Thursday, May 31, 2012

About Birds

Byron links us to a piece at the Huffington Post on a book about birds for children. The article is titled Eleven Things You Didn't Know about Birds and has a slide show illustrating the eleven facts with a picture of the relevant bird.

The book and article are written by Bill Thompson who starts with this: Sociologists and cultural trend watchers have been decrying the broken connection between today's youth and nature. With so many stimulating digital options dominating the attention spans of young people, the worry is that we'll raise several generations who have no connection to or understanding of nature.

Birds provide an easy doorway to re-establishing this connection between kids and nature. Why? Because birds are almost everywhere, they are active, easy-to-see creatures, they often have bright, beautiful colors, and many birds sing melodious, enchanting songs. Most importantly, they capture our imagination with their ability to do something that we humans only figured out about 100 years ago: they can fly!
Go to the link for the slides. There are some beautiful birds to see there.

Escape from Camp 14

Some time ago I read a review of the book by Blaine Harden titled Escape From Camp 14, the story of a young North Korean named Shin Dong-hyuk who was born in a prison camp and managed at age twenty three to escape it - the only person who, born in a camp, has been known to have escaped.

The review prompted me to buy the book, and I encourage anyone looking for summer reading to do the same. The details of Shin's story are gripping, from the reason for his birth in the prison, to his childhood betrayal of his mother and brother, to his amazing escape, Harden's account makes you not want to stop reading.

Equally gripping is his ancillary description of the hell that is North Korea. The entire country is a prison that has deadened the souls of its people, of course, but the prison camps are places of especial savagery, cruelty, and amorality, a place where people have no hope, where all that matters is avoiding a beating and getting a scrap of food to stave off starvation.

Shin was so scarred by his experience, so emotionally stunted by what he did and what was done to him, that adjusting to life after his escape has been almost as difficult as living in Camp 14.

The book also offers a fascinating illustration of the depth of depravity to which people sink once they've conflated a deep hatred of Christianity with power. North Korea is spiritually barren and consequently the only morality is a might makes right ethic according to which whatever those who have power do is ipso facto right. It's a repetition of the trajectory of virtually every state of the twentieth century whose leaders were both atheists and politically all-powerful - from the Soviet Union to Germany to China to Cambodia to Cuba and dozens of lesser states. The stories of the miseries inflicted by these governments on their people are everywhere. North Korea is perhaps worse than most but only because its people suffer worse deprivations than have the people of other totalitarian states.

Anyway, I recommend the book. You won't be sorry you read it.

Polish Death Camps

It was doubtless an innocent mistake. The President didn't mean to offend Poles, nor did he mean to imply that WWII era extermination camps were operated by Poles. The only reason I even mention it is to show the hypocrisy of the Democrats and their media supporters who would be absolutely skewering George Bush had he made such a gaffe. We would never hear the end of it just as we still hear about Gerald Ford's "liberation of Eastern Europe", Dan Quayle's "potatoe", etc.

We also have been hearing, and will be hearing, about every error and faux pas committed by Mitt Romney from now until November. Each one will be held up as proof that Mr. Romney is intellectually unqualified to lead the nation's international affairs, but those who'll be promoting this meme will doubtless ignore Mr. Obama's howlers.

It seems that it could go without saying that no one who voted for a community organizer who assured us that he had campaigned in "all 57 states" (with one to go and two that he won't be visiting for a total of 60 states), and who offends an entire nation by referring to the "Polish death camps" should criticize anyone else's suitability and qualification to lead the nation.

Here's part of ABC's report on the story:
Poles and Polish-Americans expressed outrage today at President Obama’s reference earlier to “a Polish death camp” — as opposed to a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland.

“The White House will apologize for this outrageous error,” Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski tweeted. Sikorski said that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk “will make a statement in the morning. It’s a pity that this important ceremony was upstaged by ignorance and incompetence.”

The president had been trying to honor a famous Pole, awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a resistance fighter who sneaked behind enemy lines to bear witness to the atrocities being committed against Jews. President Obama referred to him being smuggled “into the Warsaw ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.”

Sikorski also tonight tweeted a link to an Economist story noting that “few things annoy Poles more than being blamed for the crimes committed by the Nazi occupiers of their homeland. For many years, Polish media, diplomats and politicians have tried to persuade outsiders to stop using the phrase ‘Polish death camps’ as a shorthand description of Auschwitz and other exemplars of Nazi brutality and mass murder. Unfortunately this seems to have escaped Barack Obama’s staff [who] seem not to have noticed this.”
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There's more on the Polish reaction to Mr. Obama's unfortunate blunder at the link.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


First there was Stuxnet, then DuQu, now Flame. A Russian antivirus company has discovered another form of malware infecting computers in the Middle East, primarily Iran, which has amazing capabilities. Whereas Stuxnet was designed to discombobulate Iranian centrifuges used to enrich uranium to weapons grade, Flame, among other things, is designed to turn every computer it infects into a listening device for whoever planted the virus.

Wired has the story. Here's part of it:
A massive, highly sophisticated piece of malware has been newly found infecting systems in Iran and elsewhere and is believed to be part of a well-coordinated, ongoing, state-run cyberespionage operation.

The malware, discovered by Russia-based antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab, is an espionage toolkit that has been infecting targeted systems in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, the Israeli Occupied Territories and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa for at least two years.

Dubbed “Flame” by Kaspersky, the malicious code dwarfs Stuxnet in size — the groundbreaking infrastructure-sabotaging malware that is believed to have wreaked havoc on Iran’s nuclear program in 2009 and 2010.

Although Flame has both a different purpose and composition than Stuxnet, and appears to have been written by different programmers, its complexity, the geographic scope of its infections and its behavior indicate strongly that a nation-state is behind Flame, rather than common cyber-criminals — marking it as yet another tool in the growing arsenal of cyberweaponry.

The researchers say that Flame may be part of a parallel project created by contractors who were hired by the same nation-state team that was behind Stuxnet and its sister malware, DuQu.

Early analysis of Flame by the Lab indicates that it’s designed primarily to spy on the users of infected computers and steal data from them, including documents, recorded conversations and keystrokes. It also opens a backdoor to infected systems to allow the attackers to tweak the toolkit and add new functionality.

The malware, which is 20 megabytes when all of its modules are installed, contains multiple libraries, SQLite3 databases, various levels of encryption — some strong, some weak — and 20 plug-ins that can be swapped in and out to provide various functionality for the attackers. It even contains some code that is written in the LUA programming language — an uncommon choice for malware.

Kaspersky Lab is calling it “one of the most complex threats ever discovered.”
There's much more on Flame in the Wired article. It's fascinating what's going on behind the scenes to try to avoid open war with Iran. It's also fascinating to think that we probably don't know the half of it.

Romney's Commencement Address

Columnist Dennis Prager examines a speech given by Mitt Romney at Liberty University's Commencement and notes that the speech tells us something about Mitt Romney's view of America. He also opines that the speech is not one that President Obama would give. I don't know if that's true, but read Prager's column and see what you think. Here are the highlights:
Romney: "You know who you are. And you know whom you will serve. Not all colleges instill that kind of confidence . . . ." This is a truism. Most American universities seek to graduate men and women who are as committed to secularism as nearly all the members of faculty are. In contrast, at traditional Christian and Jewish schools, the aim is, as Romney said, to produce students who know "whom [they] will serve."

What Romney is asking is this: If one is not morally accountable to God, to whom or what is one morally accountable? Most universities will respond: to one's conscience. But those who adhere to Judeo-Christian values do not trust the conscience alone. What Nazi or Communist mass murderer was not at peace with his conscience? The conscience is as easily manipulated as the heart (the heart being the other guide to behavior among most college graduates).

Romney: "Moral certainty, clear standards, and a commitment to spiritual ideals will set you apart in a world that searches for meaning...."

The death of God has not only led to moral uncertainty; the secular left actually boasts of its moral uncertainty. Unlike the religious, who have a black and white view of moral issues (so the left tells us), those on the left struggle with moral complexity. But this is self-delusion. The left is as morally certain about its positions as the most fundamentalist Christian. Where is the left's moral uncertainty about same-sex marriage? About abolishing capital punishment? About race-based affirmative action? About higher taxes? Indeed, about anything the left believes in?

Romney: "That said, your values will not always be the object of public admiration. In fact, the more you live by your beliefs, the more you will endure the censure of the world."

Is that ever true. Those of us who adhere to Judeo-Christian values and live a religious life are mocked as fools when not dismissed as dangerous. If you believe that nature was designed by a Creator, you are regarded as an anti-science buffoon. If you get your values from the Bible, you are considered a living anachronism.

Romney: "Harvard historian David Landes devoted his lifelong study to understanding why some civilizations rise, and why others falter. His conclusion: Culture makes all the difference. Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value. . . . For those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and marry before they have their first child, the probability that they will be poor is 2 percent. But, if those things are absent, 76 percent will be poor. Culture matters...."

This is the key to understanding the underclass here and in Europe. But it is the antithesis of what is taught at American universities. They -- and the rest of the left -- teach that it is not values or culture that most determines human behavior. Violent crime is not caused by a murderer's lack of moral values, father, self-discipline, church life, or marriage, but by poverty and/or racism.

Romney: "Central to America's rise to global leadership is our Judeo-Christian tradition . . . ."

Exactly right. Every free country on earth was formed by Christianity or shaped by a Christian country that imposed it (India and Japan, for example). And the freest of them all, America, has been the most Judeo-based Christian country in the world.

Romney: "The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and, at the foundation, the pre-eminence of the family...."

And each one of these values has been under siege by the left. The left undermines personal responsibility by excusing the irresponsibility of all but white Christian males; undermines the dignity of work with ever-increasing entitlements; shifts "the merit of service" from individuals and communal institutions to the state; and weakens the family by strengthening people's reliance on the government, and by removing all stigma to unwed motherhood.
Prager closes with his assertion that Mr. Obama would not have given this speech. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fishtown and Belmont

City Journal's Clark Whelton talks about Charles Murray's new book Coming Apart in which Murray describes a deterioration of the moral character of the white working class. It's Murray's prescription for this deterioration that Whelton focuses on:
Murray blames a deterioration of shared values such as honesty, hard work, marriage, and religion, a decline especially damaging to working-class Americans. For this cultural malaise, Murray proposes a cultural cure:
The prerequisite for any eventual policy solution consists of a simple cultural change: It must once again be taken for granted that a male in the prime of life who isn’t even looking for work is behaving badly.

There can be exceptions for those who are genuinely unable to work or are house-husbands. But reasonably healthy working-age males who aren’t working or even looking for work, who live off their girlfriends, families or the state, must once again be openly regarded by their fellow citizens as lazy, irresponsible and unmanly. Whatever their social class, they are, for want of a better word, bums.
It’s startling to see “bums”—a word rarely heard now outside the world of baseball—in cold print. But that’s just Murray’s point: “We need to drop our nonjudgmentalism.” If men of disreputable conduct are treated respectfully, Murray says, they will never abandon their bad habits.
This is exactly right, and it applies to women as well as men. When women choose to have children out of wedlock, for example, they should not be condemned but neither should they be cooed over and congratulated. To do so not only evinces an appalling lack of understanding of the difficulties the child will face, but it also sends exactly the wrong message to other girls in the young mother's ambit. It tells them that unwed motherhood is a wonderful thing.

Nothing could be further from the truth for most women and their children (or society). Unwed motherhood frequently results in diminished prospects and increased likelihood of poverty for both mother and child, especially if there are no grandparents in the picture to provide support.
To bring to life this wealth of disturbing data on white America, Murray creates two theoretical communities: an upper-class town he calls “Belmont” and an urban working-class neighborhood called “Fishtown.” Though both of his constructs are fictional, they are also the names of real places: Belmont, Massachusetts, is a pleasant, well-to-do suburb just west of Boston, while Fishtown is a lower-income neighborhood in northeastern Philadelphia.

Murray’s task is to persuade the successful residents of the real Belmont and similar communities that they can help repair America’s damaged culture if they show some constructive disdain toward feckless men who live in the real Fishtown....some men in Fishtown have steady jobs. But many others are not steadily employed and not necessarily looking for work, either.

These men get by thanks to a combination of government programs and a variety of personal-subsistence strategies: food stamps, Medicaid, welfare, unemployment checks, manipulating the disability and foster-care systems, pushing a little dope, scavenging, misdemeanors, working off the books, hustling odd jobs, vending their blood, and attaching themselves to working women in the classic style that’s been part of urban America for decades.
Murray calls this way of life unmanly, and indeed it is, but Whelton has a different word for it. He calls these feckless men "remittance" men after the 19th century British practice of paying the family ne'er-do-wells to stay away:
In nineteenth-century Britain, sons, brothers, and uncles whose disreputable conduct made them an embarrassment to their families sometimes received an offer they couldn’t refuse: “Move to Capetown, Jamaica, or Tasmania, and—provided you never come back to England — we will send you a monthly remittance. It won’t be a lot, but you’ll be able to live without working.”
Today we do the same. We in essence pay taxes to keep Fishtown's denizens from overflowing into Belmont. Our entitlement programs are a way of buying off the lower classes, of bribing them to not riot and to confine their slothful, violent, and morally improvident lifestyles to Fishtown:
Do the residents of Belmont (median household income $95,000) and countless other communities like it have a similar understanding of Fishtown’s feckless men? The Belmonts of America help fund the various government payments that keep neighborhoods like Fishtown afloat. In return for remitting to the tax man, Belmont, Massachusetts (83.5 percent white, 11.1 percent Asian, 3 percent Hispanic, and 1.8 percent black) gets a measure of isolation from the troubles and failures of urban neighborhoods....For years Murray warned that anti-poverty programs can become traps, with “perverse incentives” that lure the poor into lives of permanent dependence.

Perverse incentives create perverse cultures: in ours, being a moral person means a willingness to send money. Belmont expresses moral concern for Fishtown the way that Victorian remittance-payers dealt with Uncle Henry: by sending cash. Did relatives in England really care if Henry blew his stipend in a Hong Kong [casino]? Or if he got mixed up in shady schemes in Calcutta? Did they call him a bum for not marrying the women who bore his children? Everyone understood that Henry’s job was not to lead an exemplary life. His job was to take the remittance money and stay away.
This is, of course, what our modern welfare system does. Whether the recipients are white or black, they're given enough to pacify them. No one really thinks that anyone is actually helped by these programs, no one thinks that a government handout improves anyone's moral fiber. The only purpose, other than to allow ourselves to feel good about not letting the indigent starve, is to serve as a bribe. If our largesse only serves to perpetuate their dysfunctionality, well, that's too bad but at least we're "doing something."

Whelton concludes with this:
In remittance culture, morality equals money. Raising taxes, therefore, becomes a moral crusade. New sources of revenue must be found, and quickly. If the remittance dries up, remittance men might come home. This lesson has not been lost on Occupy Wall Street. They will continue to play Uncle Henry until someone remits.
Indeed. Entitlement programs are, to a large extent, a kind of protection payment we make to keep those who lack the virtues necessary to earn an honest living in society from showing up at our front door. Whelton's essay and Murray's book are both very much worth reading.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering Our Heroes

These are the sort of men we honor on Memorial Day. Take a little time to read through their stories and thank God that our nation can still produce such valor.

To all who have served our country in uniform, and especially to those who are combat veterans, we at Viewpoint offer you our profoundest gratitude.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The End of Women's Rights?

Fay Voshell argues that women's rights are endangered in America but the threat doesn't come from any of the usual suspects, in fact it comes from quite an unexpected source - radical feminists. Here's the crux of Voshell's column:
The signature achievement of radical feminists agitating during the 1960s and early '70s was 1973's Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which essentially legitimized abortion on demand throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy.

Since that time, leftist feminists have clung to the absolute right to abortion, tolerating no exceptions to what they consider an inviolable right. The fact is that no argument on behalf of the unborn human being has been deemed a reason to curb abortion rights. Any woman in the U.S. can walk into an abortion clinic and be rid of her unborn baby for any or no reason at all.

How ironic is it, then, that absolutism concerning abortion may prove to be the Achilles heel of the entire leftist feminist movement? That Achilles heel is sex-selective abortion, which is gaining a foothold in Canada and the United States.

According to Adam Cassandra, a Canadian author writing for Life News, a recent study reveals that third-world immigrants from the East, especially those from India and China, are bringing to the West their preference for male babies. Women are using sex-selective abortions to get rid of female babies in order to try again for the male infants they crave.

The widespread gendercide of the East has now immigrated to the West. Little girls in the free West, where equal rights for boys and girls, men and women have largely been achieved after centuries of struggle, are now in jeopardy because of the absolutist interpretation of abortion rights.

The tragedy of female feticide and the inevitable erosion of women's rights is amplified by the noted absence of a megaphone from those who make themselves out to be defenders of women.

As Patrick B. Craine of LifeSiteNews noted in his article entitled "Woman-killing in the name of women's rights," abortion rights activists such as Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada have come out in favor of sex-selective abortions, claiming that restrictions on sex-selective abortions would be a "dangerous road to go down" because "women have the right to decide" even if they want to get rid of a girl-baby.

So there we have it. In the opinion of leftist feminists, it is better to stick to the ideological absolute of abortion on demand -- no matter the consequences -- than it is to rise to the defense of unborn girls in the name of women's rights.... How can any woman claim to be a defender of the female sex in any respect when she advocates choices that exterminate unborn little girls?

Feminists have embraced an ideological construct which declares loudly and clearly that any woman can decide that her unborn little girl is worth less than a little boy. They have gone along with the worst of third-world ethics, declaring female feticide a "choice" they can live with.
There's more to Voshell's argument, but she makes a convincing point in the part I've quoted. Sex-selection abortion essentially discriminates against females and the feminists are just fine with that, but if women can be treated unequally as infants in the womb, what logical argument do the feminists have for opposing other kinds of discriminatory conduct? If the law favors boys in the womb what rationale is there for opposing such favoritism outside the womb? It's a good question.

Thanks to BillT for the link.


There's been an eerie silence in the media concerning one of the biggest news stories of the year, a story that is, at least in terms of jurisprudence, historic. Forty three Catholic dioceses and organizations are suing the Obama administration in federal court over the attempt to force religious institutions to provide contraceptive and abortifacients with all of their health insurance.

Despite this unprecedented, massive legal pressure religious institutions are bringing to bear on the Obama administration there's been scarcely a peep about it in the major media. Brent Bozell of Media Research Center compares the blackout to the Chinese communists withholding news for 20 years that the United States landed on the moon because our achievement reflected poorly on their government.

Here's Bozell:
ABC's World News and NBC's Nightly News completely failed to report this historic event! CBS Evening News only dedicated a brief 19 seconds to the story and framed it as a birth control debate. By contrast, ABC led their evening broadcast with the sentencing of the Rutgers student who spied on his gay roommate with a web camera. That story received three minutes and 30 seconds of coverage at the top of the newscast.

This is not a mistake or an editorial oversight by the broadcast networks. This is a deliberate and insidious withholding of national news to protect the 'Chosen One' who ABC, CBS and NBC have worked so hard to elect and are now abusing their journalistic influence to reelect. Even when a network like CBS mentions the suit ever-so-briefly, they botch the issue by framing it as a contraception lawsuit instead of what they know it to be: a religious freedom issue. It's bogus, dishonest ‒ a flat out lie.

The fact is that the Catholic Church has unleashed legal Armageddon on the administration, promising 'we will not comply' with a health law that strips Catholics of their religious liberty. If this isn't 'news' then there's no such thing as news. This should be leading newscasts and the subject of special, in-depth reports. Instead, these networks are sending a clear message to all Americans that the networks will go to any lengths ‒ even censoring from the public an event of this historic magnitude ‒ to prevent the release of any information that will hurt Obama's chances of re-election.
Elizabeth Scalia at The Anchoress largely agrees with Bozell but thinks that the real reason for spiking the story has more to do with fear:
Well, that [Bozell's interpretation] might be the message they are sending. But I think the larger message that perhaps they hadn’t meant to transmit is one of stark terror. Like the kid who hides under the blanket figuring the boogeyman won’t see him, the mainstream media has decided that if they just ignore the 12 lawsuits launched against the Obama administration by 43 Catholic entities, the reality of them will go away; they simply won’t exist, and the Supreme Court won’t see them, either!
Glen Foden also adds his thoughts on the mysterious media silence:
In any case, it's little wonder that no one really trusts the mainstream media to give us an accurate picture of what's going on in the world.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Caring About Kids

When next the president pontificates on how we all need to do more to raise the educational achievement of our nation's children perhaps someone in the audience will burst out in a good horselaugh. Mr. Obama might care about children, but he appears to care much more about the opinion of the nation's teachers unions.

For example, Washington D.C., perhaps the most distressed city in the United States in terms of education - its schools rank 51st in state rankings for academic achievement, but first for school violence - has a federally funded scholarship program which provides the wherewithal for poor parents to send their children to private schools where they can learn without having to spend the entire day fearing for their safety. These are the schools the children of most Washington politicians, including the Obamas, attend.

According to columnist Mona Charen the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is a small federal outlay that provides scholarships to some 1,600 students to attend private or parochial schools. Since the program’s inception in 2004, more than 10,000 families have applied to participate. The average income of OSP participants is $24,000.

It's a great chance for kids who want to succeed to be given a decent chance to escape the asylums to which they would otherwise be condemned, but Mr. Obama is trying to kill it. He did the same thing in 2011, but House Speaker John Boehner, one of those racist Republicans, managed to save it. Now Mr. Obama is again trying to deprive thousands of poor young black kids a chance to go to a school of the same quality as the one his own daughters attend.

Here's Charen on the administration's reasoning:
The administration claims that it “strongly opposes” the OSP because it “has not yielded improved student achievement.” But as the Black Alliance for Educational Options reports:
The most recent federal evaluation of the OSP showed that students who used their scholarships had a 91 percent graduation rate — 21 percent higher than those who were offered but did not use scholarships and more than 30 points higher than D.C. public school students. The program has also produced gains in reading.
Like a black Bull Conner, Mr. Obama is standing in the doorway of D.C. public schools, only instead of keeping black kids out he's keeping them in. As is his custom he proposes increasing spending on public schools, but as Charen points out, this is just a waste of money:
The District now spends $18,000 per student. More than 60 percent of District fourth-graders cannot read at grade level. Only 14 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading. The Washington Post reports that in math, the District has, “by a wide margin, the nation’s highest proportion of fourth and eighth graders in the ‘below basic’ category — and the lowest in proficient/advanced.” During the 2007/2008 academic year, police received more than 3,500 calls from public schools, 900 of them for violent incidents.
Mr. Obama seems unfazed. Teachers oppose private education. Teachers want the money for their schools and for themselves, and teachers vote. That seems to be the long and short of it.

Perhaps I'm too cynical, but if Mr. Obama really cared about kids he'd move heaven and earth to get them out of the hell-holes to which the Democratic party has condemned them.

Whenever I write about this I urge readers to watch the documentary titled Waiting for Superman. It's a vivid picture of how desperate some of these kids are to get scholarships like the OSP and to get a seat in a private school.


An essay by National Review's Victor Davis Hanson does a good job of describing the distressing shallowness of much of our cultural and political life. His column is titled The Power of Cool and it makes the point that what matters, at least for many people, especially those in the commentariat, is not one's behavior, ideas, competence, or ability to help the country, but rather the fashionableness of one's political positions and the personal chic with which they express them.

How one looks, speaks, and carries oneself, but most of all, the views one champions, matter far more among many of those who pontificate upon such things than the quality of those ideas and the character of the person who holds them.

If you hold the right opinions then you're immune from criticism. If you don't, then you can expect to be savaged by a culture and a media that worships ideological fashion. This is not something that others haven't commented upon before, certainly, but Hanson amasses so many instances of the phenomenon that it's almost stunning to be reminded how superficial, frivolous, and unfair the culture, particularly the major media, is.

After opening with some general examples Hanson turns his attention to the political sphere:
The power of cool is evident also in politics. State quite correctly that you can see Russia from parts of Alaska, and you are ditzy white-trash Sarah from Wasilla; state falsely that Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation on television in 1929, and you are just “good ol’ Joe Biden.”

John Kerry’s second married-into fortune probably dwarfs the one that Mitt Romney made himself, perhaps by a factor of ten. While we heard in 2012 that Romney wanted a car elevator in one of his many houses, we never heard much in 2004 of presidential candidate Kerry’s various mansions, boats, or assorted playthings, or how he proved to be a keen investor as a senator helping to set U.S. financial policy.

Kerry, you see, was cool. He windsurfed and wore spandex as he cycled, and found his exemption by championing the poor he rarely saw.

The same was true of John Edwards of “Two Americas” fame. Do we now recall how he ran to the left of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, despite the $500 haircuts and the self-indulgent mansion, replete with “John’s room,” a hideaway with all sorts of adolescent toys? Edwards, remember, earned those spoils by charming juries in his smarmy style, and nearly destroyed the practice of obstetrics in North Carolina through his flurry of malpractice suits. No matter, Edwards was liberal, Kennedyesque, and cool — and he earned prophylaxis in the manner of JFK himself, of whose White House orgies we did not learn until a half-century later.

Likewise we have been taught that there is no “power imbalance” or “insidious asymmetry” when a “mentor” has sexual relations with his young intern — as long as he is a feminist like Bill Clinton.

What, then, exactly, is this cool that allows you to earn whatever you like without censure, and then to spend it as you please without fear of public scorn?

It would seem that the disconnect is liberal politics, the coin by which one buys a sort of medieval indulgence from liberal gatekeepers in the media, academia, the arts, and the foundations that permits one to continue the pursuit and enjoyment of lucre and to indulge the baser appetites without harassment — in the manner that the medieval moneylender or sexual zealot still got to heaven by buying marble for the cash-strapped cathedral.
Bill Clinton could sexually assault women and it didn't matter because he had the correct view on abortion. He was cool. The married Al Gore could urge a masseuse to release his "third chakra" and the media ignored the risible incongruity of the mental image it conjured because Al Gore was cool on global warming. Bill Maher can get away with the most vile, degrading discourse about women because, as everyone knows, Bill Maher is on the right side of the issues. He's cool.

Here's an example Hanson cites that I thought amusing:
We simply don’t mind that Google and Amazon rake in billions, but we despise Exxon and Archer Daniels Midland for doing the same. It is not that we need social networking and Internet searches more than food and fuel, but rather that we have the impression that cool zillionaires in flipflops are good while uncool ones in wingtips are quite bad.
Those of a certain age will remember how George H. W. Bush was mercilessly ridiculed for expressing surprise at how a laser scanner in the supermarket checkout worked and how Vice-President Dan Quayle become the object of derision for misspelling potato, yet no one on the left mocked Barack Obama for claiming to have campaigned in all 57 states nor have they found anything mirthful in any of Vice-President Biden's endless stream of howlers.

We live in an age when image, style, and holding whatever opinions the "enlightened ones" hold are all that matters. Those on the correct side of the ideological divide are cool and above any reproach, those on the wrong side are not cool and deserve scorn and ridicule.

All of which explains, I suppose, why some of us have never achieved the enviable state of utter coolness (nor hotness, for that matter).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Did Iran Murder Its Own Scientist?

ABC News is running an interesting story by Randy Kreider in which he explores the possibility that at least one of the Iranian nuclear scientists to have been dispatched to the hereafter by assassins was actually murdered by the Iranians themselves.

They did this not because the scientist was a mole or a defector but because he supported Mir Hossein Mousavi, the man who is widely believed to have won the last election, the corruption of which briefly launched protests in Tehran and elsewhere.

Here are a few excerpts from the ABC story:
Iranian dissidents have long suspected that the country's Islamist regime has used the cover of its not-so-covert war with Israel to crack down on internal opponents, and that a leading Iranian nuclear scientist whose death was blamed on Mossad might really have been killed by his own government.

Now a prominent opposition blogger based in London says that discrepancies in the recent trial and execution of the "Israeli spy" officially charged with killing scientist Masoud Ali Mohammadi are yet more evidence that Iranian intelligence agents may have been the real assassins.

Mohammadi, a nuclear physicist, died in January 2010 when a motorcycle parked outside his house was detonated by remote control when he walked past.

More than two years later, on May 15, 2012, the Iranian government executed 24-year-old Majid Jamali Fashi, who had been convicted of assassinating Mohammadi. Iranian authorities claimed that Fashi, 24, was recruited and trained by Mossad and was paid $120,000 to kill Mohammadi.

In January 2011, Iranian media had broadcast Fashi's confession, in which he said he "received different training including chasing, running, counter-chasing and techniques for planting bombs in a car" while in Tel Aviv. Fashi also confessed to receiving forged travel documents in Azerbaijan to travel to Israel, Iran's Press TV reported.
Iranian dissidents, however point to discrepancies in this story and adduce evidence that Fashi was never executed at all. Check it out at the link.

The Multiverse Explained

Physicist and writer Brian Greene does a fine job of explaining the concept of the multiverse in a column at The Daily Beast.

In the piece he quotes Carl Sagan as saying that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and then tacitly acknowledges that there's not much evidence for the multiverse theory, so we're left to wonder why it has enjoyed so much popularity among some cosmologists.

Perhaps one reason is that the universe is comprised of forces and constants whose values are calibrated with unimaginably exact mathematical precision. If any of dozens of forces, like gravity, for instance, deviated in their strength from the tiniest amounts - one part in 10^40 in the case of gravity - the universe could not exist, or if it did it would not be the sort of place where living things could emerge.

It's mind-bendingly improbable that such precision would have emerged by sheer chance and there are thus only two viable explanations for it. Either the universe is the product of an intelligent engineering process or there are so many different universes, an infinite number, that one like ours would have to exist. Just as the probability of a blind-folded shooter hitting a postage stamp half a mile away is increased as the number of bullets fired increases, so, too, the chance of a universe like ours appearing increases as the number of different universes that are produced increases.

It seems odd that scientists would posit an explanation which requires the existence of so many entities for which there's so very little evidence, but consider that the only viable alternative is that the universe is the creation of an intentional agent, a God, and it's easier to understand why they do so. It is, at least for some of them, an act of metaphysical desperation.

Anyway, it would be good to read Greene's article. It's written by a physicist who's sympathetic to the multiverse theory and, like much of his work, it's very lucid and accessible to the layman.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why Israel Will (Almost Surely) Attack Iran

The question, it seems to me, is no longer whether Israel will attack Iran. The question is when and how hard. Iran's spokespersons have made it impossible for the Israelis not to launch a preemptive strike. For example, last Sunday Iran's top military commander proclaimed his government's dedication to the annihilation of the nation of Israel:
The Iranian nation is standing for its cause and that is the full annihilation of Israel, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi said in a speech to a defense gathering Sunday in Tehran.

While many within the Islamic regime, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have often stated that Israel should be annihilated, until Sunday no one in the nation’s leadership has announced Iran’s determined intention to carry it out.

In a statement, American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris said Firouzabadi’s comments “should also put to rest, once and for all, the fanciful views of those remaining political leaders, diplomats, and journalists who contend that Iran is a ‘peaceful’ nation which has simply been ‘misunderstood’ by the global community.”

The mullahs leading Iran’s Islamic regime believe in the messianic return of the 12th and last Islamic messiah, Imam Mahdi. According to Shiite belief, Mahdi will reappear at the time of Armageddon, and his coming — as the Iranian documentary “The Coming Is Upon Us” revealed – will be triggered by the destruction of Israel.
Lest there be any doubt about the global ambitions of the fanatics and psychopaths who hold power in Tehran consider this statement by a prominent Iranian imam:
In a recent statement, Grand Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, a religious authority and a top Iranian “Twelver Shia” — one who believes in the 12th Imam — addressed the future world described in the Quran. “The Quran is the proof that the world will be controlled and managed by the forces of truth and that there will be one government ruling everyone throughout the world,” he explained.

The Quran promises — twice — the worldwide rule of Islam and its victory over all other religions, Sobhani said, and this will only happen when the last descendant of Muhammad, Imam Mahdi, returns and takes the rule of Islam across the world.

Ayatollah Khamenei referred to this prophecy in a recent speech. “In light of the realization of the divine promise by almighty God,” he said, “the Zionists and the Great Satan [America] will soon be defeated. Allah’s promise will be delivered, and Islam will be victorious.”
The article also includes this bit of Muslim kumbayah:
In February, conservative Muslims writing on a website tied to Khamenei told their followers that the Quran’s promises were “a ‘jurisprudential justification’ to kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel, and in that, the Islamic government of Iran must take the helm.”
When it is the stated purpose of a nation to annihilate another and when they're working feverishly to produce the weapons that will make that possible, the intended victims would have to be insane to sit back and wait to see if it happens. I can't see the Israelis doing that.

I wonder, though, how hard they will hit Iran. Will they seek to decapitate the regime so that the current leadership is not left in place to resume progress toward their goal after what might be a temporary setback or will Israel do what is necessary to insure that Iran is not in a position to do them further harm?

Machiavelli wrote that “the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.” I suspect the Israelis agree.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What Recovery?

There's an article at which puts the President's rosy economic claims in some perspective:
Just 16 states have seen job growth since President Obama took office, according to state employment data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The remaining states have lost a combined 1.4 million jobs since January 2009.

Even 34 months after the recession officially ended in June 2009, there are still 11 states that have fewer people working now than at the start of the recovery. Meanwhile, 20 states have unemployment rates at or above 8%, including nine with unemployment at 9% or higher, according to the BLS.

Obama has attempted to assuage such concerns by boasting about the "extraordinary progress that we've been able to make," including "4 million jobs created over the last two years." But the nation's workforce is still 5 million smaller than it was at the previous employment peak, set way back in January 2008, BLS data show. At 51 months, it's already the longest jobs recession since the Great Depression, with no end in sight.
There's more at the link. One interesting, an ironic, point is that states which tend to vote Republican have, on average, gained jobs at nearly twice that of states which tend to vote Democratic. In fact, Democratic states ("Blue" states) have had an average job loss of almost 1% since Mr. Obama took office whereas Red states have experienced net job gains.

In other words, what recovery there has been has largely been produced by Republican states. That might tell Mr. Obama and his economic advisors something they should heed.

Principles, Schminciples

This is very sad. I admired Cory Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, N.J. He has a great story, giving up a profitable career in finance to become a public servant, even saving someone's life in a house fire a couple of months ago, and doing a lot to get Newark turned around. He always seemed to me to be honest and principled. This assessment was reaffirmed as recently as Sunday morning when he went on Meet the Press and strongly criticized the Obama campaign, which he's a part of, for its absurd demonizing of private equity firms like Bain Capital for whom Mitt Romney worked for a number of years.

But then someone from the Obama campaign must have made a phone call and by Sunday evening Mr. Booker was moonwalking away from his earlier views in what Joe Scarborough at Morning Joe Monday morning was calling a "hostage video." Here, thanks to The Blaze, is the video of the Morning Joe segment. The relevant portion is the first six minutes after the commercial:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I guess everyone has feet of clay, but to see Booker cave so far so fast, to find him to be so unprincipled and so willing to make himself a laughingstock is very sad.

Speaking of a lack of principles, allow me a couple more thoughts about the Obama attacks on Romney over his association with Bain Capital. The Obama campaign is running ads featuring interviews with people who once worked for a Kansas City steel company named GST that went bankrupt in 2001 costing 750 people their jobs, but from which Bain nevertheless made a handsome profit. They're tying Romney to this unfortunate episode as though he were Mephistopheles himself, but there are three facts about this ad that should be noted: First, Romney hadn't been with Bain for two years when the company went under.

Second the guy who was running Bain at the time turns out to be one of Mr. Obama's biggest campaign bundlers and fund raisers, a man named Jonathan Lavine. If Mr. Obama is so outraged at Romney for what happened two years after he left Bain, if Mr. Romney is so tainted by his association with Bain, why is Mr. Obama associating with and taking huge amounts of cash from the man who succeeded Romney and was in charge during the bankruptcy of GST?

Third, Mr. Obama himself forced the layoffs of tens of thousands of employees at almost 3000 auto dealerships, often with less than a month's notice, as part of his bailout of GM and Chrysler. For the Obama campaign to criticize Romney because some of the companies Bain purchased in order to make them more profitable and efficient couldn't be saved is breathtakingly hypocritical.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cultural Relativism and Double Standards

Imagine that large numbers of white Christian men were deliberately seeking out Muslim teenage girls for gang rape. Imagine that the numbers of girls victimized by these degenerates approached fifty. What do you suppose the reaction might be?

Surely Muslims around the world would use these crimes as an excuse to murder any Christian they could find. Here at home liberals would be shedding their opposition to capital punishment as fast as if it were a jacket set afire and demanding that the perpetrators be hung from the nearest tree. The media would be pointing to these crimes as just another confirmation of the inherent racism and sexism of the evil white male and of the moral poverty of Christianity.

But imagine that the roles in the story were reversed. What would be the reaction? Well, in England it was about what you might expect. Nicholas Farrell at Taki's Magazine fills us in:
We are endlessly told that white people are racist and that white men are sexist. But in my experience people of a different color are much more racist and men of a different color much more sexist. It is just that we do not hear about this racism because no one is allowed to speak about it for fear of being branded...a racist.

Now from Britain comes the latest horrific example of nonwhite racism and sexism. And try as they might, the British media were unable this time to avoid telling us at least part of the truth.

Here it is: Nine British Muslims, eight of Pakistani and one of Afghani origin, gang-raped dozens of underage white girls in the northern England town of Rochdale between 2008 and 2010. One of the nine just happens to be a father of five and a religious-studies teacher in his local mosque.

There were 47 known victims, mostly aged 12-16 and living in local government children’s homes. But there were probably many more victims and many more rapists. Last Tuesday in Liverpool those nine men were convicted and sentenced to a total of 77 years in prison. In separate recent trials, 56 men (50 of them Muslims) were convicted of similar crimes in other northern England towns.

In the coverage of this latest child-rape-industry trial, the British media avoided the fact that racism motivated the nine and that they are all Muslims. The police and social workers failed to investigate for the same reason. The nine are usually referred to as “Asian” or “Pakistani” and not “Muslim.” But at the root of their racism is their religion. Asian or Pakistani Christians or Hindus, for example, treat women of whatever age and color differently.
Farrell goes on to say that the liberal British media insist that every cultural group has its sociopaths and that we shouldn't make too much of the ethnicity and religion of the perpetrators, but Farrell's not buying it. These men would not have dreamed of assaulting Muslim girls like this, which suggests that the victims were selected on the basis of a religious bias, nor would white Christians be given a similar pass were they found to have behaved in such an abominable fashion.

It's a simple fact that no racial or religious group is held to the same standard as liberals hold whites, particularly white Christians. Why this should be the case is an interesting question. Is it that liberals deep down simply don't believe that other groups can realistically be expected to measure up to the high behavioral standard set by Western Christians? If so, isn't that more than a little chauvinistic, even bigoted, of our liberal friends? It certainly seems so.

The Stupidity of Political Correctness

A week ago I commented on the case of Naomi Schaeffer Riley who was fired from her position as blog writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education because she offended a number of readers in the academy by stating the obvious, i.e. that much of black studies scholarship isn't scholarship at all.

Riley has leveled similar criticisms at other academic fields as well, but that didn't matter. You can say what you want about other disciplines, but if you say anything critical about black studies it's a thought crime - ipso facto proof of racism. Any criticism of the quality of any scholarship associated with any approved minority, whether racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation, is heresy and must be expunged lest thoughtful people be impressed by the truth of it.

So I thought it amusing the other night watching a talk show on which Riley appeared as a guest describing her encounter with liberals who no doubt perceive themselves as deeply committed to tolerance and the diversity of speech and ideas. It was amusing because the host of the show, recounting the allegations of racism made against her by her detractors, invited her husband, a Wall Street Journal editor who was sitting in the audience, to join them on the stage to defend her against the indictment. The audience laughed as her husband made his way to the stage. The racist Ms Riley was married to a black man and has two biracial children.

Liberal political correctness isn't just insufferable. It's stupid. It's a form of holier-than-thou self-righteousness embraced by people who substitute formulas for thought because thinking is too taxing, who latch on to the slightest deviation from orthodox speech and behavior as proof that someone is a heretic. They're people so filled with their own prejudices that they just assume everyone else is also, and proof is just a matter of catching the other guy saying something that could be twisted by the witless to indicate a deviation from orthodoxy. They're the modern descendants of those who burned witches at the stake in the fourteenth century because the hapless women made some innocuous but careless remark. They're kin to those self-righteous prigs in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter who, though filled with their own sins, nevertheless sternly punished anyone who gave them the merest warrant for doing so. They're cut from the same cloth as the communist totalitarians who use mind-numbing reeducation camps and "snitches" to eradicate "deviationism" among the people.

They are stereotypical ideological puritans and if given enough power they'll eventually deaden all thought and discourse, which is doubtless their goal.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What Is Going On?

What's going on with our president? He reportedly has a social security number issued in a state in which he's never lived. He's unwilling, or unable, to produce an original birth certificate, and now it seems he must have told a literary agency that he was born in Kenya. He apparently told them this in 1991 and the agency was still using that information on its biographical blurb until 2007, just after he started running for president.

Perhaps there are good explanations for all of these oddities (I think there probably is a plausible explanation for the social security number), but taken in the aggregate they certainly give the impression that all is not as it seems with our president. This last development is particularly troubling because the agency that used the Kenya reference for more than a decade must have gotten the information from Mr. Obama himself, and, if they misunderstood it, he nevertheless allowed the misunderstanding to continue until after he started campaigning for president.

Did he fabricate being born in Kenya before he ever anticipated a run for the presidency in order to make himself look more exotic, as did Elizabeth Warren with her ludicrous claim to be Native American, or did he fabricate being born in Hawaii in order to make himself constitutionally eligible for the presidency?

As I said, I don't want to jump to conclusions, but it would go a long way toward alleviating legitimate concerns if he would just give us an explanation for these incongruities. It would also be nice if our supine media would show a little interest in the president's provenience. Maybe Erick Erickson at Red State hit the mark when he attributed the media's disinterest in the matter of Mr. Obama's birthplace to the fact that they're already convinced he was born in Bethlehem.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The War Against the West

Imagine living the rest of your life with armed police guards outside your door. You're unable to leave your house except in an armored van with a police escort. Whenever you go out in public you must wear a bullet-proof vest. No one can visit you without passing through several security checks and metal detectors. You have committed no crime nor are you a head of state in some third world country. You're a simple member of parliament in one of the most enlightened countries in the world, but you live under a permanent death sentence because you have dared to tell the truth about Islam's war against Western culture and values.

Nor are you an imaginary figure. You are Geert Wilders a member of the Dutch parliament and a man who refuses to truckle to the threats of the Islamist fanatics who seek to deny him and everyone else in the world the basic freedom of being able to speak out against those with whom you disagree.

Part of the reason Wilders is living under a threat of death is that he was primarily responsible for the movie Fitna, a 16 minute documentary in which he lays out the case against the Islamists. You can watch it here:
The following is excerpted from an essay Wilders recently wrote for the Washington Times. After describing the conditions under which he must live that I summarized above he says this:
[B]ecause I speak out against expanding Islamic influence in Europe, I have been marked for death. If you criticize Islam, this is the risk you run. That is why so few politicians dare to tell the truth about the greatest threat to our liberties today. The Islamic threat to the West is worse than the communist threat ever was. Think of it this way: Politicians who warned against the Soviet threat weren’t forced into hiding, as we who speak out against Islam are.

I received my first death threats in September 2003 after I asked the Dutch government to investigate a radical mosque. When the death threats became more frequent, the Dutch authorities assigned me a team of police bodyguards. In November 2004, after a Muslim fanatic murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh for making a movie about the abuse of women under Islam, policemen armed with machine guns came to my house, pushed me into an armored car, and drove me off into the night. That was the last time I was in my house. Since then, I have lived in an army barracks, a prison cell and now a government-owned safe house.

I have grown accustomed to this situation. After more than seven years, the security detail has become part of my daily routine, but in a free society, no politician should have to fear for his life because he addresses issues voters care about.

Nor should special-interest groups be allowed to trump our Western rights of free speech, as Islamic and leftist organizations tried to do by dragging me to court on accusations of “hate speech.” After an almost three-year legal ordeal, I was acquitted of all charges.

I used to travel widely and frequently in the Islamic world, but now it’s no longer safe. I have read the Koran and studied the life of Muhammad. It made me realize that Islam is primarily a totalitarian ideology rather than a religion. I feel sorry for the Arab, Persian, Indian and Indonesian peoples who have to live under the yoke of Islam. It is a belief system that marks apostates for death, forces critics into hiding and denies our Western tradition of individual freedom. Without freedom, there can be no prosperity and no pursuit of happiness. More Islam means less life, less liberty and less happiness.

That is why I consider it my duty to sound the alarm about the relentless expansion of Islam. While many Muslims are moderate, Islam is not. Some Muslims take Islam seriously and wage jihad - holy war - against the West, and they do so from within our borders.

Fifty-seven percent of the Dutch people say that mass immigration was the biggest single mistake in Dutch history. Many politicians, however, downplay the most dramatic sociological change of their lifetime. They ignore the worries of the people out of political correctness and cultural relativism, which insist that all cultures are equal; hence, immigrants do not need to assimilate: Islamic values are just as good as Dutch, British or American values.

If we do not oppose Islamization, we will lose everything: our freedom, our identity, our democracy, our rule of law. To preserve Western civilization, we must do four things: Defend freedom of speech, reject cultural relativism, counter Islamization, and cherish our Western national identities, whether we are Dutch, French, British or American.

Of all our liberties, freedom of speech is the most important. Free speech is the cornerstone of a free society. So long as we are free to speak, we can make people realize what is at stake. In Western democracies, we do not settle our disagreements with violence, but through spoken and written arguments. In the search for the truth, we allow everyone to express his or her honestly held views. That is how we outgrew barbarism and became a free and prosperous society. We must pass it on to our children.
Wilders goes on to talk about his new book Marked for Death: Islam's War Against the West and Me in which he elaborates on his message in much more detail.

It's frightening to think that where Europe is now, America will soon be unless we teach our children to value the basic freedoms enshrined in our Bill of Rights and unless we are prepared to fight for them and our way of life over the long haul.

Perhaps the first step is to stop pretending that there really is no war being waged by the Islamists against the West and that they really don't hate us and everything we stand for. The fact that Wilders and others like Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali have had to live in a kind of protective prison is pretty strong evidence that there is and they do.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why Is Death Bad?

Philosophers like to think about questions that would never occur to normal people to ask. A Yale philosopher named Shelly Kagan does precisely this in an article at Kagan wonders why it is, exactly, that we all think that death is a very bad thing. He stresses that he doesn't mean the process of dying, but rather the state of not being alive. Here's his lede:
We all believe that death is bad. But why is death bad?

In thinking about this question, I am simply going to assume that the death of my body is the end of my existence as a person....But if death is my end, how can it be bad for me to die? After all, once I'm dead, I don't exist. If I don't exist, how can being dead be bad for me?
From this starting point he launches a very interesting examination of a question whose answer we all take for granted until someone like Kagan invites us to think more deeply about it. Here's more:
People sometimes respond that death isn't bad for the person who is dead. Death is bad for the survivors. But I don't think that can be central to what's bad about death. Compare two stories.

Story 1. Your friend is about to go on the spaceship that is leaving for 100 Earth years to explore a distant solar system. By the time the spaceship comes back, you will be long dead. Worse still, 20 minutes after the ship takes off, all radio contact between the Earth and the ship will be lost until its return. You're losing all contact with your closest friend.

Story 2. The spaceship takes off, and then 25 minutes into the flight, it explodes and everybody on board is killed instantly.

Story 2 is worse. But why? It can't be the separation, because we had that in Story 1. What's worse is that your friend has died. Admittedly, that is worse for you, too, since you care about your friend. But that upsets you because it is bad for her to have died. But how can it be true that death is bad for the person who dies?

Maybe nonexistence is bad for me....because when I'm dead I lack life — more particularly, the good things in life. That explanation of death's badness is known as the deprivation account.

Despite the overall plausibility of the deprivation account, though, it's not all smooth sailing. For one thing, if something is true, it seems as though there's got to be a time when it's true. Yet if death is bad for me, when is it bad for me? Not now. I'm not dead now. What about when I'm dead? But then, I won't exist. As the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus wrote: "So death, the most terrifying of ills, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist. It does not then concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more."
Kagan's essay is worth reading in its entirety as it really is thought-provoking. I just have one or two comments about it that I'd like to offer. If we accept his belief that death is annihilation, complete non-existence, then there are two things which make it bad, one of which he discusses later in the article and one of which he doesn't. The first is that just as we gain something from passing from non-existence to existence, i.e. life and all of its attendant possibilities, to pass from existence to non-existence is to lose something wonderful and precious. Kagan offers an analysis of this position in his piece which I leave to the interested reader to consider.

The second point, the one that Kagan doesn't discuss, is that if what awaits us is total non-existence then it renders this life that we have now utterly meaningless and pointless. In other words it's not so much that the state of non-existence is bad, but rather the implications of that state for our life now is bad.

Many who agree with Kagan that death is annihilation want to nevertheless cling to the belief, or hope, that life can still be meaningful, but I think this is a case of whistling past the graveyard. As the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre once said, "Life has no meaning once you lose the illusion of being eternal." It's hard to see how it could be any other way. Unless what we do matters for eternity it doesn't matter at all.

And, of course, if Kagan's assumption that death is the end is incorrect, which I think and hope it is, then, depending upon what it leads to, death can be very bad indeed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Corroborating Evidence

Let's let our imaginations run wild and suppose that a black man shot and killed a white youth. The shooter claimed that he'd been punched in the nose, knocked to the ground, and was having his head smashed against the concrete when in desperation he pulled his firearm and shot the attacker once in the chest.

Suppose then that white groups go beserk, placing a bounty on the shooter. Agitators show up to fan the flames of racial rage. The media pronounces the shooter guilty of homicide, disregarding his side of the story. The president identifies with the victim, suggesting that the shooting was racially motivated. I know it's hard to imagine all this, but just suppose....

Then in the discovery phase of the trial it was learned that all the forensic evidence supported the black man's version of events. Don't you think that all of the above groups would be forever discredited for their inexcusable prejudice against the black man? Wouldn't they be forever made objects of shame and derision, just like those who jumped at the chance to condemn the Duke lacrosse players in 2006, for their closed-minded, racially bigoted stupidity?

Well, we'll see. Meanwhile, here's the latest on the George Zimmerman/ Trayvon Martin incident:
A medical report compiled by the family physician of Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman and obtained exclusively by ABC News found that Zimmerman was diagnosed with a "closed fracture" of his nose, a pair of black eyes, two lacerations to the back of his head and a minor back injury the day after he fatally shot Martin during an alleged altercation.

Zimmerman faces a second degree murder charge for the Feb. 26 shooting that left the unarmed 17-year-old high school junior dead. Zimmerman has claimed self defense in what he described as a life and death struggle that Martin initiated by accosting him, punching him in the face, then repeatedly bashing his head into the pavement.
And that's not all:
WFTV has learned that the medical examiner found two injuries on Martin’s body: The fatal gunshot wound and broken skin on his knuckles.
If this is all true, if Zimmerman's account is corroborated, then a lot of people in the media and in the black "community" should socially ostracize themselves in penance for their sin of inexcusable prejudice. They would also owe Zimmerman a huge apology, but don't hold your breath while you wait. People that small don't usually do things that big.

Should Everyone Vote?

MSNBC political analyst Andrea Mitchell says on a promo for her network that she thinks it's a scandal that some people are trying to prevent other people from voting. We should try to get as many people as possible to vote, she opines, regardless of which party benefits.

Well, no we shouldn't. In the first place no one is trying to prevent anyone who has the right to vote from voting. What some people are trying to do with voter ID legislation is to prevent the system from being abused by people who are not legally eligible to vote. Ms Mitchell and others of her ideological persuasion think that the voting franchise should be as broad and as easy to exercise as possible, but this is ludicrous.

Should we extend voting rights to 16 year-olds? How about resident non-citizens? How about citizens of other countries who once upon a time visited this country? Why not let anyone anywhere vote in our elections? If we adopt what we might call the Mitchell Principle there's no obvious reason why we shouldn't.

Should we make it hard for eligible citizens to vote? Not especially, but neither should we encourage people to vote who have not taken the time to inform themselves on the matters upon which they'd be voting. Someone who cannot name at least four Supreme Court judges or explain what the Supreme Court is or does should not be encouraged to vote. Someone who pays no federal income tax and thus has no economic stake in the country should not be encouraged to vote. Someone who cannot name their U.S. Senators should not be encouraged to vote. Indeed, they should be encouraged not to.

People like Ms Mitchell want these folks to cast a ballot, of course, because she knows that the less well-informed people are the more likely they are to vote for candidates who have charisma and who promise them access to goodies that must be paid for by the rest of the population. In other words, the more uniformed a voter is the more likely he or she is to vote for the liberal candidate.

This may seem a bit unkind, but in the last election Mr. Obama won largely on the basis of the support he received from two groups of people who are generally the most indifferent toward politics - young voters and poor minorities.

People like Ms Mitchell argue that we all have a civic duty to vote, but this isn't true either. We have a civic duty to inform ourselves so that we can vote responsibly. If we haven't done that then we actually have both a civic and a moral duty not to vote.

Major League Baseball doesn't allow just anyone to vote for their MVP. They restrict the process to sportswriters who make it their business to follow the game. There's a reason for that. The MVP shouldn't be a popularity contest, it shouldn't be based on which player is the best looking or the best speaker at off-season events, it should be based on his merits as a baseball player. The same is true of the office of the President. People who only read the sports pages of the newspaper shouldn't vote for president anymore than people who only read the editorial page should vote for baseball's MVP.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The Economist's Tom Easton talks briefly in this 4 minute video about why he thinks Dodd-Frank is terrible legislation and will be repealed one way or another:

Determinism and Moral Coherence

James Atlas of the New York Times, in a review of books on the subject of thinking, touches briefly on the subject of the relationship between free will and morality. He closes his essay with this thought:
Does this mean we have no “agency,” no capacity to act on our own? Or can autonomy thrive within the prison of self-ignorance? “We have to believe it does,” says Steven Lukes, a professor of sociology at New York University highly admired for his work in moral philosophy. “If we seriously thought that our intentions made no difference to how we behave, we couldn’t go on using the language of ethics. How would we go on living the lives we live?” Or doing what we think is right? “People have free will when they ‘feel’ they have free will,” says Professor Kahneman. “If we didn’t believe in it, we would have no responsibility.”

But of course what one “feels,” as we’ve learned from all these books, could well be — indeed, probably is — an illusion. As Timothy Wilson puts it with haunting simplicity: “We are strangers to ourselves.”
We can't have it both ways, however. If we believe free will is an illusion then we have to believe the same thing about morality. If determinism is true and we have no genuine choices then words like "ought" and "should", when used in an ethical context, are purely emotive. If I say A ought to do B all I'm saying is I would like it if A did B. It doesn't mean that B is "right" in any moral sense. If A doesn't do B there's no reason for him to feel guilty about it since A is not guilty of anything other than doing something that disappoints, or perhaps angers, others.

It would not be "wrong" in any transcendent sense if A did not do B. If there's no genuine choice in the matter there is no morally right or wrong choice. There are only alternative behaviors. Whether Mersault in Camus' The Stranger shoots the Arab on the beach or doesn't shoot him is morally the same. Whether one "chooses" to help hungry children or refuses to help them is morally indifferent. Our behavior was determined by the laws of nature and we're no more capable of doing otherwise than what we do than the moon is capable of choosing to change its orbit around the earth.

Of course, there are some who would welcome the ethical nihilism that would result from the widespread recognition of this fact, but most would blanch at the moral chaos that would be unleashed on our social landscape. Ethics would quickly devolve to a matter of simple power, of might makes right, and few would want to live that way.

Most people are convinced in their hearts that they and others are indeed in some sense free to choose even if they can't articulate exactly what a free choice is. Most people are profoundly persuaded that they and others are morally responsible for what they do, but if one is an atheist (or naturalist) it's very difficult to avoid the conclusion that determinism is true and that there is, therefore, no genuine moral responsibility.

That's one reason why atheism is irrational. The atheist has to live as if his atheism is wrong in order for him to live in harmony with his moral instincts. In order to be consistent with his atheism he has to sacrifice moral coherence, and this most atheists are just unwilling, and psychologically unable, to do.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Alphas and Betas

Bill Whittle observes in this short but punchy video that conservatism is an alpha male political philosophy whereas beta males tend to populate the more liberal ideological precincts. See what you think:
Another example Whittle might have used is the difference between the stranger (Clint Eastwood) in High Plains Drifter and the timorous beta males who hire him to protect their families and property from a gang of thugs.

I also think Whittle makes an interesting point about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin not talking about the problems of their moon landing because alpha males just don't talk about their heroics nor their brushes with death. Alphas tend to be stoics, in other words. It reminded me of the unflattering contrast between the navy SEALS who took out Osama bin Laden and the President and his surrogates who couldn't shut up about how much courage it took to authorize it.

Messy Quest

I recently finished reading a book written by a friend and former student of mine named Stephen Martin. Steve's work, titled The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, is a wonderful, gentle guide to finding meaning and purpose in the life we've been given. He draws deeply on his own life experience, his Catholic faith, and numerous vignettes from the lives of people as diverse as U-2's Bono, former Duke basketball star Bobby Hurley (and Hurley's father), Newark mayor Cory Booker, Catholic author and monk Thomas Merton, actor Martin Sheen, social activist Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, the French artist Matisse, and numerous others, to illuminate a path for those who may feel their own lives are empty, shallow, and listless.

Steve's a deft story teller and a gifted writer whose narratives about the lives of some famous, and some not-so-famous, people are filled with humor, wisdom, and insight. I should also add that he says some nice things about me which have in no way, I assure you, influenced my enthusiasm for his book.

I invite you to check out his blog to read more about Messy Quest which can be ordered from my favorite bookstore Hearts and Minds.

Off with Her Head!

Last Friday we mentioned the firing of Naomi Schaefer Riley from The Chronicle of Higher Education because she dared to question the academic value of Black Studies programs. Riley subsequently wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal revealing more details on the episode, and what she tells us does nothing to make her treatment at the hands of the Chronicle look any less craven.
Here's an excerpt: So last week, on the Chronicle's "Brainstorm" blog (where I was paid to be a regular contributor), I suggested that the dissertation topics of the graduate students mentioned were obscure at best and "a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap," at worst.

The reaction to my blog post ranged from puerile to vitriolic. The graduate students I mentioned and the senior faculty who advise them at Northwestern University accused me (in guest blogs posted by the Chronicle editors) of bigotry and cowardice. The former wrote that "in a bid to not be 'out-niggered' [their word] by her right-wing cohort, Riley found some black women graduate students to beat up on." (I confess I don't actually know what that means.) One fellow blogger (and hundreds of commenters) called my post "racist."

Gina Barreca, a teacher of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut, composed a poem mocking me. (It begins "A certain white chick—Schaefer Riley/ decided to do something wily.") MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry spewed a four-minute rant about my post, invoking the memory of Trayvon Martin and accusing me of "small-mindedness."

Scores of critics on the site complained that I had not read the dissertations in full before daring to write about them—an absurd standard for a 500-word blog post. A number of the dissertations aren't even available. Which didn't seem to stop the Chronicle reporter, though. And 6,500 academics signed a petition online demanding that I be fired.
There's much more at the link and almost all of it makes her critics sound petty, intolerant, juvenile, and stupid. I.e. they sound pretty much like one might expect a bunch of liberal academics to sound. Read it and weep for the kids who are being taught by these closed-minded chuckleheads whose concept of the ideal university, evidently, is something resembling a North Korean reeducation camp.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Dick Morris is a sharp political strategist who worked for Bill Clinton and who has since become more conservative. He argues that, current polls notwithstanding, were the election held today Romney would win in a landslide.

Here's his reasoning:
The published polls reflect a close race for two reasons:

1. They poll only registered voters, not likely voters. Rasmussen is the only pollster who tests likely voters, and his latest tracking poll has Romney ahead by 48-43.*

2. As discussed in previous columns, a study of the undecided voters in the past eight elections in which incumbents sought a second term as president reveals that only Bush43 gained any of the undecided vote....

So when polls show President Obama at 45 percent of the vote, they are really reflecting a likely 55-45 Romney victory, at the very least. If the election were held today, Obama would lose by at least 10 points and would carry only about a dozen states with fewer than 150 electoral votes.
It gets worse, at least it does if you're a Democrat:
The Republicans would keep their Senate seats in Arizona, Texas and Nevada while picking up seats in Virginia, Florida, Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri and Montana. The GOP will also have good shots at victory in the Senate races in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and — if Chris Shays wins the primary — Connecticut. Only in Maine are their fortunes likely to dim.
So why do the folks in Big Media seem to think that an Obama victory is all but inevitable?
The journalists in the mainstream media, who are not politicians and have never run campaigns, do not realize what is happening. The Democrats, as delusional in 2012 as they were in 2010, are too much into their own euphoria to realize it. But America is sharply and totally rejecting Obama and all he stands for and embracing Romney as a good alternative. While few are saying these words, they are the truth.
I don't know if Morris is right about this, but I do think that Mr. Obama will go into November with fewer advantages than he had in 2008. I don't think he'll have nearly as much enthusiasm behind him as he did then, nor will he have a lock on the youth vote. Blacks and Hispanics still favor him by large pluralities, but I doubt the turnout among these two groups will be what it was four years ago. People knew almost nothing about him in 2008, today they still don't know him well, but what they do know they don't like much.

I also think that Mr. Obama's string of good luck in the opponents who have faced him from his days in the Illinois legislature through his race against John McCain is about to run out. Romney appears to be much more formidable, and his campaign more adroit, than anything Mr. Obama has faced before.

The election may or may not be a landslide, but if it is I'm pretty sure that Romney will be the one doing the celebrating. Mr. Obama may win in November, but if so it'll be a squeaker.

*Actually as of today Rasmussen has it 50/42 Romney over Obama with 4% going for a third party candidate and 3% undecided.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Censorship by the Mob

I remember the days when liberals would stand on the barricades proclaiming that though they may despise what you say they'll defend to the death your right to say it. That seems like such a long time ago. Today liberals are much more likely to cave under even the mildest pressure and fire someone who voices any opinion that aggrieves any member of an approved minority group.

That's what happened to Naomi Riley at The Chronicle of Higher Education who had the insolence to scoff at the academic frivolousness that typifies so much black studies scholarship. For stating out loud what most people already know and thereby rousing the ever-alert liberal speech police who read the Chronicle, Ms Riley found herself thrown unceremoniously into the street.

There was no discussion about whether what she said was actually true - truth is irrelevant in these matters, you understand - it's that many readers found it offensive that she would actually poke fun at a field that is, in fact, eminently pokable, but which is a refuge of liberal black intellectuals who probably couldn't succeed in a legitimate academic discipline.

Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard has the details:
Late last night, in a shameful example of editorial cowardice, the Chronicle of Higher Education fired Naomi Schaefer Riley. Naomi is a good friend of mine, a sometimes contributor to The Weekly Standard and a fine writer. And the story of what happened to her is highly instructive....

Last week she wrote about the world of “Black Studies” in a post titled “The most persuasive case for getting rid of Black Studies? Read the dissertations.” You should read the whole thing, because it’s only 520 words, but here’s the gist of Naomi’s argument:
I just got around to reading The Chronicle’s recent piece on the young guns of black studies. If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.

That’s what I would say about Ruth Hayes’ dissertation, “‘So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth.” It began because she “noticed that nonwhite women’s experiences were largely absent from natural-birth literature, which led me to look into historical black midwifery.” How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is? It’s scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in America, not to mention academia.
Naomi then went on to dissect two other incredibly silly “Black Studies” dissertations. One of these was written by TaSha B. Levy. Here’s how the Chronicle itself—not Naomi—described Levy’s work:
Ms. Levy is interested in examining the long tradition of black Republicanism, especially the rightward ideological shift it took in the 1980s after the election of Ronald Reagan. Ms. Levy’s dissertation argues that conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, John McWhorter, and others have “played one of the most-significant roles in the assault on the civil-rights legacy that benefited them.”
Chronicle readers were outraged. Not that a graduate student was earning a doctorate by claiming that Sowell, Thomas, and McWhorter are threats to civil rights. Oh, no. They were outraged because Naomi would dare poke fun at such insanity. Because, you know, that’s racist.

Eight days and 497 comments later, the Chronicle’s Liz McMillen fired Naomi.
You should follow the link to read McMillen's rationale for firing Riley. It's a wonderful profile in pusillanimity. What McMillen says, without saying it, is that she succumbed to the pressure of the outraged mob to silence a voice with which they disagree.

I wonder if Riley had been a black blogger writing about, say, the superficiality of the religious beliefs of white liberal protestants if she would have been fired. I know. Silly question. Liberals don't fire anyone for offending whites, especially religious whites, and besides, white liberal protestants don't take their religion seriously enough to be offended by a someone poking fun at it anyway.

In the Cathedrals of liberal academia there's only so much tolerance for dissenting opinions, and those who show themselves guilty of the heresy of making fun of a sacred scholarly endeavor, like those unfortunate Muslims who have the temerity to blaspheme Islam by parodying its dogmas, must be put to the sword, so to speak.

Nowhere do we find more intolerance than among those liberals for whom tolerance is supposed to be the highest virtue.

Permanent War

The White House and its subsidiary offices seem to be in a state of denial concerning Muslim extremism. They refuse to publicly acknowledge what everyone in every mosque seems to recognize which is that there's a war against the West being waged by a substantial fraction of the Islamic world. Strategy Page has a good piece on this strange delusion.

Here's part of it:
The senior commander in the U.S. military recently ordered a course taught at a staff school for the last eight years to be revised to eliminate any mention of a war between Islam and the West. The course (“Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism”) pointed out that Islam, at least according to many Islamic clerics, is at war with the West.

The U.S. has officially denied that since shortly after September 11, 2001, despite the fact that many Islamic clerics and government officials in Moslem nations agree with the "Islam is at war with the West" idea. But many Western leaders prefer to believe that by insisting that such hostile attitudes are not widespread in Moslem countries, the hostility will diminish.

To that end the U.S. government has, for years, been removing any reference to "Islam" and "terrorism" in official documents. This comes as a shock to military or civilian personnel who have spent time in Moslem countries. The "Islam is at war with the West" angle is alive and well among Moslems.
The article goes on to amass a lot of evidence for this claim, and the entire essay is well-worth reading.

Islam is not just at war with the West, however, they're at war with anyone who is not a Muslim as well as any Muslim who is not of the same sect as they. Islamic terrorism accounts for over 95% of all the terrorism in the world, and almost all religious violence is instigated by Muslims against Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Baha'is, and other Muslims.

Nor is this a recent development. The slaughter started with Mohammed in the 7th century and continued for over 700 years directed primarily against Christians and Jews. It abated for a time because Muslim civilization degenerated to the point where it could no longer strike against enemies beyond its borders, so they contented themselves with simply killing each other. The twentieth century, however, brought the discovery of oil and with it unimagined riches as well as access to weaponry and technology they could never have developed on their own. Now they're able to purchase and employ modern weapons in their jihad to make the whole world submit to Allah.

Some observers have emphasized that the radicals are just a small percentage of the Muslim population, which may be true, but it's not very comforting. There are a billion Muslims in the world. If only 1% of them are radical extremists who want to kill you and your children that's still one million terrorists on the loose. Moreover, many of the rest are sympathetic to the goals of the radicals, and most of the remainder who aren't sympathetic are too intimidated to do anything about the malignancy in their midst.

We find ourselves immersed in a war that began some 1300 years ago and will not end in any of our lifetimes. It may ebb and flow, but too many Muslims believe that it's Allah's will that they purge the world of all unbelievers, and as long as they believe this, as long as they believe that they'll be rewarded in Paradise if they contribute to the bloodshed, and as long as we're dependent upon their oil and keep pumping our billions into their bank accounts, there'll be no end to the violence.

We may, like the last two administrations, foolishly pretend that Islam is not really waging a permanent, existential war against the rest of the world, but the moment we relax and believe that fantasy, we'll be hit again as we were in the 90s and on 9/11. The next time, though, it may well be nuclear bombs rather than jet airliners that are used against us.