Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Same-Sex Science

Stanton L. Jones is provost and professor of psychology at Wheaton College. In the recent issue of First Things he takes to task two widely-held and, in his mind, equally mistaken views of homosexuality:
Many religious and social conservatives believe that homosexuality is a mental illness caused exclusively by psychological or spiritual factors and that all homosexual persons could change their orientation if they simply tried hard enough. This view is widely pilloried (and rightly so) as both wrong on the facts and harmful in effect. But few who attack it are willing to acknowledge that today a wholly different, far more influential, and no less harmful set of falsehoods—each attributed to the findings of “science”—dominates the research literature and political discourse.

We are told that homosexual persons are just as psychologically healthy as heterosexuals, that sexual orientation is biologically determined at birth, that sexual orientation cannot be changed and that the attempt to change it is necessarily harmful, that homosexual relationships are equivalent to heterosexual ones in all important characteristics, and that personal identity is properly and legitimately constituted around sexual orientation. These claims are as misguided as the ridiculed beliefs of some social conservatives, as they spring from distorted or incomplete representations of the best findings from the science of same-sex attraction.
Jones goes on to discuss these popular misconceptions about homosexuality and homosexuals: Are homosexual persons as psychologically healthy as heterosexuals? Is homosexuality biologically determined at birth? Has science established that sexual orientation is immutable? Are homosexual relationships equivalent to heterosexual ones? Has empirical science established homosexual identity as positive and legitimate?

Jones delves into the science on these questions and concludes that much of what we think we know about them is simply not supported by the evidence. It's a very worthwhile article for anyone interested in the issues he discusses.

If Assad Survives

Bashar Assad appears to be holding on to power in Syria, at least for now, despite the efforts of rebel groups to end his bloody rule. If he does survive it will be a serious blow to the West for a number of reasons. According to debkafile's analysis, there are at least seven very regrettable consequences of Assad's continued rule in Damascus. Here's a summary:

1. The Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah bloc, the Middle East axis of terrorist evil, will emerge greatly strengthened.

2. Iran, which is Syria's sponsor, will record a major strategic success in counteracting the US and the Saudi-led Gulf Arab emirates' depiction of the Islamic regime as seriously crippled by crushing international sanctions imposed to halt its drive for a nuclear bomb.

3. Hizballah will have won a chance to recover from its setbacks in Lebanon. The Pro-Iranian Lebanese Shiite group stands to regain the self-assurance which ebbed during Assad's brutal crackdown against Syrian dissidents, re-consolidate its bonds with Tehran, Damascus and Baghdad, and rebuild its political clout in Beirut.

4. Enormous damage will have been suffered by Saudi Arabia and Turkey from their colossal failure to topple Assad's government in Syria. The Palestinians will also be hurt since Hamas repudiated Iran in support of the Syrian rebels. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and their security agencies invested huge sums in the Syrian rebellion against the Assad regime but were trounced by Assad's security and intelligence services and the resources Iran provided to keep him afloat.

The Arab League, which for the first time tried its hand at intervening in an Arab uprising by sending observers into Syrian trouble spots to cut down the violence, watched impotently as those observers ran for their lives. Assad first accepted, then ignored, the League's peace plan. Turkey, too, after indicating its military would cross the border to support the Syrian resistance and provide the rebel Free Syrian Army bases of operation, backed off for the sake of not offending Iran.

5. Russia and China have gained credibility in the Middle East, and scored points against the United States, by standing up for Assad and pledging their veto of any strong UN Security Council motions against him. Moscow's arms sales and naval support for the Assad regime and China's new military and economic accords with Persian Gulf emirates have had the effect of pushing the United States from center stage of the Arab Revolt, where it stood during the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions, to the sidelines of Middle East action.

6. Bashar Assad has confounded predictions by Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak that he couldn't last more than a few weeks. His survival and the cohesion of his armed forces have contributed to the tightening of the Iranian military noose around Israel.

The Syrian army was in sustained operation for almost a year without breaking and suffered only marginal defections. It is still in working shape with valuable experience under its belt in rapid deployment between battlefronts. Syria, Iran and Hizballah have streamlined the cooperation among their armies and their intelligence arms.

7. The Palestinian rivals, Fatah and Hamas, have again put the brakes on their on-again, off-again reconciliation. Hamas' decision to distance itself from Iran and the embattled Syrian regime has apparently been rescinded by Assad's survival, which puts them again in tension with Fatah.

All in all, the survival of the Assad regime would be a terrible outcome for the Syrian people, for the Israelis, and for the West. It would also be a significant foreign policy failure for the Obama administration as it seeks to impose its will on the Iranians and secure peace in the Middle East.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Warming, Cooling, or Staying the Same?

So is the planet warming, cooling, or doing neither? Apparently, there are studies which support each of the three conclusions. This news report points to research that shows that there has been no warming since 1997 and that we may indeed be heading for a serious cooling period. Here are the highlights:
The supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming is facing an inconvenient challenge after the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.

The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice-age to rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw frost fairs held on the Thames in the 17th Century.

A painting, dated 1684, by Abraham Hondius depicts one of many frost fairs on the River Thames during the mini ice age
Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, the data was issued last week without fanfare by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.

Meanwhile, leading climate scientists yesterday told The Mail on Sunday that, after emitting unusually high levels of energy throughout the 20th Century, the sun is now heading towards a ‘grand minimum’ in its output, threatening cold summers, bitter winters and a shortening of the season available for growing food.

According to a paper issued last week by the Met Office, there is a 92 per cent chance that both Cycle 25 and those taking place in the following decades will be as weak as, or weaker than, the ‘Dalton minimum’ of 1790 to 1830. In this period, named after the meteorologist John Dalton, average temperatures in parts of Europe fell by 2C.

However, it is also possible that the new solar energy slump could be as deep as the ‘Maunder minimum’ (after astronomer Edward Maunder), between 1645 and 1715 in the coldest part of the ‘Little Ice Age’ when, as well as the Thames frost fairs, the canals of Holland froze solid.

Yet, in its paper, the Met Office claimed that the consequences now would be negligible – because the impact of the sun on climate is far less than man-made carbon dioxide. Although the sun’s output is likely to decrease until 2100, ‘This would only cause a reduction in global temperatures of 0.08C.’ Peter Stott, one of the authors, said: ‘Our findings suggest a reduction of solar activity to levels not seen in hundreds of years would be insufficient to offset the dominant influence of greenhouse gases.’

These findings are fiercely disputed by other solar experts.

‘World temperatures may end up a lot cooler than now for 50 years or more,’ said Henrik Svensmark, director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at Denmark’s National Space Institute. ‘It will take a long battle to convince some climate scientists that the sun is important. It may well be that the sun is going to demonstrate this on its own, without the need for their help.’

Dr Nicola Scafetta, of Duke University in North Carolina, is the author of several papers that argue the Met Office climate models show there should have been ‘steady warming from 2000 until now’.

‘If temperatures continue to stay flat or start to cool again, the divergence between the models and recorded data will eventually become so great that the whole scientific community will question the current theories,’ he said. He believes that as the Met Office model attaches much greater significance to CO2 than to the sun, it was bound to conclude that there would not be cooling. ‘The real issue is whether the model itself is accurate,’ Dr Scafetta said. Meanwhile, one of America’s most eminent climate experts, Professor Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology, said she found the Met Office’s confident prediction of a ‘negligible’ impact difficult to understand.

‘The responsible thing to do would be to accept the fact that the models may have severe shortcomings when it comes to the influence of the sun,’ said Professor Curry. As for the warming pause, she said that many scientists ‘are not surprised’. She argued it is becoming evident that factors other than CO2 play an important role in rising or falling warmth, such as the 60-year water temperature cycles in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Pal Brekke, senior adviser at the Norwegian Space Centre, said some scientists found the importance of water cycles difficult to accept, because doing so means admitting that the oceans – not CO2 – caused much of the global warming between 1970 and 1997. The same goes for the impact of the sun – which was highly active for much of the 20th Century.

‘Nature is about to carry out a very interesting experiment,’ he said. ‘Ten or 15 years from now, we will be able to determine much better whether the warming of the late 20th Century really was caused by man-made CO2, or by natural variability.’ Meanwhile, since the end of last year, world temperatures have fallen by more than half a degree, as the cold ‘La Nina’ effect has re-emerged in the South Pacific. ‘We’re now well into the second decade of the pause,’ said Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. ‘If we don’t see convincing evidence of global warming by 2015, it will start to become clear whether the models are bunk. And, if they are, the implications for some scientists could be very serious.’
I should think so, and not only the scientists but also all the journalists, politicians, and others who've placed so much confidence, not to mention their credibility, in what those scientists were forecasting.

It may turn out that the global warming folks are right, but it has always been the case with science that the best approach is an open-minded skepticism toward any theory for which the data and/or the methodology is uncertain. Skepticism is also prudent when a scientific forecast coincides with someone's ideological agenda, and it's always wise to be leery of anyone, for example Al Gore, who claims that the science on a matter is "settled." It rarely is.

Arsenic and Old Life Forms

A year or so ago a NASA chemist named Felisa Wolfe-Simon, then at NASA's Astrobiology Institute in Menlo Park, California, stirred controversy in the scientific world with claims that she had coaxed bacteria from an arsenic-rich lake in California to swap the usual phosphorus in their DNA for toxic arsenic. The discovery that living organisms could function and thrive on arsenic rather than phosphorous had lots of implications, including implications for origin of life scenarios. Apparently life was more flexible than previously surmised and this might make abiogenesis easier to accomplish than had been thought.

Well, perhaps not. Like so many discoveries having to do with the origin of life and evolution it turns out that Ms Wolfe-Simon's work has fallen under a pall. It can't be duplicated by other researchers.

The New Scientist reports that:
... after trying to grow the same strain of bacteria in a soup containing arsenic, other researchers have failed to repeat the findings. "To the limit of what our spectrometer will detect, there's no arsenic in the DNA," says Rosie Redfield of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who posted her results to a blog this week.

Wolfe-Simon has defended her original results and is continuing to analyse her lab-grown bacteria at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "As far as we know, all the data in our paper still stand," she told New Scientist. "We shall certainly know much more by next year."
Perhaps she'll be vindicated, but it's still true that whether it's microfossils of bacteria found in meteorites, or primitive ape-men, or alleged vestigial structures, or a host of other finds that subsequently turn out to have been mistakenly advertised as confirmations of darwinian evolution, it seems as though eagerness to make a breakthrough leads to an awful lot of damaged scientific reputations.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sixteen Scientists Demur from Conventional Orthodoxy

Sixteen scientists have signed a letter to the Wall Street Journal claiming that there's no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. In other words, the panic about global warming is unwarranted, at least in their opinion. A list of signers appends the letter. It's an impressive bunch. Here are some excerpts from their epistle:
A candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy may have to consider what, if anything, to do about "global warming." Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true. In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.

In spite of a multidecade international campaign to enforce the message that increasing amounts of the "pollutant" carbon dioxide will destroy civilization, large numbers of scientists, many very prominent, share the opinions of Dr. Giaever. And the number of scientific "heretics" is growing with each passing year. The reason is a collection of stubborn scientific facts.

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 "Climategate" email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't."

The lack of warming for more than a decade — indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections — suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause.

Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job.

Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet.

Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.

Every candidate should support rational measures to protect and improve our environment, but it makes no sense at all to back expensive programs that divert resources from real needs and are based on alarming but untenable claims of "incontrovertible" evidence.
For a decade now those who have expressed skepticism about the extent, causes, and consequences of global climate change have been subject to ridicule, scorn and, in some cases, loss of employment. Skeptics have been told that they should literally be treated as criminals. Media buffoons like Chris Matthews humiliate guests on his show who hesitate to accept the liberal orthodoxy on climate change as mediated by the scientific priesthood. Untenured professors who transgress liberal doctrine have their jobs threatened.

There's a very great irony buried in all this. Liberals have always preached the importance of maintaining a skeptical attitude toward authority. Ever since the sixties such an attitude has been held by liberals as among the highest of intellectual virtues. We should question everything and everyone, we were told, whether the authority was religious, political, cultural, or scientific. We should never allow our devotion to freedom of thought and expression to be stifled. Those who stood against the tide of conventional opinion were "bold," "audacious," and "heroic."

In the last several decades, however, the skeptical virtue has been turned against some of the great shibboleths of liberalism itself. Heretofore unquestioned dogmas about big government, darwinian naturalism, global warming and others have come under withering scrutiny from those who refuse to truckle to the authority of the liberal elites, and now the erstwhile champions of open-mindedness and the free exchange of ideas, those who were all in favor of these wonderful attributes when they could be used to undermine religious belief and traditional moral and political convictions, are aghast that anyone would think to question their beliefs.

Their response to the challenge posed by the skeptics is to censor them, pillory them, and force them to conform.

It's sad, but that's the path so much of modern liberalism has chosen to take.

Another Advance in Stem Cell Research

It may be hard to remember the media sturm un drang over the Bush administration's 2001 decision to end federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. From the intensity of the outrage you would have thought that Mr. Bush had ordered the immediate cessation of all funding for Social Security. John Edwards implied that Bush was keeping quadriplegic Christopher Reeves from ever walking again. Others were extolling the hope that hESC (human embryonic stem cells) would soon provide a cure Parkinson's and other diseases and that George Bush was an anti-science, red-necked Neanderthal.

Since then, however, research on stem cells has progressed apace and new sources of stem cells have been developed in adult tissues like skin. Many researchers who had previously worked with hESC have quietly switched over.

The difference between embryonic and adult stem cells is not trivial. Those who believe that an individual is a person from the moment of conception were understandably upset at the practice of extracting stem cells from living human embryos since the embryo was killed in the extraction. Contrarily, the use of adult stem cells which can be obtained from organs such as the skin, bone marrow, and umbilical cord blood is morally unproblematic.

Rebecca Oas reports at First Things on the recent development of hair follicles as another source of stem cells. These cells hold out the promise of curing a corneal condition that leads to blindness.

Despite such advances, when the Obama administration took office they quickly rescinded the Bush restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, but court battles have made it unclear what the future of federal funding for this research will be. As it is, much of its support comes from private sources:
For all the national angst it generates, hESC research remains a surprisingly small part of stem-cell research. Over the past five years, it has received $530 million in federal funding, only about 3.5 percent of total stem-cell dollars.

Half of all private funding and 9 of 10 federal dollars go to stem cells culled from adults, bone marrow, umbilical cords, or animals. So federal funding for hESC research could dry up tomorrow and the field of stem-cell research would continue.

"Over 80 cures and treatments have been developed using adult stem cells or [umbilical] cord blood cells, and zero using embryonic cells," says Ron Stoddart, director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, one of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "Overwhelming advances have been made using adult stem cells. Why spend money to destroy embryos when it's not necessary?"
Why, indeed. There's private funding out there for labs which wish to continue hESC work. Why ask taxpayers who believe that to kill an embryo is to kill a human being to finance it?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Insufferable Ignorance

It's mildly surprising how eager some people are to try to sound like experts on matters they manifestly know little about. Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC program Hardball, insouciantly ignores the aphorism about fools rushing in where wise men fear to tread by humiliating a guest, calling him names, even, for being a skeptic both about anthropogenic global warming as well as for holding the view that man is the work of a Creator.

Matthews evidently thinks he knows so much about both of these matters that he can insult the intelligence of another man whose noetic structure is less exalted than his own:
Here's part of the transcript:

MATTHEWS: How are you standing on evolution these days?
CHRISTIE: I’m feeling pretty good about evolution these days.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe in it?
CHRISTIE: I believe that God is our creator, and I think that we all fall from the good Lord.
MATTHEWS: So you don’t believe in evolution?
CHRISTIE: I believe that God is our creator and we all from the good Lord.
MATTHEWS: What is [with] the troglodyte? The Luddites? What is the party that used to believe in things?
CHRISTIE: Troglodytes? Chris, it’s true. One of the things you’re missing here is faith. You’re missing faith in this country.
MATTHEWS: Excuse me — I don’t want to just plumb the depths, the position the party is taking that is so far right these days. Let’s go back to life on this planet here.

Forget about the global warming issue for now. To the extent that this exchange is coherent, Matthews parades an insufferable ignorance about evolution, at least it's insufferable in someone who seeks to use the topic to embarrass and insult someone who never professed to be either a scientist or a philosopher.

Matthews seems to assume that Mr. Christie's belief in God is incompatible with a belief in evolution, but as Alvin Plantinga explains in his recent book, Where The Conflict Really Lies, there is no such incompatibility. Indeed, the assumption that there is is such an elementary confusion that Matthews unwittingly embarrasses himself by making it.

It's too bad Christie didn't think to ask Matthews exactly what he means by the term "evolution" because the discomfiture that question would've elicited would've been entertaining to watch. Matthews seems to have no clear idea what is meant by the term. If he did he certainly wouldn't have framed the question the way he did.

Evolution simply means change. If he wanted to ask Mr. Christie whether he "believed in" biological evolution he would have to specify the extent of the change he had in mind. Is he simply referring to variation around a phenotypical mean or is he referring to "molecules to man" macroevolution? No matter which it is, before Mr. Matthews starts calling people "troglodytes" he needs to specify exactly how a belief in evolution is incompatible with Mr. Christie's belief that life was created by God. This seems to be beyond the scope of his powers, however.

There are only two ways that belief in even the most comprehensive type of evolution, the "molecules to man" type, could be made incompatible with the belief that God is the Creator. One would be to tack on to the scientific theory of macroevolution a metaphysical assumption that the whole process happened naturalistically without any input from a non-physical agent. Of course, no one, not even someone as eminent in the field of philosophy of science as Mr. Matthews regards himself to be, can know that this is the case.

The other way to make macroevolution incompatible with belief in a divine Creator is to tack on to one's belief in God a belief in young-earth creationism - the belief that God created everything in six days some 10,000 years ago. This view is clearly incompatible with "molecules to man" evolution, but it's not an essential element of theism nor is it clear that it's Mr. Christie's position. Even if it were, it's not clear that Matthews would have the faintest idea how to rebut it other than to just insult anyone who holds it.

But then insulting one's opponents is a time-honored tactic among those who have no compelling argument and who moreover haven't the foggiest idea what they're talking about. Perhaps someone might send Mr. Matthews a copy of Plantinga's book, but I doubt he'd be interested in reading it. Bullies aren't usually interested in deepening their understanding of the world.

Reaganite Or Opportunist?

Newt Gingrich has rode to prominence by wrapping himself in the mantle of Ronald Reagan and promoting himself as the most viable conservative alternative in the Republican field to squishy moderate Mitt Romney.

Elliot Abrams, a former Assistant Secretary of State under Reagan and colleague of Newt's in the House of Representatives, remembers things considerably differently, however:
In the increasingly rough Republican campaign, no candidate has wrapped himself in the mantle of Ronald Reagan more often than Newt Gingrich. “I worked with President Reagan to change things in Washington,” “we helped defeat the Soviet empire,” and “I helped lead the effort to defeat Communism in the Congress” are typical claims by the former speaker of the House.

The claims are misleading at best. As a new member of Congress in the Reagan years — and I was an assistant secretary of state — Mr. Gingrich voted with the president regularly, but equally often spewed insulting rhetoric at Reagan, his top aides, and his policies to defeat Communism. Gingrich was voluble and certain in predicting that Reagan’s policies would fail, and in all of this he was dead wrong.

The fights over Reagan’s efforts to stop Soviet expansionism in the Third World were exceptionally bitter .... But the most bitter battleground was often in Congress.

Here at home, we faced vicious criticism from leading Democrats — Ted Kennedy, Christopher Dodd, Jim Wright, Tip O’Neill, and many more — who used every trick in the book to stop Reagan by denying authorities and funds to these efforts. On whom did we rely up on Capitol Hill? There were many stalwarts: Henry Hyde, elected in 1974; Dick Cheney, elected in 1978, the same year as Gingrich; Dan Burton and Connie Mack, elected in 1982; and Tom DeLay, elected in 1984, were among the leaders.

But not Newt Gingrich. He voted with the caucus, but his words should be remembered, for at the height of the bitter struggle with the Democratic leadership Gingrich chose to attack . . . Reagan.
Abrams goes on to explain how Gingrich attacked Reagan.

It's really quite remarkable that a man who said the sort of things about Reagan that Abrams imputes to Newt, a president of his own party under relentless assault by the Left, would now claim to be the modern incarnation of the man himself. The more one reads about the Newtster the more one understands why so many conservatives not only don't support him, but actively oppose him.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How Private Equity Firms Helped Save the Economy

Liz Peek at The Fiscal Times explains how private equity firms like Mitt Romney's Bain Capital actually helped save the American economy and make it stronger. Romney, of course is taking considerable heat for his involvement with Bain because part of what the company did was streamline the businesses it bought which made them more efficient but also put people out of work.

As Peek says, if Mitt Romney could articulate this story it would go a long way to helping him in his quest for the White House. Unfortunately for him, and perhaps for the country, Mr. Romney seems singularly unable or unwilling to defend himself by explaining to the public exactly what private equity firms actually do. His failure to do this is like George W. Bush redux.

Here's Peek's lede:
Eastman Kodak’s recent bankruptcy is a timely reminder of how sleepy managements can throw thousands out of work – and of the role private equity firms like Bain Capital have played in rescuing American companies. Kodak, the paternalistic giant, was blindsided by Fuji Photo decades ago and then by the rise of digital photography. The organizational structure was a mess.

At one time, while giant Canon was working with three different printer engines, Kodak was developing 66, so “silo-ed” was its operations. It is quite possible that outside investors like Bain Capital, with eyes uncluttered by past allegiances, could have saved Eastman Kodak – and at least some of the jobs that have been lost.

Mitt Romney’s campaign has failed to make that point. What was his campaign staff thinking? How could they be caught flat-footed by Newt Gingrich’s attacks on the candidate’s business career, his prime credential in the race to unseat President Obama? Supporters have been shocked that Romney has not countered criticisms of his experience at Bain Capital -- an appalling lapse that cost him South Carolina and has him now trailing in Florida. While others have spoken up for private equity investing, the campaign remains mute. Romney needs to tell the story that will resound with voters -- the story of America’s reboot.

During the ‘70s....upstart foreign competitors (mostly from Japan) were gobbling up market share. More alarming, the newly visible rivals were selling a better product. Quality control programs embraced by Japanese steel, auto and machinery producers meant a vast reduction in reject rates; they were not succeeding because of price alone. They delivered better value.

Some of our better managed companies (Caterpillar, Deere) rallied to this increased competition; others – including auto companies situated far from the California docks where Toyotas rolled off ships in the thousands -- didn’t have a clue. When OPEC sharply jacked up oil prices, the trickle of economical Toyotas and Hondas into the U.S. became a torrent. In 1965 the U.S. imported 25,538 cars from Japan. By 1975, that figure had soared to 695,573; a decade later, we imported 2.5 million automobiles from Japan – a 100-fold jump in 20 years. By contrast, sales of U.S.-made cars and trucks actually dropped between 1965 and 1985 – from 8.8 million to 8.2 million.

Similarly, Japanese steel producers clobbered U.S. manufacturers in the 1970s, producing cheaper and higher-quality products in modernized plants built after World War II. By the late 1970s our domestic industry was in trouble; five companies received $300 million in loan guarantees from the Carter administration. Later presidents tried to help the industry’s long decline by imposing import quotas (Reagan) and offering loan guarantees (Clinton) to no avail.
So how did firms like Bain change all this? Read Peek's account at the link. Why other candidates, specifically Newt Gingrich and the departed Rick Perry, both of whom claimed to be market conservatives, would criticize this sort of activity is difficult to understand. It makes them sound more like Occupy Wall Streeters:

Hungry Children and Hot Dogs

Perhaps the main objection to construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline as well as the use of "fracking" to extract natural gas from the Marcellus shale deposits is that these carry with them a risk of introducing pollutants into the landscape and the water supply. Of course, there is some potential for harm in any man-made project. Building skyscrapers results in the deaths of migratory birds. Building high speed rail lines fragments ecosystems. Building dams impedes the movement of migratory fish and changes the ecosystem of the river. The questions are how great are the risks, do the risks outweigh the potential benefits, and can the risks be minimized?

In the case of the Keystone pipeline the benefits seem so significant and the risks seem so low that a lot of people are stunned that the President has elected not to build it.

Construction of the pipeline will generate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue. It will cement our relationship with Canada. It will increase our energy resources and make us less dependent on foreign petroleum. It will deny a global advantage to China who will become the chief beneficiary of our refusal to accept Canadian oil. An American market will result in less pollution than if the oil is shipped to, and consumed by, the Chinese, and it will keep fuel costs down which keeps the cost of everything else down, thus presenting a boon to the American consumer, especially the poor.

None of this seems to matter, though, to our environmentalist friends who maintain that almost any risk of pollution outweighs whatever benefits accrue from the pipeline. Their goal is to do away with the use of fossil fuels altogether, and replace them with green energy like wind and solar. They oppose the pipeline and increasing the abundance of oil because it just delays the day of green energy nirvana. It's somewhat like a Christian believer in the eschaton refusing to pray for peace on earth because achieving it, however imperfectly, might delay the second coming.

The environmentalist is like a man walking down a city street who encounters a cluster of hungry children huddled together on the sidewalk near a hot dog stand. The shivering children ask the man if he would purchase for them some hot dogs so they can fill their bellies, to which request the man launches into a disquisition about how hot dogs contain carcinogens which could some day cause them to develop cancer, and how they contain fat which might some day clog their arteries, and the rolls are made of processed flour which provides no real nutrition anyway.

The children would be much better off, he pontificates airily, to eat green vegetables instead of hot dogs, and if they'll do that he'll buy the vegetables for them. "But there are no vegetable stands around here," the hungry children protest in dismay, "and we're too hungry to walk until we find one. The hot dogs are right here."

"Maybe so," replies the man, "but for your own future well-being, you must try to find a vegetable market. Hot dogs are not good for you." With that he pats them on the head and walks away, leaving the poor children still hungry and shivering in the cold.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

All the News That Fits

Did you know there was a massive protest march in Washington on Monday? By some estimates 100,000 people were involved in the demonstration, but the major media almost completely ignored it. There were stories about all manner of other important events, of course. The visit to the White House by the Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins made the papers, for example, but the protests of tens of thousands of people fell into the liberal media pond without making so much as a ripple. Why?

The media certainly weren't shy about covering a few dozen protesting campers in Zucotti Park last fall. Heck, the New York Times even ran a 780 word story a while back about four demonstrators who marched in support of the Dream Act, which would have granted amnesty to illegal aliens, but not a word was written in the Times about Monday's demonstration, an event which, despite difficult weather conditions, drew huge numbers of people from all over the country. Why the silence?

Well, perhaps it was because Monday's demonstrators were taking part in the annual March For Life which is held annually on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which stripped unborn children of the right to life. This is a cherished cause of the Left, of course, and the fact that so many people journeyed to the nation's capital to protest it is not something Leftist newspapers like the NYT want to publicize.

That tens of thousands of people are so strongly opposed to abortion on demand that they'd go to the trouble of trekking to Washington to demonstrate against it in foul weather, doesn't fit the narrative promoted by the Left that the majority in this country are pro-choice. The strategy, it seems, is to keep such news from their readers lest the masses be led to think that there really is overwhelming sentiment against the practice of killing one's unborn children.

And then the media mavens wonder why they're so unpopular. They're unpopular because a lot of people simply don't think they can be trusted to tell the truth.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

One Fed Up Liberal

I don't know if it's correct to say, as some have, that the Obama administration is waging "war" on religious organizations, but it certainly does seem that the administration is at least indifferent to the concerns many of these organizations have about being compelled to adopt government policies which violate their deepest convictions.

So flagrant has been what some see as open hostility to religious organizations, particularly Catholic organizations, that they've decided that though they voted for Mr. Obama in 2008, admire him personally, and support much of his agenda, they no longer can support him and will not vote for him in November.

Michael Sean Winters is an example of this disaffection. He's had enough of this administration's obvious intent to coerce and compel Catholic hospitals and adoption agencies to abandon their traditionally pro-life, pro-traditional marriage stances. Here's Winters:
President Barack Obama lost my vote yesterday when he declined to expand the exceedingly narrow conscience exemptions proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services. The issue of conscience protections is so foundational, I do not see how I ever could, in good conscience, vote for this man again.

I come at this issue as a liberal and a Democrat and as someone who, until yesterday, generally supported the President, as someone who saw in his vision of America a greater concern for each other, a less mean-spirited culture, someone who could, and did, remind the nation that we are our brothers’ keeper, that liberalism has a long vocation in this country of promoting freedom and protecting the interests of the average person against the combined power of the rich, and that we should learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.

I defended the University of Notre Dame for honoring this man, and my heart was warmed when President Obama said at Notre Dame: “we must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity -- diversity of thought, diversity of culture, and diversity of belief. In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.
What follows in Mr. Winters' essay is a long bill of particulars against the president for his failure to live up to the principles of classical liberalism he articulated as a candidate. Nevertheless, despite having had enough of Mr. Obama, Winters is not about to embrace the Republicans. He closes with this:
Some commentators, including those in the comment section on my post yesterday, have charged that people like me, Catholics who have been generally supportive of the President, were duped, that we should confess our sins of political apostasy, and go rushing into the arms of a waiting GOP. I respectfully decline the indictment and, even more, the remedy. Nothing that happened yesterday made the contemporary GOP less mean-spirited, or more inclined to support the rights of our immigrant brothers and sisters, or less bellicose in their approach to foreign affairs, or more concerned about the how the government can and should alleviate poverty.

It is also worth noting that the night before the decision, Mr. Gingrich said that he would halt the U.S. Justice Department’s suit against the State of Alabama regarding that state’s new anti-immigration law, a law that raises exactly the same kind of issues of religious liberty and the rights of conscience as are raised by the HHS decision. Religious liberty cuts both ways. Nor, is religious liberty the only issue. Voters should still consider how candidates for the presidency are likely to address a host of issues. As for myself, I could not, in good conscience, vote for any of the current Republicans seeking the presidency.

But, yesterday, as soon as I learned of this decision, I knew instantly that I also could not, in good conscience, ever vote for Mr. Obama again. I once had great faith in Mr. Obama’s judgment and leadership. I do not retract a single word I have written supporting him on issues like health care reform, or bringing the troops home from Iraq, or taking aggressive steps to halt the recession and turn the economy around. I will continue to advocate for those policies. But, I can never convince myself that a person capable of making such a dreadful decision is worthy of my respect or my vote.
It's remarkable to me that a committed Roman Catholic would have voted for Mr. Obama in the first place, given Mr. Obama's opposition as an Illinois state senator to a law that would have prohibited a practice that amounts to infanticide. At any rate, Mr. Winters is fed up with Mr. Obama's contempt for constitutional protections of religious organizations in general and Catholic religious and moral convictions in particular, and I suspect a lot of others are, too.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dust, Dirt, and Death

Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is the author of Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them. Milloy has a column in the Washington Times which casts doubt on the credibility of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA, according to Milloy, claims that the air quality of American cities is responsible for the deaths of tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of people per year. They claim to know this because they've calculated that every 10 microgram-per-cubic meter of pollutants results in a 1% rise in deaths. But this calculation is suspect.

The Chinese city of Xi’an is among the worst cities in the world in terms of air quality. Yet using the same sort of data and statistical analysis employed by EPA-funded air quality researchers, the Chinese researchers reported having statistically correlated every 10 microgram-per-cubic-meter’s worth of fine particulate matter in Xi’an’s air with a 0.2% increase in the city’s death rate. Despite being almost ten times more polluted than the air in American cities, Xi'an's air is apparently five times safer.

Obviously, something is wrong somewhere, and Milloy thinks the problem is with the EPA's numbers. This is not just an academic exercise since the EPA figures are used to regulate the emissions allowed by various industries.

We want clean air as much as the next person but we want our standards to be based on empirical fact not on suppositions based on an ideological bias against fossil fuels.

JoePa (1926-2012)

Joe Paterno, one of the finest men ever to be involved in American sports, has died, reportedly of complications due to lung cancer. I suspect, though, that the real cause of his death was a broken heart.

Paterno coached at Penn State for 60 years, setting a standard for what a class athletic program should be, bringing in many millions of dollars of revenue to the institution, and giving millions of his own money to promote the academic life of the university.

After having essentially put Penn State on the map as a first class school, after sixty years of changing students' lives and helping make PSU what it is today, the university Board of Trustees fired him without even giving him the courtesy of a meeting, without giving him the opportunity to resign, without giving him the chance to finish out the season. They owed him that much, but in their rush to wash their hands of the whole sordid Sandusky episode, they denied him his dignity and treated him in the least charitable fashion they possibly could have.

I don't question their judgment that, if it was the case that Paterno knew something of Jerry Sandusky's sexual predations on young boys and still allowed him the use of campus sports facilities, he was seriously negligent, and if he were a young coach who hadn't yet done much for the school, perhaps a summary dismissal might have been in order. But a man who had done so much good for so many, a man to whom the school and its students owe so much, deserved better than to be humiliated and disgraced because one time in his life he made a wrong judgment.

To no one's surprise, Paterno handled his dismissal with far more class than did his employers, but I'm sure that having been treated with such contempt by the institution he loved and to which he gave his life, he must have literally suffered a broken heart. I'm also confident that heaven holds a place of honor and respect for him even if the Penn State trustees don't.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Titanic and the Concordia

My friend Jason points us to the latest column from Mark Steyn who writes a brilliant essay comparing and contrasting the behavior of passengers and crew on the Titanic and the Costa Concordia. Steyn lets each event symbolize the society of the time in which the ships sailed and sunk, and, if that's a plausible assumption, there's much to be anxious about.

One particularly perspicuous point made by Steyn was the difference in the way the men of the Titanic took pains to ensure that women and children were safely ensconced in life boats before they looked to their own safety. Female passengers aboard the Concordia, however, testified to being shoved aside by burly crew members making haste to secure a spot in the life boats for themselves.

As one of Steyn's correspondents wryly noted, “The feminists wanted a gender-neutral society. Now they’ve got it. So what are you (they) complaining about?”

True enough, but what does it say about us that in extremis it's now every man for himself? What does it say about our materialist, secular society that male honor is rarer than once it was. I suspect that once a society minimizes and seeks to neuter masculinity and the masculine virtues, as modern liberalism arguably has done, a sense of honor and respect toward women is one of the first casualties. We certainly don't need to read about the treatment of the women of the Concordia to see evidence of that.

At any rate, there's much more thoughtful and delightfully acerbic commentary in Steyn's column. Give it a read.


Ever wonder why none of the people responsible for the ethically questionable home foreclosures that occurred in the wake of the collapse of the housing bubble haven't been prosecuted by Eric Holder's Justice Department? Well, so have lot's of other people wondered about that very thing, and maybe now we have some clue as to why there's been no interest in investigating the banks that foreclosed on the hapless souls who found themselves unable to make their mortgage payments.

It turns out that many of the big banks which were engaging in these questionable foreclosure practices were represented by a Washington law firm, Covington and Burling, which numbered among its law partners none other than the aforementioned Mr. Holder and his lieutenant Lanny Breuer. It's certainly good to have connections in the Justice Department if you're a big bank engaging in dubious behavior.

It may be hard to believe, on the other hand, that a man of the probity and rectitude Mr. Holder is known to possess would have looked the other way rather than prosecute his former clients, so perhaps there's more to the story. In any case, I wonder if the media will exert themselves as strenuously to ignore this matter as they've exerted themselves to ignore the Fast and Furious scandal.

Friday, January 20, 2012

No Need for Such Friends

I don't know how accurate this report is, but if it's correct, the man who made these remarks is either an idiot, or he's despicable, or he's still in middle school.

The editor of a small-circulation Jewish newspaper in Atlanta, a man named Andrew Adler, allegedly opined that given the existential threat to Israel from its enemies and given Mr. Obama's apparent coldness toward Israel's danger, the tiny nation has three choices (it seems more like two choices but never mind that):

They can either attack Hamas, attack Hezbollah, or assassinate the president of the U.S. (presumably to get someone more favorable to Israeli interests in the Oval Office). Mr. Adler went on to amplify:
Yes, you read "three" correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel's existence. Think about it. If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario, don't you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel's most inner circles?

Another way of putting "three" in perspective goes something like this: How far would you go to save a nation comprised of seven million lives ... Jews, Christians and Arabs alike? You have got to believe, like I do, that all options are on the table.
If Mr. Adler is indeed an adult and didn't realize the significance of what he was saying he's unimaginably obtuse. If he did realize what he was saying then he's morally contemptible. In either case, he should, if the situation is being reported accurately, be anathematized by the community of those who support Israel's right to exist and who believe the U.S. should be strongly committed to Israel's security. Israel has enough enemies. It doesn't need friends like Mr. Adler.

Why It's Hard to Take Them Seriously

There was a day when people actually respected the media and put a lot of faith in what they told them, but that day - at least for the major print, cable, and broadcast media - is long past. To understand why one need only look at how the media is treating Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and compare that to how they've treated Democrats over the years.

Mitt Romney, for instance, is being ridiculed by many in the major media for being rich and out of touch with the common man, but I don't recall the same ridicule being leveled at the Democrat candidate for president in 2004 John "Where can I get me a huntin' license" Kerry who is just as rich - if not richer - than Romney and certainly just as out of touch.

The media is also guffawing at revelations of Newt Gingrich's various marital woes and affairs, but I don't recall similar merriment being enjoyed by media liberals at the expense of Bill Clinton who was arguably the most sexually licentious and irresponsible president in the last 100 years. Indeed, when word of his escapades became public we were told that character doesn't matter, only competence matters.

Nor did the media even mention the affair of John Edwards who fathered a child with his mistress and then ran for president. The media sat on the story until it was publicized by a tabloid.

Nor did the liberal media have much to say about Al Gore's frolic in a hotel room with a woman who testified that Mr. Gore forced himself upon her, demanding that she release his "third chokra," or some such thing.

Folks in the major print and network media have subjected every detail of Mitt Romney's taxes and Newt Gingrich's marriages to microscopic scrutiny, but for the last three years they've been completely disinterested in questions about Mr. Obama's qualifications for office, not to mention his constitutional eligibility for it.

They're so obviously in the tank for the Democrats that it's very hard to believe much of what they say, and most people don't.

Why Kill the Pipeline?

President Obama has for some time been saying that:
  • We need to be energy independent of the Middle East
  • We need to create jobs
  • We need to do more for the poor
If the president really believes these three propositions why did he kill the Keystone XL pipeline?

As Ronald Bailey tells us at Reason.com:
The 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada, would daily transport more than 500,000 barrels of oil derived from oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. already imports about 2 million barrels of oil per day from Canada. Since the pipeline crosses our border the president has the responsibility to decide if it is in the national interest. President Obama under pressure from the environmental lobby punted on approving the pipeline - bravely putting off his decision until after the elections in November. In December, the Republicans in Congress passed legislation that required the president to make his decision by February 21st. Apparently, he now has.
The pipeline would have increased the amount of petroleum we buy from our friends and reduced our dependence upon foreign markets. Its construction would have created 20,000 jobs directly and thousands more indirectly. It would have kept low the cost of fuel - gasoline, home heating fuel, etc. - which would have been a great benefit to those most vulnerable to rises in energy costs. Low fuel cost means that every other thing we buy would be cheaper than it otherwise would be. This would have been a special blessing to the poor.

So, why did the president decide we weren't going through with it? How is constructing the pipeline not in our national interest. Mr. Obama claims that it's because there wasn't enough time to study the environmental impact, but this is hard to credit. They've been studying this pipeline for three years. Here's Bailey again:
Proponents of the pipeline point out that the project is shovel-ready and would create 20,000 construction jobs. In addition, the pipeline has passed environmental muster twice already. And the company has agreed to re-site a portion of the pipeline in order to allay exaggerated fears that a leak from it might harm the Ogallala aquifer.
Some have complained that tar sands oil is particularly dirty and we shouldn't be putting its combustion products into the atmosphere, but this claim is also hard to place any confidence in. The pipeline will still be built, and the oil will still be burned but now instead of building the pipeline to connect the wells with refineries in the Gulf coast the pipeline will be built to the Pacific and the oil sent by ship to China where it will be burned with far fewer environmental safeguards than had it been burned in the U.S.

Whatever the liabilities and risks of the pipeline are they don't seem to outweigh the benefits of more jobs, more energy independence, and cheaper fuel. So why did the president turn down these benefits and kill the pipeline?

Economist Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post, a newspaper which strongly supports this administration, pulls no punches:
President Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is an act of national insanity. It isn't often that a president makes a decision that has no redeeming virtues and -- beyond the symbolism -- won't even advance the goals of the groups that demanded it. All it tells us is that Obama is so obsessed with his re-election that, through some sort of political calculus, he believes that placating his environmental supporters will improve his chances.

Aside from the political and public relations victory, environmentalists won't get much. Stopping the pipeline won't halt the development of tar sands, to which the Canadian government is committed; therefore, there will be little effect on global warming emissions. Indeed, Obama's decision might add to them. If Canada builds a pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific for export to Asia, moving all that oil across the ocean by tanker will create extra emissions. There will also be the risk of added spills.
Samuelson isn't done excoriating the president for what he sees as pure folly and detrimental to our national interest. There's much more in the column, and anyone interested in the issue really should read it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Interview with William Dembski

A website called The Best Schools conducted a fascinating and wide-ranging interview with William Dembski who is one of the leading lights of the Intelligent Design movement. The interview gives numerous insights into Dembski the man - his youth, his family, his motivations, etc. - and then closes with this Q & A:
TBS: Any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers? What do you see as the chances that free and open debate, without intimidation, about natural selection and evolution will be possible in this country anytime soon? Where do you hope to be personally 10 years from now? What does the future hold for the ID movement? Where would you like see it stand in coming generations?

WD: The epigraph to my book The Design Revolution is a quote from a short essay of Pascal’s called the “The Art of Persuasion”: “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” When I got into this business, I thought truth and its validation (what Pascal calls “proof”) was enough, or at least close to enough. Now that I’m older and wiser, I see that the majority of people have other priorities. Even those who protest that they love truth (Richard Dawkins is one) will use such protestations to advance their own biases and agendas.

Here, I’m addressing myself, as well—certainly earlier in my career, selfish ambition and narcissism were vying furiously in my so-called “quest for truth.” Perhaps I’ve not put these aside yet.

I’ve found self-deception as much among Christians as among atheists and agnostics. In fact, I’ve come to like dealing with secularists better than with the Christians who use religion as a cloak to cover their pride and absence of love. Secularists are at least more likely to admit that they’re being bad. Christians, especially American evangelical Christians, with pietism and puritanism always in the background, have to pretend to be good.

What does all this have to do with your question? It’s this: Whereas a decade ago I was all gung-ho about ID becoming the new reigning paradigm that would replace conventional evolutionary theory, I no longer have that optimism. That’s not to say I’m not going to continue to work toward that end. I will. And I could see ID’s fortunes changing quickly. But I could also see the old paradigm lingering on. The former Soviet Union collapsed very quickly even though it looked invincible a few years earlier. Our banking system, by contrast, has been skirting insolvency for decades and continually seems able to kick the can down the road.

ID, in my view, has the better argument. But as an attorney sitting across his desk from a client put it in a New Yorker cartoon dating back more than 50 years: “You have a pretty good case, Mr. Pitkin. How much justice can you afford?” I’m not sure how much justice ID can afford. Despite all the publicity it’s gotten, it has few backers. Atheistic evolutionists hate it. Theistic evolutionists hate it. And fundamentalists are also beginning to hate it, because it doesn’t deliver the pat answers about creation that they desire.

Machiavelli got it right: “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly for fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.”

With this preamble, let me answer your questions directly: I don’t see free and open debate regarding evolution coming anytime soon—not until the Darwinists, kicking and dragging, are forced to acknowledge that there is a problem with their view. This may happen with another court case (the Dover case was a loss for ID, but it did not go to the Supreme Court; so, I could see another case reversing Dover).

That said, I put very little stock in court cases. Eventually, the evidence for ID will disseminate widely enough so that Darwinists will not be able to stifle the conversation. For now, however, they can. I think of a story told to me by one Baylor student (this happened after I left): Biology students wanting to do a summer research internship in the Biology Department are quizzed regarding their views on ID. If they are perceived as sympathetic to it, they are denied the research opportunity. For now, that’s how the game is played, and ID is kept at bay. Ten years from now, I expect still to be working on ID, but I expect to have branched out into economics and the development of social technologies. I have some ideas about developing a strongly encrypted, decentralized, information-based form of money that cannot be proliferated at will, as are our present fiat currencies. I want to write this up and patent it, and then work on disseminating this and other social technologies that advance human freedom.

It seems to me that the greatest challenge to our freedoms—a challenge I see all the time in the ID debate—is the centralization of power. I see my coming years as an effort to unseat these monopolies. I realize this may sound unduly ambitious, but we live in a technocratic age in which the elite think they know what’s best for us—and they do not, the evidence of which is staring us in the face (that’s why we now see books with titles such as When Genius Failed).

Ultimately, I think ID will win. A few years ago, I thought I’d be around to see its victory. Now, I’m not so sure. The Bible actually gives me great comfort in this regard, because one sees in it that God’s purposes are not generally carried out by the flamboyant, well-placed, and powerful. But in the end, the false prophets are always clearly identified, and those who were true are vindicated. ID, in my view, plays a prophetic role for our culture.

In the end, what I see as winning it for ID is the tendency in the long run for reality to vindicate truth. Unfortunately, as Keynes pointed out, in the long run, we’re all dead. I believe the most interesting and fruitful science will in the end be done under ID’s umbrella, because it gets at the truth of the matter—the intelligence that animates nature. When that happens, scientists will vote with their feet, abandoning Darwinism and embracing design. I hope to see this in my lifetime, but I’m not holding my breath.
It is remarkable that so much vitriol has been metaphorically thrown in the faces of the intelligent design people by their opponents given the seemingly minor scientific differences between their positions. The IDers don't disagree with the empirical data but the do disagree with the interpretation of that data. They disagree, for example, with the assertion of the Darwinians that physical processes and forces are adequate to explain the origin of life and its subsequent diversification. They argue that the fine-tuning of the cosmos as well as the amazing complexity and information-laden nature of living things points to the involvement of an unspecified intelligent agent. This, however, is not a scientific disagreement. It's a philosophical disagreement.

No other controversy in science has engendered the level of personal invective and acrimony that has been aimed at the upstarts who've challenged the darwinian status quo as has this one, and the reason is that, unlike other scientific disputes, this one is really not about science at all. It's about the metaphysical assumptions of the scientists.

Intelligent design does not threaten evolutionary theory, it threatens the naturalism to which so many darwinian scientists cling. The Darwinism/ID controversy is not about the relevant science, on that there's actually a lot of agreement. The debate is about the fact that the dominant, entrenched religious establishment in the academy, i.e. metaphysical naturalism, finds itself under assault after enjoying a century and a half of hegemony. They now find themselves on the defensive and see their religion (naturalism) threatened. That's why their reaction has been so ugly, vicious, and seemingly desperate. They're fighting for their metaphysical lives, and I think they feel themselves losing.

Why Read Good Books?

Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and a farmer, limns a half dozen or so reasons why people should read great books and why a culture which abandons the classics is doomed to superficiality and tawdriness. Here's his opening:
So what are the reasons, in this age of the iPhone, Xbox, and PlayStation — or Fox News blondes and HBO — to sit down and read old stuff for an hour or two each week?

Here are a few reasons other than the usual defense of the “classics,” the “canon,” and the glories of “Western civilization.”

Mental Exercise

The mind is a muscle. Without exercise, it reverts to mush. Watching most TV or using the normal electronic gadgetry does not tax us much — indeed that is by design the very purpose: to eliminate effort, worry, unease, and afterthought. None of us thinks back a year ago to a great video game session. Few off-hand can recall the Super Bowl winner of 2001. I remember the scenes in a Shane or Casablanca, but not many others in the other thousand of movies that I have watched.

By nature, our ways of expression and even thinking always fossilize and are withering away with age and monotony — a process accelerated by the modern electronic age and the neglect of replenishment through reading. The actual vocabulary of our present youth seems to me reduced to about 1,000 words or so. “Like,” “whatever,” “you know,” “cool,” and other pop culture fillers now substitute for entire phrases, a sort of modern porcine grunting. The Greeks used particles to accentuate vocabulary and guide syntax; we used them instead of vocabulary. Our syntax, both written and oral, is reverting to “Spot is a dog”: noun, verb, predicate — period.

How did incomprehensible slang, spiced with vulgarity, become an object of emulation? I used to listen to farmers without college degrees speak wonderful English; now to listen to a member of Congress almost requires a translator.

Reading alone enriches our vocabulary; it teaches us that good writing requires a sense of melody as well as a command of grammar. Soon those well-read become the well-spoken.
Hanson closes with this:
Somehow we must convince this new wired generation that speaking and writing well are not just the DSL lines of modern civilization, but also the keys to self-mastery, a sort of code that one takes on — in addition to others, moral and legal — to uphold standards of culture itself, to keep the work and ideas alive of our long gone betters for one more generation — as if to say, “I did my part according to my time and station.”Nothing more, nothing less.
In between his opening and his conclusion there's much to delight anyone who loves great literature. You can read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

No Win Situations

Juan Williams asked Newt Gingrich in Monday night's debate whether his comment that poor children should be given maintenance jobs in their schools to teach them a work ethic wasn't insensitive to black people. Coming from a man who was justifiably shocked when NPR fired him some months ago for acknowledging his personal unease when Muslims board the same plane he's traveling on, this seemed like a strange question:
Gingrich's response speaks for itself. If Williams thinks it's offensive to suggest that one of the dysfunctions that afflicts communities mired in generational poverty is that they've lost the skills needed to succeed in the workforce then he's delusional.

Meanwhile, Joy Ann Reid a guest on an MSNBC show the other day thought it was offensive for Mitt Romney to give a distressed woman money to pay her electric bill, ostensibly because the recipient of Romney's kindness was black.
In case you haven't the time to watch the video here's the transcript of what Ms. Reid said:
As an African-American woman, it galls me. I don’t even like to watch it. I felt like it plays into every sort of patronizing stereotype of black people. Oh, here’s this little lady, let me give her 50 bucks. I mean, this is the guy who offered a bet of $10,000 on stage, you know, to another candidate, but, you know, here, let me lay off 50 bucks on this woman. And I think it plays into that conservative meme that you don’t need actual programs that the government puts in place to help people in need, we’ll just give them charity. The church will take care of them, I’ll give them 50 bucks.
Apparently we must conclude that at least some black people think it just as patronizing for a white man to give a needy black woman a little help as it is racially insensitive to encourage poor blacks to learn work skills. If Romney had ignored the woman people like Reid would probably have accused him of being hard-hearted, especially toward blacks, but when he helps the woman he's accused him of being condescending.

Of course, it doesn't seem to occur to Ms. Reid that if it's patronizing for a white person to help poor people then all those government programs she admires, programs in which billions of dollars are transferred from white wage earners to black poor people, are surely patronizing to blacks. Perhaps she thinks it's okay if the money is taken from the white man in taxes by the government and then given to the poor, but not okay if it's freely given to the poor in an act of personal compassion.

What exactly is the logic, if any, behind the thinking of either Williams or Reid? Or is logic not even relevant to those who are desperately trying to reinforce the belief that anything whites do or say about blacks is suspicious, whether it appears that way or not?

It's ironic that in trying to show that Gingrich and Romney have ignoble motives lurking in their hearts these commentators actually give the impression that they themselves are petty, cynical, and irrational. Wouldn't it be better if we stopped probing and dissecting people's hearts and simply judge them on the basis of the truth of what they say and the virtue of what they do?

If War Comes

A former agent of the CIA who once infiltrated Iran's Revolutionary Guard talks about some of Iran's plans and capabilities should the U.S. attack. Here are several of his main points:
In a recent meeting of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, it was decided that the possibility of an attack by Israel or America in 2012 is real and that the country’s forces need to prepare several contingencies for war. It also was concluded that in case of war, the regime could be victorious, though the cost would be high, but it would emerge as the one and only champion of the Islamic cause in the world.

The radicals ruling Iran have long believed that obtaining the nuclear bomb will make them untouchable and will facilitate the expansion of the Islamic movement in the region and the world in bringing the West to its knees. They also have concluded that because of the troubles in the world’s economy and financial troubles in America, even a limited confrontation with America would benefit the Islamic regime.

Just as Hezbollah outfought Israel in the 2006 war, Iran can claim victory against the U.S. in such a conflict, which could include attacking Israel from several fronts. But the real prize for the criminal mullahs would be that it would help the regime bring down the monarchy in Bahrain, create instability in Saudi Arabia and, most important, help the Islamists in Egypt undermine military rule. All this would occur by inciting uprisings for a war of Islam against infidels and Zionists.

The guards in their preparations have mapped out several options. One would be to disrupt the oil flow from the Persian Gulf. They know that about 40 percent of the world’s oil and the majority of oil exports of eight countries in the Persian Gulf pass through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway that could be blocked by the regime’s forces.

The guards’ navy of speedboats armed with cruise missiles, Iran’s submarines and, most important, the guards’ missiles of various kinds could be launched from deep within Iran and still target the narrow strait.

The guards also have mapped out an extensive list of U.S. bases in the Middle East to attack with their missiles, disrupting the movement of U.S. forces and the operation of the Air Force, which the guards believe will be the main thrust of any attack by America.

For that purpose, several U.S. bases have been identified that could be attacked either by short-range rockets with a range of up to 140 miles or with ballistic missiles with a range of more than 1,250 miles. The two air bases in Kuwait, Ali Al Salem and Ahmed Al Jaber, are less than 85 miles from Iran. In Kuwait, the U.S. camps of Buehring, Spearhead, Patriot and Arifjan, with distances of 65 to 80 miles, are all within reach of the guards’ various missiles.

The guards also are targeting four U.S. air bases in Afghanistan as the main launching pads for any attacks on Iran. The Bagram Air Base, home to most of the U.S. Air Force presence in Afghanistan, is just 450 miles from the Iranian borders and within range of all of Iran’s ballistic missiles. Other air bases in Afghanistan that would be attacked by the guards in case of war are in Kandahar, Shindand and Herat.

The super U.S. base, Al Adid in Qatar, which is home to a variety of U.S. bombers and fighters, is within 175 miles of Iran and a prime target for the guards, though because of favorable relations of the Islamic regime with the government in Qatar, the guards are not sure America can use that air base for its attack and therefore will be much more likely to use its other superbase at Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates, also within range of various Iranian missiles. Other U.S. targets of the guards are the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain and Thumrait Air Base in Oman.
There's more at the link. Perhaps the American military can neutralize these threats, but if not, an attack on Iran will not be as painless as was the initial assault on Iraq. Iran has more formidable capabilities than did Saddam Hussein and the United States must be prepared for losses. Even so, if the world allows Iran to gain a nuclear weapon it must be prepared for even greater, perhaps catastrophic, losses.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Moshe Averick at Algemeiner.com quotes a number of Origin of Life (OOL) researchers who speak frankly about their complete mystification as to how life could have arisen from non-living matter.

Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak, for instance, stated that “It is virtually impossible to imagine how a cell’s machines ... could have formed spontaneously from non-living matter.”

Dr. Harold P. Klein, of NASA, once wrote in similar terms: “The simplest bacterium is so damn complicated from the point of view of a chemist that it is almost impossible to imagine how it happened.”

When one of the greatest chemists alive today, Dr. George Whitesides of Harvard University, was awarded the Priestley Medal for Chemistry in 2007, he said: “Most chemists believe like I do, that life emerged spontaneously from mixtures of molecules in the prebiotic Earth. How? I have no idea…On the basis of all chemistry I know, it seems to me astonishingly improbable.”

Dr. Eugene V. Koonin, a molecular biologist, once observed that:
Despite many interesting results to its credit, when judged by the straightforward criterion of reaching (or even approaching) the ultimate goal, the origin of life field is a failure – we still do not have even a plausible coherent model, let alone a validated scenario, for the emergence of life on Earth. Certainly, this is not due to lack of experimental and theoretical effort, but to the extraordinary intrinsic difficulty and complexity of the problem. A succession of exceedingly unlikely steps is essential for the origin of life, from the synthesis and accumulation of nucleotides to the origin of translation; through the multiplication of probabilities, these make the final outcome seem almost like a miracle.
This seemed to echo what science writer and cosmologist Dr. Paul Davies had written years earlier:
You might get the impression from what I have written not only that the origin of life is virtually impossible, but that life itself is impossible ... fortunately for us, our cells contain sophisticated chemical-repair-and-construction mechanisms, and handy sources of chemical energy to drive processes uphill, and enzymes with special properties that can smoothly assemble complex molecules from fragments…but the primordial soup lacked these convenient cohorts of cooperating chemicals…so what is the answer? Is life a miracle after all?
Averick goes on to summarize the current state of OOL research:
  • Everyone agrees that the simplest living bacterium – which is functionally complex beyond comprehension – looks like it was designed and created by an intelligent creator.
  • Everyone agrees that it is virtually impossible to imagine how it could have happened through an undirected process.
  • Everyone agrees that no one has any idea how it actually did happen.
What can we conclude from this? Averick offers an answer:
I simply draw the obvious conclusions. The reason it looks designed, is because it is designed. The reason why it seems “astonishingly improbable” for it to happen through an undirected process, is because it is “astonishingly improbable” for it to happen through an undirected process, and the reason why, in fact, no one has any idea how it happened through a naturalistic process, is because it didn’t happen through a naturalistic process.
But if one is a naturalistic materialist and has apriori ruled out the possibility of a non-natural, non-physical designer of life then it simply must have happened through some natural, mechanistic process.

Averick appositely reminds us of a quote from Darwinian biologist Richard Lewontin who once said:
“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to the understanding of the real struggle between Science and the Supernatural. We take the side of science despite the patent absurdity of some of its constructs…because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to naturalism…we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanation, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door.”
What are we to make of all this? One conclusion I think we can draw is that evolutionary science is not just about science, it's about religion. Following the evidence where it leads is a maxim adhered to only if the evidence leads us away from a Divine mind. If the evidence leads toward the uncomfortable inference that there really could be an intelligence directing the progress of life then, as Lewontin admits, many scientists are prepared to accept patent absurdity in order to cling to their faith in naturalism.

They've got a faith commitment to an atheistic worldview and no amount of evidence will be allowed to change their mind. And they think theists are irrational?

We Just Don't Know

We've spoken on occasion here at VP about the fact that we don't really know that global warming, if indeed it eventuates, will be the disaster the climate change alarmists predict. For all we really know it could be a boon to humanity to have more land in currently inaccessible regions like Siberia, Greenland and northern Canada open up to habitation, mining, and agriculture. Slightly rising temperatures could result in more rainfall in arid regions and reverse the desertification process of northern Africa and elsewhere, making agriculture around the globe more productive. Who knows?

Now science writer Matt Ridley raises another possible benefit of global warming - it could be saving us from an incipient ice age:
The entire 10,000-year history of civilization has happened in an unusually warm interlude in the Earth's recent history. Over the past million years, it has been as warm as this or warmer for less than 10% of the time, during 11 brief episodes known as interglacial periods. One theory holds that agriculture and dense settlement were impossible in the volatile, generally dry and carbon-dioxide-starved climates of the ice age, when crop plants would have grown more slowly and unpredictably even in warmer regions.

This warm spell is already 11,600 years old, and it must surely, in the normal course of things, come to an end. In the early 1970s, after two decades of slight cooling, many scientists were convinced that the moment was at hand. They were "increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age," said Time in 1974. The "almost unanimous" view of meteorologists was that the cooling trend would "reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century," and "the resulting famines could be catastrophic," said Newsweek in 1975.

Since then, of course, warmth has returned, probably driven at least partly by man-made carbon-dioxide emissions. A new paper, from universities in Cambridge, London and Florida, drew headlines last week for arguing that these emissions may avert the return of the ice age.
Ridley elaborates on all this at the linked article.

The fact is that we don't know whether the global mean temperature is really rising, or, if it is, what's causing it. Nor do we know what the effects of a modest rise in temperature will be. Nevertheless, we're being told that we must spend billions of dollars and change the entire way of life of modern societies and do it now because if we don't we'll all die. But as Ridley points out, for all we know reversing greenhouse gas emissions may be the worst thing we could do for the planet and humanity.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King

Today is the day we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday and it would be well to focus on why we do. King was a man of great courage who was resolutely committed, not just to racial equality under the law, but to harmony among all the racial factions in America. His commitment to achieving justice under the law for every American was rooted in his Christian faith as his Letter From a Birmingham Jail makes clear, and it was that faith which made him a transformational figure in the history of our nation.

It's sad that though his dream of racial equality has been largely realized - the law no longer permits distinctions between the races in our public life - his dream of racial harmony has not.

One reason it has not is that his dream that his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character has been inverted so that the color of one's skin is often the only thing that matters.

Students are still accepted into colleges and given scholarships on the basis of their race without having to meet the same standards as those with a different skin color. The same is true of civil servants like police and firemen who are often hired and promoted on the basis of test performance, but who sometimes receive preferential treatment based on race. Our Attorney General is reluctant to prosecute blacks who deny others their civil rights, and any criticism of our president is interpreted as a racist reaction to his skin color rather than a reasonable opposition to his policies.

People are judged by the color of their skin rather than by the content of their character as much today, perhaps, as at any time in our history. I don't think this is what King had in mind.

Nor do I think he would have been happy that we celebrate black history month as if it were somehow separate from American history rather than, as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby argues, an integral part of American history. The civil rights movement was not merely a black movement, it was an American movement in which the nation realized that we were not living up to the ideals of equality and liberty upon which America was founded. It was a time when the nation realized that we were not living consistently with the deepest convictions we held as Christians, namely that we are all brothers and sisters, children of the same God.

Martin Luther King persistently and bravely held these ideals and convictions before the American people, he refused to allow us to avoid seeing their implications, and repeatedly urged us to live up to what we believed deep in our souls to be true. And the American people, many of whom had never really thought about the chasm between what we professed and what we practiced, responded.

It was an American achievement that involved the efforts and blood of people not just of one race but of all races. Thinking of the great sacrifices and advances of the civil rights era as only a success story of one race is divisive. It carves out one group of people from the rest of the nation for special notice and tends to exclude so many others without whom the story would never have been told.

On Martin Luther King day it would be good for us to try to put behind us the invidious distinctions we continue to make between white and black. It would be good to stop seeing others in terms of their skin color, to give each other the benefit of the doubt that our disagreements are about ideas and policies and are not motivated by hatred, bigotry, or moral shortcomings. It would be good to declare a moratorium on the use of the word "racist," unless the evidence for it is overwhelming, and to stop think of racism as a sin committed by the majority race only.

Let's judge each other on the content of our character and of our minds and not on the color of our skin. As long as we continue to see each other through the lens of race we'll never have the unity that King yearned for and gave his life for.

Did the Cosmos Have a Beginning?

When the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe was first proposed it met with a lot of resistance from scientists and others who were dismayed by the fact that the Big Bang entailed that the universe had a discrete beginning rather than being infinitely old. If the universe had a beginning then it must have been caused by something outside itself, and since this sounded too much like the Genesis account of the Bible, many scientists resisted the Big Bang until the predicted background radiation left over from the initial "explosion" was serendipitously discovered in 1963 making further resistance seem futile.

Even so, the refuseniks have not given up and have over the years advanced a number of theories that would do away with the unpleasant theological implications of the standard Big Bang model by keeping the Bang, so to speak, but doing away with a cosmic beginning. However, in one way or another all of these theories have come to grief.

An article at New Scientist (subscription required) suggests that hope is fading that a beginningless universe can made to conform to the evidence we have. Here's part of the article:
While many of us may be OK with the idea of the big bang simply starting everything, physicists, including [Stephen] Hawking, tend to shy away from cosmic genesis. "A point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God," Hawking told the meeting, at the University of Cambridge, in a pre-recorded speech.

For a while it looked like it might be possible to dodge this problem, by relying on models such as an eternally inflating or cyclic universe, both of which seemed to continue infinitely in the past as well as the future. Perhaps surprisingly, these were also both compatible with the big bang, the idea that the universe most likely burst forth from an extremely dense, hot state about 13.7 billion years ago.

However, as cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University in Boston explained last week, that hope has been gradually fading and may now be dead. He showed that all these theories still demand a beginning.
The details of Vilenkin's argument follow in the article, but the important point is that cosmologists are now in a quandary. The data does not support the idea of a beginningless universe, but if the universe had a beginning then the argument for a transcendent, very powerful, very intelligent, personal cause of the universe becomes almost irresistable.

Consider, for example, the following argument that has been popularized by the philosopher William Lane Craig:
1. Everything that comes into being has a cause of its existence.
2. Nothing is the cause of itself.
3. The universe had a beginning and thus came into being.
4. Therefore the universe had a cause.
5. There are only three kinds of causes: abstract (ideas), scientific (physical forces), and personal minds.
6. Abstract objects are causally impotent, and physical forces would only exist after the universe came into being.
7. Therefore, the cause of the universe must be a personal mind.
Thus we have good reason to believe that there is a transcendent personal cause that began the universe. Sound like anyone you know?

See vjtorley's post at Uncommon Descent and William Lane Craig's website for more.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

John Rabe

Ever think you'd watch a movie in which the hero was a member of the German Nazi party? Well, okay, Oscar Schindler in the movie Schindler's List, was a party member, I guess, but I can't think of any other candidates, or at least I couldn't until I watched the movie John Rabe the other evening.

Rabe's story was very much like that of Oscar Schindler. He was a German businessman, working for Siemens in Nanking, China in 1937. This was the year the Japanese invaded China and perpetrated the mass slaughter of what became known as the Rape of Nanking, brutally raping and slaughtering some 300,000 Chinese. The horrors perpetrated by the Japanese in Nanking are beyond imagining (see link), but the movie gives a glimpse of what it was like.

Since the Germans were allies of the Japanese in 1937 Rabe was able to use his Nazi Party credentials to carve out a demilitarized safety zone in the city in which Chinese civilians were able to find relative safety from the savagery of the Japanese troops. It's believed that Rabe and a dozen or so other foreigners working together were able to save the lives of some 200,000 Chinese.

The movie (2009) stars Ulrich Tukur as John Rabe and is very well-acted. I strongly recommend the film to anyone who wants to know more about one of the most savage episodes of man's inhumanity to his fellow man ever recorded, and who also wants to watch a film about real heroism during these terrifying days.

There's a biography of Rabe at Wikipedia. The tragedy of his life seems to have been compounded after he left Nanking and returned to Germany, but what he and his associates did for the Chinese is something which should never be forgotten.