Monday, October 31, 2011

The Streetlight Effect

We've all heard the story: A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a street light and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys, and so they both look under the street light together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he's sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he's searching here if the keys are in the park, and the drunk replies, "this is where the light is."

I was reminded of that story reading a brief piece by the atheistic materialist David Barash. He recounts an incident after a lecture when he was asked what he thought the hardest problem in science is:
I answered without hesitation: How the brain generates awareness, thought, perceptions, emotions, and so forth, what philosophers call “the hard problem of consciousness.”

It’s a hard one indeed, so hard that despite an immense amount of research attention devoted to neurobiology, and despite great advances in our knowledge, I don’t believe we are significantly closer to bridging the gap between that which is physical, anatomical and electro-neurochemical, and what is subjectively experienced by all of us.
What Barash is putting his finger on is the problem of understanding how chemical reactions in the brain could produce sensations like color, sound, fragrance, or taste. How does a mix of neurochemicals cause us to have the experience of red or sweet?

Another aspect of this problem is explaining how electrons flowing along neurons can generate meaning when we see a paragraph of text. How do the patterns of ink on paper create an understanding in the brain? No one knows, and no one can even suggest a way to find out. This is why this is called the "hard" problem of consciousness (as opposed to the easier problem of mapping the parts of the brain that "light up" when subjected to different types of physical stimuli).
To be sure, there are lots of other hard problems, such as the perennial one of reconciling quantum theory with relativity, whether life exists on other planets, how action can occur at a distance (gravity, the attraction of opposite charges), how cells differentiate, and so forth. But in these and other cases, I can at least envisage possible solutions, even though none of mine actually work.

But the hard problem of consciousness is so hard that I can’t even imagine what kind of empirical findings would satisfactorily solve it. In fact, I don’t even know what kind of discovery would get us to first base, not to mention a home run.
So what does this have to do with what's called the streetlight effect - i.e. continuing to look for an answer where it's easiest to look even though it seems pretty clear that the answer won't be found there? Well, in his next paragraph Barash describes his own "street light":
I write this as an utter and absolute, dyed-in-the-wool, scientifically oriented, hard-headed, empirically insistent, atheistically committed materialist, altogether certain that matter and energy rule the world, not mystical abracadabra. But I still can’t get any purchase on this “hard problem,” the very label being a notable understatement. Cogito ergo sum may well be the most famous phrase in Western thought, yet I am convinced that Descartes’ renowned dualism is nonsense, that mind arises from nothing more nor less than the actions of the brain. I am also nearly as confident that some day, we’ll understand how.
Rather than entertain the possibility that his worldview is inadequate to give a satisfying description of the world Barash insists on looking under the streetlight of atheistic materialism for an explanation of consciousness. Maybe the answer doesn't lie elsewhere, but wouldn't it be wise to at least admit that it might? Wouldn't it be a step in the right direction to admit that his faith commitment to materialism is just that, an act of faith that all explanations are ultimately material explanations. It's not that materialism is an ersatz religion, it's that, for people like Barash, it is a religion.

It's intriguing that even scientists, who are supposed to be the most open-minded and most liberated of thinkers, are really imprisoned in their worldview and unable to imagine that the answers they seek are actually not to be found under that particular streetlight.

Racial Catalyst

Why is it that if conservatives oppose President Obama's policies they're automatically saddled by the left with the presumption of racism, but the left can say all sorts of insulting things about Herman Cain, as a black man, and it's simply considered cogent political analysis? For many liberals, opposition to Obama is prima facie evidence of racism, but opposition to Cain is a civic duty.

Imagine what the reaction would be if someone were to insult a black Democrat the way this woman insults Cain:
There are more examples of this sort of rhetoric here. It often seems that truth, evidence and logical consistency are irrelevant to some on the left. Such bourgeois values are dismissed as encumbrances, impediments which get in the way of the effort to maintain political power. What matters is winning and whatever accomplishes that goal is justified even if it means falsely accusing others of being guilty of doing the very things one does oneself.

When people on the left accuse Cain's admirers of supporting him just so they can mask or expiate their own racism, not only do they make themselves look foolish for advancing such a ludicrous explanation of Cain's popularity, but they project, I suspect, their own deepest sentiments onto their political opponents. They themselves think this way, even if they're unaware of it, and they can't imagine how anyone else could think otherwise. That's why they never offer evidence to support their claims of racism among conservatives. It must be there, they're convinced, because they know it's common among people on their own side and in themselves.

If Cain continues to do well in the polls I fear the attacks against him and his supporters will get increasingly ugly and more explicitly personal and racial even as any legitimate criticism of the president's policies and political tactics will be portrayed as racially motivated hatred.

Most of the manifestations of racial and religious bigotry in the early years of the 21st century have been found primarily on the progressive left, and Herman Cain could well be the catalyst that, like Homer's sirens, entices it all the way out into the light of day for all to see.

Slouching Toward Violence

Some of the protestors at Occupy Phoenix have apparently had second thoughts about the effectiveness of peaceful demonstrations and are now ruminating on the ethics of shooting police officers. This was excerpted from a flyer circulated at OP:
Pick any example of abuse of power, whether it is the fascist “war on drugs,” the police thuggery that has become so common, the random stops and searches now routinely carried out in the name of “security” (e.g., at airports, “border checkpoints” that aren’t even at the border, “sobriety checkpoints,” and so on), or anything else. Now ask yourself the uncomfortable question: If it’s wrong for cops to do these things, doesn’t that imply that the people have a right to RESIST such actions? Of course, state mercenaries don’t take kindly to being resisted, even non-violently.

If you question their right to detain you, interrogate you, search you, invade your home, and so on, you are very likely to be tasered, physically assaulted, kidnapped, put in a cage, or shot. If a cop decides to treat you like livestock, whether he does it “legally” or not, you will usually have only two options: submit, or kill the cop. You can’t resist a cop “just a little” and get away with it. He will always call in more of his fellow gang members, until you are subdued or dead.Basic logic dictates that you either have an obligation to LET “law enforcers” have their way with you, or you have the right to STOP them from doing so, which will almost always require killing them.
Let's see, sexual assaults, thefts, riots and arrests, drug use and general squalor. Now talk of killing cops. No wonder the media has pretty much given up trying to compare the "Occupations" to Tea Party demonstrations. How many people were ever raped or arrested at a TP demonstration?

This sort of thing was predictable, though. People with legitimate grievances demonstrate for redress, but their protest, if it's dominated by liberals, inevitably gets hijacked by the far left and others who seek to exploit it to inflict chaos and anarchy.

We might anticipate that the extremists at the occupations will try to instigate more ugly confrontations with police to goad them into an over-reaction. The occupations will either break up with the cold weather or they'll become increasingly violent. The status quo is never an option for the left.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

More Schiff

Last Wednesday we featured a short video of Peter Schiff engaging some of the Wall Street Protestors in dialogue. Here's the extended version of that encounter:
It's interesting to me that the protestors are camped out in New York City and other major cities around the country. Given their concerns, concerns many of us share to one degree or another, I don't know why they're not on the mall in Washington, D.C. or occupying the campuses of several major universities which have raised their costs far in excess of anything justified by inflation. In fact, to listen to some of these folks, I don't know why they're not marching with the Tea Party.

Anyway, it's too bad a fruitful, reasonable dialogue like this degenerates at one point into name-calling and insults, but that's what you get from some people, I suppose.

The Coming Collapse of Islam?

The other day we did a post on the anticipated global population crash which is projected to occur from about 2050 to 2200. Now Denyse O'Leary has reviewed a book by David Goldman titled How Civilizations Die: (and why Islam is dying too) in which Goldman argues that the Islamic world is not immune from demographic collapse and that, in fact, the prospects of decline may be even more severe for Muslim populations:
Islam is dying because the Muslim birth rate - according to reliable statistics - has crashed. How badly?
Across the entire Muslim world, university-educated Muslim women bear children at the same rate as their infecund European counterparts.
Whatever they believe about Islam, they have one or two children, but rarely three or four. Not enough to deliver their societies from demographic collapse, given the size of the families they came from. For example,
The average young Tunisian woman - like her Iranian or Turkish counterpart - grew up in a family of seven children, but will bear only one or two herself.

Education for women doesn’t in itself cause birth dearth, but abandonment of the land does. Muslims are not immune from the urbanization that turns children who were once a source of wealth into a major cost centre. Increasing numbers of people, there as here, hope that others will undertake the trouble [of producing the next generation of children].
But surely some Muslims have large families? Those who do live in areas that are considered backward, and they cannot indefinitely prop up an unsustainably low urban birth rate. But because demographic decline happened so quickly in Muslim societies, the Western problem of too few young people supporting too many seniors will be much more severe, especially in countries with few natural resources, like Turkey.
A cratering population has serious implications for global terrorism according to Goldman:
“If we are surprised by Muslim demographics, it is because we have not listened carefully enough to what Muslims themselves have been trying to tell us.” Islamism is more of a last stand for many than a resurgent force, hence the glamor of suicide. If all this is correct, demographic collapse will increase rather than decrease the risk of terrorism, because “there is no such thing as rational self-interest for people who believe they have nothing to lose.”

....a culture’s suicidal resistance often increases at precisely the point where a huge conflict is irretrievably lost. This was true of the South in the closing days of the Civil War, and of Germany and Japan in World War II, for example. Many won’t be trying to win, only to inflict damage on the victor.
Even so, Goldman observes that internal demographic collapse is a more serious threat to Muslim countries than Islamic terrorism is to the West. No civilization has ever survived a situation in which a small number of young adults must support a large number of elderly as well as raise and support their own children. This, it appears, is the condition the whole world will soon find itself in.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Secularism and Its Discontents (Pt. II)

Yesterday we talked a little bit about portions of a New Yorker column by atheist James Woods who reviews a book of essays which strive to put a smiley face on contemporary secularism, the assumptions of which have led many moderns to a sense of quiet despair.

Today we rejoin Woods as he follows the regrettable example of so many of his fellow atheists who seek to prove that God is irrelevant to morality by reciting the inventory of allegedly bad moral behavior found in the Bible:
The Bible contains several examples of God and Jesus appearing to sanction what seems arbitrary or cruel conduct: the command that Abraham kill his son, the tormenting of Job (a game instigated by Satan, who seems quite chummy with the Lord), Jesus’ casual slaughter of the Gadarene pigs.
He continues on in this vein for some while, seemingly oblivious to the fact that none of what he cites from the Bible is at all pertinent to the question whether God is necessary for there to be such a thing as moral obligation in the first place. God is still the only sufficient ground of moral duty even if the Bible were to completely misrepresent Him. The stories Woods recounts may bear on the reliability of Holy Writ, but that's a totally different matter than the issue of the existence of a transcendent moral authority and the necessity of such an authority for moral obligation.

Woods next cites favorably a contribution to the argument by Bruce Robbins:
An acutely intelligent piece by the literary theorist and scholar Bruce Robbins attacks, in a different way, the idea that secularism implies meaninglessness or, at best, second-rate meaning....Secularism must find and create its own values, and these might be quite varied—for instance, “helping children with their homework or cooking good meals,” or “men campaigning to protect doctors from murderous antiabortion activists or Jews campaigning against Israeli settlements on the West Bank.”
This doesn't help either. What neither Robbins nor Woods seems to recognize is that these "values" are purely arbitrary. In a godless world, there is nothing to make these values right and contrary values wrong. What reason could we have, if we are just material beings - a "pack of neurons", as Francis Crick put it - with no hope of any accountability beyond the grave, what reason is there for not living solely for ourselves? What could possibly make the life of an arrant egoist morally wrong? It may differ from the life Mr. Robbins would live, but why should we esteem his life as the universal standard?

To press the point, if there is no God why would an Ernest Hemingway be wrong when he opines that "what's good is what you feel good after and what's bad is what you feel bad after"?

Philosopher Charles Taylor agrees with Robbins, however, and vigorously denies that our moral values are simply subjective and arbitrary preferences. He writes that:
It doesn’t follow ... that our attributions of value are merely arbitrary. We can argue about them rationally, and some of them can be said to be “strong evaluations” of an objective state of affairs. By a “strong evaluation,” Taylor means a judgment so powerful and wide that, when someone else is incapable of sharing it, this suggests some limitation or inadequacy on his or her part. When our neighbor doesn’t agree with us that murdering scores of people at an island camp in Norway is wrong, we do not shrug and say, “Chacun ses goĆ»ts”[ Each his own]. When Tolstoy calls Shakespeare a poor writer, it is a judgment that judges Tolstoy, and marks his eccentricity.
Unfortunately for Woods' thesis, Taylor's assertions do nothing to support the claim that morality is something other than an arbitrary convention - "an illusion", as philosopher Michael Ruse asserts, "fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate." Taylor's words distill to the claim that moral right and wrong are whatever the majority feels strongly about, but that's hardly convincing support for his belief that morals in a godless world aren't subjective and arbitrary. Indeed, it seems to lend support to the belief that they are.

In any event, Woods closes on a bit of a downer:
Thirty years ago, Thomas Nagel wrote a shrewd essay entitled “The Absurd,” in which he argued that, just as we can “step back from the purposes of individual life and doubt their point, we can step back also from the progress of human history, or of science, or the success of a society, or the kingdom, power, and glory of God, and put all these things into question in the same way.” Secularism can seem as meaningless as religion when such doubt strikes. Nagel went on to conclude, calmly, that we shouldn’t worry too much, because if, under the eye of eternity, nothing matters “then that doesn’t matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.” This is impeccably logical, and impishly offers a kind of secular deconstruction of secularism, but it is fairly cold comfort in the middle of the night.
If nothing matters then it doesn't matter that nothing matters. So says Nagel. It seems to me, though, that any view of life that leads to the conclusion that nothing matters really should be resisted with all one's strength, and all the alternatives, especially those, like Christianity, which affirm that everything matters, should be given every chance to demonstrate their superiority and not just dismissed a priori.

Jesus Diaz

There are those on the left who sincerely dislike this country, but it's hard to find similar sentiment expressed on the right. At least it has been hard until now, but I suspect stories like this one might change that. It's hard to watch this and not think that our government is comprised of people who are either incredibly stupid or insidiously evil.
Perhaps there's more to this story than what we're being told, but unless that's so, and I have seen nothing yet to indicate that it is, it's hard to disagree with anything Beck says toward the end of this interview. I wish he would've mentioned the name of the judge and emphasized the name of the prosecutor. These people are an embarrassment and deserve public obloquy. They certainly make me embarrassed for my country.

Go here for more on this interview.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Secularism and its Discontents (Pt. I)

Writer James Woods gives voice, in an interesting essay in the New Yorker, to the haunting sense of loss which grips many people in our secular age:
I have a friend, an analytic philosopher and convinced atheist, who told me that she sometimes wakes in the middle of the night, anxiously turning over a series of ultimate questions: “How can it be that this world is the result of an accidental big bang? How could there be no design, no metaphysical purpose? Can it be that every life—beginning with my own, my husband’s, my child’s, and spreading outward—is cosmically irrelevant?” In the current intellectual climate, atheists are not supposed to have such thoughts. We are locked into our rival certainties—religiosity on one side, secularism on the other—and to confess to weakness on this order is like a registered Democrat wondering if she is really a Republican, or vice versa.
These are good questions Woods' friend asks herself in the dead of the night. George Levine sets out to answer them in a book he's edited and titled, perhaps improbably, The Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now.

According to Woods, "Levine explains that the book’s aim is to explore the idea that secularism is a positive, not a negative, condition, not a denial of the world of spirit and of religion, but an affirmation of the world we’re living in now; that building our world on a foundation of the secular is essential to our contemporary well-being; and that such a world is capable of bringing us to the condition of ‘fullness’ that religion has always promised."

It's very hard to see this as anything more than whistling past the graveyard. Thinkers like Richard Dawkins are closer to the truth, I think, when they insist that: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference."

But it's not just Dawkins who concludes that life is meaningless and that there's no purpose to the universe. Similar thoughts have been expressed by dozens of atheistic scientists, philosophers, novelists, and others who have reflected on the human predicament throughout the twentieth and twenty first centuries.

Consider this passage from Nobel-winning scientist Steven Weinberg: "[T]he worldview of science is rather chilling. [We find no] point to life laid out for us in nature, no objective basis for our moral principles, no correspondence between what we think is the moral law and the laws of nature...[W]e live on a knife-edge, between wishful thinking on one hand and, on the other, despair."

Or this from Somerset Maugham: "If death ends all ... I must ask myself what am I here for....Now the answer is plain but so unpalatable that most will not face it. There is no meaning for life and [thus] life has no meaning."

Woods goes on to talk about how one of the contributors to Levine's book handles the problem of trying to ground ethics in a godless world:
Many people, for instance, believe that morality is a deliverance of God, and that without God there is no morality—that in a secular world “everything is permitted.” You can hear this on Fox News; it is behind the drive to have the Ten Commandments displayed in courtrooms. But philosophers like Philip Kitcher remember what Socrates tells Euthyphro, who supposed that the good could be defined by what the gods had willed: if what the gods will is based on some other criterion of goodness, divine will isn’t what makes something good; but if goodness is simply determined by divine will there’s no way for us to assess that judgment.

In other words, if you believe that God ordains morality—constitutes it through his will—you still have to decide where God gets morality from. If you are inclined to reply, “Well, God is goodness; He invents it,” you threaten to turn morality into God’s plaything, and you deprive yourself of any capacity to judge that morality.
A couple things might be said about this. First, even if Kitcher is correct that Socrates' argument in The Euthyphro makes morality either independent of God or the product of God's arbitrary will, at least if there is a God there is a ground of moral duty. If there is no God then it's not that morality still exists on its own, with no need of God to give it warrant, it's that there simply cannot be any moral obligation to do anything at all. In a world without God there's no objective right or wrong, there are just feelings about right and wrong.

Atheist philosopher Richard Rorty saw this clearly when he observed that for the secular man there's no answer to the question, "Why not be cruel?" and Jeffrey Dahmer took his atheistic assumptions to their logical conclusion when he asked, "If it all happens naturalistically, what's the need for God? Can't I set my own rules? Who owns me? I own myself."

Secondly, I doubt very much, as I argue here, that the dilemma Socrates poses to Euthyphro is as formidable as Kitcher makes it out to be. Moreover, what of it if morality is indeed God's "plaything"? Isn't the entire universe, if God created it, His plaything? I don't understand why a morality inscribed by God on human hearts would be a worse thing than no morality at all just because it flows from the nature of the God who created the cosmos.

More thoughts on Woods' article tomorrow.

Should We Make the Rich Poorer?

Libertarian law professor Richard Epstein was interviewed recently on PBS in response to the news that income inequality has grown over the last few years. Epstein defends that inequality with arguments that are as cogent as they should be obvious.

Watch Does U.S. Economic Inequality Have a Good Side? on PBS.

The left seems indifferent to the power of Epstein's deposition. They often seem to care only that some people have more of the world's goods than do others, and, since they believe that to be an unjust state of affairs, they demand that the rich have their excess taken from them and given to people who have little. Lincoln's caution that Epstein quotes is apposite, however. We can't make the poor richer by making the rich poorer, even though that's precisely what the left thinks can be, and should be, done.

I confess to being personally disgusted at the huge bonuses given to Wall Street financiers by their shareholders, but though I think it contemptibly ostentatious and offensive it neither harms others nor is it economically unsound. To legislate against it, as the left wishes to do, puts them in the awkward position of advocating the imposition of their moral vision upon others, which is the very thing they've adamantly argued for fifty years has no place in a free, democratic society.

HT:Hot Air

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What's Worse Than Despicable?

Actor/comedian Orlando Jones tweeted the other day that "if liberals want respect they should kill Sarah Palin". Real knee slapper, that one. Substitute the name of the president for that of Sarah Palin and what do you think the reaction in the media would, and should, be?

Of course, since Jones is himself a liberal there's just silence in the media about his comment. It reminds me of when Alec Baldwin, on a late night talk show, called for people to go to the home of Henry Hyde and stone him to death, him and his family, and the audience cheered wildly.

"Despicable" just doesn't seem to be an adequate adjective to describe behavior like Jones, Baldwin, or his audience displayed, nor is it adequate to describe the pass they're given by the media.

The Big Question

Peter Schiff wades in among the 99% and poses the big question: What, exactly, is a fair share for the rich to pay in taxes? Unsurprisingly, the OWS folks don't seem to have given the matter much thought:
HT: HotAir

Whale Echolocation

This animated video depicts a sperm whale hunting prey, including a giant squid, by echolocation.
Until recently the consensus opinion among biologists was that whales evolved from land animals, but recent finds have made this view increasingly untenable. Not only is the window of available time for all the requisite changes to adapt a terrestrial creature to a marine environment very narrow, but the sheer number and scope of the changes strains credulity. Here are a few of the changes that would need to have occurred within the span of about 3-5 million years:
  • Counter-current heat exchanger for intra-abdominal testes
  • Ball vertebra
  • Tail flukes and musculature
  • Blubber for temperature insulation
  • Ability to drink sea water (reorganization of kidney tissues)
  • Fetus in breech position (for labor underwater)
  • Nurse young underwater (modified mammae)
  • Forelimbs transformed into flippers
  • Reduction of hindlimbs
  • Reduction/loss of pelvis and sacral vertebrae
  • Reorganization of the musculature for the reproductive organs
  • Hydrodynamic properties of the skin
  • Special lung surfactants
  • Novel muscle systems for the blowhole
  • Modification of the teeth
  • Modification of the eye for underwater vision
  • Emergence and expansion of the mandibular fat pad with complex lipid distribution
  • Reorganization of skull bones and musculature
  • Modification of the ear bones
  • Decoupling of esophagus and trachea
  • Synthesis and metabolism of isovaleric acid (toxic to terrestrial mammals)
  • Emergence of blowhole musculature and their neurological control
Here's another video, courtesy of Uncommon Descent, which highlights some of the problems with the consensus view:

Whale Evolution vs. The Actual Fossil Evidence from Philip Cunningham on Vimeo.

The problem of transitional forms remains a serious difficulty for any kind of "molecules to man" evolutionary hypothesis, as this article at Evolution News and Views illustrates. It may have happened that all forms of life on earth are descended from a single ancestral form, but it seems that the more we discover the less evidence there is for it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Contrary to the doom and gloom of many analysts, British journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of The Telegraph paints a fairly optimistic picture of the American near future. From his perch in England he writes that:
The American phoenix is slowly rising again. Within five years or so, the US will be well on its way to self-sufficiency in fuel and energy. Manufacturing will have closed the labour gap with China in a clutch of key industries. The current account might even be in surplus.

The making of computers, electrical equipment, machinery, autos and other goods may shift back to the US from China.

Assumptions that the Great Republic must inevitably spiral into economic and strategic decline - so like the chatter of the late 1980s, when Japan was in vogue - will seem wildly off the mark by then.
What accounts for Evans-Pritchard's contrarian view? He explains that the biggest driver of an American renewal is abundant energy:
Telegraph readers already know about the "shale gas revolution" that has turned America into the world’s number one producer of natural gas, ahead of Russia. Less known is that the technology of hydraulic fracturing - breaking rocks with jets of water - will also bring a quantum leap in shale oil supply, mostly from the Bakken fields in North Dakota, Eagle Ford in Texas, and other reserves across the Mid-West.

"The US was the single largest contributor to global oil supply growth last year, with a net 395,000 barrels per day," said Francisco Blanch from Bank of America, comparing the Dakota fields to a new North Sea.

Total US shale output is "set to expand dramatically" as fresh sources come on stream, possibly reaching 5.5 million barrels per day by mid-decade. This is a tenfold rise since 2009.

The US already meets 72% of its own oil needs, up from around 50% a decade ago.

"The implications of this shift are very large for geopolitics, energy security, historical military alliances and economic activity. As US reliance on the Middle East continues to drop, Europe is turning more dependent and will likely become more exposed to rent-seeking behaviour from oligopolistic players," said Mr Blanch.
He also thinks that the Chinese economic success will ultimately prove unsustainable:
Meanwhile, the China-US seesaw is about to swing the other way. Offshoring is out, 're-inshoring' is the new fashion.

"Made in America, Again" - a report this month by Boston Consulting Group - said Chinese wage inflation running at 16% a year for a decade has closed much of the cost gap. China is no longer the "default location" for cheap plants supplying the US.

A "tipping point" is near in computers, electrical equipment, machinery, autos and motor parts, plastics and rubber, fabricated metals, and even furniture.

"A surprising amount of work that rushed to China over the past decade could soon start to come back," said BCG's Harold Sirkin.

The gap in "productivity-adjusted wages" will narrow from 22% of US levels in 2005 to 43% (61% for the US South) by 2015. Add in [China's] shipping costs, reliability woes, technology piracy, and the advantage shifts back to the US.
There's more on these positive indicators for the future at the link.

He concludes with this:
The switch in advantage to the US is relative. It does not imply a healthy US recovery. The global depression will grind on as much of the Western world tightens fiscal policy and slowly purges debt, and as China deflates its credit bubble.

Yet America retains a pack of trump cards, and not just in sixteen of the world’s top twenty universities.

It is almost the only economic power with a fertility rate above 2.0 - and therefore the ability to outgrow debt - in sharp contrast to the demographic decay awaiting Japan, China, Korea, Germany, Italy, and Russia.

The 21st Century may be American after all, just like the last.
Evans-Pritchard doesn't mention it, but it's hard not to see that both of the drivers of this possible American resurgence are opposed by the Obama administration and the American left. Increased fossil fuel production and the attractiveness to business of the American south where right to work laws and non-union shops make business much more efficient and profitable than elsewhere in the country are both attributes that the left would reverse if they could.

If Evans-Pritchard is right the U.S. economy will resume it's global dominance within the next five years as long as it's not strangled in the crib by regulations and taxes imposed by politicians ideologically averse to American dominance in the world.

Population Implosion

In the 1960s people like Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich were predicting world wide starvation, war, and chaos before the turn of the century due to exploding global population. Largely because of technological advances in agricultural production it didn't happen.

Now demographers are forecasting that the world's population is likely to implode over the next two centuries and that this decline will make the world a very different place. Reuters has a fascinating story about this projected crash. You should read the whole piece, but here are some excerpts:
If the world follows the demographic habits of Europe -- and that's a big if -- by the year 2200 it could be home to a population of less than half its current level, living in housing built for almost three times that number.

With the global population estimated to pass 7 billion on October 31, many of policymakers' short-term worries revolve around providing resources for the additional 2-3 billion people expected to be born in the next half-century.

Numbers of this magnitude inevitably conjure up terrifying visions of shortage and chaos. But in fact improvements in food production and technology have allowed population growth to continue unimpeded and relatively smoothly, and the real potential nightmare is of a rapidly aging population, combined with collapsing birthrates in both rich and poor states.

Many demographers and long-term planners say the challenge for the next century will be less dealing with growing numbers of people and more managing the much larger population of aged and perhaps dependent people while finding new strategies to deliver prosperity, jobs and essential services.

The trend has already contributed to the current global financial crisis by driving up health and social care bills and perhaps also undermining productivity. But while politicians tie themselves in knots over short-term worries, experts say there is not enough discussion of longer-term demographic challenges.
If birthrates fall to the same level as those of Shanghai, at around 0.8 per couple, then by the early 22nd century population would be falling so fast that it would drop from the 9 billion expected to inhabit the planet by 2070 to under a billion by 2150, a span of only 80 years.

If birthrates were closer to the European Union average of 1.5 then population would fall below 5 billion around 2140 and 3 billion by 2200. In contrast, maintaining the current rate of 2.5 would see it top 15 billion by 2100.

If life expectancies also fall these rates of decline would all be accelerated. These really are startling statistics.

Declines like these would place extraordinary pressure on countries which try to provide care for their elderly. Such care is possible when the population distribution is pyramidal with lots of young workers supporting a relative few elderly, but should the pyramid be inverted, as the above projections suggest they may be, it's hard to see how it could be sustained.
By 2030, more than a third of the population in a number of Western states as well as some Asian economies, such as Japan and Korea, will be aged over 65.

Many developing states, most notably China with its one-child policy but also a growing number of other nations, will follow suit -- often without the financial resources to help pay for the cost of medical and nursing care.

"It's the seminal issue of our time," says Michael Hodin, executive director of the New York-based Global Coalition on Aging and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"The numbers are stunning. The exact projections vary but it doesn't really matter because they are all going in the same direction."
Currently, fertility is still high in many of the world's poorer countries and the aging nations can import workers from them to sustain their elderly populations but even this expediency, which poses significant dangers to the cultural survival of the importing nation, won't last. The pool of available labor in poorer countries is also expected to eventually diminish.
Exact predictions vary, but most projections suggest the global population will peak at around 9 billion around 2070 and then start to fall, perhaps very fast.
In other words, by the end of this century the world's population could be in a rapid descent which would make the world poorer, resources more scarce, and violence more prevalent.

Or not. Fertility rates could buck current trends and remain at 2.5 children per couple worldwide. The future, after all, is a difficult thing to predict. Just ask Paul Ehrlich.

Monday, October 24, 2011

How "Bork" Became a Verb

A question one hears frequently among young people interested in contemporary political doings is why our discourse is so raw. Why is it, people wonder, that there's so much animosity between Republicans and Democrats and so much invective in our political life? Conservatives usually reply that the hostility goes back to two Supreme Court nominations in which the reputations and careers of two men were destroyed by Democrats in order to try to keep them off the Court.

In the first case, that of Robert Bork (1987), the tactic worked. In the second, the confirmation of Clarence Thomas (1991), it didn't, but the scars left by the ugliness and relentless attempts to destroy these men left a very bitter taste in the mouths of many observers and set the tone for the debased rhetoric of the next two decades.

Those confirmation hearings were doubtless the backstory behind the impeachment of Bill Clinton by Republicans, which was in turn the impetus behind the awful treatment by Democrats of George W. Bush.

In any case, Joe Nocera, a columnist at The New York Times writes about the Bork case in a piece that recounts how even those involved in the slander of this highly qualified jurist admitted what they were doing. After describing Bork's qualifications for the Court Nocera writes:
I’ll take it one step further. The Bork fight, in some ways, was the beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics. For years afterward, conservatives seethed at the “systematic demonization” of Bork, recalls Clint Bolick, a longtime conservative legal activist. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution coined the angry verb “to bork,” which meant to destroy a nominee by whatever means necessary. When Republicans borked the Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright less than two years later, there wasn’t a trace of remorse, not after what the Democrats had done to Bork. The anger between Democrats and Republicans, the unwillingness to work together, the profound mistrust — the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.

It is, to be sure, completely understandable that the Democrats wanted to keep Bork off the court. Lewis Powell, the great moderate, was stepping down, which would be leaving the court evenly divided between conservatives and liberals. There was tremendous fear that if Bork were confirmed, he would swing the court to the conservatives and important liberal victories would be overturned — starting with Roe v. Wade.

But liberals couldn’t just come out and say that. “If this were carried out as an internal Senate debate,” Ann Lewis, the Democratic activist, would later acknowledge, “we would have deep and thoughtful discussions about the Constitution, and then we would lose.” So, instead, the Democrats sought to portray Bork as “a right-wing loony,” to use a phrase in a memo written by the Advocacy Institute, a liberal lobby group.

The character assassination began the day Bork was nominated, when Ted Kennedy gave a fiery speech describing “Robert Bork’s America” as a place “in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters,” and so on. It continued until the day the nomination was voted down; one ad, for instance, claimed, absurdly, that Bork wanted to give “women workers the choice between sterilization and their job.”

Conservatives were stunned by the relentlessness — and the essential unfairness — of the attacks. But the truth is that many of the liberals fighting the nomination also knew they were unfair. That same Advocacy Institute memo noted that, “Like it or not, Bork falls (perhaps barely) at the borderline of respectability.” It didn’t matter. He had to be portrayed “as an extreme ideological activist.” The ends were used to justify some truly despicable means.
Nocera's concluding sentence will not be welcome by many liberals, but it's good advice all the same:
[T]he point remains this: The next time a liberal asks why Republicans are so intransigent, you might suggest that the answer lies in the mirror.
The invective shows no signs of an imminent abatement. Nancy Pelosi informs us that Republicans want women to bleed to death on the floor, others insist that Republicans want to see blacks swinging at the end of a rope. Morgan Freeman is quite certain that opposition to Mr. Obama is due to the fact that he's black, and, indeed, the left finds themselves taking every opportunity to shout that the entire Tea Party is a bunch of racists, despite the utter lack of evidence for their claim, and much counterevidence against it.

And so it goes.


Jonathan Tobin at Commentary informs us that the thousand or so Palestinian murderers and thugs recently released from Israeli jails will be awarded financial grants from both Hamas and Fatah:
It is no secret that Hamas was strengthened by the conclusion of its ransom deal with Israel in which over one thousand Palestinian terrorists were freed in exchange for the safe return of Gilad Shalit​. But its Fatah rivals are not taking this triumph lying down. In the wake of the announcement that Hamas will be paying each of the released killers, almost all of whom are either directly or indirectly responsible for the murders of Jews, a bonus of $2,000, the Palestinian Authority has also decreed that it will be paying every one of the murderers a separate honorarium though the amount was not specified.

That PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, the man that is supposed to be Israel’s peace partner, will pay this cash reward for murder, is an irony that is lost on an Obama administration that continues to urge the Jewish state to make concessions to the PA.

This is of more than passing interest to American readers since hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds are transferred to the Palestinian Authority every year. That means Uncle Sam is paying a subsidy to mass murderers. That’s a not insignificant point to remember when Congress decides whether or not to continue the flow of aid to the PA.
Leave aside the question of what our leaders in Washington are thinking when they facilitate the transfer of money from your pocket to the pockets of people who have murdered Israeli children, and ask instead what kind of human beings these must be who would actually celebrate and reward horrific acts not unlike those perpetrated by the two Palestinians who savagely murdered an Israeli family of five while they slept in their beds.

There's a pervasive sickness afflicting these people, an all-consuming hatred and blood lust, and though we must deal with them we must never delude ourselves into thinking that they think the way Westerners think.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Embryonic Solar System

Uncommon Descent tips us to an article by Kate Taylor in TG Daily on the discovery of an embryonic solar system in a distant constellation in our galaxy. The significance of this discovery is that the system contains enormous amounts of water:
The star TW Hydrae, 176 light years away in the constellation Hydra, is surrounded by enough water to fill Earth's oceans thousands of times over.
TW Hydrae
"This tells us that the key materials that life needs are present in a system before planets are born," says University of Michigan astronomy professor Ted Bergin, a HIFI co-investigator.

While warm water vapor's previously been found in planet-forming disks close to the central star, this is the first time that such a vast quantity has been discovered in the cooler, far reaches of disks where comets and giant planets take shape.

"The detection of water sticking to dust grains throughout the planet-forming disk would be similar to events in our own solar system’s evolution, where over millions of years, these dust grains would then coalesce to form comets," says said principal investigator Michiel Hogerheijde of Leiden University in the Netherlands.

"These would be a prime delivery mechanism for water on planetary bodies."

Comets are believed to have delivered a significant portion of Earth's oceans, with comet Hartley 2 recently found to have the same chemical composition as our oceans.
UD closes their post on this discovery with a provocative question: "If many phenomena like this turn up, but life is not detected, would that set of circumstances be taken to mean anything?"

The question arises because naturalistic evolutionists have been predicting for decades that life is almost inevitable wherever the physical prerequisites exist. However, if those prerequisites turn out to exist commonly throughout the galaxy but no life is discovered that would have devastating implications for the view that natural processes and forces are adequate by themselves to produce life.

On the other hand, if life is discovered elsewhere it would not necessarily have a serious bearing on the belief that intelligent agency is necessary to bring it about unless it turns out that the chasms of biochemical improbability that need to be traversed in order to produce life are not as prohibitively wide as they are on earth.

Rationale or Rationalization?

We here at Viewpoint have been following the refusal of prominent atheist Richard Dawkins to defend his attacks on theism in debate against philosopher William Lane Craig. Dawkins has now written a column for The Guardian in which he gives his rationale for ducking Craig. It's vintage Dawkins, arrogant, insulting, and lame, but perhaps the silliest part is where he seeks to justify his non-appearance at the debate by citing Craig's views on the Canaanite massacre:
But Craig is not just a figure of fun. He has a dark side, and that is putting it kindly. Most churchmen these days wisely disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament. Anyone who criticises the divine bloodlust is loudly accused of unfairly ignoring the historical context, and of naive literalism towards what was never more than metaphor or myth.

You would search far to find a modern preacher willing to defend God's commandment, in Deuteronomy 20: 13-15, to kill all the men in a conquered city and to seize the women, children and livestock as plunder. And verses 16 and 17 are even worse:

"But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them"
You might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving God. Any decent bishop, priest, vicar or rabbi would agree. But listen to Craig. He begins by arguing that the Canaanites were debauched and sinful and therefore deserved to be slaughtered. He then notices the plight of the Canaanite children.

"But why take the lives of innocent children? The terrible totality of the destruction was undoubtedly related to the prohibition of assimilation to pagan nations on Israel's part. In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, 'You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods' (Deut 7.3-4). […] God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.

[…] Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God's grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven's incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives."
Do not plead that I have taken these revolting words out of context. What context could possibly justify them?

Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn't, and I won't. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty.

And if any of my colleagues find themselves browbeaten or inveigled into a debate with this deplorable apologist for genocide, my advice to them would be to stand up, read aloud Craig's words as quoted above, then walk out and leave him talking not just to an empty chair but, one would hope, to a rapidly emptying hall as well.
If this were really Dawkins' reason for not debating Craig why didn't he say so months ago? It has about it the odor of a rationalization discovered ex post facto and pressed into service to turn Dawkins' timorousness into moral virtue. Why not, if Dawkins thinks this is such an execrable position for Craig to take, get Craig on a public stage and make him defend it?

Moreover, even if it's granted that Craig's justification of the genocidal passages in Deuteronomy is inadequate, why is that a reason not to debate him on the completely separate question of the existence of God? The two issues have nothing to do with each other. Whatever the proper understanding of those horrific Old Testament events may be they have nothing to do with the topic of God's existence. They may bear on the question of whether the Old Testament is correct, whether the relevant passages are being interpreted properly, or even on the nature of God, but not at all on the question of whether there is or is not a God.

Dawkins is using what rhetoricians call a red herring to draw attention away from the fact that he simply doesn't want to engage in a debate he realizes he might well lose. It would be as if a vociferous critic of President Obama's economic policies, say, Sean Hannity, was challenged by Obama or a prominent surrogate to a debate, and Hannity declined because Obama supports partial birth abortion and voted as a state senator to keep infanticide legal in Illinois.

I think if Hannity were to decline the challenge on such grounds it would look to most people very much like he was simply afraid of suffering the public humiliation of being made to look like a buffoon. Many would conclude that he was just an egotistical gasbag, an intellectual fraud, and it'd be hard to gainsay that conclusion.

The difference is it's hard to imagine Hannity shrinking from an opportunity to debate Mr. Obama, but it's not hard to imagine Dawkins shrinking from a debate with Craig. That's what, in fact, he appears to be doing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Are We Really Getting Less Violent?

Stephen Colbert "interviews" Harvard academic Steven Pinker on Pinker's new book The Better Angels of Our Nature in which Pinker argues that we are becoming a less violent, more moral world. The interview is pretty funny:
It's not Colbert's practice to get too deep into these things, but I wish he'd have asked Pinker why he thinks the decline in the percentage of people being killed in wartime is occurring so that I wouldn't have had to look it up.

A review at Amazon by Graham Seibert gives us a summary of Pinker's answer to this question. Seibert lists six significant trends Pinker claims have led to a decrease in wars and deaths in war since WWII:
1. Our evolution from hunter gatherers into settled civilizations, which he calls the Pacification Process.

2. The consolidation of small kingdoms and duchies into large kingdoms with centralized authority and commerce, which he calls the Civilizing Process.

3. The emergence of Enlightenment philosophy, and it's respect for the individual through what he calls the Humanitarian Revolution.

4. Since World War II, violence has been suppressed, first by the overwhelming force of the two parties in the Cold War, and more recently by the American hegemony. Pinker calls this the Long Peace.

5. The general trend, even apart from the Cold War, of wars to be more infrequent, and less violent, however autocratic and anti-democratic the governments may be. Call this the New Peace.

6. Lastly, the growth of peace and domestic societies, and with it the diminishing level of violence through small things like schoolyard fights, bullying, and picking on gays and minorities. He titles this the Rights Revolution.
Of course, even if the statistics that Pinker bases his conclusions on are correct the reasons he offers are merely speculative. There's no way of knowing what's responsible for the alleged decline, but, nevertheless, I think a case can be made that the overriding cause, if a decline there be, is #4 plus the success of capitalism in creating decent living standards for so many of the world's people.

There has been less slaughter since WWII largely because the United States has been the dominant superpower and has had some success in meliorating conflicts around the world. Other powers have not used their might for fear of provoking American response. The recent case of Libya is a case in point. Had the U.S. not inserted itself in that internal conflict Qaddafi may well have killed tens of thousands of Libyans. Other examples are the India/Pakistan, the North/South Korean, and the Arab/Israeli conflicts in which nuclear war has been averted largely because fear of the United States has been an incentive to avoid overt, total war.

Moreover, American military technology has enabled the U.S., when it felt it had to fight, to do so with minimum harm to civilians. The ability to attack a single building without having to send a fleet of B-52s to carpet bomb a city has revolutionized modern warfare and considerably reduced the number of people who would otherwise have died.

Finally, the relative prosperity of much of the world since WWII has diminished the restlessness of people and reduced antagonisms so that nations are not as quick to go to war. All of this is a product of the American economic system that the left so deeply, and so ironically, despises.

What it's not a product of, I'm pretty sure, is an evolving sense of moral responsibility. It's peculiar that Pinker, an atheist, would think that the human race is becoming more moral even as naturalism makes deeper inroads into society, spreading its message that moral duties are pure illusion. It would be interesting to hear Mr. Pinker's explanation as to what survival advantage belief in moral duty confers that would cause natural selection to evolve the human race in that direction, even though, on atheism, such duties have no real world foundation.

Lennox v. Hawking

Readers of Viewpoint might recall that a year or so ago cosmologist Stephen Hawking came out with a book in which he claimed that philosophy is dead, the universe created itself out of the laws of nature, and that God is an unnecessary explanatory hypothesis. As you might imagine, the book created quite a stir.

Oxford mathematician John Lennox, one of the most intelligent men on the planet, recently gave a lecture in Seattle in which he took Hawking's argument apart piece by piece and revealed it to be amazingly incoherent - dumb even - particularly given the unquestionable scientific brilliance of its author.

Lennox's talk is long (55 minutes), but if the matter of the intellectual inadequacy of atheistic arguments is one which interests you, you could find few better ways to spend your time than to listen to it.

You can find it here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Assad's Predicament

As everyone knows by now Moammar Qaddafi has been killed by Libyan rebels. It is always good for murderous tyrants who have caused so much grief and death to get their earthly recompense, but, as I argued back when Mr. Obama first got us into this conflict, it seems to me that killing Mr. Qaddafi at the outset would have been far preferable to first killing several thousand Libyans, spending a billion or so dollars, and then killing Qaddafi.

Anyway, another Middle Eastern tyrant has died by the sword by which he had lived, and the world, at least for now, until we see what replaces him, is a better place.

The next murderous thug to face the wrath of his people appears to be Bashar Assad of Syria. Debkafile has some interesting news on developments in that country. After reporting the mysterious disappearance of three high ranking generals, one of which turned up dead in a Syrian hospital, debkafile says this:
The Syrian conflict is now dominated by four features:

1. The dwindling of the mass demonstrations plaguing the Assad regime for seven months since March 15 in the face of the army's ruthless onslaught by tanks and guns. This does not mean that the contest is over or that the Syrian ruler has come out of it with the upper hand.

2. Anti-Assad forces are instead marshaling in the northwestern triangle between Hama, Homs and Idlib in bands of well-armed guerilla fighters, often led by defecting soldiers or officers, for attacking individual army officers and small units.

3. Two of Syria's most important minorities, the Alawites and the Druzes, fear that this form of warfare will lead inexorably to widespread civil war. They are preparing themselves for the worst by barricading their villages and towns against interlopers and organizing armed militias to keep them out.

4. The Assad regime is going broke, ruined by the seven-month uprising. It can barely find the money to buy food and other essential commodities for keeping the economy and the military going or even pay salaries to government personnel. According to a recent report, the economic damage suffered by six "Arab spring" nations totals $56 billion. Syria is described as incurring the worst losses of them all to its GDP and public finances, totaling $27.3 billion.

Our Iranian sources disclose that since Syrian banks were frozen out of European banks by European Union sanctions, the Assad regime has been forced to start borrowing from Iranian banks, but it is hard to tell for how long the banks in Tehran will be willing to risk extending credit to bail out Bashar Assad.
Assad appears to be in serious trouble and is no doubt looking at those videos of Qaddafi being pulled bloody and dazed from his hiding place, soon to be shot in the head, and thinking that that's the fate that could well await him if he doesn't suppress the current insurrection.

Warning: This is disturbing and violent footage not for the squeamish:
It really is remarkable to reflect on the changes in the Arab world in the last seven years or so. In that time Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden (along with dozens of lesser luminaries in the al Qaeda firmament), and Moammar Qaddafi have all departed earth for their celestial reward, and Mullah Omar (Taliban), Zine ben Ali (Tunisia) and Hosni Mubarak have been deposed.

With luck Syria will soon rid itself of Assad and Iran will unburden itself of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as well as the ayatollahs who keep their heels on the throats of the Iranian people. The world is changing so fast, but it's very hard to say whether in the long term the change will make the world a safer, more civilized place. It all depends on who manages to fill the power vacuums in these countries, and history has shown that usually it is the most ruthless who prevail in the struggle for control. That should concern us all.


The good news for those who think that part of the answer to our employment and energy problems is to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico is that drilling will soon begin. The bad news is that it's the Cubans who'll be doing the drilling:
The government is doing what it can to ensure that the first full-scale oil exploration in Cuba's part of the Gulf of Mexico will not endanger Florida's pristine beaches that lie only miles away, the top drilling regulator told lawmakers on Tuesday.
The Obama administration frets that domestic oil companies might have another accident and damage the Gulf's ecosystem so they've delayed drilling permits causing oil companies to send many of their rigs elsewhere and eliminating job opportunities for thousands of Americans.

That leaves the Gulf open to other countries who wish to profit from it's abundant oil resources. Of course, they can have accidents, too, and, being run by communists, probably will, so we'll have all of the potential liabilities of oil drilling and none of the real benefits. Moreover, we'll still be buying a lot of our oil from the Middle East.

During the campaign we were repeatedly reminded that an Obama White House would be one characterized by "smart" policies, but it's hard to see anything smart about this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Eat the Rich

This is an interesting exchange that took place during a commercial break on Geraldo Rivera's show on FOX. The black man with the microphone is Charles Payne who is a FOX business analyst. The other black man is Russell Simmons, the very successful co-founder of hip-hop recording label Def Jam.
Simmons, the labor union guy, and the blonde woman want to say that nobody gets rich on their own, that the successful person like Payne uses infrastructure and institutions built and paid for by the people and that therefore successful people have an obligation to give back to the people. There are four things (at least) that puzzle me about this argument:

1. Almost half the people in the country don't pay federal income taxes and thus contributed next to nothing to that infrastructure and those institutions Payne benefited from so why does he owe them anything?

2. It's not as if Payne didn't contribute to the building of those things himself. As a taxpayer he paid as much as, if not more than, most people toward them so why should he now be expected to pay even more?

3. Even if the rich have an obligation to pay back to the people how much more should they pay? The top 1% of income earners (those making above $380,000) already pay 38% of all federal income taxes and the top 5% (those making above $160,000) pay almost 60%. How much more should they be expected to pay?

4. Even if we confiscated all the wealth of everyone in the country making over $250,000 per annum, which would, of course, be a one-time event because no one would produce anything after that, it would scarcely be enough to sustain current government spending levels for one year. Then what?

This video illustrates the problem:
The OWS folks and President Obama might think that taxing the rich is the solution to our problems, but they're either ignorant or mendacious. The solution to our problems, if there is one, is to cut government spending. Now.

Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

Well, how's this for an example of the old saw that what goes around comes around? The OWS folks, the same ones who are shouting that the wealth of the haves be taken from them and redistributed to the have nots, are upset because some people are actually practicing what OWS preaches:
Occupy Wall Street protesters said yesterday that packs of brazen crooks within their ranks have been robbing their fellow demonstrators blind, making off with pricey cameras, phones and laptops -- and even a hefty bundle of donated cash and food.

“Stealing is our biggest problem at the moment,” said Nan Terrie, 18, a kitchen and legal-team volunteer from Fort Lauderdale.

“I had my Mac stolen -- that was like $5,500. Every night, something else is gone. Last night, our entire [kitchen] budget for the day was stolen, so the first thing I had to do was . . . get the message out to our supporters that we needed food!” Crafty cat burglars sneaked into the makeshift kitchen at Zuccotti Park overnight and swiped as much as $2,500 in donated greenbacks from right under the noses of volunteers who’d fallen asleep after a long day whipping up meals for the hundreds of hungry protesters, the volunteers said.

“The worst thing is there’s people sleeping in the kitchen when they come, and they don’t even know about it! There are some really smart and sneaky thieves here,” Terrie said. “I had umbrellas stolen, a fold-up bed I brought because my back is bad -- they took that, too!”
So, try to follow this. It's okay for the protestors to demand that those who have what they have taken from them, as long as the protestors aren't the ones who have. Or something like that. Redistribution of wealth is only supposed to be employed against other people, not them.
Security volunteer Harry Wyman, 22, of Brooklyn was furious about the thievery -- and vowed to get tough with the predatory perps.

“I’m not getting paid, but I’m not gonna stand for it. Why people got to come here and do stupid stuff? All it does is make people not wanna come here anymore,” Wyman fumed.

At one point yesterday, Wyman and other volunteers briefly scuffled with a man who was standing near a park entrance with a pail calling out: “Donations! Donations!” -- and pocketing the cash people tossed in the bucket.
Well, what's wrong with what bucket-man was doing? Don't these people understand that when they insist that the American taxpayers provide them with free college tuition, free medical care and free retirement they're calling for government to do exactly to us what the thieves in their camp are doing to them? At least the guy with the bucket isn't forcing anybody to put money in his pocket.

Have these people no sense of irony?

Meanwhile, like most left-wing movements, OWS is now bickering over the usual obsessions with race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity. Everybody is equal in the great progressive nirvana but evidently some among the 99% are more equal than others, and it's causing dissension in the ranks.

Someone could perhaps do a real public service by passing out a couple hundred copies of George Orwell's Animal Farm in Zuccotti Park. Maybe some of the kids there are sufficiently perspicuous to see themselves portrayed in the novel.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who They Are

Democratic pollster Doug Schoen does some polling which pulls back the mask on the Occupy Wall Street protests and shows that the folks in the streets are either deluded or disingenuous when they claim to represent the 99% of people in the country who are not super-rich. The fact is, evidently, they represent the 1% who reside on the radical left of the ideological spectrum. Here's Schoen:
President Obama and the Democratic leadership are making a critical error in embracing the Occupy Wall Street movement—and it may cost them the 2012 election. Last week, senior White House adviser David Plouffe said that "the protests you're seeing are the same conversations people are having in living rooms and kitchens all across America. . . . People are frustrated by an economy that does not reward hard work and responsibility, where Wall Street and Main Street don't seem to play by the same set of rules." Nancy Pelosi and others have echoed the message.

Yet the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects values that are dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people—and particularly with swing voters who are largely independent and have been trending away from the president since the debate over health-care reform.

The protesters have a distinct ideology and are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies. On Oct. 10 and 11, Arielle Alter Confino, a senior researcher at my polling firm, interviewed nearly 200 protesters in New York's Zuccotti Park. Our findings probably represent the first systematic random sample of Occupy Wall Street opinion.

Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn't represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda.

What binds a large majority of the protesters together—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education—is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas.
Schoen gives the data which support these conclusions in his column at the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Obama and Ms Pelosi have embraced OWS because they share the protestors' worldview. Most people in this country don't.

Paul Is Looking Better

I've not been a fan of Ron Paul, mostly because I think his foreign policy ideas are unrealistic, but his plans for getting us out of the financial morass we're in appear to be the most realistic of anyone's campaigning for the presidency, certainly more realistic than those of the incumbent, whatever they are this week. Politico has some nuts and bolts:
The Texas congressman laid out a budget blueprint for deep and far-reaching cuts to federal spending, including the elimination of five Cabinet-level departments and the drawdown of American troops fighting overseas.

There’s even a symbolic readjustment of the president’s salary to put it in line with the average American salary.

“Our debt is too big, our government is too big, and we have to recognize how serious the problem is,” Paul said during an afternoon speech in Las Vegas ahead of Tuesday’s GOP debate there.

The plan, Paul said, would cut $1 trillion in spending his first year in the White House and create a balanced federal budget by the third year of his presidency.

Many of the ideas in Paul’s 11-page Plan to Restore America are familiar from his staunch libertarianism, as well as tea party favorites, like eliminating the Education and Energy Departments. But Paul goes further, proposing an immediate freeze on spending by numerous government agencies at levels from 2006, the last time Republicans had complete control of the federal budget, and drastic reductions in spending elsewhere.

The Environmental Protection Agency would see a 30 percent cut; the Food and Drug Administration would see a 40 percent cut; and foreign aid would be zeroed out immediately. He’d also take an ax to Pentagon funding for wars.

Appearing on CNN ahead of the speech, Paul was pressed by Wolf Blitzer on how eliminating about 221,000 government jobs across five cabinet departments would boost the economy. He responded: “They’re not productive jobs,” he said.

“You cut government spending, that money goes back to you. You get to spend the money,” Paul said during his speech. “I am absolutely convinced it is the only road to prosperity.”

Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, food stamps, family support programs and the children’s nutrition program would be block-granted to the states and removed from the mandatory spending column of the federal budget. Some functions of eliminated departments, such as Pell Grants, would be continued elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy.

And in a noticeable nod to seniors during an election year, when Social Security’s become an issue within the Republican presidential primaries, the campaign says that plan “honors our promise to our seniors and veterans, while allowing young workers to opt out.”

The federal workforce would be reduced by 10 percent, and the president’s pay would be cut from $400,000 to $39,336 — a level that the Paul document notes is “approximately equal to the median personal income of the American worker.”

Paul would also make far-reaching changes to federal tax policy, reducing the top corporate income tax rate to 15 percent, eliminating capital gains and dividends taxes and allowing for repatriation of overseas capital without tax penalties. All tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush would be extended.

And like the rest of his GOP rivals, Paul would repeal President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, along with the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform law enacted last year. A longtime Federal Reserve critic, Paul would also push a full audit of the central bank, as well as legislation to “strengthen the dollar and stabilize inflation.”
Cuts like these, especially a premature military drawdown, would certainly be risky and painful in the short term, but the alternative of allowing deficit spending and debt to drive us into the abyss of insolvency is far worse. Sometimes painful, risky surgery is required in order to save a patient. If our children and grandchildren are to have any kind of future we have to stop our addiction to spending money we don't have and realize that we can't just do everything we'd like to do.

My biggest concern with Paul's proposal is what he means by cutting funding for wars. I'd like to know exactly what he means by that, and I'd like to know why no one is calling for oil-rich countries like Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E who want us to stay in the region as a shield against Iran aren't being required to foot the bill.

At any rate, I hope that someone in the field who stands a better chance of winning the nomination than Paul does will adopt and champion his ideas.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Science or Religion?

Any students out there who plan to do a paper on whether intelligent design qualifies as a scientific theory? If so, you might check out this post by Casey Luskin at Evolution News and Views. The following is excerpted from the opening section of his post:
[A]s I suggested above, there are many definitions of "theory" out there. How can we know if ID is a scientific theory? Take the definition of "theory" given by ID's most eminent scientific critics, and if ID meets that definition then there's a good bet ID may properly be considered a scientific theory.

Perhaps the most eminent scientific opponents of the theory of intelligent design can be found among the membership of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS).... the NAS defines "theory" as an idea that is well-tested and well-supported by the scientific evidence:
  • "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, and tested hypotheses" (Science & Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (National Academy Press, 1999).)
  • "a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence" (Science, Evolution & Creationism (National Academy Press, 2008).)
Even if we accept the NAS's more stringent definition of theory, ID more than qualifies.

When we're confronted with multipart tests, it's often useful to break them down into their elements. If the subject meets all the "elements," then it passes the test. Let's use that method here to analyze whether ID is a theory.

Element 1: ID must be an "explanation of some aspect of the natural world" and a "comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature."

Element 2: ID must "incorporate many facts, laws and tested hypotheses."

Element 3: ID must be "well-substantiated" and "supported by a vast body of evidence."
The rest of Luskin's post discusses how well ID meets these three elements. One of the criticisms of ID, of course, is that it's religion and not science. Luskin makes a good case for rejecting this criticism as false.

Seeing Is Hearing

Here's an interesting piece from BBC that shows that what we see overrides what we hear. Or, to put it differently, what we hear often depends on what we see:
Thanks to Telic Thoughts for the video.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Do the Right Thing

During the Bush presidency I compared the Democrats' obsession with discrediting and tearing down Mr. Bush to Captain Ahab's obsession with the white whale Moby Dick, a comparison which was, in my view, completely merited. Today, I have to revisit that metaphor. I think that the current Ahabs are populating talk radio, and they're perfectly happy to destroy their own credibility, and make themselves fools, to insure that nothing President Obama does goes uncriticized.

I think if Obama forgot to cover a yawn Sean Hannity in particular would rant about it for 45 minutes. On their radio shows today both Hannity and Rush Limbaugh achieved almost unprecedented levels of fatuity (no mean feat for Hannity) criticizing Obama for sending 100 military advisors to Africa to help the Ugandan government wage war against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which they falsely asserted was a Christian militia.

In the world of conservative talk radio, some of which I generally regard as a blessing, if Obama does X then X must, by virtue of the fact that Obama did it, be an unmitigated screw-up and there's no need to check the facts. These guys could have saved themselves considerable embarrassment, however, if they'd have taken the trouble to check out the LRA instead of blithely assuming that whatever Obama does is ipso facto misguided and boneheaded.

To give readers a sense of who the LRA is here's an excerpt from a report on them at
The LRA continued to kill, torture, maim, rape, and abduct large numbers of civilians, virtually enslaving numerous children. Although its levels of activity diminished somewhat compared with 1997, the area that the LRA targeted grew. The LRA sought to overthrow the Ugandan Government and inflicted brutal violence on the population in northern Uganda. LRA forces also targeted local government officials and employees. The LRA also targeted international humanitarian convoys and local NGO workers.

The LRA abducted large numbers of civilians for training as guerrillas. Most victims were children and young adults. The LRA abducted young girls as sex and labor slaves. Other children, mainly girls, were reported to have been sold, traded, or given as gifts by the LRA to arms dealers in Sudan. While some later escaped or were rescued, the whereabouts of many children remain unknown.

In particular, the LRA abducted numerous children and, at clandestine bases, terrorized them into virtual slavery as guards, concubines, and soldiers. In addition to being beaten, raped, and forced to march until exhausted, abducted children were forced to participate in the killing of other children who had attempted to escape. Amnesty International reported that without child abductions, the LRA would have few combatants. More than 6,000 children were abducted during 1998, although many of those abducted later escaped or were released. Most human rights NGOs placed the number of abducted children held captive by the LRA at around 3,000, although estimates varied substantially.
To see a dramatic depiction of what's happening to children in places like northern Uganda and elsewhere in Africa I recommend the movie Blood Diamond.

There's enough reason to criticize the current administration, heaven knows, without fabricating things, especially when the fabrication makes the fabricator look like an utter buffoon.

If American troops can eliminate these savages then why not send them? What's the political/moral case for standing by while children are being raped, murdered, and turned into cold-blooded killers if we can excise the evil and rescue these children? I seem to recall that President Clinton took a lot of heat from the right, as he should have, for allowing the Rwandan genocide to go unabated when we could have stopped it, and I'm sure that if George Bush had sent advisors to Africa there wouldn't have been a peep of protest out of either Hannity or Limbaugh.

Which brings me to what Mr. Obama should be criticized for. Throughout his entire 2008 campaign he condemned Bush's interventionism and the use of American power to liberate 25 million Iraqis from tyranny. He promised to end the wars in which we were engaged, close down Guantanamo, repent of the "Bush doctrine", and establish a nation at peace with the world.

Since being elected, however, he has done none of this. So far from being the UnBush he has been the UberBush. He was right, however, to do so. He was right to not only follow Bush's policy but to amplify it. He was right to prosecute the drone war against terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen, to go after bin Laden, to aid in toppling Qaddafi (even though he went about it in a way that caused needless bloodshed) and now to help eradicate the LRA.

Doing what's right after vehemently criticizing others for doing the same thing makes one a hypocrite, to be sure, and Obama certainly is guilty of that, but I applaud him for trying to protect African children from the horrors visited upon them by vermin like the LRA. When doing the right thing makes one a hypocrite one should still do the right thing.

Amazing Photo

Byron sends along an extraordinary photo in which the photographer captured the Milky Way, the aurora borealis, and a meteor in the same shot. I thought our readers might enjoy it:
You can read more about it here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bad Link

The link to the Wikipedia account of the crime (see here) committed by Steven Hayes and Joshua Komasarjevsky has been fixed.

OWS and the TP

Are the protestors comprising the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement a mirror image of the Tea Party (TP)? Not hardly says George Will in a column at the Union Leader:
The Tea Party’s splendid successes, which have altered the nation’s political vocabulary and agenda, have inspired a countermovement — Occupy Wall Street. Conservatives should rejoice and wish for it long life, abundant publicity and sufficient organization to endorse congressional candidates deemed worthy. All Democrats eager for OWS’ imprimatur, step forward.

In scale, OWS’ demonstrations-cum-encampments are to Tea Party events as Pittsburg, Kan., is to Pittsburgh, Pa. So far, probably fewer people have participated in all of them combined than attended just one Tea Party rally, that of Sept. 12, 2009, on the Washington Mall. In comportment, OWS is to the Tea Party as Lady Gaga is to Lord Chesterfield: Blocking the Brooklyn Bridge was not persuasion modeled on Tea Party tactics.

Still, OWS’ defenders correctly say it represents progressivism’s spirit and intellect. Because it embraces spontaneity and deplores elitism, it eschews deliberation and leadership. Hence its agenda, beyond eliminating one of the seven deadly sins (avarice), is opaque. Its meta-theory is, however, clear: Washington is grotesquely corrupt and insufficiently powerful.
There's more at the link. One vast difference between OWS and the TP, of course, is the media reaction to it. Despite the inchoate nature of the OWS demands, the disturbing expressions of anti-semitism, the law-breaking, debauchery, and general squalor, the media, like doting grandparents, smile at OWS's foibles and outbursts and act as deferential, patient enablers.

The TP, on the other hand, has demonstrated far more focus and political power, no hatred, no bigotry (Nancy Pelosi's ridiculous claims notwithstanding), nothing whatsoever untoward, and the media treats them like the neighborhood bully.

Perhaps the reason is that the OWS crowd reminds many in the media of their own youth, marinated as it was in the culture of Woodstock with no clear plan to accomplish anything they wanted to accomplish and no clarity at all about what it was they wanted to accomplish except ending the war in Vietnam. The TP, on the other hand, probably reminds the erstwhile flower children in the media of their parents - stolid, staid, responsible citizens calmly calling for rational solutions to our problems.

Perhaps that's not at all a fair comparison, but it occurred to me as I read recently a fawning letter to OWS from Sojourners editor Jim Wallis who wanted the youthful demonstrators to know that he, too, once walked in protest marches - as if any of today's denizens of Zuccotti Park would be impressed or should even care. Wallis seemed nostalgic for his own youthful infatuation with the sixties version of hope and change as he offered advice to the young progressives and seemed to be trying to recapture, if only vicariously, the thrill of being in solidarity with the vanguard on the barricades. That seemed to me to capture pretty well what I think is part of the progressive attitude toward coverage of this event.

There are, to be sure, grievances being aired in these protests that most Americans would endorse. To the extent the "occupiers" are incensed that too many bankers speculators, and politicians who are responsible for the collapse of our economy have been given a pass, I'm certainly with them, but unfocussed spasms of outrage, civil disobedience, and generalized spoiled brattery with no serious, rational plan to remedy the problems is just an exercise in silliness, futility, and juvenile exhibitionism.

The Demands of Justice

Joshua Komisarjevsky has been found guilty and will join his accomplice Steven Hayes on Connecticut's death row. I invite anyone who is opposed to the death penalty to read what these two men did to the Petit family in July of 2007 and explain to Viewpoint readers why it would be wrong to execute them.

If dissenters from the death penalty wish to argue that these men don't deserve to die (actually they deserve far worse), or that regardless of what they deserve the state should nevertheless refrain from taking their lives, then they're saying that the lives of these men are far more valuable and precious than the lives of Mrs. Petit and her two daughters and that no crime could ever be bad enough, no act could ever be evil enough, that a criminal should be executed for it.

Such a view is, in my opinion, dehumanizing. It devalues the victims and devalues innocent life.

Joshua Komisarjevsky (left),  Petit family (right)
Good luck trying to make the case. You can use the Contact Us button to send it to us.