Friday, August 31, 2012

For Political Wonks

The liberal side of the media spectrum has been trying hard to tarnish Paul Ryan's speech at the Republican National Convention the other night by accusing the vice-presidential candidate of having lied about a number of claims he made in his acceptance speech.

Perhaps their foremost complaint was Ryan's assertion that despite candidate Obama's 2008 promise to keep a GM plant in his home town open for "a hundred years" the plant closed down the following year.

Obama's votaries among the pundits have been insisting that the plant closed before Obama came to office and therefore Ryan was distorting the facts to make Obama look bad in his speech.

Jim Geraghty at National Review sets the matter straight. It turns out that Ryan wasn't lying after all.

The liberal website ThinkProgress raised several additional objections to Ryan's speech, all of which are equally misplaced according to Avik Roy at Forbes. Among the accusations made by ThinkProgress are these:
Charge #1: Paul Ryan accused Obama of cutting Medicare by $716 billion, but Ryan’s own budget preserved those cuts.

Charge #2: Paul Ryan criticized Obama for ignoring the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission. But Ryan voted against those recommendations himself.

Charge #3: Paul Ryan blamed Obama for Standard & Poor’s downgrade of American government debt from AAA to AA+, but Paul Ryan is actually to blame because he resisted tax increases that would have closed the deficit.

Charge #4: Paul Ryan opposed the stimulus, but he lobbied for stimulus grants that went to his district.
Roy makes the case that none of these allegations are nearly as incriminating as those who make them would have us believe. They're either wildly overstated, they tell only part of the story, or they're otherwise misleading.

Those wonkish types who don't mind wading through the political tall grass should go to the link and check out Roy's essay.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

When a Calorie Is Not a Calorie

So you're on a diet and counting calories and wondering why you're still not losing (or gaining) weight? The reason may be that the calorie content of the food listed on the package is not really what your body is taking from that food.

Rob Dunn explains why in an illuminating essay at Scientific American. He writes that:
Fat, it has been estimated, has nine calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and proteins have just four; fiber is sometimes counted separately and gets awarded a piddling two. Every box of every food you have ever bought is labeled based on these estimates; too bad then that they are so often wrong.

Estimates of the number of calories in different kinds of foods measure the average number of calories we could get from those foods based only on the proportions of fat, carbohydrates, protein and sometimes fiber they contain (In essence, calories ingested minus calories egested). A variety of standard systems exist, all of which derive from the original developed by Wilbur Atwater more than a hundred years ago. They are all systems of averages. No food is average.

Differences exist even within a given kind of food. Take, for example, cooked vegetables. Cell walls in some plants are tougher to break down than those in others; nature, of course, varies in everything. If the plant material we eat has more of its cell walls broken down we can get more of the calories from the goodies inside. In some plants, cooking ruptures most cell walls; in others, such as cassava, cell walls hold strong and hoard their precious calories in such a way that many of them pass through our bodies intact.

It is not just cooked vegetables though. Nuts flagrantly do their own thing, which might be expected given that nuts are really seeds whose mothers are invested in having them escape digestion. Peanuts, pistachios and almonds all seem to be less completely digested than their levels of protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber would suggest. How much? Just this month, a new study by Janet Novotny and colleagues at the USDA found that when the “average” person eats almonds she receives just 128 calories per serving rather than the 170 calories “on the label.”
According to Dunn there are lots of other factors involved in determining how many calories we derive from a portion of food. Everything from the length of our intestines to the kind of microbes we have in our intestines to whether we're lactose intolerant to how long we cook and grind up our food all determine how many calories we harvest from it. Dunn's article is interesting, especially so for those concerned about diet and nutrition.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Does "Truth" Exist?

We find ourselves living in an age in which a lot of people have come to believe that the very notion of a truth that is true for everyone, independently of each person's personal subjective feelings, is obsolete. The belief that there is no objective truth is one of the hallmarks of what is sometimes referred to as the post-modern era.

Philosopher William Lane Craig takes a question on his website from a reader who has embraced the skeptical view that objective truth doesn't exist.

The reader puts his question this way (slightly edited for clarity):
Dr. Craig, life has become absurd to me. Conversations with several individuals in my school years have taught me that most do not think that there is such a thing as truth, rather the word is only a matter of opinion and therefore has no absolute meaning. At the end of my conversations it has been revealed to me that anything that is not a scientific fact is false, and that this thing truth is only a coping mechanism that human beings have created to make it appear that life has meaning, but in reality it has none. How do you as a Philosopher/Theologian deal with this? I am anxious for your response!
The first thing to note about this claim that there is no truth, indeed it's the first thing Craig says in his reply, is that the claim is self-refuting. If there really is no truth then the claim that there is no truth must be false.

And if the claim that there is no truth is true then, again, the claim is false because there is at least one truth, i.e. that there is no truth.

There's much more that can be said about this, and Craig subjects the denial of truth to a deeper analysis at the link. Given the skepticism about truth that exists in some quarters, his response is important.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Should We Intervene in Syria?

There are terrible atrocities occurring in Syria perpetrated by Assad regime. Should we intervene to stop them? A Lehigh University professor of international relations named Henri Barkey offers several reasons in a Washington Post essay why intervention, at least overt intervention, is a bad idea. He writes:
Calls for a U.S. military intervention in Syria have dominated the conversation in conventional and social media. Two simple and effective arguments are being advanced. The first, and most compelling, is that the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe befalling the Syrian people mandates international action. The second is based on realpolitik: Supporting the just and winning cause of the Syrian rebels will put the United States in good standing with the regime that emerges from the conflict.

Both arguments are unfortunately wrong.
Barkey goes on to point out that:
Any U.S. military engagement in Syria would have two important ramifications. First, it would cause casualties, including civilian ones. One should not underestimate how much bombing would be required just to suppress anti-aircraft installations so that the U.S. Air Force could operate in support of the rebels. Furthermore, suppression is not a one-off campaign. It has to be continuous, and the regime is likely to hide many of its air defenses in populated areas, provoking more civilian casualties.

Second, U.S. participation in another war in a Muslim country will serve only to deepen the perception that Washington is trigger-happy about dropping bombs on Muslim populations and regimes. Two years after the conclusion of any U.S. intervention in Syria, what people will remember is that women and children died under American bombardments. Unless a vital national interest of ours is involved, it is time that the United States resist the temptation to bomb another Muslim country, however noble the endeavor may appear.
Barkey elaborates on these themes in his column. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan and probably Iran (and like Libya) there's really no compelling national interest at stake in Syria. Nor is it clear that our help would win us the affection of the world's Muslims. Muslims may be the least grateful people on the planet. After liberating 25 million tyrannized Muslims in Iraq and another 25 million more in Afghanistan, after having rescued millions more from genocide in Bosnia, and after supporting the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and helping to overthrow Qaddafi in Libya, we're still resented and despised by many of the world's Muslims.

Helping free the beleaguered Syrians from their murderous government would probably do little to change that in the long run.

Moreover, the people we'd be helping are currently being assisted by al Qaeda. We'd essentially be supplying al Qaeda with weapons and combat support in Syria while we're killing them with predator drones in Yemen, Africa, and Pakistan. That doesn't seem to make much sense.

2016 Obama's America

Yesterday I went to see Dinesh D'Souza's documentary on Barack Obama titled 2016: Obama's America. I went to the 12:45 pm showing which might partly explain why my fellow patrons were almost all retirees although I was mildly surprised to see a few adolescents sprinkled amongst the gray-beards and their ladies.

I was also mildly surprised to find the theater about half-full at that hour. When I saw The Dark Knight Rises during the same time slot there were only three or four other people in the audience.

Anyway, when Mr. Obama ran for the presidency in 2008 many people voted for him because he was charismatic and youthful. Many others voted for him because they wanted to make history, helping to elect the first black president. Still others voted for him because they desperately wanted to believe his message of hope and change. I think it's fair to say, though, that few people who voted for him really knew very much about who he was, who the strongest influences on his life were, and what his deepest convictions are.

Now, four years later, his past has been at least partly pieced together and many of those who believe that each of us is shaped by those with whom we surround ourselves, especially in our formative years, are alarmed by the very close associations Mr. Obama has had with an assortment of communists and America-haters. It's as if one were to learn that Mitt Romney's parents were Nazi sympathizers and that he surrounded himself in his teenage years and into his forties with Klansmen and white supremicists. It would certainly make one suspicious, at the very least, of his intentions for the nation.

D'Souza is at pains to be sympathetic to Mr. Obama who, in some respects, had a background similar to his own, and he does very little speculating in this movie. All the information he presents was taken from the President's own book Dreams From My Father or from public records.

According to these sources Mr. Obama's mother, father, friends and his most intimate mentors were, or are, all radical Marxist communists and despisers of America and its history. Most of them worked toward, and talked frequently of, the destruction of the American system, a denouement which they all devoutly wished for and anticipated.

Toward the end of the film the question is posed as to what Mr. Obama would do with a second term unfettered by concerns about reelection. In other words, what would the country look like in 2016 given four more years of the trajectory we're currently on? It's not a comforting picture.

The documentary is never boring, the production quality is good, and it's very informative. Did you know, for instance, that both the President's half-brother, George, as well as his step-father, Lolo Soetero, are/were what would be considered conservatives in the U.S.? In fact, Lolo's conservatism was the reason Obama's mother left him.

D'Souza claims at the outset that however you feel about Barack Obama as a man and as a president one thing is probably true - you don't know him. This documentary goes a long way to correct that lacuna in our understanding of the individual we've chosen to lead our country for the last four years. Anyone who wishes to cast an informed vote this November should see it.

Monday, August 27, 2012


David Chalmers is one of the most prominent of the contemporary philosophers of mind and is noted for his rejection of the materialist view that all that's needed to understand what goes on when we think and experience sensation is better knowledge of how the brain works.

Chalmers holds that materialism does not, and cannot, explain the fundamental phenomena of consciousness. To explain that we need to posit the existence of something other than the matter that comprises our bodies and brains.

In this interview he explains that consciousness is not something that can be accounted for in terms of Darwinian evolution since there was no pressing need for it. We could have much more easily evolved to be like computer-driven robots or zombies - creatures able to perform all the tasks that humans perform but without having any awareness of our own selves and without experiencing sensations at all.

That consciousness somehow exists seems completely gratuitous and absolutely marvelous.

From Catholicism to Atheism and Back Again

Philosopher Edward Feser, an authority on the thought of Thomas Aquinas, discusses his journey from Catholicism to atheism and back again in an essay at his blog. It's a little long and it helps if the reader has some familiarity with several key figures in philosophy, but his story's interesting in any case.

Feser begins it this way:
As most of my readers probably know, I was an atheist for about a decade -- roughly the 1990s, give or take. Occasionally I am asked how I came to reject atheism. I briefly addressed this in The Last Superstition. A longer answer, which I offer here, requires an account of the atheism I came to reject.

I was brought up Catholic, but lost whatever I had of the Faith by the time I was about 13 or 14. Hearing, from a non-Catholic relative, some of the stock anti-Catholic arguments for the first time -- “That isn’t in the Bible!”, “This came from paganism!”, “Here’s what they did to people in the Middle Ages!”, etc. -- I was mesmerized, and convinced, seemingly for good. Sola scriptura-based arguments are extremely impressive, until you come to realize that their basic premise -- sola scriptura itself -- has absolutely nothing to be said for it.

Unfortunately it takes some people, like my younger self, a long time to see that. Such arguments can survive even the complete loss of religious belief, the anti-Catholic ghost that carries on beyond the death of the Protestant body, haunting the atheist who finds himself sounding like Martin Luther when debating his papist friends.

But I was still a theist for a time, though that wouldn’t survive my undergrad years. Kierkegaard was my first real philosophical passion, and his individualistic brand of religiosity greatly appealed to me. But the individualistic irreligion of Nietzsche would come to appeal to me more, and for a time he was my hero, with Walter Kaufmann a close second. (I still confess an affection for Kaufmann. Nietzsche, not so much.)

Analytic philosophy would, before long, bring my youthful atheism down to earth. For the young Nietzschean the loss of religion is a grand, civilizational crisis, and calls for an equally grand response on the part of a grand individual like himself. For the skeptical analytic philosopher it’s just a matter of rejecting some bad arguments, something one does quickly and early in one’s philosophical education before getting on to the really interesting stuff. And that became my “settled” atheist position while in grad school.

Atheism was like belief in a spherical earth -- something everyone in possession of the relevant facts knows to be true, and therefore not worth getting too worked up over or devoting too much philosophical attention to.

But it takes some reading and thinking to get to that point.
It also takes some additional reading and thinking to see the poverty of that point. I'm reminded of Bacon's dictum that "A little philosophy inclineth a man toward atheism, but depth in philosophy turneth him toward God."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Christian = Hater

Timothy Dalrymple confesses that being an evangelical Christian makes him a hater. I think he's exactly right. Here's how he begins his mea culpa:
Being an evangelical Christian, of course, I grew up with vicious hatreds implanted deep within my heart. Hatred (I refuse to use “hate” when the proper word is “hatred”) for women who obtain abortions. Hatred for gays. Hatred for criminals and illegal aliens. Hatred for people of other faiths. Hatred, basically, for anyone unlike myself and my cru.

I am a Christian, therefore I must be a hater. I eat hatred for breakfast — and yes, it takes like hate. So, at least, I’m told.

For a long time, I resisted this argument. I spent time with people who had abortions, and with friends who were openly gay, and with people whose faiths were diametrically opposed to my own — but I never felt hatred toward any of them. Love, yes. Compassion, to be sure. Concern, sometimes. But not hatred. Someone must have spiked my haterade, because I couldn’t seem to find within myself all these hatreds that, I was told, seethed and festered deep within me.

The curious thing was, I didn’t find this burning hatred in the evangelical Christians around me, either. They were good-hearted people. They took women in crisis into their homes. They worked with troubled youth and delivered food to the homeless. They started tutoring programs for children in East Palo Alto. Many (though not all) of them supported Reagan, Bush 1, Bush 2 and John McCain — which, I guess, means that they hated science, rationality, the environment, and evolution.

But if they were filled with hatred for actual people groups, it must have been buried down deep. Most of these men and women in the churches I attended felt, as I do, that abortion is wrong and that marriage was ordained by God for the joining of male and female. Many of them were strongly opposed to illegal immigration. Still, try though I might, I couldn’t peel back all the layers of kindness and sincere conviction to find the trembling, bigoted, hate-filled hater underneath it all.

Now, I no longer resist the argument. I’m willing to confess. I am a Christian — a conservative evangelical Christian to boot — and there are many things I hate. I am hate-filled.
Dalrymple elaborates on his hatreds at the link. What he says offers an excellent portrait, in my opinion, of the average Christian and the tensions with which he or she lives.

The Age of the Earth

Scientists use the rate of nuclear decay in atoms to measure the ages of very old things like archeological artifacts and even the age of the earth. Using these "radiometric dating" techniques gives an age of the earth, for example, of about 4.5 billion years. The reliability of the method depends on the assumption that the rate of nuclear decay we see today is the same as it has always been throughout earth history. If the rate has changed then the method is going to give an age that's either too high or too low.

A recent study has shown that the rate of decay can be effected by tiny particles called neutrinos produced in enormous quantities by the sun, especially in solar storms. If that's so, then it's possible that the earth is not as old as radiometric dating techniques suggest.

The article is not really about radiometric dating so much as it is about using fluctuations in decay rates to predict solar storms, but if decay rates do fluctuate then we have to wonder how reliable they are in determining very old ages.

Here's the essay's lede:
Radioactive materials decay at a predictable rate — so predictable, in fact, that scientists widely use them to date artifacts and geological objects. That, at least, is the received wisdom, which Jere Jenkins and Ephraim Fischbach, from Purdue University in Indiana, think may need revising. In 2006 Dr Jenkins noticed that the decay rate of the radioactive isotope manganese-54 dipped 39 hours before a solar flare came crashing into Earth's protective magnetic field. Now it seems that the sun might affect other types of decay, too.

As the researchers report in Astroparticle Physics, the decay rate of chlorine-36 increases as Earth approaches the sun. The difference is tiny: the rate fluctuates by less than 1% between the aphelion and perihelion, the points on Earth's orbit when it is farthest and closest to the sun, respectively. But it is discernible and persistent. As-yet-unpublished data for manganese-54 suggest that isotope follows a similar pattern. If confirmed, the insight might, among other things form the basis of a system for forecasting dangerous cosmic storms.
If - and it's a big if - the techniques that've been used to determine the age of the planet turn out to be unreliable then there are some interesting implications for science and philosophy. If the earth is considerably younger than radiometric techniques indicate then Darwinian evolution could lose its most crucial support - vast stretches of time to allow extraordinarily improbable combinations of genetic changes to become probable. If earth is of relatively recent origin then unguided, purposeless processes simply don't have enough time, even under the most optimistic scenarios, to have brought forth human beings from primordial sludge.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How Obamacare Harms the Poor

Those folks who support President Obama's affordable care act because they believe it will help the poor get more and better medical care are, in the opinion of Avik Roy, in for yet another Obama-inspired disillusionment.

Obamacare is going to actually make it more difficult for the poor to get medical care. One should read Roy's entire piece to see why this is so, but the short version is that by reducing benefits to doctors in order to save costs, fewer physicians will be accepting Medicaid patients. It's the same problem, in fact, which looms over Medicare.

Here's Roy's intro:
The story of Deamonte Driver illustrates how our health-care the system leaves millions of Americans behind. Deamonte lived on wrong side of the tracks, in Prince George’s County, Md. He was raised by a single mother. He spent his childhood in and out of homeless shelters. He was an African-American kid on welfare. Deamonte died at age twelve — not, however, in a drive-by shooting, or in a drug deal gone bad. He died of a toothache.

In January 2007, Deamonte told his mother, Alyce, that he had a headache. She took him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a severe dental abscess and given some medication. But the next day, his condition worsened. It turned out that the infection from his tooth had spread to his brain. He was taken to the hospital again and underwent emergency surgery. After a second surgery, he got better for a while, but then began to have seizures. Several weeks later, Deamonte was dead.

According to [columnist] Ezra Klein, Deamonte Driver’s story shows us why it would be immoral to repeal Obamacare. “To repeal the bill without another solution for the Deamonte Drivers of the world? And to do it while barely mentioning them? We’re a better country than that. Or so I like to think.”

But Deamonte Driver died not because he was uninsured. Indeed, Deamonte Driver died because he was insured — by the government. Deamonte, it turns out, was on Medicaid.

Although Deamonte was insured, he never received routine dental care. It turns out that only 16 percent of Maryland dentists accept Medicaid patients. Fewer than one-sixth of Maryland kids on Medicaid have ever had a cavity filled. Deamonte’s younger brother, DaShawn, had six rotted teeth, but it took dozens of calls before DaShawn could find one dentist who would see him. When the dentist concluded that DaShawn’s teeth were beyond repair, and required extraction, it took another several months to find an oral surgeon who would see him.

Obamacare does not offer better health care to the Deamonte and DaShawn Drivers of the world. Under Obamacare, if Deamonte were alive today, he would still be stuck with the dysfunctional Medicaid coverage that he was stuck with before. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Obamacare will shove 17 million more Americans into Medicaid, the developed world’s worst health-care system.

There are many problems with Obamacare. But the law’s cruelest feature is what it will do to low-income Americans who are already struggling. Study after study shows that patients on Medicaid have far worse health outcomes than those with private insurance. The largest study of this type, conducted by the University of Virginia on nearly 1 million patients, found that surgical patients on Medicaid were 97 percent more likely to die in the hospital than those with private insurance, and 13 percent more likely to die than those with no insurance at all.

These results are not surprising. Medicaid pays doctors and hospitals, on average, about half of what private insurers pay. Most often, Medicaid pays less than what the care actually costs. As a result, doctors face the choice of caring for Medicaid patients — and going bankrupt — or shutting their doors to the poor and focusing instead on those with private insurance.
Read the rest at National Review Online.

Of course, the government could demand that physicians take indigent patients, but making medical practice less lucrative would only result in fewer people going into medicine and more doctors leaving it. Nancy Pelosi said we have to pass Obamacare in order to see what's in it. Well, what's in it is trillions of dollars in costs and taxes for a system that will provide less quality and less care than the one we already have. What a deal.

How Liberals View Conservatives

Carol Brown describes how she, as a young liberal, once viewed conservatives - that is, until she became one:
Bill Whittle has nailed it. He has spoken the truth about how liberals view conservatives (skip to the 1:55 mark for this part). Liberals think that conservatives are:
  • Old
  • Stupid
  • Evil
  • Some of the above
  • All of the above

When I was a liberal, this was exactly the way I saw conservatives.

Let's start with Evil.

I would have a knee jerk reaction to any conservative assuming - knowing - they were rich, greedy, uncaring, selfish, and arrogant. Oh, and they liked to go to war just for the hell of it. In a word: Evil. I would not listen to conservatives talk on any issue because of my rock solid belief that they were horrible human beings who cared not a whit for others.

In this way, a feedback loop was created such that when a conservative would speak, I knew they were evil and felt no desire to listen. (Why get aggravated, right?) Or, if for some reason I was compelled to listen for a few minutes, every word that came out of their mouth was tainted with the awful truth that I knew. Yes, they were evil.
Follow the link to read the rest of how liberals view conservatives, or at least how Brown did. She has a follow-up piece here.

For my part, I have to agree with "Some of the above." Conservatives do tend to be older because wisdom is a gift rarely bestowed on the young, and, given the universal opprobrium heaped on Missouri senate candidate Todd Akin by conservatives in the wake of his infelicitous remarks about female physiology, I have to say that their reaction was certainly stupid.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How the Liberal Justices May Cost Obama the Election

Naomi Emery at The Washington Examiner makes a compelling case that John Roberts' decision to uphold Obamacare may cost the Democrats the election in November. Here's her opening:
Any year now, Democrats may start to ask themselves if it might have been better had John Roberts not changed his mind. If they would be better off with Obamacare out of its and our misery, a bone of contention now safely buried, and not as a bone in their throats.

For one thing, they still have the issue upon them -- the historic triumph they don't dare mention but which Republicans happily do.

Second, were Obamacare no longer the law, we might be seeing an uptick in hiring right now. Instead, that will be deferred until after November (and then possibly only if Romney's elected), and unemployment is rising in 44 states. Unemployment rising in 44 states is not what you want when just ten or so states will decide the election and unemployment has been 8 percent or higher for 41 months.

Third, had Roberts done otherwise, they might still have the issue of Medicare, which at this point they do not. When Paul Ryan was chosen to run with Mitt Romney, liberals planned to rip him to pieces over plans to trim Medicare. Somehow, they forgot that their own health care plan did much the same thing, covering 30 million new clients by draining millions from providers of Medicare. Although these cuts will not directly lead Medicare clients to pay more or lose coverage, they will end with many doctors and hospitals refusing to treat them at all.
Read the rest at the link. Wouldn't it be supremely ironic if the decision by John Roberts to contort himself into a jurisprudential pretzel in order to uphold Obamacare - a decision in which he was joined by the four liberal justices, a decision praised by Democrats and reviled by Republicans - actually wins the election for Mitt Romney?

Pernicious Influences

After I posted the critique of Cynthia Tucker's rather silly column on Paul Ryan in which she tried to wed him to the worst aspects Ayn Rand's philosophy I came across a piece by S.E. Cupp who made a very trenchant observation about the people who influence our politicians and which influences the media care about and which they don't.

She wrote that it's important to know whose ideas have shaped the thinking of candidates for high office, but only, you must understand, if the candidates are Republicans. Queries about who has influenced Democrat candidates, particularly if the candidate is Mr. Obama, are considered not at all germane to his fitness for office.

Here's part of Cupp's piece:
But because Obama’s campaign, his two memoirs not withstanding, was so cagey about all of that information, and the liberal media was happy to leave those gaps unanswered, voters had to fill in the blanks themselves. And it turns out, it wasn’t that hard.

They found out about Obama’s father, Barack Sr., a socialist activist the President devotes a book to, “Dreams From My Father.” They found out about Saul Alinsky, author of “Rules For Radicals,” who influenced young Barack into community organizing. They found out about Frank Marshall Davis, a labor activist and communist in Hawaii that Obama wrote highly of. They also found out about Roberto Unger, Obama’s Harvard law professor who is sick and tired of American hegemony.

There are plenty of others — notably Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — people who, unlike Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand, Obama actually knew, and has himself cited in various places, before mounting a presidential run, as having influenced his political philosophy.

But conservatives were told over and over again in 2008 — scolded, really — that they were racist, small-minded, fanatical extremists if they tried to make any connections, tenuous or otherwise, between Obama and his self-proclaimed mentors and influences.

Questions about his father, his professors, his friends, his pastor…all off-limits.
Well, let's pose some questions. Who is the more pernicious influence, Ayn Rand or the motley collection of communists, far-left radicals, and America-haters who've shaped Mr. Obama's thinking over the years? Why is Ms Tucker deeply concerned about Rand's influence on Ryan but blithely indifferent to the people with whom Mr. Obama has surrounded himself? Can't we safely assume that Mr. Obama was drawn to these people because he shares their views? Can't we assume that Mr. Obama is himself just as much of a radical leftist as are the people who molded his worldview?

If we're to be worried about Rand's influence on Ryan why should we not worry about the influence of all of these Marxist-Leninists on Obama?

We might ask one more question. Have there been any strong influences on Mr. Obama at any point up until he assumed the presidency who were not socialist/communist leftists?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just Make Stuff Up

Cynthia Tucker is a syndicated columnist who was awarded a Pulitzer in 2007 for first-rate commentary. It's probably good that she won her prize before her most recent column came out because otherwise it'd surely have disqualified her. She writes about how Paul Ryan was influenced by Ayn Rand and manages to get almost everything wrong.

Here are a couple of lowlights:
Rep. Paul Ryan, now the GOP vice presidential nominee, is an Ayn Rand acolyte, a loyal adherent to the philosophies of a woman whose views have enthralled fringe segments of the conservative movement for more than half a century. He is famous for giving her novels to staffers in his office.

He has even called her works the inspiration for his government career, according to an August profile by New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza, who quoted from a 2005 speech the congressman gave to the Atlas Society, an Ayn Rand fan club.
It's hard to imagine why Tucker thinks that it's just the fringes of the conservative movement who have found elements of Rand's message appealing. Her most popular books, Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead, still sell tens of thousands of copies 50 - 60 years after their release and Atlas is often said to be the second most influential book, after the Bible, ever written.

She goes on to quote Ryan:
“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism,” Ryan told the group.

That helps to explain Ryan’s ideas about the federal budget, which he would radically downsize to shrink the programs that help the elderly, the poor, the unemployed, and just about everybody else who needs the occasional helping hand. In Rand’s philosophy, the brilliant, the well-born and the lucky have no obligation to the struggling stiffs whose jobs don’t guarantee riches. Indeed, she believed altruism was foolish.
Of course Tucker shamelessly misrepresents Ryan here. So far from wanting to cut off programs that help those who need an "occasional helping hand," he's arguing that unless costs are reined in these programs will not survive. This is a fact of economic life which seems to have completely eluded Ms. Tucker. She evidently thinks that doing nothing to save entitlement programs is the noble option for the poor and doing what's necessary to save the programs is somehow selfish.
But nothing explains how the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged came to captivate so many economic gurus of the modern conservative movement, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
A paragraph or so ago it was only the "fringes" who were captivated by Rand. Now the fringe includes Alan Greenspan. Later in the column she states that "Rand has been elevated to a central figure in conservatism." Ms. Tucker apparently has difficulty remembering what she's written from one paragraph to the next.
[Rand's] “objectivism” is nothing more than rank selfishness promoted to a grand economic and cultural philosophy. (Among her works is one titled “The Virtue of Selfishness.”)
Yes, and Ryan has specifically said he finds Rand's egoistic philosophy of objectivism unpalatable. It's not her selfishness or her atheism that attracts conservative readers. It's her championing of those who produce and the perennial latch on like lampreys to the producers and job creators by government which wants to take everything they can from those who create wealth in order to sustain a bloated welfare state.
What’s more, Rand was an atheist and libertine whose private life was testament to her fierce belief that individuals should be free to do whatever they please, no matter the consequences to others. Though married, she conducted a long-running affair with one of her young disciples, in view of their spouses. She mocked Christianity, proclaiming it anathema to reason. She once told an interviewer that faith “is a sign of a psychological weakness. … I regard it as evil to place your emotions, your desire, above the evidence of what your mind knows. That’s what you’re doing with the idea of God.” She’s a strange role model for members of a political party that claims to represent religious conviction and personal probity.
This is a very odd paragraph for a liberal progressive to write. In almost every place where Tucker refers to Rand one could substitute the name Marx and the paragraph would be unchanged, and yet progressives find much in Marx to admire.

Every thinker has baggage. Liberals resonate with Marx's analysis of the economic class struggle, but if someone were to try to tie liberals to Marx's views on the family, or violent revolution, or communism, or tie them to Marx's sordid personal life, the progressive would plead that we need to separate the gold from the dross. Ryan does the same thing with Rand.
Still, Ryan’s indifference to the plight of weaker members of society shows how the modern conservative movement has tortured and refashioned traditional Christian beliefs. There is very little of the teachings of Jesus — who told a rich man to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor — in a right-wing religious nationalism that holds the poor in contempt.
This is a slander for which Tucker has no justification, but evidently she doesn't feel the need to support such ugly charges. Ryan is personally steeped in Catholic social teaching which is itself steeped in the Gospel message. Anyone who's unaware of this hasn't listened to Ryan and should not be writing columns making such irresponsible allegations. No fair-minded person can read Ryan's letter to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, for example, and still say that Ryan is "torturing" or "refashioning" traditional Christian beliefs.
Last year, liberal activist James Salt confronted Ryan with a Bible and demanded that he read the Gospel of Luke. It was a cheap political stunt, but Ryan’s reaction was telling. He rushed to a waiting vehicle but refused to accept the Bible he was offered.
This is a nice touch - mindlessly wrapping a cheap political shot in a story about a cheap political stunt. It's commentary like Tucker's that makes people so weary of the liberal media. They seem to think that if you can't argue on the facts then just make stuff up, no matter how badly it misrepresents the target.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why the Pressure on Akin?

Senatorial candidate Todd Akin is under pressure from Republicans to withdraw from the Missouri race against incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill for comments he made the other day about rape and abortion.

What he said was, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” He went on to say that if nevertheless a pregnancy ensues he didn't think that the child was the one who should be punished.

There are two things here for which he's being criticized. The first is his claim that somehow the trauma of rape causes a physiological "shutdown" that somehow prevents conception. The second is that even if pregnancy occurs an abortion is not a satisfactory solution to the problem.

He may be wrong about this, I don't know, and even if he's correct the context sounded a bit insensitive, but let's assume that he's mistaken about both the biological and the moral questions. Why is that a reason why he should withdraw from the race? Republicans afraid of their own shadows fear he'll be labelled "extremist" and that this will cost him the election in November, but the appropriate response is to seize the opportunity to point out that what apparently passes for acceptable views among Democrats are far more extreme than those of Rep. Akin.

Which, for example, is more extreme, to want to protect the defenseless unborn or to support killing infants?

Both of the Democrats' two most recent presidents in one way or another support infanticide, but despite the fact that the practice is still murder under the law, no one called these men "extreme," or demanded they leave office, or withdraw from a campaign.

We might also ask which is worse, to be accused of holding incorrect, even nutty views about a woman's physiological responses to rape or to actually be accused of committing rape? President Clinton is a hero to Democrats notwithstanding that he was accused of raping Juanita Brodderick, and not only is a hero he's been invited to give the keynote speech at the Democrat convention this month.

Todd Akin is closer to the mainstream on the issue of abortion than either Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, and his words are not nearly as repugnant as Mr. Clinton's deeds.

But there's something else about this that the Republicans don't seem to understand. If they force Akin out of the race they're opening the door for a fusillade of attacks on Paul Ryan who also believes that abortion is not morally justified even in the event of a rape-caused pregnancy. Of course, a lot of Catholic Democrats believe this as well, but that'll be ignored. What'll happen if the GOP somehow persuades Akin to leave the field is that the Democrats will start asking why Akin gets jettisoned but Ryan's allowed to stay on as a vice-presidential candidate.

In other words, forcing Akin out of the race isn't going to make the controversy go away.

Akin's biggest offense is that he was verbally maladroit and probably medically mistaken, but if saying something factually incorrect or dopey ipso facto disqualifies Republicans for public office then let's start holding Democrats to the same standard. We can start with the current Vice-President, the House Minority Leader, and the DNC Chair.

UPDATE: Todd Akin has declined to submit to almost universal GOP pressure for him to drop out of the race. Very well, now let's see the Republicans dare the Democrats to make his views on abortion an issue in this race when at the top of their ticket they have a man who voted twice in the Illinois state senate to allow abortionists to let babies born alive after a botched abortion die from inanition.

Let's see if the Republicans will dare the Democrats to make Akin's views on abortion and rape an issue when their former president and the keynote speaker at their convention twice vetoed bills that would ban partial-birth abortion and was accused at least once of having raped a woman.

Hit the Road

That Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson wrote a piece calling for the defeat of President Obama in November is not surprising. Ferguson is, despite teaching at Harvard, a conservative. What's surprising - shocking even - is that his essay appeared in Newsweek which has been reliably liberal for decades. Until now it has all but deified Obama and all but demonized Romney.

If Newsweek is now going to strive for more balance, who's next? The New York Times? Here's some of what Ferguson writes (in Newsweek's cover story no less):
In his inaugural address, Obama promised “not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.” He promised to “build the roads and bridges, the electric grids, and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.” He promised to “restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.” And he promised to “transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.” Unfortunately the president’s scorecard on every single one of those bold pledges is pitiful.

In an unguarded moment earlier this year, the president commented that the private sector of the economy was “doing fine.” Certainly, the stock market is well up (by 74 percent) relative to the close on Inauguration Day 2009. But the total number of private-sector jobs is still 4.3 million below the January 2008 peak. Meanwhile, since 2008, a staggering 3.6 million Americans have been added to Social Security’s disability insurance program. This is one of many ways unemployment is being concealed.

In his fiscal year 2010 budget—the first he presented—the president envisaged growth of 3.2 percent in 2010, 4.0 percent in 2011, 4.6 percent in 2012. The actual numbers were 2.4 percent in 2010 and 1.8 percent in 2011; few forecasters now expect it to be much above 2.3 percent this year.

Unemployment was supposed to be 6 percent by now. It has averaged 8.2 percent this year so far. Meanwhile real median annual household income has dropped more than 5 percent since June 2009. Nearly 110 million individuals received a welfare benefit in 2011, mostly Medicaid or food stamps.

Welcome to Obama’s America: nearly half the population is not represented on a taxable return—almost exactly the same proportion that lives in a household where at least one member receives some type of government benefit. We are becoming the 50–50 nation—half of us paying the taxes, the other half receiving the benefits.

And all this despite a far bigger hike in the federal debt than we were promised. According to the 2010 budget, the debt in public hands was supposed to fall in relation to GDP from 67 percent in 2010 to less than 66 percent this year. If only. By the end of this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it will reach 70 percent of GDP. These figures significantly understate the debt problem, however. The ratio that matters is debt to revenue. That number has leapt upward from 165 percent in 2008 to 262 percent this year, according to figures from the International Monetary Fund. Among developed economies, only Ireland and Spain have seen a bigger deterioration.

Not only did the initial fiscal stimulus fade after the sugar rush of 2009, but the president has done absolutely nothing to close the long-term gap between spending and revenue.

His much-vaunted health-care reform will not prevent spending on health programs growing from more than 5 percent of GDP today to almost 10 percent in 2037. Add the projected increase in the costs of Social Security and you are looking at a total bill of 16 percent of GDP 25 years from now. That is only slightly less than the average cost of all federal programs and activities, apart from net interest payments, over the past 40 years. Under this president’s policies, the debt is on course to approach 200 percent of GDP in 2037—a mountain of debt that is bound to reduce growth even further.
Ferguson goes on in this vein for four more pages. His column is the most thorough indictment of the Obama presidency that I've seen, and Newsweek is to be commended for featuring it and for being willing to endure the storm of criticism they're bound to receive from the left for their decision.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sub-Optimal Design

Barry Arrington at Uncommon Descent recaps an argument made by William Lane Craig in his debate with Darwinian biologist Francis Ayala. Ayala asserted that the conclusion that an intelligent designer engineered the biology of living things is rendered problematic by both suboptimal (less than perfect) design plus the presence of cruelty in nature.

Here's Arrington's summation of Craig's reply:
Craig first shows a picture of a dilapidated old East German Trabant, one of the worst cars ever made. He then shows a picture of a shiny new Mercedes E Class. Then he makes the following argument.
  1. The Trabant is obviously designed.
  2. The Trabant design is obviously sub-optimal.
  3. Therefore, the fact that a design is sub-optimal does not invalidate the design inference.
Conclusion: Known designs exhibit various degrees of optimality. Therefore, there is simply no reason to restrict design inferences only to maximally optimal designs. If a structure meets Dembski’s criteria for inferring design, that inference is not refuted by the mere possibility that the structure could have been better designed.

Craig then shows a picture of a medieval torture device and makes the following argument.
  1. The torture device is obviously designed.
  2. The designer was obviously not good.
  3. Therefore, the possibility that the designer is not good does not preclude a design inference.
Conclusion: The design inference says absolutely nothing about the moral qualities of the designer.
Ayala makes the mistake of thinking that intelligent design theory requires that the designer be the God of Christianity (which many, including me, believe it happens to be), but that's a theological supposition. To debate the scientific value of intelligent design theory by importing theological assumptions is neither germane nor helpful.

Intelligent design advocates, unlike creationists, argue that the case for design should be made scientifically and philosophically. It's ironic that it's the Darwinists who insist on turning the debate into a theological exercise. IDers want to limit the discussion to the scientific and philosophical evidence for the existence of a designer and leave the identity and nature of that designer to the theologians. Those are not matters upon which ID takes any formal position.

Here's Craig delivering his argument against Ayala:
It might be wondered what the value of the ID argument is if it doesn't demonstrate the existence of the God of Christianity. The answer, it seems to me, is that to the extent that intelligent design makes belief in a designer compelling, to that extent the strongest alternative to theism, materialism, is shown to be false. Once someone is persuaded that the universe is the product of an intelligent mind and not just some accident of impersonal nature then he has taken a giant step toward theism and away from naturalistic materialism.

The Blessings of Natural Gas

We've commented on this before, but perhaps it bears repeating. Despite the fears of some environmentalists, natural gas has, on balance, been a genuine blessing as this AP story explains:
In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the United States has fallen dramatically, to its lowest level in 20 years.

Government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

Many of the world's leading climate scientists didn't see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

The International Energy Agency said the United States has cut carbon dioxide emissions more than any other country over the last six years. Total U.S. carbon emissions from energy consumption peaked at about 6 billion metric tons in 2007. Projections for this year are around 5.2 billion, and the 1990 figure was about 5 billion.

China's emissions were estimated to be about 9 billion tons in 2011, accounting for about 29 percent of the global total. The U.S. accounted for about 16 percent.
There's more at the link. One of the interesting aspects of the story is how surprised almost everyone was that so many companies have switched over to natural gas so quickly and how much of a difference it has made in our air quality. I think there's a lesson in this. Business responds to the market. Fracking technology enabled gas to be produced abundantly and cheaply and business has responded without government having to obtrude with heavy-handed coercion.

Market solutions to problems may not always be better than government-imposed solutions but they sure were in this case. Meanwhile, the Obama administration, still convinced that government knows best, continues to squander millions of taxpayers' dollars on wind and solar energy companies which are floundering because they can't produce a product cheaply enough to interest consumers.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fair and Balanced

In some quarters of the media balanced reporting means that if you discuss some awful behavior perpetrated by one side you must also condemn the other side whether they merit it or not. For example, consider this recent report at Yahoo News on the latest threats by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
Ahmadinejad told an annual anti-Israel protest in Tehran on Friday that the Jewish state was a "cancerous tumour" that will soon be excised....

"The nations of the region will soon finish off the usurper Zionists in the Palestinian land.... A new Middle East will definitely be formed. With the grace of God and help of the nations, in the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists," he said.

So the Iranians have been threatening Israel with death and destruction, essentially another holocaust, for at least a decade now. The Israelis, reasonably enough, believe they mean it and have compared the threat, also quite reasonably, to that posed by the Nazis. They've tried to call the world's attention to the fact that the Iranians are threatening them with extinction, which, of course, they are. So how does Yahoo News close their article on the Iranian rhetoric?

Israel has been employing its own invective against Iran and its leaders, invoking the image of Hitler and the Nazis on the eve of World War II and accusing Tehran of being bent on Israeli genocide.
Invective? It's invective to state the obvious? Imagine a man assaulted in the street by a mugger who holds a knife to his throat. The victim calls out to passersby that the mugger is trying to kill him. In the minds of the folks at Yahoo that would be "invective."

I wonder if it's significant that this irresponsible and utterly perverse attempt to draw some sort of equivalency between those threatening death and those calling attention to the threats was penned by a man named Mohammed Davari.

Who'll Save Medicare?

For those interested in pursuing the details of the Romney/Ryan plan for Medicare I recommend Yuval Levin's analysis in National Review. Levin is an expert on health care issues and his essay is one of the clearest explications of the plan I've seen. Here's his conclusion:
The Democrats continuing to make such charges either do not know about the difference between Ryan-Wyden and past premium-support ideas or are knowingly lying. And those who argue that “Medicare as we know it” is the alternative to the Ryan-Wyden proposal are also either ignoring or denying reality.

The fact is that Obamacare cuts Medicare by $700 billion over its first ten years to fund other programs and imposes a board of price controllers — the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) — over Medicare to cut costs in ways that (particularly by driving providers out of the business of serving Medicare patients through inadequate payment rates) would reduce the access of both current and future seniors to care. And without further reforms, the Medicare program will soon run out of funds in ways that would either require dramatic benefit cuts or would drive the government bankrupt.

Medicare as we know it is thus not an option. The choice is between, on the one hand, a reform that leaves current seniors untouched for life and offers future seniors a guaranteed comprehensive benefit and more choices about how to get it or, on the other hand, cuts that affect both current and future beneficiaries and yet are still likely to fail to avert the program’s fiscal collapse. Mitt Romney offers the first — a plan for saving Medicare without increasing the risk to seniors. Barack Obama offers the second — a plan for raiding Medicare and watching it crumble.

The only way for Democrats to avoid the political consequences of this painful fact is to deny it, and to insist that the opposite is the case: that Romney and Ryan seek to arbitrarily cut Medicare and increase costs for seniors. In the wake of Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate, some of them have seemed downright giddy at the prospect of unleashing that lie, and perhaps even building their entire fall campaign around it. Many of them surely don’t even know it’s a lie. But it is, and a strategy based on a lie can work only if it is left unchallenged. Romney, Ryan, and their supporters must not leave it so.
You'll have to read the article to understand why he makes these strong allegations, but there's little doubt that there's a lot of misapprehension, or misconstrual, of the Romney/Ryan Medicare solutions, at least in the media.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Culture Makes a Difference

My friend Byron passes along an article from The Clapham Institute's blog Peer Review which is worth sharing. I can find no links to the original so I'll just copy it in toto:
Mitt Romney caused a firestorm two weeks ago in Jerusalem by commenting on the cultural dimensions of Israeli economic growth with an implied criticism of Palestinian culture. The reaction in the press was swift. Mr. Romney was called a "racist." But in fact, Romney was basing his claims on two excellent books that illustrate the primacy of culture as both necessary and sufficient for economic development: "Guns, Germs and Steel," by geographer Jared Diamond, and "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations," by economist David Landes.

Israel's economic success is based in a biblical view of work - that productive work is respected and prized, criticism is encouraged, intellectual capital is treasured, risk-taking is promoted, and innovation is fostered. The Wall Street Journal noted: "With institutions built on such values - with a culture dedicated to making, not taking, money - a society can make use of whatever primary products a land offers."

The favored mode of Palestinian culture on the other hand is not voluntary but coerced and zero-sum relations, where the principle of "rule or be ruled" dominates political and economic life. The elites in such cultures hold hard work in contempt, and they distrust intellectual openness and uncontrolled innovation as subversive. They emphasize rote learning and unquestioning respect for those in authority. Protection rackets rather than law enforcement assure the public order and bleed the economy. Public criticism brings sharp retaliation. Powerful actors acquire wealth by taking, rather than making.

[A] 2002 United Nations report written by Arab intellectuals...points out how Arab culture intensifies these problems with its attitude of hyper-jealousy and misogyny toward women, which turns out entitled sons and cloistered daughters. [D]ifferences make a difference, the making of flourishing culture matters, and all faiths do not lead to healthy cultures and economies.
Well put. The multicultural fantasy that all cultures are equally "valid," equally good, and equally to be celebrated is demonstrably false. Some ways of living are simply better than others, and the fact that Romney was called a racist by the liberal media for asserting that culture matters shows how blinded some people are by their ideological myths and illusions.

Is Mr. Obama Losing the Youth Vote?

Lots can change between now and November but this seems significant:
For the first time since he began running for president, Republican Mitt Romney has the support of over 40 percent of America's youth vote, a troubling sign for President Obama who built his 2008 victory with the overwhelming support of younger, idealistic voters.

Pollster John Zogby of JZ Analytics told Secrets Tuesday that Romney received 41 percent in his weekend poll of 1,117 likely voters, for the first time crossing the 40 percent mark. "This is the first time I am seeing Romney's numbers this high among 18-29 year olds," said Zogby. "This could be trouble for Obama who needs every young voter he can get."
Young people are mercurial, but even so it's going to be a lot harder this time around for the President to cast the same Hope and Change spell over the young that he managed to conjure in '08. Even if they don't turn out for Romney, perhaps a lot of these disenchanted younger voters will just stay home on election day.
In 2008, 66 percent chose Obama over Sen. John McCain, the highest percentage for a Democrat in three decades. But their desire for hope and change has turned to disillusionment and unemployment. Zogby calls them "CENGAs" for "college-educated, not going anywhere."

In his latest poll, Obama receives just 49 percent of the youth vote when pitted against Romney, who received 41 percent.
I wonder, too, how many blacks will vote for Mr. Obama this election. I'm sure the President will get an overwhelmingly high percentage of the votes of those who go to the polls, although probably not as high a percentage as in 2008, but how many African-Americans will be as excited to actually turn out this time? After three and a half years large numbers of African-Americans still have very little hope and have seen very little change.

What If He Was a Conservative?

Imagine that Floyd Corkins, the man who walked into the offices of the pro-life, pro-traditional marriage Family Research Council and shot a guard, had walked instead into, say, an abortion clinic. Imagine further that he'd been a member of a pro-life group, or the NRA, or the Tea Party, or a fan of conservative talk radio, or just a Republican. What do you suppose the media reaction to this near-tragedy would be?

But Corkins, as it happens, is none of those things, nor did he attack an abortion clinic. He himself is a volunteer for a gay and lesbian community center, and he entered the offices of a conservative group which opposes both gay marriage and abortion with the intent, apparently, of doing harm because of the stance the FRC takes on these issues.

Consequently, the media has been relatively mute. Mr. Corkins doesn't fit their template of the angry, white (he's African-American), right-winger. So there are no Google searches to ascertain the extent of his left-wing associations, there are no accusations that the inflammatory rhetoric of left-wing talk radio or tv inspired his act, no national introspection to biopsy the cancer that festers in our collective soul that periodically erupts in malignancies like Mr. Corkins.

To the extent that Mr. Corkins is political he seems to be liberal and thus his deed is not nearly as newsworthy as it would've been had he been conservative.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Blind Faith

When biologists talk about the cell being a microscopic factory filled with tiny molecular machines they mean that quite literally as this brief video illustrates. The video doesn't explain what's going on, but it's all pretty amazing nonetheless:
Cells are far more complex than is shown here, but the first cell must have been at least this complex. How did such a thing ever arise through an unguided, blind process, especially before there were any reproducing cells for natural selection to act upon?

Faith is belief despite the lack of proof. Blind faith is belief despite the lack of evidence. There's no evidence that cells actually did arise through purely natural processes and good reason to think they didn't. So the belief that they did, the belief called naturalism, is an exercise of blind faith on the part of the naturalist, which is precisely what naturalists often criticize theists for. Pretty ironic.

Voter ID

The Pennsylvania voter ID law was upheld yesterday, pending appeals, of course. I can't help but wonder why those on the left have opposed it so strenuously, because none of their arguments make any sense to me.

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary Magazine sums things up:
Liberals have spent most of the year trying to convince Americans that voter ID laws are a false front for racist voter suppression. They argue there’s no such thing as voter fraud and that legislation aimed at combating election cheating is merely a Republican plot to steal the election.

But, as a new Washington Post poll on the subject demonstrates, the majority aren’t buying it. Almost three quarters — 74 percent — believe voters should be required to show official, government-issued identification when they vote. A clear majority of those polled also think, contrary to liberal allegations, that voter ID laws are rooted in concern about a genuine problem.

These numbers have to concern Democrats who are hoping to whip up a backlash against voter ID legislation by falsely claiming they are a new form of “Jim Crow” laws intended to foster discrimination.... The public knows that claims that voter fraud is nonexistent run counter to everything they know about politicians, elections and human nature.
The public has good reason to believe that claims that voter fraud is not a problem are themselves fraudulent, or at least mistaken. John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky document the problem in their book Who's Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, a review of which can be found here.

Tobin continues:
The huge numbers supporting voter ID isn’t hard to figure out. Anyone who travels or has to conduct any sort of transaction with a bank or the government know they are going to be asked to identify themselves in this manner. The notion that something as important as voting should be exempt from such a requirement makes no sense to most people.

And though a not insignificant number worry about voters being discouraged or wrongly having their franchise denied, far more understand it is more likely that politicians and parties are looking to find a way to cook the books and steal a close election than their right to vote will somehow be taken away.

They rightly wonder why it is some think there is something sinister in having a voter prove they are eligible to vote, because it appears as if opponents of voter ID seem to be taking the position that citizens should never be asked to produce proof of residence in a state, city or district or even that they are actually American citizens. Interestingly enough, as the Washington Post notes in their own analysis of the poll, a solid majority of both the elderly and the poor — groups it is believed will be impacted by such laws — also support voter ID.
Critics of the Pennsylvania law are ostensibly concerned that some people who don't have IDs will be unable to exercise their right to vote, but how badly do these citizens want to vote if they can't bestir themselves to obtain a free ID which is no harder to get than it is to register to vote in the first place? Perhaps the left will next challenge voter registration requirements as placing an undue burden on the elderly, the poor, and the handicapped.

Instead of spending millions of dollars fighting the law perhaps those who care about the relatively few people who would vote but who lack a photo ID should do what they do during voter registration drives. They should identify those without proper ID and see that they get it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Is Racism?

Steve Browne at Taki Magazine shares some thoughts on racism. Specifically, he wonders exactly what it is:
It has to be evident to all thinking people by now that racism is the new witchcraft. Once you’re branded with the Scarlet “R,” some people do not regard it as immoral to assault you…or worse.

Calling someone a racist is sufficient to brand them as outside the pale of civilized company. In academia, the accusation is a career-wrecker. Socially it is enough to get you dropped from the A-list of the best parties.

But has anybody bothered to tell us what this vile thing is?
Browne goes on to consider some of the definitions of racism commonly employed and finds all of them inadequate. Little wonder. The term is so protean it can mean just about anything from harmful acts against another motivated solely by the other's race, to something only white people are guilty of, to any disagreement with Barack Obama.

Many people live in fear of being labelled a racist because, as Browne points out, it can kill one's career and do almost as much damage to one's reputation as being called a pedophile. Indeed, in some places it's worse than being a pedophile judging by the show of support among the celebrated glitterati for people like Roman Polanski and the alleged epidemic of pedophilia in Hollywood.

Browne is also dissatisfied with the dictionary definition of the term:
"A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."
But, Browne asks, which traits and capacities?
Is someone a racist who believes different races have different abilities — not superior or inferior, but different?

“Asians/whites/blacks are better than (blank) at (blank).” Racist?

Did Paul Robeson have such a magnificent voice because of his African ancestry? Do the Irish produce better tenors and the Welsh better baritones?

Excellence in athletics? Then we’d have to wonder if there is a superior race, and not the melanin-deficient one.

But away with sophistry! Everybody knows that when we speak of superior, we mean one trait among many — intelligence.

So is a person a racist if they believe a race other than his own is more intelligent?

John Derbyshire has noted that though black people have measured average IQs a full standard deviation lower than whites, Asians have average IQs higher than white people. Derbyshire got called a racist for the first observation, but what about the second?

Is it not racist if a white person says Asians are smarter, but racist if an Asian says it?

What about someone who thinks that one race might have on average lesser intellectual gifts than another, but that does not in any way justify oppressing them? Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln both might fall into that category, at least at some point in their lives.
The epithet "racist" is used primarily, it seems, as a means of discrediting one's opponents. It's a way of insulting people, of throwing them on the defensive, a justification for dismissing their opinions and concerns, without ever having to explain what one means by the word. Perhaps it would be illuminating, the next time you hear someone use it, to ask what, exactly, the user means. I doubt that one in ten people could give a reasonable answer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Giving Sight to the Blind

Most of us know someone who's losing his or her sight because of macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, or some other degenerative retinal condition. Thus, this report comes as wonderful news. Scientists are optimistic that a prosthesis may be available in a few years that will allow people with deteriorated retinas to see:
Blind mice had their vision restored with a device that helped diseased retinas send signals to the brain, according to a study that may lead to new prosthetic technology for millions of sight-impaired people.

Current devices are limited in the aid they provide to people with degenerative diseases of the retina, the part of the eye that converts light into electrical impulses to the brain. In research described today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists cracked the code the retina uses to communicate with the brain.

Blind mice had their vision restored with a device that helped diseased retinas send signals to the brain.

The technology moves prosthetics beyond bright light and high-contrast recognition and may be adopted for human use within a year or two, said Sheila Nirenberg, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and the study’s lead author.

“What this shows is that we have the essential ingredients to make a very effective prosthetic,” Nirenberg said.
The article goes on to say that "No foreseeable barriers should stop the movement into humans now that the technology has been created." Read the rest at the link.

Ryan's Plan

The liberal talk shows are in something of a frenzy trying to find some way to convince viewers that if Mitt Romney isn't a satanic incubus, a felon, a murderer of men's wives, then maybe Paul Ryan is.

Rather than let the progressives define Paul Ryan and what his vision for America might be, maybe we should let him do it himself. Here are three short videos in which he lays out the problems we face and his solutions.

Here he discusses the debt crisis:
In this video he outlines his plan for Medicare:
One of the things he's been getting hammered on is the charge that he wants to reduce taxes for the wealthy. He does indeed want to lower taxes to make the U.S. more competitive worldwide. Here's his argument:
Some on the left, of course, realize that Ryan is a very compelling, intelligent candidate and that they have no argument or plan to put up against him, at least not one that's both truthful and persuasive, so the best thing to do is to prevent him from being heard. It's how fascists have been doing it ever since the 1930s:
It needs be said that Ryan is not at the top of the ticket. The policies that a President Romney proposes to Congress will be his, and he certainly differs from Ryan on some details. Even so, they're united in believing that nothing will get fixed and will only continue to get worse if we reelect the incumbent.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Living Forever

George Dvorsky has an interesting piece at io9 in which he discusses whether living forever would be all that desirable. He writes:
Some futurists predict that we'll be able to halt the aging process by the end of this century — if not sooner. The prospect of creating an ageless society is certainly not without its critics, with concerns ranging from the environmental right through to the spiritual. One of the most common objections to radical life extension, however, is the idea that it would be profoundly boring to live forever, and that by consequence, we should not even attempt it.
Although Dvorsky's article is about prolonging physical existence indefinitely the same objection is sometimes raised to the Christian concept of eternal life. The argument is that in an infinite time people would eventually experience everything there is to experience and learn everything there is to know. At that point existence would no longer hold any fascination. It would cease to be interesting and become crushingly boring.

The discussion that ensues in Dvorsky's post is fascinating, and I commend it to you, but I'd like to share a couple of thoughts on the Christian notion of eternal life.

First, we need to keep in mind that boredom is a mental phenomenon. There's no reason to think that in an eternal existence boredom would be any more a part of life than would pain. Our mental structure in the eternal realm may be quite different than what it is in this physical life. In other words, although now each subsequent experience of, say, a beautiful piece of music may be less thrilling than the first experience, it could well be that in eternity every experience of some phenomena is equally as exciting as the first.

Second, boredom is a consequence of existing in time. We get bored because time drags by without offering anything to pique our interest, but eternity is not necessarily temporal. If eternal life is not a temporal experience, if those who experience eternal existence are outside of time (as we conceive God to be), then boredom may simply be irrelevant or non-existent.

Third, even if eternity is in some sort of time, it could be that there's an infinity of possible experience such that even in an infinity of time we would never exhaust it all. Like a man counting for an infinite time could never exhaust all possible integers, a man existing for an infinite time might never exhaust all possible experience.

At any rate, Dvorsky's column is interesting largely for some of the quotes he cites. For example, Chris Hackler, head of the Division of Medical Humanities at the University of Arkansas, states that:
Let's face it, most peoples' jobs aren't all that fascinating. They put in a 9-to-5 and they're glad to have the weekend. So you wonder if having twice as much of this is a good thing, or if you'd get totally burned out.
In other words, life's a drag as it is and most people aren't going to want to make it any longer than it needs to be. I have no doubt that this is true, at least if this life is all there is. If there's no transcendent realm in which infinite joy and richness reside and of which we can catch a glimpse now and then, then it's surely true that life is a meaningless, painful interlude of suffering between two states of nothingness.

If, on the other hand, there is such a realm then there's hope that life can be rich, fascinating, and pleasurable forever.

Anyway, check out Dvorsky's essay. It's thought-provoking.

The Ryan Pick

Mitt Romney's vice-presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan, has garnered almost universal plaudits from the right and almost universal boos from the left. Ryan is an outstanding man, an outstanding politician, and an outstanding intellect. He's serious and sharp and has a winning personality.

I think these are some of the reasons the left is deriding the choice. They fear Ryan, or at least they should. The last thing they want is a debate between Ryan and anyone on the Democratic ticket because they know it can only go badly for them. It's not customary for the presidential candidate to debate the other party's vice-presidential candidate, but one wishes that this year it'd happen.

If the economy is to be the major issue in the 2012 election the Obama/Biden ticket is no match for Romney/Ryan. Mr. Obama has had three and a half years to solve our economic woes, and the nation is worse off now than when he took office. He has managed to preside over the worst economy in forty years and has advanced no plan for what he would do to improve it other than tax the rich. This is a purely symbolic gesture which would accomplish nothing in terms of raising revenue and would probably depress it.

Moreover, none of the president's budgets have received even Democratic support in the Senate, and his party hasn't passed a budget in three years. Neither has the president kept his promise to get unemployment below 8%.

President Obama has offered no indication of how he would save entitlements from financial ruin, and in fact his greatest achievement, Obamacare, will cut $710 billion from Medicare over the next ten years. Ryan's plan would also cut Medicare, but by giving people an annual voucher so that they could purchase their own insurance. He would also raise the reimbursement rate for doctors back to previous levels so that the exodus of physicians willing to treat Medicare patients is reversed.

Ryan has worked hard on these issues. He has a vision for what needs to be done to get Americans back to work and to get our debt reduced, and he's skilled at eloquently articulating both. It'll be painful, no doubt, and it will take time, but the Obama alternative of doing nothing other than continuing to spend money we don't have, driving us deeper into debt, while blaming Bush for all our troubles, will ultimately be far worse.

The question that I ponder is whether the American electorate will ultimately prefer competence or charisma, freedom or big government, economic justice or crony capitalism. I guess we'll see on the first Tuesday in November.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Killing the Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs

French president Hollande has apparently chosen to follow the thinking of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and raise the top tax rate in his country to 75%, essentially confiscating most of the wealth of thousands of Frenchmen. His reason has nothing to do with economic need. It's simply class warfare, at least according to this New York Times article:
A chill is wafting over France’s business class as Mr. Hollande, the country’s first Socialist president since François Mitterrand in the 1980s, presses a manifesto of patriotism to “pay extra tax to get the country back on its feet again.” The 75 percent tax proposal, which Parliament plans to take up in September, is ostensibly aimed at bolstering French finances as Europe’s long-running debt crisis intensifies.

But because there are relatively few people in France whose income would incur such a tax — an estimated 7,000 to 30,000 in a country of 65 million — the gains might contribute but a small fraction of the 33 billion euros in new revenue the government wants to raise next year to help balance the budget.

The French finance ministry did not respond to requests for an estimate of the revenue the tax might raise. Though the amount would be low, some analysts note that a tax hit on the rich would provide political cover for painful cuts Mr. Hollande may need to make next year in social and welfare programs that are likely to be far less popular with the rank and file.

In that regard, the tax could have enormous symbolic value as a blow for egalité, coming from a new president who has proclaimed, “I don’t like the rich.”
Whatever revenue Mr. Hollande realizes from such a tax he'll only realize it once. After that there won't be anyone left in the upper tax brackets to squeeze money from:
Many companies are studying contingency plans to move high-paid executives outside of France, according to consultants, lawyers, accountants and real estate agents — who are highly protective of their clients and decline to identify them by name. They say some executives and wealthy people have already packed up for destinations like Britain, Belgium, Switzerland and the United States, taking their taxable income with them.

They also know of companies — start-ups and multinationals alike — that are delaying plans to invest in France or to move employees or new hires here.

....Mr. Hollande was elected in May on a wave of resentment against “les riches” — company executives, bankers, sports stars and celebrities whose paychecks tend to be seen as scandalous in a country where the growing divide between rich and poor touches a cultural nerve whose roots predate Robespierre.

Taxes are high in France for a reason: they pay for one of Europe’s most generous social welfare systems and a large government. As Mr. Hollande has described it, the tax plan is about “justice,” and “sending out a signal, a message of social cohesion.”
But what will France do when there are no rich left to tax?
“The thing French politicians don’t seem to understand or care about is that when you tax away two-thirds of someone’s earnings to appeal to voters, productive people who can enrich businesses and the economy won’t come — or they will just leave,” said Diane Segalen, a corporate headhunter.

She said she had been close to sealing a deal for a seasoned executive in London to join one of France’s biggest companies earlier this year, when Mr. Hollande made his 75 percent vow.

“When the guy heard that, he said, ‘I’m not coming,’ and withdrew from the process,” said Mrs. Segalen, the head of the Segalen et Associés, a consulting firm.

For Mrs. Segalen, the proposal is the latest red flag in a country that has long labored under the image of being a difficult place to do business. France has a 33 percent corporate tax rate — the euro zone’s second-highest, after Malta’s 35 percent. That contrasts with the 12.5 percent rate in Ireland, which has deliberately kept a lid on corporate taxes as a lure to businesses.

“It is a ridiculous proposal, but it’s great for us,” said Jean Dekerchove, the manager of Immobilièr Le Lion, a high-end real estate agency based in Brussels. Calls to his office have picked up in recent months, he said, as wealthy French citizens look to invest or simply move across the border amid worries about the latest tax.

“It’s a huge loss for France because people and businesses come to Belgium and bring their wealth with them,” Mr. Dekerchove said. “But we’re thrilled because they create jobs, they buy houses and spend money — and it’s our economy that profits.”
We're seeing something similar happening in California where people with means are fleeing the state to get away from confiscatory taxes and oppressive regulations. When the rich leave everyone else is poorer. You may not like the rich, you may have good reason not to like them, but it's an economic fact of life that the more of them there are, the better off everyone else is. They may not be likeable, but we need them.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ten Things

Gavin McInnes is a libertarian who believes that there are some things liberals get right. He's correct about this, of course, although I don't know that he's correct on the specific things he mentions in this article. At any rate he lists ten examples of issues on which he agrees at least somewhat with the liberal position.

It's an amusing read, the tone of which he establishes at the outset:
[U]nlike extremist Muslims and Hasidic Jews, some of the things [liberals] believe are actually correct. For example:
When you read McInnes' rationale for each of these you'll probably find yourself agreeing with more of them than you might have expected to.

Welfare State

This chart, courtesy of The Blaze, will probably ruin your day. It provides a stark illustration of the explosion in dependency on the federal government from 2009 to 2011. Keep in mind that it doesn't include Social Security or Medicare.

Today there are over 110 million people in the U.S. currently receiving some form of government welfare. That's up from 97 million in just three years. According to the article at The Blaze, Medicaid has increased from 34 million people in 2000 to 54 million today and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) has grown from 17 million to 45 million.

Moreover, spending on food stamps alone is projected to reach nearly $800 billion over the next decade. Not only citizens, but non-citizens are eligible for food stamps paid for by the American taxpayer:
USDA has acknowledged a formal partnership with Mexico to boost food stamp enrollment amongst non-citizens, migrant workers and foreign nationals. In a ‘radio novela’ USDA even depicted an individual who resisted food stamp enrollment (saying her husband earned enough to take care of them) but who was successfully pressured into enrollment.
Why not? It's only money. If we need more we can just print it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Even Some Libs Are Outraged

How dishonest are the Obama super pacs' campaign ads? They're so bad that even the folks at CNN and MSNBC are disgusted by them. It takes a lot to make Mika Brzezinski recoil from anything associated with President Obama, but after the ridiculous "felon" business and the Bain capital attacks, the latest ad where a steel worker seems to blame his wife's death from cancer on Mitt Romney, she's apparently had enough:
Here's Wolf Blitzer at CNN raking Bill Burton over the coals for producing such an egregious piece of propaganda. The video is a little long, but it shows the ad and it affords a good idea of what the controversy is all about and why the ad is inaccurate. Even more, it shows that the folks at these liberal outlets are not happy with what's being done on behalf of Mr. Obama's candidacy:

Christian Terrorism

An academic by the name of Mark Juergensmeyer foists this bit of flapdoodle upon readers at the blog Religion Dispatches:
The killing spree by Wade Michael Page on the Sikh Gurudwara in Milwaukee that left seven dead including Page’s own death in a hail of bullets is an act of Christian terrorism. Page was a member of a skinhead band, End Apathy, that advertised the evils of multiculturalism and advocated white power.

It is fair to call Page a Christian terrorist since the evidence indicates that he thought he was defending the purity of white Christian society against the evils of multiculturalism that allow non-white non-Christians an equal role in America society. Like the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and the Norwegian militant, Anders Breivik, Page thought he was killing to save white Christian society.

Though there is no evidence that Page was a pious Christian, that is true of many religious terrorists. If the hard-talking, swaggering al Qaeda militants can be called Muslim terrorists, certainly Page can be called a Christian terrorist.
This is just silly. Muslim terrorists often are indeed very pious and claim to be acting in the name of Allah and Islam. As far as is known at this point Page has made no such claims, but the silliness doesn't end there.

Despite acknowledging that there's no evidence that Page (or McVeigh or Breivik) was a "pious Christian," despite the fact that - as far as I know - there's no evidence that any of these men were Christians in any genuine sense at all, nor that they were acting on behalf of "white Christian society," the writer goes on at some length repeating his assertion that Page was acting on behalf of "white Christendom."

I hope this is not the sort of thinking that passes for erudition in Mr. Juergensmeyer's field of sociology. It amounts to this: Page was an American, America is somewhat Christian, ergo Page "was killing to save white Christian society." Not only does this chain of "reasoning" perpetrate a brutal abuse of Aristotelian logic, it also demonstrates either an amazing ignorance on the part of a sociologist as to what Christianity actually is, or it evinces an astounding level of intellectual sloppiness on the part of someone who fancies himself an intellectual.

In either case, to suggest that Page is to Christianity what the al Qaeda terrorists were to Islam is ridiculous, and to insist that people like Page are somehow spawned by Christian belief is perverse.