is vanishing due to climate change are once more at the heart of an explosive controversy. This time, it's not the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but the venerable Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World that is in the line of fire.

Journalists across the UK received glossy press packs last week for the launch of a new edition. It included a press release declaring that: "For the first time, the new edition […] has had to erase 15 per cent of Greenland's once permanent ice cover – turning an area the size of the UK and Ireland 'green' and ice-free. This is concrete evidence of how climate change is altering the face of the planet forever."

Today glaciologists have been crying foul, saying that the 15 per cent figure is wildly inaccurate.

When New Scientist contacted the Times Atlas team last week to find out where they had obtained the number, they cited the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, but were unable to be more precise.

Ted Scambos, the NSIDC's expert on the Greenland ice sheet, says neither he nor his colleagues were consulted in person. "Graduate students would not have made a mistake like this," he told New Scientist. "If what The Times has said were true, something like a meter of sea level rise would have occurred in the past decade."

That is nowhere near what measurements show. "Currently, Greenland is losing mass at about a rate of 150 billion tonnes per year, or about one-third of a millimetre of sea level rise per year," says Scambos. That means in the 12-year period from 1999 to 2011 that the Times Atlas analysed, meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet has contributed roughly 3 mm to global sea level rise – not 1 metre.

In total, the Greenland ice sheet holds enough ice to raise global sea level by about 7 metres, so the loss since 1999 has been less than 0.05 per cent.
Of course, a 3 mm rise in sea level in 12 years is not the same as zero rise, but it's hardly alarming. If the ice continues to melt at that rate then by the end of the century the oceans will be about an inch higher than they were at the beginning of the century. That doesn't seem all that alarming.

Carbon Vacuum Cleaner

If atmospheric carbon is indeed an environmental threat and a problem to be solved there are basically two approaches: One is to limit carbon dioxide emissions, a measure which would have severe economic consequences. The other is to suck the carbon from the air once it's there. A story at NPR discusses the work of a physics professor by the name of David Keith who is working on the latter approach.
Keith is on a patch of blacktop on the campus of the University of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada, where until very recently he has been a professor. Now his academic hat is Harvard, where he is both a professor of public policy and a professor of applied physics. His hard hat is a little start-up company, called Carbon Engineering, housed on the Calgary campus. And that company is building a machine that can actually suck carbon dioxide from the air.

The technology at the core of the device is not new. "People have done this for a long time," he says. "There were commercial processes that took CO2 out of the air, in fact, in the 1950s, so there's no mystery that we can do it."

But those companies were just extracting small quantities of carbon dioxide for industrial purposes. Keith is after a much more important question, one that is universal for anyone trying to develop a technology: Can it be done affordably on a grand scale?

"So our interest is in building full-scale commercial systems that would take tens of thousands of tons — or more — of CO2 out of the air," he says.
You can read about Keith's work at the link. If his ideas work it would have enormous implications for public policy, at least those policies designed to curtail carbon emissions.

I wonder if Keith got any of the stimulus money of the sort that was showered on Solyndra. Probably not unless he was a big donor to the Obama campaign.

The Sap

David Brooks has been a loyal booster for the Obama administration since 2008, using his perch at the New York Times to regularly express his hopes and admiration for the president. Now he confesses that he's had an epiphany. He realizes that he's been setting himself up for chronic disappointment. He's been duped by the man he thought would be a new kind of politician. He is, in his words, a sap:
I’m a sap, a specific kind of sap. I’m an Obama Sap.

When the president said the unemployed couldn’t wait 14 more months for help and we had to do something right away, I believed him. When administration officials called around saying that the possibility of a double-dip recession was horrifyingly real and that it would be irresponsible not to come up with a package that could pass right away, I believed them.

I liked Obama’s payroll tax cut ideas and urged Republicans to play along. But of course I’m a sap. When the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill.

It recycles ideas that couldn’t get passed even when Democrats controlled Congress. In his remarks Monday the president didn’t try to win Republicans to even some parts of his measures. He repeated the populist cries that fire up liberals but are designed to enrage moderates and conservatives.

He claimed we can afford future Medicare costs if we raise taxes on the rich. He repeated the old half-truth about millionaires not paying as much in taxes as their secretaries. (In reality, the top 10 percent of earners pay nearly 70 percent of all income taxes, according to the I.R.S. People in the richest 1 percent pay 31 percent of their income to the federal government while the average worker pays less than 14 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.)

This wasn’t a speech to get something done. This was the sort of speech that sounded better when Ted Kennedy was delivering it. The result is that we will get neither short-term stimulus nor long-term debt reduction anytime soon, and I’m a sap for thinking it was possible.

Yes, I’m a sap. I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around.
Brooks' contrition continues on for several more paragraphs, but reading it is a bit like watching those poor people in medieval Europe walking through a village flagellating themselves in hopes that their penance will somehow atone for their sins and earn them God's favor.

Brooks' disillusionment with Mr. Obama is touching in its pathos, but it raises a question: What reason did he have for thinking that Mr. Obama would turn out otherwise than he has? Where was the evidence in his past experience to think that he was anything but a far-left community organizer?

He sounds a bit like the naive teenage girl who gives her heart to the handsome lothario who promises her his undying love and a lifetime of happiness until he beds her and then moves on leaving her brokenhearted and mystified as to how she could have ever thought he was such a wonderful guy in the first place. It's sad.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Re: Poverty in America

Recently we ran a post titled Poverty in America to which a reader named Carol submitted a response in which she expresses the feelings of many Americans who want to help people who are less fortunate than they are but who are repelled by the abuse they see in the system. She also illustrates the absurdity of calling the less well-off in America poor, as if they were in anything like the same straits as people in much of the world who live daily in abject misery and squalor. I'd like to share some of what she wrote with you:
When considering poverty in America, I feel like I'm on a tightrope between compassion and outrage. Compassion for the truly poor people who lack food, clothing, and shelter, and outrage at all the evidence of welfare system "scammers." We all know people on food stamps who are severely overweight and feeding several large dogs, or families on welfare with big screen tv's, IPhones, and IPads.

I have a friend whose family receives some government aid. Her husband is a photographer and she works in a beauty salon, but they can barely make ends meet. Their children receive free school lunches and have had to drop out of sports and return musical instruments because they could not afford it.

We went to the beach together and had to cook every night because the family could not afford to eat out. I gladly supported this economic choice. I felt bad that evening when one of the children wanted a souvenir T-shirt and was severely reprimanded by her mother for wanting such a frivolous thing. Imagine my shock, when the very next day, this Mom bought herself a $200 pair of designer sunglasses on the boardwalk! So what is "poor?" I agree that "poor" is a relative term.

My daughter and I traveled to the Dominican Republic in May of this year with Compassion International, to visit the child I sponsor, Franklin Acosta (age 8). Our trip began in the city of Santo Domingo, visiting the homes of some of the sponsored families. The "home" we visited was a one-room concrete slab under the street level. We entered a small, narrow, alley which wound deeper and deeper into the earth. We passed by many concrete homes built on top of each other into the earth. It is a whole other world down there.

When we got to this woman's home, it was only big enough to hold a double bed which took up the entire back half of the home. The entire family of five sleeps together in that one bed. The front half of the home had room for a small gas cook top, tiny refrigerator, wooden end table, and a chair. Clothing was hung on a metal bar across the bed.

That night, our Compassion tour specialist checked us in to an all-inclusive ocean-front resort, in order to magnify the cultural shock. My daughter and I cried and were hugely impacted, as was the rest of our team.

Over the next two days we visited more poor families at the Bateys. Bateys are communities of poor Haitians who crossed the border due to promises of money to work the sugarcane plantations. Of course, that was a false promise. They were paid $1 a day. Now, the sugarcane plantations have closed down, but these poor people still live there. They crossed the border without paperwork and identification, so are not recognized by the Dominican Republic as citizens.

This means that they are not eligible for many Dominican programs, but they are too poor to go back to Haiti. They live in concrete one or two-room homes. They cook in big pots over an open fire. They have no running water or electricity in their homes. These people have no electronic devices, no phones, no bathrooms. That is poor.
Perhaps we should redefine the economic classes in this country. Instead of classifying people as belonging to the upper, middle, and lower classes, perhaps it would be more accurate to classify them as members of the upper, middle, and lower upper class.

Hostile to Women

Ron Suskind has a new book coming out about the Obama presidency and it has a few items in it that are sure to raise blood pressures at the White House. According to Politico some of the major players on the President's economic team felt there was simply no leadership coming from the Oval Office. Suskind quotes Larry Summers talking to Peter Orzag:
‘You know, Peter, we’re really home alone.’ Over the past few months, Summers had said this, in a stage whisper, to Orszag and others as they left the morning economic briefings in the Oval Office. … ‘I mean it,’ Summers stressed. ‘We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.’
The fact that people closest to the Oval Office felt no one was manning the helm is bad enough, but there's more in the book to dismay Obama enthusiasts (are there still such folks?). Mr. Obama's staff was apparently comprised of a bunch of Neanderthals as well:
‘The president has a real woman problem’ was the assessment of another high-ranking female official. ‘The idea of the boys’ club being just Larry [Summers] and Rahm [Emmanuel] isn’t fair. He [Obama] was just as responsible himself.’ … ‘[L]ooking back,’ recalled Anita Dunn [Obama's former communications director], when asked about it nearly two years later, ‘this place would be in court for a hostile workplace … Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.’
Yikes. The most progressive White House in history is run by a bunch of chauvinist pigs? Who'd have guessed? But, hey - they'll keep abortion legal so presumably feminists will bite their tongues and keep their complaints to themselves, just like they did during the Clinton presidency. Isn't it ironic that we never heard these kinds of revelations emanating from the Reagan administration or either Bush administration. It seems that it's only when liberals are in the White House that women get treated shabbily.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Coming State of Eurabia

Clifford May writes a column at National Review about a new book by Bat Ye'or. Ye'or is a refugee from Egypt who has been writing for thirty years about the plight of Christian and Jewish dhimmis - religious minorities living in Muslim lands as second-class citizens. Her book, Europe, Globalization, and the Coming Universal Caliphate, looks at Muslims living in lands that once were Christian but which today call themselves multicultural. She predicts Europe will not remain multicultural for long. She's convinced that Europe is well along the way toward dhimmi status and will in the not too distant future be dominated by Islamic extremists and transformed into “Eurabia”:
Committed to a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious, and multilateral ideology that rejects patriotism and even national identity and cultural pride, afflicted by guilt over their imperial and colonial past — and ignorant about more than a thousand years of Islamic imperialism and colonialism — Europeans have become dhimmis in their own lands; inferiors who accept their status and submit.
Muslims in these lands are not so guilt-ridden or timorous about their cause or its justness. Under the banner of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) they're determined to establish Islam and Sharia throughout the West. Ye'or calls the IOC a kind of caliphate which in contrast with Europe:
...rejects multiculturalism, openly professing the superiority of the Islamic faith, civilization, and laws.

The caliphate,” Bat Ye’or concludes, is “alive and growing within Europe....It has advanced through the denial of dangers and the obfuscating of history. It has moved forward on gilded carpets in the corridors of dialogue, the network of the Alliances and partnerships, in the corruption of its leaders, intellectuals and NGOs, particularly at the United Nations.”
May closes his piece with a warning:
If you think that’s alarmist, if you think the OIC sincerely seeks cooperation with the West or that Europeans know where lines must be drawn and have the courage to draw them, read her book. Or just wait a few years.


Those who want to know what the Solyndra mess is all about should read former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy's piece at National Review.

Evidently, the Obama administration is hip deep in mud on this one. Not only were they complicit in fraudulently promoting a business that everyone told them was heading for bankruptcy; not only did they bestow a 535 million dollar gift, courtesy of the taxpayers, upon a company even though everyone told them it was an enormous risk, but they also circumvented the law that would allow the taxpayers to recoup some of that 535 million in the event of the bankruptcy that everyone told them was coming. Instead, they illegally restructured the arrangement so that Solyndra's major investors would get reimbursed first, and, just by coincidence, one of the major investors happened to be one of Mr. Obama's premier fundraisers in 2008.

McCarthy opens his column with this:
The Solyndra debacle is not just Obama-style crony socialism as usual. It is a criminal fraud. That is the theory that would be guiding any competent prosecutor’s office in the investigation of a scheme that cost victims — in this case, American taxpayers — a fortune.

Fraud against the United States is one of the most serious felony offenses in the federal penal law. It is even more serious than another apparent Solyndra violation that has captured congressional attention: the Obama administration’s flouting of a statute designed to protect taxpayers.
He goes on to explain what happened and how the laws were broken. Maybe someday the name "Solyndra" will take its place alongside the word "Watergate" as a byword for White House scandal.

Since WW II there've been basically three reasons why voters have turned against presidents: Bad economy (Carter, Bush Sr.), unpopular war (Johnson, Bush Jr.), and scandal (Nixon, Clinton). President Obama appears on course for achieving the trifecta.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Proofiness and the Gender Gap

In a fine piece at City Journal Kay Hymowitz considers the reasons which have been advanced to explain why there's a gap between the incomes of males and females and concludes that, contrary to what we often hear from folks who see injustice lurking in every social disparity, there's nothing nefarious about the gender gap. She also concludes that it'll never go away. Here are some excerpts:
Early this past spring, the White House Council on Women and Girls released a much-anticipated report called Women in America. One of its conclusions struck a familiar note: today, as President Obama said in describing the document, “women still earn on average only about 75 cents for every dollar a man earns. That’s a huge discrepancy.”

It is a huge discrepancy. It’s also an exquisite example of what journalist Charles Seife has dubbed “proofiness.” Proofiness is the use of misleading statistics to confirm what you already believe. Indeed, the 75-cent meme depends on a panoply of apple-to-orange comparisons that support a variety of feminist policy initiatives, from the Paycheck Fairness Act to universal child care, while telling us next to nothing about the well-being of women.
Hymowitz goes on to show the fallacies inherent in some of the explanations of the alleged inequities:
Let’s begin by unpacking that 75-cent statistic, which actually varies from 75 to about 81, depending on the year and the study. The figure is based on the average earnings of full-time, year-round (FTYR) workers, usually defined as those who work 35 hours a week or more. But consider the mischief contained in that “or more.” It makes the full-time category embrace everyone from a clerk who arrives at her desk at 9 am and leaves promptly at 4 pm to a trial lawyer who eats dinner four nights a week—and lunch on weekends—at his desk.

I assume, in this case, that the clerk is a woman and the lawyer a man for the simple reason that—and here is an average that proofers rarely mention—full-time men work more hours than full-time women do. In 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 27 percent of male full-time workers had workweeks of 41 or more hours, compared with 15 percent of female full-time workers; meanwhile, just 4 percent of full-time men worked 35 to 39 hours a week, while 12 percent of women did. Since FTYR men work more than FTYR women do, it shouldn’t be surprising that the men, on average, earn more.
She also has little patience with the claim that women make less money than men who perform the same job:
But proofers often make the claim that women earn less than men doing the exact same job. They can’t possibly know that. The Labor Department’s occupational categories can be so large that a woman could drive a truck through them. Among “physicians and surgeons,” for example, women make only 64.2 percent of what men make. Outrageous, right? Not if you consider that there are dozens of specialties in medicine: some, like cardiac surgery, require years of extra training, grueling hours, and life-and-death procedures; others, like pediatrics, are less demanding and consequently less highly rewarded.

Only 16 percent of surgeons, but a full 50 percent of pediatricians, are women. So the statement that female doctors make only 64.2 percent of what men make is really on the order of a tautology, much like saying that a surgeon working 50 hours a week makes significantly more than a pediatrician working 37.
Even so, she's willing to concede that there remains a gap between male and female income, but to impute it to discrimination, as is often done, is simply an argument from ignorance:
The point is that we don’t know the reason—or, more likely, reasons—for the 7 percent gap. What we do know is that making discrimination the default explanation for a wage gap, as proofers want us to do, leads us down some weird rabbit holes. Asian men and women earn more than white men and women do, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Does that mean that whites are discriminated against in favor of Asians? Female cafeteria attendants earn more than male ones do. Are men discriminated against in that field? Women who work in construction earn almost exactly what men in the field do, while women in education earn considerably less. The logic of default discrimination would lead us to conclude that construction workers are more open to having female colleagues than educators are. With all due respect to the construction workers, that seems unlikely.
So, what might account for the gap if not gender discrimination?
So why do women work fewer hours, choose less demanding jobs, and then earn less than men do? The answer is obvious: kids. A number of researchers have found that if you consider only childless women, the wage gap disappears. June O’Neill, an economist who has probably studied wage gaps as much as anyone alive, has found that single, childless women make about 8 percent more than single, childless men do (though the advantage vanishes when you factor in education). Using Census Bureau data of pay levels in 147 of the nation’s 150 largest cities, the research firm Reach Advisors recently showed that single, childless working women under 30 earned 8 percent more than their male counterparts did.

That’s likely to change as soon as the children arrive. Mothers, particularly those with young children, take more time off from work; even when they are working, they’re on the job less. Behind the Pay Gap found that “among women who graduated from college in 1992–93, more than one-fifth (23 percent) of mothers were out of the work force in 2003, and another 17 percent were working part time,” compared with under 2 percent of fathers in each case. Other studies show consistently that the first child significantly reduces a woman’s earnings and that the second child cuts them even further.
Of course, anyone with common sense knew that the mommy track was the primary explanation for the wage disparity, but common sense is not an abundant resource among ideologues determined to find injustice in every nook and cranny of our society. Sometimes one has to resort, as does Hymowitz, to a calm recitation of the facts.

Anyway, there's much, much more on this at the link, and those of a sociological inclination will want to read it all. It's something of an aesthetic pleasure seeing the shibboleths of conventional opinion deconstructed in front of one's very eyes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Metaphysical Identity Disorder

A study out of Canada does nothing to allay suspicions that either atheists are a very confused bunch or that Canadian churches are so secularized as to be indistinguishable from the local Elks lodge.

It turns out that 28% of those who identified themselves as Protestants, 33% of those who identified themselves as Catholics, and 23% of those who said they attend weekly religious services do not believe in God.

And atheists like to call theists irrational?

Perhaps there's a metaphysical disorder equivalent to gender identity disorder that causes some atheists to be completely confused about what they are. Psychologists ought to study this.

HT: Joe Carter at First Things.

Black Loyalty

Columnist and erstwhile presidential candidate Pat Buchanan opines that the President is on a collision course with the most loyal elements of his political base. The reason is the precarious position blacks find themselves in as the economy constricts. Buchanan writes:
Black America’s situation, though tough today, seems certain to get tougher. Why?

First, black Americans held a significant share of the subprime mortgages that went sour when housing prices went south, and are thus over-represented among those who lost homes.

Second, black Americans, with a higher rate of poverty, depend more on the entitlement and social programs that Obama cannot avoid hoisting onto the chopping block in any “balanced” plan for dealing with the deficit-debt crisis.

Third, African-Americans are over-represented among the 22 million who work for local, state and federal governments. And while government workers came out best in terms of job security and salary hikes in the stimulus days of 2009 and 2010, in the austerity days of 2011, they are getting their fair share of pink slips. It is almost a truism: Whenever Middle America goes into recession, Black America flirts with depression.

Consider the U.S. Postal Service, with 600,000 employees, running a deficit of $8.5 billion and facing layoffs of 120,000. According to William Burrus, ex-president of the Postal Workers Union, 21 percent of all postal employees are black. When the cuts come, minorities will take a big hit.
This helps explain a sociological fact that mystifies many conservatives (and some liberals) but shouldn't - the fealty of black Americans to the Democrat party. Buchanan explains:
That African-Americans favor a powerful federal government is understandable. After all, it was the federal government that crushed the Confederacy, freed the slaves, sent troops to integrate the South, enacted the civil rights laws, imposed affirmative action on companies and colleges, and created the Great Society that provided trillions in wealth transfers and welfare benefits and employs a share of the black population that is nearly twice its representation in the labor force.

This all goes a long way to explain why so many blacks are so hostile to tea party conservatism and loyal to Democrats who are defenders and promoters of big government. Conservatives want to reduce the size of government which will only put more blacks out of work and diminish the benefits they receive from taxpayers.
At any rate, Mr. Obama is between a rock and a hard place. According to Buchanan:
If he proposes new taxes, Tea Party Republicans fix bayonets. If he proposes downsizing the government and cutting and capping social programs, his most loyal constituents rise up against him.
Maybe what President Obama should do is what's best for the long term health of the nation as a whole, not what's best for the short-term benefit of a part of it. Of course, that won't save him from the impending collision with his base.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Millionaires and Billionaires

Television personality Chuck Woolery explains how those rich folks like Warren Buffett and Matt Damon who think the rich aren't paying enough in taxes can show their sincerity:
The call by Warren Buffett to make the rich like him pay more is pretty funny considering that according to Money News he himself takes pains to shield his fortune from the IRS:
For many years now Buffett has pointed out that he pays less tax than his secretary. How could the country’s most well-known billionaire, worth $50 billion, get away with that?

Here’s the significant reason — one that Buffett omits from his Op-Ed: He has traditionally drawn a tiny salary from his company Berkshire Hathaway and gives no dividends to shareholders like himself.

So, even if ... income tax rates were raised on the wealthy, he might not pay significantly more in taxes. By keeping his wealth in his company, Buffett has discovered one of the best tax avoidance schemes ever invented. And Buffett never suggests that corporate loopholes that he has personally taken advantage of for decades should be closed.

For example, his Berkshire Hathaway company has acted as an effective holding company for his vast investment portfolio. Last I checked, Berkshire Hathaway was generating over $7 billion in dividend income each year from stocks the company owned.

Due to a special exemption (read: loophole) Buffett enjoys, his company benefits from the fact that nearly 90 percent of the dividend income is exempt from any corporate tax! (I do too, as I am a shareholder as well.)

Buffett is then able to take these wads of tax-free cash and re-invest them, buying more stocks or whole companies — a strategy he’s been employing for decades as part of his wealth-creating money machine.

So Buffett knows that even if tax rates were raised on the income of the so-called “wealthy,” it would have little or no effect on the “super-rich” like himself who put a corporate shell around their assets and never disburse much cash to themselves in the form of income or dividends.
Buffett gives a lot of his fortune to charity which is certainly to his credit but for him to call for higher taxes on the rich when he shields his own money from taxation is pretty disingenuous.

It's also disingenuous of President Obama to keep referring to his desire to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires. His tax proposals would raise taxes on every individual making more than $200,000 and every couple making more than $250,000. According to the Wall Street Journal the vast number of people who would be paying more taxes under Obama's Jobs Bill are not millionaires and billionaires. Many of them are small business owners who we're counting on to hire people to get us out of the recession:
Almost 4 million people reported income above $200,000 in 2009, and they paid $434 billion in taxes. To put it another way, roughly 90% of the tax filers who would pay more under Mr. Obama's plan aren't millionaires, and 99.99% aren't billionaires.
Four hundred and thirty four billion seems like a "fair share", especially when 47% of Americans pay nothing in federal income taxes.

Raising taxes on people you hope will employ those who're looking for work is a lousy way to get out of a recession. Why doesn't the White House understand this?

Poverty in America

Yesterday we noted a report which stated that poverty in America is increasing. It's tragic that people are losing jobs and income and that others are unemployable, but the report raised a question in my mind: What is the real extent of poverty in America?

Poverty is a relative term. Compared to what I've seen in Central America or conditions friends describe having witnessed in Haiti and Africa, or compared to the amenities even the very wealthy have enjoyed throughout history, the people in America whom we call poor are immensely well off.

A report from the Heritage Foundation gives us some perspective:
[U]nderstanding poverty in America requires looking behind these numbers at the actual living conditions of the individuals the government deems to be poor. For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests near destitution: an inability to provide nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter for one’s family.

However, only a small number of the 46 million persons classified as “poor” by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity.
  • 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • 92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
  • Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
  • Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
  • Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR.
  • Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.
  • More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
  • 43 percent have Internet access.
  • One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
  • One-fourth have a digital video recorder system, such as a TiVo.
  • 96 percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food.
  • 83 percent of poor families reported having enough food to eat.
  • 82 percent of poor adults reported never being hungry at any time in the prior year due to lack of money for food.
  • Over the course of a year, 4 percent of poor persons become temporarily homeless.
  • Only 9.5 percent of the poor live in mobile homes or trailers, 49.5 percent live in separate single-family houses or townhouses, and 40 percent live in apartments.
  • 42 percent of poor households actually own their own homes.
  • Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
  • The average poor American has more living space than the typical non-poor person in Sweden, France, or the United Kingdom.
  • The vast majority of the homes or apartments of the poor are in good repair.
By their own reports, the average poor person had sufficient funds to meet all essential needs and to obtain medical care for family members throughout the year whenever needed.
The poor in America have access to better schools, health care, libraries, transportation, indoor plumbing and lighting, clothing, communications, than was available to even the filthiest-rich aristocrats throughout history. Louis XVI, lounging at Versailles, would have envied the standard of living of America's poor.

To get a glimpse of what it's like to be genuinely impoverished read a book like Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt who describes his childhood in the Ireland of the 1950s. Very few people in America live at the level of indigence that was for millions of Irish a matter of course.

The Heritage report closes with this:
Finally, welfare policy needs to address the causes of poverty, not merely the symptoms. Among families with children, the collapse of marriage and erosion of the work ethic are the principal long-term causes of poverty. When the recession ends, welfare policy must require able-bodied recipients to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving aid. It should also strengthen marriage in low-income communities rather than ignore and penalize it.
What is government at any level doing to address the real causes of American poverty? Not much.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Deja Vu at the White House

President Obama is insisting that Congress pass his 447 billion dollar "jobs" bill. This bill will, he argues, help teachers and firemen keep their jobs, build infrastructure, lower unemployment, etc. (not to mention help him look relevant), but this is exactly what we were told the effects of the 800 billion dollar stimulus bill would be two years ago. That one failed to work, it only put us deeper in debt, and now the President wants to go still deeper yet by doing it all again.

He wants us to continue doing the same thing that didn't work before while hoping this time for a different result.

Meanwhile, the American standard of living continues to decline. From Yahoo News we learn that:
The ranks of America's poor swelled to almost 1 in 6 people last year, reaching a new high as long-term unemployment left millions of Americans struggling and out of work. The number of uninsured edged up to 49.9 million, the biggest in more than two decades.

The Census Bureau's annual report released Tuesday offers a snapshot of the economic well-being of U.S. households for 2010, when joblessness hovered above 9 percent for a second year. It comes at a politically sensitive time for President Barack Obama, who has acknowledged in the midst of a re-election fight that the unemployment rate could persist at high levels through next year.

The overall poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent, or 46.2 million, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. The official poverty level is an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four.

Reflecting the lingering impact of the recession, the U.S. poverty rate from 2007-2010 has now risen faster than any three-year period since the early 1980s, when a crippling energy crisis amid government cutbacks contributed to inflation, spiraling interest rates and unemployment.

Measured by total numbers, the 46 million now living in poverty is the largest on record dating back to when the census began tracking poverty in 1959. Based on percentages, it tied the poverty level in 1993 and was the highest since 1983. The share of Americans without health coverage rose from 16.1 percent to 16.3 percent — or 49.9 million people — after the Census Bureau made revisions to numbers of the uninsured. That is due mostly to continued losses of employer-provided health insurance in the weakened economy.

The median — or midpoint — household income was $49,445, down 2.3 percent from 2009.
What could the president do to get America working again? He could encourage the development of domestic energy resources, drop the moratorium on offshore drilling, drop most of the regulations that are stifling business, lower the capital gains and corporate income tax, rescind Obamacare, and stop calling for higher taxes on people making $200,000 or more. All of these would remove the wet blanket of uncertainty that shrouds business and encourage them to hire workers, borrow money to expand, and prime the pump of economic growth.

Congressman Paul Ryan explains:
Mr. Obama won't do any of this, of course, because he's ideologically committed to high taxes and high spending. Thus the economy will stagnate until he's finally out of office and someone is elected who will provide the leadership to undo the damage that the last five years have wrought on our economy, our society, and our families.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Big Government Is the Problem, Not the Solution

Sometimes people ask why conservatives don't think much of big, overbearing, bureaucratic government (I guess putting the question this way pretty much answers it). Part of the reason, of course, is that we too often read things like these:
Congressman Anthony Weiner who resigned in disgrace will reap about one million dollars of your and my money in pension and benefits.

A kid's lemonade stand was shut down and the parents were fined $500 because they didn't have a permit. They were selling lemonade to raise money for pediatric cancer.

A man was ticketed by authorities for directing traffic when a traffic light malfunctioned and police didn't show up. The man got traffic moving but was fined by police when they finally arrived. After citing the man the cops left, and the snarled traffic piled up again.
You read this sort of thing everyday and you can't help but think that ladling on more rules and regulations and hiring more bureaucrats to staff more wasteful bureaucracies will only make these sorts of stories more common and more aggravating.

Government rules and regulations have the effect of sapping citizens of their initiative and enterprise. People grow reluctant to take it upon themselves to do anything that they see needs to be done for fear of being fined or sued. Under an overweening government we become a nation of emasculated sheep.

Speaking of big government Jonah Goldberg has an amusing piece at in which he notes the unintended irony in the MSNBC "Lean Forward" ads that they've been running for the past couple of months.

One of the ads has Rachel Maddow standing at the Hoover Dam lamenting the fact that too many people think the days when we could build something like this are behind us, and that we're no longer a great nation because we no longer undertake great projects. Goldberg chuckles at this since the reason we would not and could not build a Hoover Dam today is precisely because progressives like Ms. Maddow would never allow it:
The reason the ad is so funny is that nobody thinks liberals such as Maddow would support anything like the Hoover Dam today. The Hoover Dam is a marvel. But by today’s green standards, it is a crime against nature. If you tried to build it, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace would be in court tomorrow blocking it, with Ms. Maddow cheering them on.

Indeed, look at all the activists attacking the proposed construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Texas coast. It would create thousands of construction jobs and yet liberals oppose it for the usual petrophobic reasons. Ironically, liberals love building highways and bridges, but loathe making it affordable to drive on them.

This is just a small example of the Catch-22 liberalism has found itself in. The Left yearns to “go big” but it wants to do so through the extremely narrow routes it has created for itself. They say government must rush into this economic crisis like firemen into a burning building. But they also don’t want to lighten the useless baggage the firemen must carry or remove the Byzantine obstacle course they’ve decreed the figurative firefighters must run through before getting to work.
Goldberg borrows Jonathan Rauch’s term Demosclerosis to describe the shackles that liberals like Maddow in the Democratic party have placed on those who would do great things. A nation that suffers from Demosclerosis is a nation:
whose first responders to Hurricane Katrina have to undergo sensitivity training before they can save people from drowning and 'shovel-ready' green jobs require months of 'prevailing wage' compliance paper-pushing and are too expensive anyway. Boston’s Big Dig took two decades to build; the far more ambitious Hoover Dam, which Maddow and company love, took four years.
These MSNBC ads really are amusing. Try to imagine, say, building the transcontinental railroad under the regulatory conditions that prevail today. The foul smoke belched out by coal-burning steam engines, the threat to wildlife posed by those steam engines barreling down the tracks, the scars inflicted on the scenic west by construction crews, the cheap non-union labor that was employed, the hazardous conditions the workers endured, and many more insufferable insults to liberal sensibilities would guarantee that such a project would never get off the ground. The sorts of bureaucracies that make the progressive heart pound would stop such a project before it ever got started, and Ms. Maddow wonders why we can't build stuff any more.

Big government makes its people small and, as John Stuart Mill said, with small people no big thing can be accomplished. According to a Heritage Foundation report the Obama administration has, since taking office, implemented or proposed 75 new major regulations, costing potential employers 38 billion dollars annually. If Ms. Maddow really wants to see innovation unleashed and great projects undertaken she should use her podium at MSNBC to tell Mr. Obama to get his government off our backs and out of the way.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Assassin Bugs

An article at the BBC discusses research that some biologists have done on a kind of insect called an Assassin bug. These creatures exhibit a fascinating behavior as explained in the article:
Assassin bugs hunt spiders on their webs by stalking or luring their victims before stabbing them with their long, sharp snouts. Researchers studying these aggressive arthropods have now found that they use noise to cover their tracks. The bugs wait for the wind to rustle the web, then take the opportunity to sneak up on their prey.

"Web-building spiders have only rudimentary eyesight, so avoiding being seen is not an issue for web-invading arthropods," the team explained in the paper. "The main sensory system of web-building spiders is based on interpreting vibrations in the web - web silk is exquisitely proficient at transmitting vibrations from potential prey and predators in the web."

The researchers placed the bugs onto the spider webs and used a desk fan to simulate a breeze on the web. When the fan was on, "the assassin bugs stepped more often and walked in a more continuous manner", the team explained. They described this tactic as "opportunistic smokescreen behaviour".

"The exciting thing in this study is that the assassin bugs can increase their chances of catching food by using wind noise as cover." The breeze did not seem to trigger the assassin bug to move when it was in an unoccupied spider web. This, the team wrote, suggested that "noise-related timing of behaviour reflects decisions made as part of a predatory strategy", rather than just a response to the physical movement of the web.

Assassin bugs also have a strange way of moving, and the scientists think this bouncing gait - "gently erratically rocking in the web" - may make it more difficult for the spiders to identify the characteristic vibrations of footsteps on silk. The bugs are perhaps "simulating debris moving in the wind", explained the researchers.

In a previous study the same team discovered that the bugs lured spiders by "pretending" to be prey tangled in the web. They tapped the silk to mimic the vibrations of a trapped insect. When the spider approaches - or when the assassin bug gets within striking distance - the predator strikes with its tube-like mouthparts, through which it injects the victim with a toxin that liquefies its insides so they can be sucked out.
Sometimes I'm just in awe of the miracles that natural selection coupled with accidental genetic mutations can accomplish purely by blind dumb luck. I know it takes a lot of faith to believe that such marvels can happen by chance, but it must be true else the scientific whizzes who host talk shows at MSNBC wouldn't make fun of Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann for not believing it.