Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Banning Guns

John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime and bête noir of those who want to ban firearms regardless whether or not it would actually do any good, offers a few interesting observations in the wake of Mr. Obama's call to ban semi-automatic weapons. His concluding paragraphs are especially good:
But despite Obama’s frightening image of military weapons on America’s streets, it is pretty hard to seriously argue that a new ban on “assault weapons” would reduce crime in the United States. Even research done for the Clinton administration didn’t find that the federal assault-weapons ban reduced crime.

Indeed, banning guns on the basis of how they look, and not how they operate, shouldn’t be expected to make any difference. And there are no published academic studies by economists or criminologists that find the original federal assault-weapons ban to have reduced murder or violent crime generally.

There is no evidence that the state assault-weapons bans reduced murder or violent-crime rates either. Since the federal ban expired in September 2004, murder and overall violent-crime rates have actually fallen. In 2003, the last full year before the law expired, the U.S. murder rate was 5.7 per 100,000 people. Preliminary numbers for 2011 show that the murder rate has fallen to 4.7 per 100,000 people.

In fact, murder rates fell immediately after September 2004, and they fell more in the states without assault-weapons bans than in the states with them.

Nevertheless, the fears at the time were significant. An Associated Press headline warned, “Gun shops and police officers brace for end of assault weapons ban.” It was even part of the presidential campaign that year: “Kerry blasts lapse of assault weapons ban.” An Internet search turned up more than 560 news stories in the first two weeks of September 2004 that expressed fear about ending the ban. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fact that murder and other violent crime declined after the ban ended was hardly covered in the media.

If we finally want to deal seriously with multiple-victim public shootings, it is about time that we acknowledge a common feature of these attacks: With just a single exception, the attack in Tucson last year, every public shooting in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed since at least 1950 has occurred in a place where citizens are not allowed to carry their own firearms. The Cinemark movie theater in Aurora, like others run by the chain around the country, displayed warning signs that [patrons were] prohibited to carry guns into the theater.
The whole column is worth reading.

Many years ago I favored gun control. I even contributed to the Bradys' organization Handgun Control Incorporated and appeared on a local tv cable show to advocate for restrictions on rapid-fire weapons. But I was gradually convinced of three things: 1) People have a right to defend themselves and their loved ones, 2) where responsible citizens are allowed to own and carry weapons crime decreases, and 3) unless guns cease to be manufactured everywhere in the world no legal measure to limit them will accomplish anything other than to insure that the right of self-defense will be eroded.

When these three facts of life came together for me it completely reoriented my thinking.

This is not to say that there aren't reasonable restrictions which would pass constitutional scrutiny (evidently, anything is constitutional nowadays) and which could theoretically be legislated. I just believe that few of them would actually work in the real world, but what they could do is put the right to self-defense on a slippery slope that would eventually result in having that right abrogated altogether.

Until the millenial kingdom arrives that's a right we should fight to keep.

Monday, July 30, 2012


It's hard to imagine that a president would have not one, not two, but three opportunities to kill Osama bin Laden and pass on all three, but that's apparently what President Obama did according to two-time New York Times best-selling author Richard Miniter.

The Daily Caller discusses an excerpt from Miniter's forthcoming book Leading From Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him:
At the urging of Valerie Jarrett, President Barack Obama canceled the operation to kill Osama bin Laden on three separate occasions before finally approving the May 2, 2011 Navy SEAL mission, according to an explosive new book scheduled for release August 21. The Daily Caller has seen a portion of the chapter in which the stunning revelation appears.

Richard Miniter writes that Obama canceled the “kill” mission in January 2011, again in February, and a third time in March. Obama’s close adviser Valerie Jarrett persuaded him to hold off each time, according to the book.

Miniter, a two-time New York Times best-selling author, cites an unnamed source with Joint Special Operations Command who had direct knowledge of the operation and its planning.

Obama administration officials also said after the raid that the president had delayed giving the order to kill the arch-terrorist the day before the operation was carried out, in what turned out to be his fourth moment of indecision. At the time, the White House blamed the delay on unfavorable weather conditions near bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

But when Miniter obtained that day’s weather reports from the U.S. Air Force Combat Meteorological Center, he said, they showed ideal conditions for the SEALs to carry out their orders.
The Obama campaign has portrayed the President in his decision to give the go-ahead to the SEALs as steely, gutsy and determined, but like so much else about this White House it seems that the actual wizard behind the curtain isn't at all what his minions portray him to be. Even so, I'd like to know exactly why the President declined to go after OBL on the first three occasions. Maybe he had a good reason, something more compelling, I hope, than just Valerie Jarrett's advice.

You Are What You Eat

I've written on previous occasions about the revolution in our understanding of genetic inheritance and gene expression that has been sweeping science with recent discoveries in what's called epigenetics.

Epigenetics refers to chemical tags or markers found to be attached to different parts of the DNA molecule which control the expression of certain genes. It also refers to the general architecture of the cell which seems to add another level of control to gene expression.

One of the most interesting aspects of the discoveries that're being made in this field is that these chemical tags, molecules consisting of a half dozen or so atoms, can be altered by diet so that what one eats when one is in prime child-producing years can effect one's offspring.

Doctors have long known that substances like folic acid and others help produce healthy babies but why, exactly, was a bit of a mystery.

It's turning out that, as this story at Live Science explains, such substances affect what chemical tags attach to the DNA and where on the genetic material they attach.

Here's part of the article:
You are what you eat, the saying goes. And, according to two new genetic studies, you are what your mother, father, grandparents and great-grandparents ate, too. Diet, be it poor or healthy, can so alter the nature of one's DNA that those changes can be passed on to the progeny. While this much has been speculated for years, researchers in two independent studies have found ways in which this likely is happening.

The findings, which involve epigenetics, may help explain the increased genetic risk that children face compared to their parents for diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

The punch line is that your poor dietary habits may be dooming your progeny, despite how healthy they will try to eat. Recent studies have shown how nutrition dramatically alters the health and appearance of otherwise identical mice.

A group led by Randy Jirtle of Duke University demonstrated how mouse clones implanted as embryos in separate mothers will have radical differences in fur color, weight, and risk for chronic diseases depending on what that mother was fed during pregnancy.

That is, the nutrients or lack thereof changed the DNA environment in such a way that the identical DNA in these mouse clones expressed itself in very different ways.
The article notes that epigenetic changes wrought by diet occur in all cells of the body including ova and sperm so that these changes can be passed on to offspring by both parents. The article closes with this:
It is possible that eating more omega-3 fatty acids, choline, betaine, folic acid and vitamin B12, by mothers and fathers, possibly can alter chromatin state and mutations, as well as have beneficial effects…leading to birth of a 'super baby' with long life and [lower risk] of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gun Control

Carl M. Cannon at Real Clear Politics has an excellent column in the wake of the Aurora shootings in which he ponders the question whether there are too many guns or too few.

Shortly into his essay he sums up the problem:
After last week’s horrific shootings inside a movie house in suburban Denver, Americans did what they always do in such circumstances: We moved in two different directions at once.

Many people decried the ease with which firearms can be obtained in this country by unbalanced people with no business playing with matches, let alone high-powered rifles. Others went out and bought a gun. And some did both.

These are contradictory impulses, but they both make sense. Many ordinary Americans, unlike our polarized and linear political parties, can hold two competing ideas in their minds at the same time. In the aftermath of the “Dark Knight” killings in Aurora, those two thoughts were as follows:

(1) It is far too easy for mentally unstable individuals to acquire deadly firearms in this country.

(2) The only person known to be packing heat in that multiplex last week was the killer, and, God forbid, if a similar situation ever arises, carrying a loaded gun would at least give me a fighting chance.

So this week legal gun sales, along with applications of “carry and conceal” permits, spiked upward -- just as they did after Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting in Tucson in January 2011. One factor at play? Fear that President Obama intends to push for stricter gun controls.
It is indeed too hard to keep guns out of the hands of lunatics, and that's the problem with almost any form of gun control. It simply won't work. The only people who'll obey the laws are the people who obey laws. Those inclined to use a gun illegally will not scruple at doing something illegal to obtain one.

Cannon relates a number of stories about how guns have been used both illegally to murder and legally to protect, one of the most interesting of which coincidentally occurred in Colorado five years ago.
A rampage shooting at the Youth With a Mission center in Arvada, Colo., the night before had taken two lives and left a third man critically wounded. The crime scene was 70 miles from the Colorado Springs campus of the New Life Church. But the killer had escaped into the snowy night, and one member of the congregation -- former Minnesota policewoman Jeanne Assam -- had an ominous feeling he might strike again.

Acting on her instincts, Assam urged the church pastors to post volunteer guards -- some of them armed -- at Sunday services at the sprawling mega-church. And at 1 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2007, Jeanne Assam’s premonition came true.

The Arvada gunman, 24-year-old Matthew J. Murray, showed up just after the 11 a.m. worship service at New Life had ended. He began blazing away in the parking lot, killing two teenage sisters and wounding their father and another woman. Unloading two pistols and a semi-automatic rifle from his car -- along with 1,000 rounds of ammunition in a backpack -- he headed into the church’s foyer.

Hearing the gunfire in the parking lot, Assam drew her licensed pistol from its holster and headed toward the gunman . . .

Two church members ran toward the sound of the guns that day. The first was Jeanne Assam, the former Minneapolis policewoman. The second was Larry Bourbonnais, a Vietnam veteran. Assam was armed, Bourbonnais was not.

“Where’s the shooter? Where’s the shooter?” Bourbonnais shouted. He found him near the entryway to the church. Between him and the mad gunman was an armed male parishioner who’d been pressed into service as a security guard. He had his weapon drawn, but was not firing.

“Give me your gun!” Bourbonnais shouted. “I’ve been in combat. I’m going to take this guy out.”

But the guard would neither give Bourbonnais his gun, nor use it himself. “Get behind me,” was all he said to the frustrated Vietnam vet, who was then shot in the arm by Murray.

Just then, Assam approached. She walked calmly and rapidly toward the gunman shouting at him to surrender. Instead, he opened fire. So did Assam. She felled Murray who, seriously wounded, then turned his own gun on himself.

It’s no disgrace for an untrained person to fail to fire when confronted with the sudden and unexpected choice of whether to kill another human being. It’s perhaps a sign of mental health, or, at least, of inward grace, to hesitate in such a circumstance. Killing strangers, no matter the provocation, is not a natural act.

And yet, many people were in that huge Colorado Springs church that Sunday, and no matter where one stands on the issue of gun control, it must also be said -- and New Life senior pastor Brady Boyd did say it -- that Jeanne Assam and her gun may have saved a hundred lives.
Cannon's article is worth reading in its entirety. It does a good job of describing the perplexity we feel over this issue. Meanwhile, there's also this report in the news yesterday:
A citizen with a gun stopped a knife wielding man as he began stabbing people Thursday evening at the downtown Salt Lake City Smith's store.

Police say the suspect purchased a knife inside the store and then turned it into a weapon. Smith's employee Dorothy Espinoza says, "He pulled it out and stood outside the Smiths in the foyer. And just started stabbing people and yelling you killed my people. You killed my people."

Espinoza says, the knife wielding man seriously injured two people. "There is blood all over. One got stabbed in the stomach and got stabbed in the head and held his hands and got stabbed all over the arms."

Then, before the suspect could find another victim - a citizen with a gun stopped the madness. "A guy pulled gun on him and told him to drop his weapon or he would shoot him. So, he dropped his weapon and the people from Smith's grabbed him."

By the time officers arrived the suspect had been subdued by employees and shoppers. Police had high praise for the gun-carrying man who ended the hysteria. Lt. Brian Purvis said, "This was a volatile situation that could have gotten worse. We can only assume from what we saw it could have gotten worse. He was definitely in the right place at the right time."

Dozens of other shoppers, who too could have become victims, are also thankful for the gun carrying man. And many, like Danylle Julian, are still in shock from the experience. "Scary actually. Really scary. Five minutes before I walk out to my car. It could have been me."
I wonder how many of those shoppers who were so thankful that the unnamed man had a gun were people who, a half hour before, believed fervently that people shouldn't be allowed to carry firearms.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Five Myths about the Crusades

Steve Weidenkopf at Crisis Magazine laments the historical distortions and fabrications about the Crusades in the popular culture. He assays to set the record straight by debunking five myths in an article titled Crash Course on the Crusades. The five myths he takes on are these:
  • The Crusades were wars of unprovoked aggression.
  • The Crusades were about European greed for booty, plunder and the establishment of colonies.
  • When Jerusalem was captured in 1099 the crusaders killed all the inhabitants – so many were killed that the blood flowed ankle deep through the city.
  • The Crusades were also wars against the Jews and should be considered the first Holocaust.
  • The Crusades are the source of the modern tension between Islam and the West.
None of these is true, or at least the whole truth. I encourage readers to go to Weidenkopf's article and read what he says about each of these myths. As you might expect the actual history is much more complex and far less damning of the Crusaders than it has been portrayed by those who wish to grind anti-Catholic axes. For those looking for an excellent and very readable book on this topic I highly recommend God's Battalions by Rodney Stark.

Selective Indignation

You're no doubt aware of the brouhaha percolating through the media over the statement by Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy to the effect that gay marriage should be between one man and one woman. This view, a view that was shared by our president up until he evolved a few months ago, and is still shared by a majority of the country today, has outraged the leaders of two of our major cities.

The mayors of both Boston and Chicago subsequently announced that Chick-fil-A will not be welcome to do business in their cities due to their CEO's reactionary, out-of-the-mainstream views toward marriage.

Donning their most smugly self-righteous expressions, these Democrat officials declared that intolerance will not be tolerated under their watch. A Chicago alderman even stated that opposition to Same Sex Marriage violated Chicago's values. Well. How low does one have to sink to violate Chicago's values?

Anyway, here's a question for these august gentlemen. When the local Muslims - who make no secret of their religious aversion to the homosexual lifestyle which they deplore almost as much as they deplore Jews - apply for a building permit for a baklava business in your fair cities, will you deny it to them too?

Of course not. That's, er, different. Mr. Cathy is a Christian and Democrats have no qualms about bullying Christians. Bullying Muslims is a different kettle of chicken.

UPDATE: The Daily Caller has proclaimed the issue settled now that gay rapper Antoine Dodson has spoken out on it. I have to say that his argument makes a lot of sense, more than that of the Chicago and Boston pols, at any rate. Note the soda cup at the end. It's probably too big to be legal in New York.
There's a Chick-fil-A not too far from where I live. I think I'm going to start eating there. If it's good enough for Antoine it's good enough for me.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dark Knight

For reasons which, if I explained them, would probably make me sound like a misanthrope, I rarely see movies in the theater, but I went yesterday (to the earliest morning showing when there were only a dozen or so others in the house) to see The Dark Knight Rises. I found it better than did some of the critics though not quite as good as some of the Batman aficionados might have hoped it would be. Even so, there were lots of good special effects, a good musical score, and most of the cast did a fine job.

The best part of the film, for me, was the story line which is really the story of the conflict between totalitarian "humanist" leftism and the traditional American way of life. The speech given by the evil Bane was perhaps the clearest illustration of this. I'd heard that he sounds in this scene like some of the Occupy Wall Streeters, and he pretty much does. He promises to take the wealth from the 1% and give it to everyone else, and to do all sorts of other OWS types of things, but his real plan is to imprison, oppress and destroy Gotham, all in the name of bringing peace and justice to the city.

Bane embodies the aspirations of leftists ever since the French Revolution. The "trial" scenes where the accused were assumed to be guilty and the only question was how they would choose to die reminded me of Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. This is probably not a coincidence since the penultimate scene has the police commissioner quoting from the opening lines of that novel.

If anyone would like a metaphor for where radical leftism winds up they should watch The Dark Knight Rises, even in a theater. It's more than worth the price of admission.

Post-Hope and Change Depression

The video of this disillusioned Obama supporter has gone viral. How many of those who voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 can relate to her? How many of those will vote the same way in November?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Kathy Shaidle has a bit of fun with the Africentric curriculum devised by the Toronto school board.

Shaidle helpfully explains why the proper word is now "Africentric" rather than "Afrocentric," or at least this is the proper usage for the time being. She then moves on to give us some glimpses into what an Africentric approach to math and science looks like in Toronto schools. She offers, for example, a sample Africentric class project, circa 2008.
Children were assigned the following question: “Why is President-Elect Obama’s win important to science?” Yes, Canadian children. (And this plan was presumably put together before Obama slashed NASA’s budget.)

But it gets better, if — imitating our leftist friends — we redefine “better” to mean something closer to “cringe-inducingly horrific.” Because the next photo depicts two black children obediently printing out the following answer, presumably at their teacher’s prompting:
“I think it’s important to science because it shows that black people are just as smart as white people.”
If being elected president means you’re “smart,” surely that proves George Bush is twice as smart as Obama, right?


Man, this “African math” is too hard for my poor white brain!

Another slide shows the following text, again written in a child’s hand:
“I think Mr. James Watsons [sic] shouldn’t have won the Nobel Prize because this man was a racist.…This man said that black people don’t have the intelligences [sic] that white people do but at the end of the day who is are [sic] President? And what colour is he?
Again, Barack Obama isn’t “are” president here in Canada, but I guess in the TDSB’s eyes, he are — I mean, is — the universal, Nobel Prize-winning President of Black People International Incorporated, so whatever.

This flaky curriculum is ostensibly designed to appeal to the city’s “at-risk youth,” none of whom ever seem to be Jewish or Japanese, but all of whom — at least if our newspaper’s depressingly frequent murder reports are to be believed — are “aspiring rap artists.” (Notice that they’re never “aspiring brain surgeons.”)
One sure-fire way to make certain that most black kids continue to aspire to be rap artists rather than brain surgeons is to convince them that the African perspective on math and science, whatever that may be, is just as worth learning as the European perspective. The great scientific advances of the last four centuries, dare I say it, received very little impetus from African contributors. Indeed, children of African descent might take a lesson from children of Asian descent. Asians are very successful in the math/sciences and they've achieved that success, not by insisting on teaching their young "Japacentric" math but by following the trail blazed by the great thinkers produced by Europe.

I hope that the assumption of the Toronto School Board isn't that that trail would just be too arduous for young black students to tread.

Alexander Cockburn, Almost There

John Fund remembers the erstwhile far-left radical Alexander Cockburn whose gradual metamorphosis into a conservative was cut short by cancer last Saturday. Here's part of Fund's column:
[O]ver the years he mellowed, even as he sometimes denied it. He became an American citizen in 2009. That same year he became a columnist for the paleoconservative magazine Chronicles, a platform he used to rail against American imperalism, big-business corruption, and imbecilic leftists. A conservative would have agreed with large parts of most of his columns. He was a passionate defender of gun rights and believed a well-armed society was a bulwark against anyone who wanted to control a population.

He became a true heretic to the Left in 2007 when he declared that supporters of global warming were promoting a fraud: Their “pied piper,” he said, was a “hypocritical mountebank” named Al Gore. (Cockburn was an enthusiastic supporter of Ralph Nader against Gore in 2000.)

My last meeting with Alex came in 2009, when he showed up in New York at the Heartland Institute’s conference featuring dozens of global-warming skeptics. We stepped outside of the conference for a long chat. He cheerfully recounted all the places where he had been denounced for his global-warming views. “They hate me because I tell the truth: The environmental Left wants to deindustrialize America so they can exercise political power and control people’s lifestyles,” he told me.

“I’ve felt like the object of a witch hunt,” he said as he described how the Left treated him after he dissented from the global-warming “consensus.” “One former Sierra Club board member suggested I should be criminally prosecuted.”

Cockburn was at the conference collecting material for his forthcoming book A Short History of Fear, in which he planned to explore the link between fear-mongering and climate-catastrophe proponents. “No one on the left is comfortable talking about science,” he told me. “They don’t feel they can easily get their arms around it, so they don’t think about it much. As a result, they are prone to any peddler of ideas that reinforce their preexisting prejudices.”

I asked him how he felt hanging around with so many people who had more conservative viewpoints than he did. “It’s been good fun and I’ve learned a lot,” he told me. “I think what they are saying on this and several other topics is looking better and better.”
Too bad the 71 year-old Cockburn didn't live to make his transition complete.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blind Squirrels

There's not much anyone can say yet about the Aurora massacre. We know very little about the details, but that hasn't stopped some in the liberal media from trying to score political points. The very worst example of this, perhaps, is George Stephanopolis and Brian Ross at ABC News.

Ross apparently Googled the name of the shooter, James Holmes and Aurora, CO and came up with a guy who's a member of the local Tea Party. That was all the justification he apparently needed to mention the connection on the air and throw this innocent man's life into turmoil.
If Ross can't say for sure that this was the man who killed a dozen people then why say it at all? Was he simply trying to throw it out there that the Tea Party might somehow be implicated, or that members of the Tea Party are inherently violent?

Peter Wehner had some good thoughts about this sleazy example of journalism by innuendo at Commentary Magazine. Here's part of what Wehner wrote:
[T]he effort by some – in this case, by ABC’s Brian Ross — to attempt to politicize this tragedy almost as soon as the bullets from the killer’s gun had found their targets. (Ross mistakenly speculated, based on the flimsiest evidence, that the killer was a member of the Tea Party. ABC has since issued a retraction and an apology.)

This kind of politicization occurs in part because reporters on the air feel they have to comment on an event when they in fact have very little to say. It is also the result, I think, of an effort to draw some larger meaning from acts that often turn out to have no larger meaning. Sometimes they are what they are: the malevolent actions of poisoned minds. But part of it, too, is a reflex by some to fit a massacre like this into a preexisting political narrative. We saw it happen in the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School; the 2011 shooting spree near Tucson; and we will undoubtedly see it after today’s slaughter.

To be clear: there is such a thing as political violence. But what is troubling is the immediate assumption by some people, usually those who are part of the political class, that every massacre can be ascribed to political motivations. Acting on this assumption, they contort things in order to make them fit a convenient political template.

This effort to interpret everything through a political and partisan lens – to reduce everything to a political and partisan interpretation – is itself a disfigurement of reality. Life is a complicated and endlessly variegated thing. Politics has a role in all our lives; but for it to play such a dominant role in people’s imagination is surely not a healthy thing. And for people to immediately and instinctively take every human event – no matter how tragic and how painful — and place it in the maw of our politics is wrong and even repulsive. It exploits people’s sorrow and grief in order to score cheap political points and frame stupid political argument.
Blaming the Tea Party in particular, and conservatives in general, for instigating or perpetrating crimes of violence is a chronic ploy by the Left. They do it almost every time there's a national tragedy and each time they wind up looking foolish. You'd think they'd learn. Ace of Spades posts a summary of previous examples:
  • When Dr. Amy Bishop shot her colleagues, the Left speculated that she was a Tea Partier. In fact, she was an Obama donor.
  • A Discovery Channel hostage-taker was supposedly a climate change denier. In fact, he was an enviroweenie and Discovery Channel intern.
  • The census-taker was supposedly hanged by extremist anti-tax Tea Partiers. In fact, he hanged himself.
  • The Times Square Bomber was speculated to be upset about [Health Care Reform]. In fact, he was jihadi scum.
  • The guy who flew his plane into the IRS in TX was supposedly a Tea Partier. In fact, he quoted from the Communist Manifesto.
  • The guy who was stabbing NYC cabbies was supposedly an anti-Ground Zero Mosque Tea Partier. In fact, he supported the GZM.
  • The Pentagon shooter was supposedly a Tea Party extremist. In fact, he was a 9/11 Truther.
  • When the Ft. Hood shooting happened, the Left speculated that it was a “Right Wing Nut Job.” In fact, it was a Muslim nutjob.
  • When the Tucson shooting occurred, it was immediately blamed on Tea Party rhetoric. In fact, Jared Loughner was apolitical and insane.
Perhaps they think that if they accuse the Tea Party of complicity every time there's a tragedy maybe someday, like the blind squirrel that eventually stumbles upon an acorn by sheer luck, they'll get lucky, too.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pointless Punishment

Penn State has been handed an astonishing penalty for the derelictions of its representatives during the era of Sandusky's pedophilic depradations. Not only is Paterno's campus statue to be removed (an appropiate step, perhaps), not only is the university to be fined (an appropriate move), not only are they to be banned from bowl games for four years (four years?!), but all their football wins going back to 1998 are to be vacated (pure vindictive stupidity).

What's the point in banning the university from post-season play when no one currently in the program had anything to do with the events for which they're being punished? And what's the point in saying that games that were won weren't really won. Exactly what does all this accomplish? Why punish people who had nothing to do with Sandusky's crimes in the attempt to impose a posthumous punishment on one man who did? It reminds me of those accounts one reads of how some mob in a third world country will dig up the corpse of a hated foe so they can desecrate it even further.

It's the very definition of injustice that innocent people are punished for crimes they didn't commit. In this case, the NCAA's punishment affects only the innocent. The guilty are no longer there.

If PSU officials did not fulfill their legal obligations then prosecute them and put them in jail. If Paterno deserves disgrace then remove his statue, but why hurt the students and businesses in State College which rely upon Penn State football for financial aid, scholarships and revenue? Why take away wins that were achieved by players on the field who had no knowledge whatsoever of what Sandusky was doing?

The NCAA said they're not going to terminate the PSU football program, but they are. They're terminating it in the same way that withholding food and water from a man eventually terminates his life even if no one actively kills him. State College and Penn State will be a very different place, not just athletically, but also academically, for the next couple of decades and it's all so pointless.

As I said, the NCAA's punishment seems both stupid and vindictive.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Unintended Consequences

There are two things liberals desire (well, more than two, but...). One is to create a highly taxed, highly regulated state, and the other is to eliminate as far as possible the gap between rich and poor. What they often don't seem to understand, though, is that these two goals are mutually exclusive. An anecdote in the August/September issue of First Things (subscription only) illustrates why.

The piece notes that in California, the most highly taxed, highly regulated state in the union, the middle class is fleeing. Wealthy individuals and large businesses can absorb higher taxes and regulations, and big corporations, in fact, sometimes welcome them because they tend to drive out the competition, which is exactly what's happening in California.

The taxes and regs are forcing mid-level businesses out of the state and with them are going many of their middle class workers. This leaves behind two groups: the wealthy who can still afford to live there and the poor who can't afford to leave even if they wanted to. From 2000 to 2009 1.5 million more people left the state than have entered it. They're heading for states like Utah and Texas where they can find jobs and afford to buy a house. This makes California a far more class-divided society than the national average, and the gap is continuing to widen as the middle class continues to flee.

None of this seems to matter to the liberals who have a hammerlock on California politics, however. They're convinced that taxes and regulations on business are good things. That they're in fact counterproductive to, and incompatible with, the classless society for which they yearn simply eludes their comprehension.

What will happen ten or twenty years from now if there's scarcely any middle class left in the state? In order to support all of their manifold social programs California will need to raise more revenue, and the only place they'll be able to get it is from the wealthy and big corporations. Eventually, taxes will rise to the point where these, too, will be driven away, and then all that'll be left of the Golden State will be a blighted ghetto where teeming masses of poor live in third world squalor.

At some point Californians will have to realize that taking from the rich to give to the poor really helps no one in the long run and just winds up hurting everyone.

Syria Falling

News reports indicate that the government of Syrian tyrant Bashar Assad is about to fall as rebel forces are growing stronger and more competent by the day.

Strategy Page has this analysis:
In the last 24 hours the security forces have killed over 300 civilians and rebels. This was believed to be in retaliation for yesterday's bombing of a meeting of senior security officials. President Assad has not been seen or heard from since the fighting began in the capital. Rebels are firing machine-guns and mortars at military bases in the city and attacking security forces in new areas of the capital.

Five days of fighting in the capital intensified as gunfire was heard near the presidential palace. More combat units, including tanks and other armored vehicles, have been seen moving towards areas of the capital where most government buildings are. The rebels and their weapons are getting into the city, to join the growing number of residents who are joining the revolution. Thousands of civilians are fleeing the capital, many of them apparently government supporters.

Turkey reports that yesterday there were 246 Syrian refugees, including several officers (a general, five colonels, four majors, two captains, and one lieutenant) along with dozens of lower ranking soldiers. Many of the military defectors brought their families.

Desertion in the security forces is increasing, despite orders to shoot suspected deserters on sight. Commanders have also been ordered to immediately kill any soldiers who refuse to fire on civilians. Apparently many commanders are refusing to carry out that order.
If Assad's regime crumbles it's likely that a bloodbath will ensue as the majority Sunnis who've long been tyrannized by the minority Alawites decide to settle old scores. The Alawites know this and will surely fight to the bitter end to keep that from happening.

Russia and China, two nations which have thrown in with Damascus, provided it with weapons and other support, and have blocked any attempt in the U.N. to condemn Assad, are going to appear to be on the wrong side of both history and morality. Perhaps the fact that both nations tried to prop up a brutal man responsible for the murders of thousands of Syrians, and in some ways facilitated those murders, won't matter to the rest of the world, but it might, and it could take a long time to bleach out the stain. Russia also has a naval base in Syria which it'll probably lose as a consequence of its support of Assad.

Another loser if the rebellion is successful will be Iran which is the third major sponsor of Syrian oppression and perhaps their biggest economic backer.

A major concern for the U.S. is Syria's vast stockpile of chemical weapons which many fear Assad will use against the rebels in a desperate attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. How this can be prevented is not at all clear. Even so, it seems that by staying out of the fray, at least overtly if not covertly, the U.S. has played it just about right.

Whatever our role in Syria has been it'll be interesting to see, once Assad falls, whether President Obama will take any credit for what might in fact be a foreign policy success. Recall that after our special ops forces killed Osama bin Laden Mr. Obama wasn't shy about having his surrogates give him the credit, but now that he's instructed American businessmen that they deserve no credit for their accomplishments because they're the economic beneficiaries of what others actually did, I'm sure he'll recognize that the principle applies to him as well and that he deserves no credit for either the bin Laden success nor that in Syria, nor, for that matter, any other perceived success of his administration.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What Did He Mean?

The President is catching a lot of heat for his comment in Virginia last Friday that “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

What did he mean by this peculiar assertion?

He may have been stating the obvious, that no one lives in isolation from others, that we're all interdependent, but this is so trivial as to be banal. It'd be like telling a student who graduates magna cum laude that her accomplishment had little to do with her effort since she's not the one who built, equipped or administered the college which made her achievement possible. If this is what Mr. Obama meant then his statement was perhaps innocuous but profoundly dumb.

On the other hand, he could have meant that people who have a business, who are enjoying success, don't really deserve their success because they're just the fortunate beneficiaries of other people's labor, like a slacker who fortuitously inherits his grandfather's fortune. If this is what the President intended to say then his statement is insidious because it stirs up resentment of the haves among the have-nots by telling them in essence that what the haves have they don't really deserve, and that if you don't have it it's not because of any fault of your own, you're just not as lucky as the other guy. Abetting that sort of class envy is pernicious and destructive because it allows people to justify taking what people have worked hard to acquire and giving it to those who've done little. If this is what Mr. Obama was doing he's not the sort of man who should be in a position of national leadership.

The third possibility is that Mr. Obama simply and literally believes that no one who has built a business can claim to have been the one who built it, a possibility so exceedingly silly that it can doubtless be dismissed out of hand.

Whatever he meant, I'm sure he wishes he hadn't said it because none of these possible interpretations does much to burnish his reputation as a cerebral deep-thinker and because the Romney campaign has now released an ad which makes him appear completely out of touch with middle America:
I suspect that the second alternative above is the best explanation for Mr. Obama's statement in Virginia. It fits his view that, as he told Joe the Plumber in the 2008 campaign, we should redistribute wealth, and it dovetails with his recent decision to remove the Clinton work requirements for welfare recipients.

In any case, perhaps in the future the President's staff will be much more careful about letting him speak without a script. It won't do to have him giving voice to his true feelings in the middle of a campaign when voters are paying attention.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Where Does Information Come From?

Geneticist Craig Venter recently gave a talk at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland in which he said this:
All living cells that we know of on this planet are 'DNA software'-driven biological machines comprised of hundreds of thousands of protein robots, coded for by the DNA, that carry out precise functions," said Venter. "We are now using computer software to design new DNA software.
In other words the fundamental basis of all living things is a kind of software, which means it's information. Scientists like to say that similar causes produce similar effects. If every time some phenomenon has in the past been found to be produced by the same cause then we're justified in assuming that whenever we see that phenomenon today we can assume it to have been produced by that same, or a similar, cause.

If this is so, however, then there are fascinating implications in what Venter says about the nature of DNA's information content. Information - complex arrangements arrayed in specific, recognizable patterns - is always, in human experience, produced by an intelligence. Software is information, it's a code. If similar causes produce similar effects then the cause of the information in DNA should be similar to the cause of information we find in any other medium - books, DVDs, magnetic tape, etc. The information we find in these devices is produced by minds, indeed, information is always, in our experience, produced by minds, so why think the information in DNA is any different?

Moreover, Venter's description of the cell as a collection of information-driven machines is precisely what intelligent design theorists have been saying for two decades. Machines are products of minds. They're constructed to serve a function. They don't just happen to form through the action of physical processes and time. Indeed, physical processes and time work to degrade machines. Even if the Darwinian myth of unguided mutation, natural selection, and differential reproduction could be invoked to explain the diversity of cells it cannot explain the origin of the first cells.

Evolution News and Views gives a dozen reasons why regarding DNA as software, i.e. information, leads to the conclusion that the cell is intelligently designed:
  1. Our uniform experience with software is that it is intelligently designed.
  2. Software runs on machines, and machines are intelligently designed.
  3. Software operates other machines (e.g., robots) that are also intelligently designed.
  4. Systems of interconnected software and hardware are irreducibly complex.
  5. Functional systems imply purposefully planned architecture of the whole.
  6. Software is comprised of information, which is immaterial.
  7. Information is independent of the storage medium bearing it (e.g., electrons, magnets, silicon chips, molecules of DNA).
  8. Meaningful information is aperiodic; so is DNA.
  9. As a form of information, DNA software is complex and specified.
  10. Epigenetics regulates genetics just as computer software can regulate other software.
  11. Software can improve over time, but only by intelligent design, not by random mutation.
  12. Software can contain bugs and still be intelligently designed.
This is not to deny that there has been descent through modification. The hypothesis that cells have been intelligently engineered does not rule out evolution, but it does rule out the idea that evolution could have occurred via blind, unguided processes. That idea is every day coming to seem more and more like a fairy tale.

Do As We Say, Not As We Do

It's curious that when the House Oversight Committee subpoenaed the documents that would shed light on the Fast and Furious scandal, Democrats vigorously opposed their release, calling it a "fishing expedition" designed to just dig up whatever dirt the Republicans could find to discredit the administration, and the President himself refused to release them. Yet when Mitt Romney refuses to release his personal tax returns those same people consider this prima facie evidence that he's hiding something and scurry to pass a law that would make it a requirement that a presidential candidate reveal his tax returns for the last ten years.

The same people who condemn the Oversight Committee for seeking the F&F documents and who support those who refuse to release them are demanding that Mitt Romney release his tax returns, something he's not required to do, and criticizing him for not complying with their demand.

Moreover, the same people who insist that Romney turn over his financial records are the same people who get irate when people ask the President to release the records of his home loans in Chicago, his college records, and a legitimate, unphotoshopped birth certificate.

The Democrats play by an interesting rule: "You do what we say and we do what we want." Romney's response should be that as long as the President feels no need to release his personal records or the F&F emails he, Mr. Romney, sees no reason to release his personal records either. And if Congress wants to pass a law requiring candidates for office to make public their personal records why not pass a law requiring candidates to prove that they're constitutionally eligible to hold the office they're seeking?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Tenth Problem

Casey Luskin at Evolution News and Views lists ten problems with unguided, Darwinian evolution that he believes public school students should be taught.

They're all important difficulties with which any student being instructed in evolutionary theory should aware, but #10 is especially intriguing:
Humans show many behavioral and cognitive traits and abilities that offer no apparent survival advantage (e.g. music, art, religion, ability to ponder the nature of the universe).
Consider our ability to do high level math, for example (or at least the ability of some people to do high level math). Why would nature have developed in human beings the ability to do mathematics, particularly pure mathematics, thousands, maybe millions of years before it ever had any use? Human beings can survive perfectly well, and did so, for most of their history without ever doing calculus. Even today, most people get along fine without exercising this innate ability. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga says, it's only the occasional grad student whose reproductive success depends on his ability to solve differential equations.

That our mathematical abilities evolved long before there was any need or use for them suggests that evolution has foresight, that it's teleological, but this is incompatible with the belief that evolution is an unguided process.

Darwinians might argue that math ability is a "spandrel" that is, it's an incidental consequence of some other evolutionary development, like higher temperatures are an incidental consequence of covering our urban areas in asphalt. This could be, of course, but then one has to wonder how this "accidental" add-on could so perfectly match the nature of the universe. Why does our mathematics so beautifully describe the way the universe is if natural selection is blind to it?

This is a question that has captivated many prominent physicists and mathematicians:
"At this point an enigma presents itself which in all ages has agitated inquiring minds. How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality?" Albert Einstein

"It is positively spooky how the physicist finds that the mathematician has been there before him." Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg

"I find it quite amazing that it is possible to predict what will happen by mathematics, which is simply following rules which have nothing to do with the original thing." Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman
If math ability is just a coincidence then it's astonishingly fortuitous, and if it's the result of natural selection then it suggests that natural selection is somehow guided. Perhaps we should consider the possibility that the ability to do sophisticated math that had no use or application until the 20th century bears the impress of purposeful, intentional design by a mind that itself understands math.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

They're Not Supposed to Shoot Back

Here's a good illustration of why a lot of people favor concealed-carry laws.

Two thugs burst into an internet cafe in Florida expecting to steal money they know to be there for the taking. What they didn't expect to be there was 71 year-old Samuel Williams armed with a .380 semi-automatic handgun. Mr. Williams rose from his seat discharging his weapon in the general vicinity of the young miscreants, and teaching them a lesson about the wages of sin. Both were later apprehended and hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. No charges will be filed against Mr. Williams:
More details of the incident can be found at The Blaze.

I Do

There's a story by Jason DeParle in the New York Times that should be read by every girl of high school age who doesn't want to wind up struggling with poverty all her life. DeParle writes that the difference between the haves and the have-nots in America really comes down to two words: I do.

Women who marry before they have children and stay married afterward are much more likely to avoid poverty than those who have children out of wedlock or who find themselves raising children pretty much by themselves. This, of course, seems almost self-evident but so many girls have to learn it the hard way. DeParle contrasts the lives of two women who are similar in almost every respect except that one is married and the other is not. The marriage makes all the difference:
Jessica Schairer has so much in common with her boss, Chris Faulkner, that a visitor to the day care center they run might get them confused. They are both friendly white women from modest Midwestern backgrounds who left for college with conventional hopes of marriage, motherhood and career. They both have children in elementary school. They pass their days in similar ways: juggling toddlers, coaching teachers and swapping small secrets that mark them as friends. They even got tattoos together. Though Ms. Faulkner, as the boss, earns more money, the difference is a gap, not a chasm.

But a friendship that evokes parity by day becomes a study of inequality at night and a testament to the way family structure deepens class divides. Ms. Faulkner is married and living on two paychecks, while Ms. Schairer is raising her children by herself. That gives the Faulkner family a profound advantage in income and nurturing time, and makes their children statistically more likely to finish college, find good jobs and form stable marriages.

Ms. Faulkner goes home to a trim subdivision and weekends crowded with children’s events. Ms. Schairer’s rent consumes more than half her income, and she scrapes by on food stamps.

“I see Chris’s kids — they’re in swimming and karate and baseball and Boy Scouts, and it seems like it’s always her or her husband who’s able to make it there,” Ms. Schairer said. “That’s something I wish I could do for my kids. But number one, that stuff costs a lot of money and, two, I just don’t have the time.”

The economic storms of recent years have raised concerns about growing inequality and questions about a core national faith, that even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead. Most of the discussion has focused on labor market forces like falling blue-collar wages and lavish Wall Street pay.

But striking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility. College-educated Americans like the Faulkners are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women like Ms. Schairer, who left college without finishing her degree, are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes.

“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.
There's much more in the article that should be read and digested about the importance of marriage in the quality of life it affords women and their children. Not only does having two parents give children an enormous advantage over those who have only one, but, something DeParle's piece doesn't mention, those children also often have two sets of grandparents who are an enormous resource in helping with kids and with finances.

Here's another excerpt:
About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.

Long concentrated among minorities, motherhood outside marriage now varies by class about as much as it does by race. It is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class — among women like Ms. Schairer who have some postsecondary schooling but no four-year degree.

While many children of single mothers flourish (two of the last three presidents had mothers who were single during part of their childhood), a large body of research shows that they are more likely than similar children with married parents to experience childhood poverty, act up in class, become teenage parents and drop out of school.

Sara McLanahan, a Princeton sociologist, warns that family structure increasingly consigns children to “diverging destinies.”

Married couples are having children later than they used to, divorcing less and investing heavily in parenting time. By contrast, a growing share of single mothers have never married, and many have children with more than one man.

“The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers,” Ms. McLanahan said. “The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go.” She said, “I think this process is creating greater gaps in these children’s life chances.”

Ms. Schairer’s life offers a vivid example of how rapidly norms have changed. She grew up in a small town outside Ann Arbor, where her life revolved around church and school and everyone she knew was married.

“I thought, ‘I’ll meet someone, and we’ll marry and have kids and the house and the white picket fence,’ ” she said. “That’s what I wanted. That’s what I still want.” She got pregnant during her first year of college, left school and stayed in a troubled relationship that left her with three children when it finally collapsed six years ago. She has had little contact with the children’s father and receives no child support. With an annual income of just under $25,000, Ms. Schairer barely lifts her children out of poverty, but she is not one to complain. “I’m in this position because of decisions I made,” she said.
The two women in DeParle's column are personifications of the theme of Charles Murray's book Coming Apart which contrasts the evolution of marriage in the white upper and lower classes.

My only quibble with the essay is that he seems to suggest that the difference in how people value marriage is a function of their class and education, as though the correlations showed causation. But one doesn't have to be well off or well-educated to value marriage. In fact, as the lives of the women in the article suggest, being married is almost a sine qua non for women with children to become well-off.

Read DeParle's article on how things often go for those women who find themselves in Ms Schairer's circumstances. My heart goes out to this woman who works hard, takes complete responsibility for the choices she's made, and who fully recognizes, unlike some in her situation, that her children really do need a father.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pants on Fire

Peter Wehner offers us an analysis at The Weekly Standard of what he calls President Obama's "accountability problem." After listing promises that Mr. Obama has failed to keep or has actually broken Wehner focuses on one of the president's major claims, i.e his repeated asseveration that he didn't realize the magnitude of our economic problems when he took office. Wehner argues that this claim is simply and deliberately false:
Given that Obama’s key economic promises haven’t been kept, what possible excuse can the president offer? Easy. The president’s explanation goes something like this: By the time he took office, the economic situation was far worse than anyone, including Obama, imagined. The deficit was far larger than anyone predicted. The president therefore can’t be held accountable for his failed promises. He was operating on a false set of assumptions. The crisis was much deeper than he knew when he made those promises. “We didn’t know how bad it was,” is how Obama put it last year.

Here’s the problem: If you go back and examine the record, you’ll find that Obama was fully aware of the depth and severity of the recession. As a candidate, for example, he said we were facing “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.” As president-elect, Obama said we faced “a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime.”

Prior to being sworn in, Obama knew — in fact, he went out of his way to warn us — that we were shedding more than half a million jobs per month, the worst job loss in over three decades. That in 2008 we had lost more jobs than in any year since the Great Depression. That manufacturing had hit a 28-year low. That the stock market had fallen almost 40 percent in less than a year. That credit markets were nearly frozen. That businesses large and small couldn’t borrow the money they needed to meet payroll and create jobs. That home foreclosures were mounting. That credit card and auto loan delinquencies were rising. That the economy was “in a global crisis.” And that he was inheriting an “enormous budget deficit—you know, some estimates over a trillion dollars. That’s before we do anything.”

In other words, Barack Obama knew full well how bad things were when he promised he’d cut the deficit in half, when his economic team said that if his stimulus package passed, unemployment would not rise above 8 percent, and much of the rest.

What this means, then, is that Barack Obama’s only excuse for his failures is a myth and a mirage—a manufactured, after-the-fact effort to escape accountability for his own words, his own commitments, and his own failings.
How much Mr. Obama's integrity matters to voters remains to be seen, but it does seem as if something comes up every other day to remind us that he has a real problem with the truth.

Update on Iran

Strategy Page brings us up to date on what's happening with the sanctions imposed against Iran:
The new, and more severe, sanctions against Iran have been in force for nearly two weeks and they are hurting. Oil shipments, according to the Iranian government, are down 30 percent. Inflation, according to the government, is somewhere north of 20 percent. It's actually closer to 30 percent, largely because the government just prints more money to give angry Iranians, to help offset the ever-rising prices. This just makes the inflation worse....

Inflation and shortages of imported goods are both getting worse. This hurts most Iranians and has turned public opinion against the nuclear weapons program. The religious dictatorship that has run the country for three decades, long ago lost the loyalty of most Iranians. The corruption, brutality, and hypocrisy of the government has been matched by brutality and the loyalty of a quarter of the population that, for religious reasons, backs the clerics....

Normally Iran pumps three million barrels a day. But about a third of that output has already lost its customers and oil wells are being shut down to reduce production. In June, Iranian production officially shrank 150,000 barrels a day. But the reality is greater. Iran has been storing unsold oil on ships but there are no more unused tankers for this (despite ordering 12 new ones from China and India), and Iran is hustling to expand the black market for oil. Iranian sales agents are making it known that deals can be made, to get large quantities of oil at large discounts. There is some risk but the profits would be great....Iranian smugglers have been very resourceful in the past, but smuggling oil that must be moved in 330 meter long super tankers is much more difficult.

Right now the Iranian government is facing monthly losses of $3 billion a month because of lost oil sales. The Iranian government budget is $38 billion a month, so that lost oil income is a major problem for cash-strapped Iran....Much of the budget goes to aid the poor and unemployed (who got that way largely because of the corruption and economic mismanagement of the religious dictatorship). Money must also be lavished on the quarter of the population who support the ruling clerics. Many Iranians are already feeling the pinch and they are not happy.
There's more at the link. Meanwhile, the U.S. and its allies are preparing for military action to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. According to debkafile:
The USS John C. Stennis arrives in August, raising the number of American aircraft carriers in waters off Iran to four including the USS Enterprise and the USS Abraham Lincoln, with the French Charles de Gaulle due soon to make up a fifth.

Thursday, July 12, American military officials announced that the US is also dispatching to the Persian Gulf dozens of tiny, unmanned SeaFox submersibles that can detect and destroy mines if strewn by Iran to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the chokepoint for transporting one-fifth of the world’s oil.

There are now additionally eight American minesweepers in the Persian Gulf as well as the USS Ponce, a platform for the special forces, helicopters and warships there to fight off Iranian marine units attempting to plant mines in the vital waterway.
There are predictions afloat that Mr. Obama will initiate some kind of action against Iran in October in order to muster the country behind him in November's election. Perhaps I'm naive, but I think that's a bit too cynical. Even if Mr. Obama would do such a thing he must realize it'd be counterproductive since such an obvious ploy would surely repel voters rather than attract them....Wouldn't it?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Is "Hypocrisy" Too Mild?

I hesitate to use the word "hypocrisy," mostly because it suggests something ugly but in this case also because it just doesn't seem strong enough.

A few examples: Liberals insist that they're tolerant great-souled folk who just want everyone to get along. No doubt this is true of some but, boy, when someone voices an opinion that transgresses their little orthodoxies a lot of them sure do get vicious. Michelle Malkin tells us what happened when the mother of actor Brad Pitt wrote a letter to her local paper defending Mitt Romney and criticizing President Obama for his stance on gay marriage, inter alia. The invective this lady elicited upon herself from the liberal/left was stomach-turning. One has to wonder what's wrong with these people. Why are they so bilious? Here's part of Malkin's article where she describes some of the tweets from these pathetic souls:
“Brad Pitt’s mom, die”
“F*** you, Brad Pitt’s mom. The gay community made your kid a star, you whacko.”
“Brad Pitt’s mother…what a brainless old b***h…”
“Brad Pitt’s Mom Slams Obama, Gays. That stand makes her a deluded, dumba** Fascist Repuke”
“I hope Brad Pitt has been supporting his mother and decides to cut her off. What a b***h.”
“Brad Pitt’s mom can choke on a (redacted).”
Then there's the spectacle of Democrats striving to find a flaw, any flaw, in Mitt Romney that can be used to distract people from the fact that Mr. Obama has understandably chosen not to run on his own performance in office. Among the latest in the series of dastardly deeds the evil Romney has perpetrated, a series that has included driving his car with his dog in a roof carrier, is that he was responsible for outsourcing jobs abroad when he was at Bain capital.

Forget that FactCheck.org has found this to be a complete fabrication. Forget that the Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made five million dollars via companies in which she held an interest which outsourced jobs. President Obama, who continues to make the charge against Romney, is a far worse "offshorer" and he has used taxpayer dollars to do it. Villainous Company explains:
The Obama campaign spent nearly $4,700 on telemarketing services from a Canadian telemarketing company called Pacific East between March and June, a Washington Free Beacon study of federal election filings shows. Pacific East is not the only overseas telemarketing firm raking in cash from the president’s reelection campaign. Obama paid a call center in Manila, Philippines $78,314.10 for telemarketing services between the start of the campaign and March.

The Obama administration had no problem with approving a plan by electric car company Fisker to use part of its $529 million federal stimulus loan guarantee to build its manufacturing facility, and the 500 jobs it supports, in Finland. Fisker employees were laid off at an old General Motors facility in Joe Biden's Delaware that Fisker was supposed to refurbish.

Speaking of GM, Government Motors, whose international headquarters is in Shanghai, recently announced it would be developing an electric car platform with its longtime Chinese partner, the Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation (SAIC). The president has no problem with that, either.

As part of doing business in China, GM, which has become virtually a wholly-owned subsidiary of the U.S. taxpayer, must share its taxpayer-subsidized technology with Beijing as a cost of doing business there, including that used in the heavily subsidized Chevy Volt.

According to a recent report by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C., nearly $2 billion in money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been spent on wind power. Nearly 80% of that money has gone to foreign manufacturers of wind turbines, the study found.
Another pair of examples is afforded us by the ineffable DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz who has criticized Mr. Romney for putting his money, as do most wealthy Democrats, in foreign bank accounts and for refusing to release his tax returns. It turns out that Ms Schultz not only has foreign investments and accounts herself but she has also repeatedly ignored calls to release her own tax returns.

The word hypocrisy just doesn't seem to capture the full measure of shamelessness on display in the campaign to reelect the president. The most recent instance being the charge by Mr. Obama and his surrogates that Mr. Romney might be "a felon" for allegedly misrepresenting his status at Bain Capital to the SEC. The charge has been shown to be total nonsense, but nonsense is the mother's milk of politics for some politicos, especially political candidates who have nothing positive to say about their own record.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Feet of Clay

The Louis Freeh report charges that a number of Penn State officials, including the late Joe Paterno, suppressed information about former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's abusive sexual conduct with young boys and thus enabled Sandusky to continue his depradations. The report shows Paterno to have made some serious errors in judgment and to have been derelict in his moral and legal responsibilities.

This finding has led to calls for the university to disassociate itself of everything that honors Joe Paterno's enormous contribution and all of the good he did there. There are efforts now to have his statue removed from the campus and to rename those buildings that honor him.

Perhaps the university should do that, but there's something about it all that strikes me as both self-righteous and inconsistent. Do we tear down monuments to every person who has done good things because they've been shown to have feet of clay? Shall we rename Washington, D.C. and the Washington monument because George Washington owned slaves? Shall we tear down all the statues of all the Confederate generals in cities all across the South because those generals killed young union soldiers in defense, essentially, of the institution of slavery? Shall we rename J.F.K. airport because Kennedy was a philanderer? Shall we undo all the memorials to Martin Luther King because King was guilty of plagiarism, physical abuse of women, and sexual promiscuity?

Insist that the university take down Paterno's statue and rename the buildings if we think that's appropriate, but don't do it unless we're prepared to do the same with Martin Luther King and all the others as well.

If those men are considered immune to that sort of treatment then we at least need to hear an argument as to how their case is significantly different from Paterno's.

Not Helping the Cause

If there were an award for defeating your own argument while adamantly affirming it the man featured in this video would be a candidate for the prize.

Richard Dawkins interviews "Darwinian medicine" advocate Dr. Randolph Nesse, a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan and both men are insistent that design in the human body is an illusion, that all of the amazing processes and structures in the body are the result of purely unguided physical processes like natural selection and genetic mutation. Yet every time they bring up an example of Darwinian "design" Dr. Nesse seems to unwittingly refute it. It happens so often and so inadvertently that the viewer almost has to laugh.

Dr. Nesse agrees with Dawkins that the human body could not be intelligently designed because no intelligent designer would create structures like, for example, the two thin bones in our forearms because their thinness makes them susceptible to a certain kind of fracture. He then immediately goes on to explain, however, that that very thinness allows for dexterity of motion that allows for everything from piano playing to throwing a baseball. It's as if Nesse is saying that he has to say all this Darwinian stuff, but he's not sure he really believes it. He does something similar in part two when talking about the eye.

One of the most fascinating parts of the video is when Dr. Nesse says this:
I am amazed, Richard, that what we call metazoans, multi-celled organisms, have actually been able to evolve, and the reason [I'm amazed] is that bacteria and viruses replicate so quickly -- a few hours sometimes, they can reproduce themselves -- that they can evolve very, very quickly. And we're stuck with twenty years at least between generations. How is it that we resist infection when they can evolve so quickly to find ways around our defenses?
This is an excellent insight. The bacteria and viruses that wish to have us for lunch, as Nesse puts it, reproduce and thus evolve far more rapidly than do human beings. How then have they not managed to find ways to decisively defeat our immune system? Indeed, how did the immune system evolve fast enough to fend off microbial invasion in our early ancestors? It would seem that all creatures would have been vulnerable to microbial onslaught long before they'd had enough time to evolve defenses.

Nesse finishes that thought with this:
What exactly that transition was between one-celled organisms or few-celled organisms and multi-celled organisms -- the ability of an immune system to protect us from things that evolve so much faster than we do, that want to have us for lunch -- must be very crucial in the origins of life.
Crucial, yes, and awfully hard to explain in terms of Darwinian naturalism. Anyway, watch the video and note how hard it is for Dr. Nesse to talk about the body without using the word "design" and how Dawkins has to keep clarifying that, of course, Dr. Nesse doesn't really mean design.
One gets the feeling that Dawkins is thinking the whole time that this guy is just not with the program and certainly not helping the cause.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Universal Coverage, Substandard Care

Kerri Toloczko has a piece in the Washington Times that compares our current health care system to the Canadian system which Obamacare will soon approximate. Her story is about an elderly family member named Martin who lived under the Canadian system for thirty years before finally heading south for the States. Martin's story is intended to illustrate that where health care is "free" and universal it's woefully substandard:
"Martin" is an American who lived in Canada for 30 years under the Maple Leaf version of Obamacare. In 2011, Martin and his family became increasingly concerned about access to care for the octogenarian, and he fled "free" health care in favor of a system that requires payment for health services and actually provides them.

Martin always saw the biggest problems with universal health care as diminished access and long waits. But after visiting multiple specialists and an easily accessed American geriatric internist (nationwide, Canada has fewer than 190 geriatricians), Martin learned the real problem was quality. As he received care in America and talked with his doctors, he quickly grew weary of hearing the phrase "well below the standard of care" in reference to his Canadian health care history for issue after health issue. The phrase incensed his loved ones.

I know - I am one of them.

Martin was fortunate to have had a family physician in Canada - 20 percent of Canadians do not, and it is nearly impossible for new patients to find one. The average wait to see a specialist in Canada is five months.

For years, Martin had suffered falls with serious injuries, including facial and rib fractures. His family doctor in Canada had done nothing to investigate the cause. When his family, who suspected Parkinson's, insisted he see a Canadian specialist, he waited 11 months for a neurologist who also did nothing to diagnose or treat the problem. After waiting two days for an appointment with a neurologist in Virginia, Martin was diagnosed with Parkinsonian Syndrome and provided medications. Falls are down from weekly to only three in the last year.

In Canada, Martin was told he had kidney cysts, but was never given a sonogram - a procedure with an average eight-month wait. His Virginia nephrologist (next-day appointment) told Martin he needed one. Martin asked, "How long will it take to get that?" Looking perplexed, the physician answered, "about three minutes," pointing to the machine in the corner of his exam room.

After his American gastroenterologist reviewed his medical records, he informed Martin that he had not had the regular colonoscopies in Canada as he had been led to believe. Instead, Martin had sigmoidoscopies, which are inadequate in detecting colon cancer, but cheaper. Again he heard that this was "below the standard of care." The average wait for a colonoscopy in Canada is 16 weeks with 7,000 patients waiting for one on any given day. In the United States, Martin waited four days.

The American ophthalmologist looked in Martin's eyes and exclaimed, "Who the hell is your eye doctor? You should sue him!" His Canadian ophthalmologist refused to release Martin's records; the American doctor was sure she knew why. Martin has now had one standard cataract surgery and another delicate one requiring a subspecialist because his cataracts went untreated for so long.

The wait for cataract surgery in Canada is 16 weeks, except for seniors, for whom it appears to be forever.

Martin had a serious eye infection in 2008, causing burning pain, itching and redness, eventually infecting one side of his face. A Canadian clinician told him to wash it with baby soap. His family doctor told him to get an appointment with the dermatologist (average wait three to six months.) When Martin arrived for a visit in Virginia, a doctor at a local urgent care facility (30-minute wait) gave Martin oral and topical medication for what was determined to be a staph infection. Within 48 hours, his months of agony ended.

As a health care policy analyst, I have often compared the American free-market health care system with Canada's government-run plan. Numbers relating to wait times, rationing and substandard care are staggering. Personal anecdotes are heartbreaking.
After pointing out that Obamacare will give us a similar government-run system Toloczko finishes with this:
America has the best health care system in the world, but a dysfunctional coverage system. Canada and the United Kingdom have universal coverage and rationed, substandard care. Which would you rather have?
Good question. What I'd like to know is how typical Martin's experience is for Canadians, or people living in the U.K. Perhaps some of our readers from these precincts will share their thoughts with us on this.

Magnetite and Migration

Investigators have long believed that fish, birds and other migrating creatures oriented themselves along the earth's magnetic field and that they used magnetite crystals to aid in the process, but it was never clear how this was done. Now scientists have isolated the cells in anadromous trout that contain the mineral and are making headway in solving the riddle of how the earth's magnetism effects the crystals and how that interaction translates into instructions from the brain as to the direction in which the animal should move.

I wonder if they'll also make headway in explaining how such a system could have evolved by unguided forces and random mutations in most of the major phyla, but be employed by only some representatives of those phyla. Since, for example, not all butterflies or birds migrate do they all possess the magnetite system but only some of them use it, or do only some species in a taxon possess it? Whatever the answer, it raises the question why that should be.

Perhaps there's a compelling story of how this marvelous phenomenon could have evolved naturalistically. If so, I'd like to hear it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Great News

This article pretty much speaks for itself. Let's hope that either what it tells us is not true or that Republicans gain the necessary electoral victory in November to kill this Affordable Care Act beast before we wind up having to wait six months before we can see a doctor to have a tumor diagnosed. Or maybe we should hope for both.

Here's the crux of the story:
Eighty-three percent of American physicians have considered leaving their practices over President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, according to a survey released by the Doctor Patient Medical Association.

The DPMA, a non-partisan association of doctors and patients, surveyed a random selection of 699 doctors nationwide. The survey found that the majority have thought about bailing out of their careers over the legislation, which was upheld last month by the Supreme Court.

Even if doctors do not quit their jobs over the ruling, America will face a shortage of at least 90,000 doctors by 2020. The new health care law increases demand for physicians by expanding insurance coverage. This change will exacerbate the current shortage as more Americans live past 65.

By 2025 the shortage will balloon to over 130,000, Len Marquez, the director of government relations at the American Association of Medical Colleges, told The Daily Caller.

“One of our primary concerns is that you’ve got an aging physician workforce and you have these new beneficiaries — these newly insured people — coming through the system,” he said. “There will be strains and there will be physician shortages.”

The DPMA found that many doctors do not believe the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will lead to better access to medical care for the majority of Americans, co-founder of the DPMA Kathryn Serkes told TheDC.

“Doctors clearly understand what Washington does not — that a piece of paper that says you are ‘covered’ by insurance or ‘enrolled’ in Medicare or Medicaid does not translate to actual medical care when doctors can’t afford to see patients at the lowball payments, and patients have to jump through government and insurance company bureaucratic hoops,” she said.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is famous for having fatuously pronounced during debate over the ACA that, "We have to pass the bill to see what's in it." Well, now that we've passed it and we're seeing what's in it, a lot of people are wondering what the heck we've gone and done.

Science and Blind Faith

In the course of a post on how scientists say some pretty peculiar things, Rabbi Moshe Averick quotes world reknown chemist Dr. George Whitesides of Harvard, expatiating on the problem of the origin of life (OOL):
The Origin of Life: This problem is one of the big ones in science. It begins to place life, and us, in the universe. Most chemists believe, as do I, that life emerged spontaneously from mixtures of molecules in the prebiotic Earth...How? I have no idea. Perhaps it was by the spontaneous emergence of 'simple' autocatalytic cycles and then by their combination. On the basis of all the chemistry that I know, it seems to me astonishingly improbable. [emphasis mine]
So what's so peculiar about this? Imagine that a scientist were to say "Many theists believe, as do I, that life emerged spontaneously from an act of divine creation in the ancient Earth...How? I have no idea. Perhaps God simply spoke and cells appeared. On the basis of all the chemistry that I know, it seems to me astonishingly improbable that naturalistic processes alone could account for it.

Neither Dr. Whitesides nor the hypothetical theist have any evidence to support his belief, yet the latter's belief is considered irrational blind faith while Whitesides' belief is considered proper science. Why? What's the difference?

The answer, of course, is that the latter resorts to supernatural explanations whereas the former doesn't, but perhaps supernatural explanations are the correct ones. Why rule them out a priori? And how is it proper science to hold a belief when there's no empirical evidence to support it? If it's blind faith to believe that the OOL was supernaturally caused, even though evidence for this is difficult to come by, why is it not also blind faith to believe that it happened naturalistically even though, as Whitesides implies, there's no evidence for it?

There's nothing wrong with continuing to search for natural explanations in science, in fact, it's proper, but there is something wrong with assuming that a non-natural explanation is not to be considered simply because it's non-natural. It reminds me of William James' famous dictum that "A rule of thinking that would prevent me from finding a truth, if that truth were really there, is an irrational rule."

Extremist Party

Stephen Hayward of The Weekly Standard writes a fine piece on the oft-heard charge that the GOP is now in the hands of extremist Tea Party types and is well outside the mainstream of American life. The charge is ridiculous on the face of it but made moreso by virtue of emanating from members of a political party whose iconic figures of the past would have a hard time being nominated to high office today:
The never-ending Democratic attempt to resurrect the strategy that destroyed Barry Goldwater in 1964—he’s an extremist, don’t you know—rolls on, with liberals and the media trying to tar the Republican party as an “ideological outlier” in American politics.

There are three legs to this rickety barstool of an argument. One is the pseudo-social science findings of Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann that congressional Republican voting records have lurched sharply to the right in recent years (though it is not obvious why this should be bad news).

The second is the populism of the Tea Party, which, to be sure, is a disruptive force in the Republican party much as the anti-Vietnam war movement was a disruptive force in the Democratic party in the late 1960s and 1970s. The wobbliest leg of the triad is the argument, unfortunately abetted by Jeb Bush, that the GOP has become too extreme even for Ronald Reagan.

To see how silly this all is consider the charge of extremism and ask which party is it that has wandered far from its roots? Is it the party who wants to return to the policies of Reagan or the party whose most famous president would find himself persona non grata in many precincts of today's Democrat party?
Hayward explains why FDR, Harry Truman, and JFK would be more comfortable today as moderate Republicans than as Obama/Pelosi Democrats:
Start with Franklin Roosevelt. Despite his New Deal programs, he piled up a considerable record of statements that would be anathema to contemporary liberal orthodoxy. “The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me,” he told Congress in 1935, “show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief .  .  . is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.” A liberal can’t talk about our welfare state that way today.

FDR opposed public employee unions. In a 1937 letter to a public employees’ association, FDR wrote: “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. .  .  . Militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees.”

FDR, an Episcopalian, made the kind of remarks about religion that send the American Civil Liberties Union into paroxysms of rage when someone like George W. Bush or Sarah Palin says the same thing today. During World War II, FDR wrote a preface for an edition of the New Testament that was distributed to American troops: “As Commander-in-Chief, I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States.” On the eve of the 1940 election, FDR said in a campaign radio address: “Freedom of speech is of no use to a man who has nothing to say and freedom of worship is of no use to a man who has lost his God.” Today, the left-wing fever swamps would call this “Christianism.”

Environmentalists would stoutly oppose FDR because of his massive public works projects, such as the giant habitat-destroying dams on the Columbia River and in the Tennessee Valley. The car-haters of the left decry FDR for promoting urban sprawl and road-building. Historian James Flink wrote, “The American people could not have done worse in 1932 had they deliberately set out to elect a president who was ignorant of the implications of the automobile revolution.”
Hayward makes a similar case that Harry Truman and John Kennedy would also find themselves getting cold-shouldered by today's party. Both Democrats and Republicans have shifted leftward over the last fifty years. Republicans, however, are trying to paddle back to the traditional conservatism from whence they came, while Democrats are surging at full throttle toward the socialist nirvana. Yet Democrats, insouciently unaware of the silliness of the charge, are tagging the Republicans with the "extremist" label.

Here's a good rule of thumb: Whenever you hear liberals call anyone an "extremist" understand that by that word what they mean is "someone who disagrees with them."

Thanks to Jason for calling my attention to this article.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Complexity and Simplicity

A thread at Uncommon Descent addresses an argument that Richard Dawkins raises in his book The God Delusion viz. that if a cause must be at least as great as its effect, and if God is the cause of the complex design of living things, then God must be more complex than living things. So, if, as intelligent design advocates argue, complex information demands a designer then God must have an even more complex designer, which must also have a designer, ad infinitum.

This argument has been repeatedly refuted by far more capable people than me, but I'll take a shot at it anyway. The basic flaw is that those who employ the argument fail to understand what is meant by the term "God." For instance, complexity is a property of material objects or perhaps abstract ideas. God is neither of these. He's not the sort of being that has parts, as material objects do, nor is God, as opposed to the concept of God, an abstract idea. Thus, to impute complexity to him is a category mistake.

Moreover, God, as conceived by most philosophers of religion, is a being possessing maximal greatness. If such a being exists it would be a necessary, not a contingent, being. I.e. it would be a being which, unlike contingent entities, is not caused by any other being. If it were caused by something else it would not be maximally great. God, therefore, if he exists, is the ultimate cause of all being and is himself self-existent and uncaused. To speak, as Dawkins does, of a cause of an uncaused being is to indulge in incoherence.

But, even if one accepts Dawkins' argument that the cause of the world must itself have a cause the argument does little to advance the atheist's position. Since there is personality in the cosmos, at some point along the regress of the cosmos' causes it's reasonable to assume that there's one cause that itself possesses personality. Furthermore, there must be a cause in the regress that is extremely powerful (able to create worlds ex nihilo), extremely intelligent (in fact, a mathematical supergenius), personal, and transcendent.

That's not yet the God of traditional theism, perhaps, but it's very close. So close, in fact, that the atheist who posits this infinite series of causes in order to confute the intelligent design hypothesis must acknowledge that if such a regress exists it would make atheism pretty much untenable.