Wednesday, October 31, 2012

California Bed-Wetters

A piece on the San Francisco Chronicle's blog on nervous California liberals begins this way:
There's no shortage of their kind in the politically bluest parts of California. Liberals so freaked out about the prospect of President Obama losing his re-election bid that they can't sleep at night. Can't talk about anything else. Can't stop parsing the latest polls.

David Plouffe, one of President Obama's top campaign strategists, has a word for supporters he feels are needlessly fretful: bed wetters.

"Oh, I think I'm worse than that," Kay Edelman said.

For the past several weeks, the 60-year-old San Francisco resident has frequently bolted awake in the middle of the night, in "a panic attack," she said. She darts for her computer and checks the latest polls. Some days she's so distraught that she can't exercise.

Every morning, she gets e-mails from friends who've been just as sleepless. Most are so tense, they can croak out only a few words. "Very anxious." "Worried."

"Nothing more needs to be said," said Edelman, a retired educational administrator.
The rest of the article is entertaining, particularly if you find liberal angst amusing.

What I don't understand is what Mr. Obama has done with his first four years that makes these people so despondent at the prospect that he might not have another four. After all, they live in California and can see close up how liberalism wrecks a once-prosperous economy. Why would they want the entire country to suffer a similar fate? Evidently, they do.

Carroll on Nagel's Mind and Cosmos

I have mentioned on a couple of recent occasions a new book by philosopher Thomas Nagel titled Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False in which Nagel suggests a tertium quid as an alternative to atheistic materialism and traditional theism.

He believes that materialism fails to explain the most important aspects of human existence and, though he recognizes that theism offers powerful answers, he just can't, or won't, bring himself to believe that there's a God.

Instead he posits a nebulous, mindless purposefulness underlying the cosmos that ultimately gives rise to human consciousness, human cognition, and human values. As I said, Nagel believes that materialism simply can't account for these phenomena and although theism can account for them, he finds the God hypothesis literally incredible. Thus, there must be something immaterial and impersonal that pervades the cosmos and which pushes evolution toward the development of conscious beings who can think and who possess a sense of moral value.

William Carroll examines Nagel's thesis in an article at Public Discourse. Carroll writes:
Can we have a comprehensive view of nature if we do not include an adequate account of consciousness, cognition, and value? Central to the orthodoxy of reductionist materialism is that these features of reality are fully explicable in terms of chemical and physical processes: in some theories they are mere epiphenomena of these processes; in others they are simply dismissed as illusions, shown to be so by the great successes of science.

Nagel, who tells us that he is an atheist, also rejects various forms of theism that appeal to the intentional agency of God to explain the complexities of nature and human nature. The principal focus of his book, as the subtitle indicates, is his criticism of Neo-Darwinian reductionism which, he says, is “incapable of providing an adequate account, either constitutive or historical, of our universe.”

This reductive materialism purports to capture life and mind through an extension of Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. “I find this view,” he says, “antecedently unbelievable — a heroic attempt of ideological theory over common sense.” The criticism of materialism is not new; less expected is the criticism of the adequacy of evolutionary biology.

Nagel does not find theism to be more credible as an account of the origin and development of life and intelligence. He is interested in possibilities other than Darwin or God, and he champions a view, “naturalistic teleology,” which he thinks may provide an account of nature that includes mental faculties as constitutive features.
Read the rest of Carroll's analysis of Nagel's book at the link. The significance of what Nagel has written is, in my view, that it's a rejection of materialism by a prominent thinker who is not a theist, and it reveals the deep fissures spreading throughout the edifice of 19th century atheistic materialism.

Nagel's hypothesis has about it a whiff of metaphysical desperation. He can see that materialism has no future, but he's determined to avoid a confrontation with God. Thus, he grasps hold of what seems to some to be a very slender and highly implausible reed - naturalistic teleology.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Uncommon Valor, Uncommon Grace

Tyrone Woods, a former navy SEAL and a CIA operative died a hero in the Benghazi attack on the U.S. consulate there. Knowing that he was putting his career and his life in peril, he and two others disobeyed an order (from whom?) to "stand down" and instead ran to the consulate where he helped save over 30 employees. His father makes a remarkable statement in an interview with Geraldo Rivera on FOX News.

Mr. Woods is certainly uncommonly gracious, but even though he forgives the president for his dereliction that led to the death of his son, nevertheless the voters of this nation must hold him, or whomever was responsible for denying Tyrone Woods the military assistance he requested and evidently thought to be available, accountable.

I say that Woods must have thought he would be getting help, indeed he must have thought that help was directly overhead, because at great risk to himself he positioned himself on the roof of the building and "painted" an enemy mortar battery with a laser to guide incoming missiles. The missiles, for reasons the Obama administration has yet to explain, were never launched but the laser revealed Woods' position and the attackers fired their mortars at him, killing him.

Who gave the order not to fire those missiles? Whether it was the president - who has claimed that he gave the order to do everything that could be done to secure the lives of the American personnel but has not produced a copy of that order - or a subordinate, who would have been guilty of disobeying the president's order, we need to know.

Perhaps the electorate will choose on November 6th to send the whole Obama team home from Washington so they'll have time to meditate on the significance of Mr. Woods' words about heroes and cowards.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Moral Matter

As we approach Tuesday's election some folks may still be wondering, perhaps, for whom they should cast their ballot.

I believe that one's vote should be based on competence and moral principles like concern for the well-being and flourishing of our nation's citizens. I think these concerns trump party, personal charisma, and even political ideology. I believe we have a moral responsibility to vote for the person whose policies are most likely to improve the lives of most Americans, especially the poor.

In the context of the coming election I think the candidate most likely to do that is Mr. Romney.

Consider several of the issues confronting our nation and their moral implications:

The National Debt. The debt rose about $5 trillion under 8 years of George Bush. It rose about the same amount in a little over 3 years under Barack Obama. It now stands at about $15.5 trillion. This is more money than our entire economy produces in a year.

If Mr. Obama wins re-election and his budget projections prove accurate, the National Debt will top $20 trillion in 2016, the final year of his second term. That would mean the Debt would have increased by 87 percent, or $9.34 trillion, during his two terms.

The last federal budget sent to Congress by Mr. Obama projects that the National Debt will continue to rise to $25.9 trillion in 2022.

There's simply no way to address such a massive burden without either inflating the currency, raising taxes to confiscatory levels, or defaulting. Any of these options would have devastating consequences, especially for the poor and middle class, and none of them would alleviate the debt problem anyway.

It's manifestly immoral to place this millstone around the necks of our children and grandchildren, but that's precisely what Mr. Obama's profligacy does.

The Economy. Mr. Obama has taken an economy that was bad and made it awful. What's equally as bad is that he has offered no plan to make it better. Mr. Romney's plan may work or may not, but at least he has a plan.

The basic problem we face is joblessness. This is especially devastating for the poor and the young. The unemployment rate is approximately 13% for blacks, 10% for Hispanics, and 23% for young people.

There are several things that Mr. Obama could, but won't, do to fix the problem. Mr. Romney says he will. Mr. Obama spent almost a trillion dollars on a stimulus program to create jobs but partly because so much of the stimulus went to things like welfare programs, unions, and green energy industries that create few or no jobs even if they don't go bankrupt, the real unemployment rate is higher today than it was when he took office.

In order to reduce the jobless rate Mr. Romney proposes to do the following:

1) Reduce corporate income tax rate. At 39% it's the highest in the world and is a powerful incentive for corporations to relocate overseas.
2) Reduce the regulatory burden on businesses which forces them to either layoff workers or put off hiring new workers.
3) Develop our domestic energy resources. By opening up federal lands and offshore sites we would immediately create jobs, stimulate the economy, increase revenue to the treasury, and move toward energy independence from the Middle East.

Under President Clinton permits to drill on federal lands rose 58%, under President Bush they rose 116%, under President Obama they declined 36%.

High fuel prices result in higher costs of everything we buy and crushes those living in or on the edge of poverty. Mr. Obama said in 2008 that he actually wants high gas prices, presumably because it would force consumers to buy less fossil fuel and reduce our carbon emissions. What it does, though, is force more people into poverty.

4) Repeal Obamacare. Obamacare is predicted by many experts to be a disaster for many of the nation's poor because it'll put about 17 million more of them into the medicaid system. The problem with this is that reimbursement for medicaid is so low that many physicians won't take medicaid patients or won't do more for them than the minimum.

Medicare recipients under Obamacare will have the same problem. By cutting $716 billion from the amount reimbursed to doctors it'll make taking on medicare patients unprofitable for 40% of all medicare providers.

Many businesses anticipate much higher costs once Obamacare kicks in which is inhibiting hiring.

The Erosion of Freedom. Mr. Obama wants to make government the source of all our benefits, but the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen. Government and individual freedom are at opposite ends of a seesaw. As the size and scope of government rises personal freedom falls.

A government that can tell you today that you have to buy a particular product, like insurance, or tells you today how much soda you can drink, will tell you tomorrow what surgical procedures you can have, and will tell you the next day that you cannot voice an opinion on matters like gay marriage or Islamic terrorism or even abortion if that opinion is deemed offensive or hateful by anyone.

If you think this sounds like a stretch consider that pastors have been arrested in Europe for professing a traditionally biblical view of homosexuality. Where Europe is today is where we will be tomorrow.

In fact, the man in California who exercised his freedom of speech by making the anti-Muslim video that the administration blamed for the murder of our ambassador and three others in Benghazi, Libya was arrested on a trivial pretext and is still in jail today.

Foreign Policy. Rosa Brooks, a former advisor in the Obama State Department, concludes a scathing indictment of the Obama foreign policy with this:
In foreign policy as in life, stuff happens -- including bad stuff no one could have predicted. Nonetheless, to a significant extent, President Obama is the author of his own lackluster foreign policy. He was a visionary candidate, but as president, he has presided over an exceptionally dysfunctional and un-visionary national security architecture -- one that appears to drift from crisis to crisis, with little ability to look beyond the next few weeks. His national security staff is squabbling and demoralized, and though senior White House officials are good at making policy announcements, mechanisms to actually implement policies are sadly inadequate.
An incoherent foreign policy and weakened military encourages terrorists and tyrants to greater bloodletting. President Obama was willing to kill hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Libyans in order to prevent Qaddafi from killing even more of his own people. Bashar Assad is killing tens of thousands of Syrians, but we stay out of the fray. What principle governs these decisions? Are they completely ad hoc?

Former Obama National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones recently claimed that our foreign policy in the Middle East and Iran is back to where we started four years ago.

A strong military is the best deterrent to war, but Mr. Obama has promised to pare our navy back to WWI levels. This will deeply diminish our ability to influence world events and, coupled with our economic weakness, will reduce us to little more than a regional power.


We could add to these reasons for doubting the wisdom of voting to reelect Mr. Obama his administration's inexplicable conduct in the Fast and Furious debacle in which for putative reasons that make no sense, the administration facilitated the smuggling of weapons to Mexican drug cartels which then used them to murder over two thousand Mexican citizens and several Americans.

The administration continues to block congressional efforts to get to the bottom of the operation and refuses to offer a plausible explanation for it.

We could also point out that despite holding complete control of the government for the first two years of his presidency Mr. Obama did nothing to solve our illegal immigration problem or to clarify the status of undocumented immigrants.

His administration squandered billions of dollars of taxpayers' money on green energy boondoggles run, in many cases, by big donors to his campaign.

His administration also seems to have cooperated in stripping thousands of non-union retirees of their pensions as part of the massive bailout to his union supporters in the GM/Chrysler auto rescue and now refuses to release documents that would clarify the government's role in this scandal.

His administration refuses to tell us why four Americans were killed in an attack on our embassy in Libya when, despite repeated calls for help, they were denied any military support.

Mr. Obama has cynically accused Republicans of waging a "War on Women" when, in fact, his own White House, according to a book by Ron Susskind, would have been ripe for a lawsuit if it were a private business because the prevailing environment was so hostile to women.

Indeed, former economic advisor Cynthia Roemer said that she "felt like a piece of meat" in this White House.

We could also point out that however one feels about abortion, most people are strongly opposed to infanticide and should be deeply troubled that as an Illinois state senator Mr. Obama twice voted against a bill that would require that babies born alive after botched abortions not be allowed to die.

Finally, there is the matter of personal integrity. As explained here, Mr. Obama is not above deliberately misrepresenting facts to gain political advantage.

Indeed, for two weeks after the Benghazi assault his administration deliberately misled the American people as to the nature of the attack, presumably to hide from the voters the failure of his foreign policy.

Perhaps Mr. Romney would turn out to be no better, but he could scarcely be worse. If moral considerations are the primary determinant in how one casts one's vote it's hard for me to see how a vote for the incumbent could be justified.

Contact Juggling

Here's something light to brighten the day of those of you living in the northeastern U.S. as you take refuge from Hurricane Sandy.

The Blaze has some astounding video of what's called "contact juggling." It's beautiful to watch and the skill of the practitioners is amazing. Take a look at this video which was captured at a festival in Japan:
A second video explains what contact juggling is:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

New Low

I guess the people at the Obama campaign think this ad is very cool, but in my opinion it says something important, and not very flattering, about the modern Democrat party.

That the people in charge of the Obama reelection campaign evidently think this ad might sway young women to vote for Mr. Obama reminds us that those who believe traditional morality is worth fighting to preserve have no friends in the current White House. Not only has Mr. Obama supported gay marriage, abortion, and infanticide, but he now wants to convince young women that casting your first vote for him is as sweet as losing your virginity to the "right guy."

The ad is of a piece with the attitude, evidently prevalent among those who design Mr. Obama's campaign themes, that young women are concerned with little else other than sex, contraception, access to abortion and who's going to pay for it all. It's really pretty degrading to women, I should think.
Great message Mr. President. I wonder if you'll show the ad to your daughters.

Friday, October 26, 2012

We Need Answers

Here are some questions on the Benghazi attack to which Mr. Obama owes us answers:

1. For several months Ambassador Stevens and members of his security detail requested beefed-up security. Despite the fact that he feared for his life and despite intelligence that Libya was growing increasingly dangerous, these requests were denied. Who ultimately made the decision to deny them and why?

2. When the assault on the consulate in Benghazi began CIA operatives requested permission to assist the consulate personnel who were under fire but were told to "stand down." Four of them went to the consulate anyway, in defiance of orders, and rescued some thirty people. Two of those heroes were subsequently killed in a mortar strike. Who told them to stand down and why?

3. During the course of the rescue and also later CIA personnel several times requested assistance from special operations teams stationed about an hour away in Italy. Their requests were denied. By whom and why?

4. Was Mr. Obama informed of what was taking place at the consulate? If not, why not? If he was informed, as it seems he almost certainly must have been, was he not the one who would have made the decision to send reinforcements or withhold them?

5. For two weeks after the Ambassador and three other Americans were killed, Mr. Obama and his surrogates insisted that the attack was provoked by an offensive video made by an Egyptian-American in California. They kept up this pretense even though they knew within hours of the attack that it was a terrorist assault that had nothing to do with the video. Why did they mislead the American people on this?

6. Why is the man who made the video arrested at 1:00 in the morning and still in jail today? Is this normal procedure for someone charged with a simple probation violation?

Not only does Mr. Obama owe us answers, he owes them to us before the election on November 6th. If he refuses to answer these questions then I have one more: Why?

Israelis (Maybe) Bomb Sudan

On October 24th four fighter-bombers destroyed a munitions factory in Sudan believed to have been a manufacturing site for Iranian surface-to-surface missiles. Although it's widely believed that the attack aircraft were Israeli the Israelis have declined to comment. Nevertheless, the strike sends an interesting message to Iran.

Debkafile observes that if indeed Israel was responsible for the bombing raid, it's possible that it had following objectives in mind:
1. Its air force flew 1,800-1,900 kilometers to reach the Sudanese arms factory, a distance longer than the 1,600 kilometers to the Iranian underground enrichment site of Fordo. This operation may have been intended to show Tehran that distance presents no obstacles to an Israeli strike on its nuclear program.

2. The Israeli Air Force has an efficient in-flight refueling capability.

3. By destroying the missiles the raid would have degraded Iran’s ability to retaliate for a potential Israel or US attack.
I wonder whether - if Israeli diplomats requested additional security for their embassy in a foreign land, or if their consulate was under attack and the diplomats posted there pleaded for military help - the Israeli political leadership would have turned them down and then gone off to some resort city to campaign.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bloodless Warfare

CBS in St. Louis reports that Boeing has developed a new technology that allows the military to attack electronic infrastructure without causing any harm to human beings:
Boeing successfully tested a new missile that can take out electronic targets with little collateral damage.

The aerospace company tested the microwave missile last week on a two-story building on the Utah Test and Training Range where computers and electronic systems were turned on to gauge the effects of the missile’s radio waves, according to a Boeing press release.

The missile, known as CHAMP (Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project), fired a burst of High Powered Microwaves at the building, successfully knocking out the electronic systems and computers, and even taking out the television cameras recording the test.

“This technology marks a new era in modern-day warfare,” Keith Coleman, CHAMP program manager for Boeing Phantom Works, said in the press release. “In the near future, this technology may be used to render an enemy’s electronic and data systems useless even before the first troops or aircraft arrive.”

Seven targets were taken out in total during the one-hour test which left no collateral damage.
There's more on this test at the link. Maybe Boeing can speed up production so the missile can be used against the Iranian nuclear weapons program. That'd put a bee in the mullahs' turbans.

Primer on Foreign Policy

Former congressman Thad McCotter has a brief piece at The Daily Caller in which he offers ten simple truths for those just beginning to learn about foreign policy issues.

Most of the ten are a little silly, but his top three contain more than a grain of truth, and we'd do well to heed them:
  • The United Nations is the august international institution where America pays through the nose to get kicked in the teeth.
  • The only time to trust a dictator is when he’s promising to kill you.
  • No one can follow you when you’re leading from behind.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Amazing Beyond Belief has a piece on some recent discoveries about the brain in which the researchers can scarcely contain their astonishment. Here's some of it:
The human brain is truly awesome.

A typical, healthy one houses some 200 billion nerve cells, which are connected to one another via hundreds of trillions of synapses. Each synapse functions like a microprocessor, and tens of thousands of them can connect a single neuron to other nerve cells. In the cerebral cortex alone, there are roughly 125 trillion synapses, which is about how many stars fill 1,500 Milky Way galaxies.

These synapses are, of course, so tiny (less than a thousandth of a millimeter in diameter) that humans haven't been able to see with great clarity what exactly they do and how, beyond knowing that their numbers vary over time. That is until now.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have spent the past few years engineering a new imaging model, which they call array tomography, in conjunction with novel computational software, to stitch together image slices into a three-dimensional image that can be rotated, penetrated and navigated. Their work appears in the journal Neuron this week.

To test their model, the team took tissue samples from a mouse whose brain had been bioengineered to make larger neurons in the cerebral cortex express a fluorescent protein (found in jellyfish), making them glow yellow-green. Because of this glow, the researchers were able to see synapses against the background of neurons.

They found that the brain's complexity is beyond anything they'd imagined, almost to the point of being beyond belief, says Stephen Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology and senior author of the paper describing the study:
One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor--with both memory-storage and information-processing elements--than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.
Here's a four minute video showing the mouse brain as revealed by the Array Tomography. Those synapses are the little orange-red dots in the tissue.
Keep in mind that this unimaginably complex organ is the product merely of random mutations and natural selection. In other words, it's an accident. If you believe otherwise, then you're just a superstitious ninny with silly blind faith in a supernatural "sky god." Sophisticated people know that this sort of complexity can easily arise by chance.

Just don't ask them to explain how.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Picking Losers

One reason the stimulus package enacted by President Obama in his early years in office has not stimulated the production of very many jobs is that a lot of the money was spent in ways that had nothing to do with job creation. Much of it was used to reward political supporters and some of it was used to prop up union pensions or businesses which were already on their way to bankruptcy. Some of these businesses were run by big donors to Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign.

The Heritage Foundation lists 36 companies in the green energy sector alone that received billions of dollars in taxpayer-backed loans which the taxpayers lost when the companies subsequently went bankrupt. Here's an excerpt from the Heritage report:
It is no secret that President Obama’s and green-energy supporters’ (from both parties) foray into venture capitalism has not gone well. But the extent of its failure has been largely ignored by the press. Sure, single instances garner attention as they happen, but they ignore past failures in order to make it seem like a rare case.

The truth is that the problem is widespread. The government’s picking winners and losers in the energy market has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and the rate of failure, cronyism, and corruption at the companies receiving the subsidies is substantial. The fact that some companies are not under financial duress does not make the policy a success. It simply means that our taxpayer dollars subsidized companies that would’ve found the financial support in the private market.

So far, 36 companies that have received federal support from taxpayers have either gone bankrupt or are laying off workers and are heading for bankruptcy. This list includes only those companies that received federal money from the Obama Administration’s Department of Energy. The amount of money indicated does not reflect how much was actually received or spent but how much was offered. The amount also does not include other state, local, and federal tax credits and subsidies, which push the amount of money these companies have received from taxpayers even higher.
Here's the list. The asterisk indicates that the company has already filed for bankruptcy:
  1. Evergreen Solar ($24 million)*
  2. SpectraWatt ($500,000)*
  3. Solyndra ($535 million)*
  4. Beacon Power ($69 million)*
  5. AES’s subsidiary Eastern Energy ($17.1 million)
  6. Nevada Geothermal ($98.5 million)
  7. SunPower ($1.5 billion)
  8. First Solar ($1.46 billion)
  9. Babcock and Brown ($178 million)
  10. EnerDel’s subsidiary Ener1 ($118.5 million)*
  11. Amonix ($5.9 million)
  12. National Renewable Energy Lab ($200 million)
  13. Fisker Automotive ($528 million)
  14. Abound Solar ($374 million)*
  15. A123 Systems ($279 million)*
  16. Willard and Kelsey Solar Group ($6 million)
  17. Johnson Controls ($299 million)
  18. Schneider Electric ($86 million)
  19. Brightsource ($1.6 billion)
  20. ECOtality ($126.2 million)
  21. Raser Technologies ($33 million)*
  22. Energy Conversion Devices ($13.3 million)*
  23. Mountain Plaza, Inc. ($2 million)*
  24. Olsen’s Crop Service and Olsen’s Mills Acquisition Company ($10 million)*
  25. Range Fuels ($80 million)*
  26. Thompson River Power ($6.4 million)*
  27. Stirling Energy Systems ($7 million)*
  28. LSP Energy ($2.1 billion)*
  29. UniSolar ($100 million)*
  30. Azure Dynamics ($120 million)*
  31. GreenVolts ($500,000)
  32. Vestas ($50 million)
  33. LG Chem’s subsidiary Compact Power ($150 million)
  34. Nordic Windpower ($16 million)*
  35. Navistar ($10 million)
  36. Satcon ($3 million)*
The loans to these companies have been largely forgiven which means the taxpayers will never get their money back. Heritage closes with this:
The problem begins with the government picking winners and losers in the first place. Venture capitalist firms exist for this very reason, and they choose what to invest in by looking at companies’ business models and deciding if they are worthy. When the government plays venture capitalist, it tends to reward companies that are connected to the policymakers themselves or because it sounds nice to “invest” in green energy.

The 2009 stimulus set aside $80 billion to subsidize politically preferred energy projects. Since that time, 1,900 investigations have been opened to look into stimulus waste, fraud, and abuse (although not all are linked to the green-energy funds), and nearly 600 convictions have been made. Of that $80 billion in clean energy loans, grants, and tax credits, at least 10 percent has gone to companies that have since either gone bankrupt or are circling the drain.

Monday, October 22, 2012

What Happened on the Ground in Benghazi

Time has the most thorough account I've read of what actually happened at the American consulate in Benghazi last September 11. It's an account gleaned from the Libyans who were guarding the compound and it's riveting.

Here's the preface to the article:
More than a month after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, U.S. officials have yet to talk to many of the Libyan guards on duty at the American mission on that fatal evening. Fearful of reprisal from the still unknown perpetrators of the attack, the guards have gone into hiding; and their vivid recollections are giving way to a sense of abandonment by the American government, which offered them no protection from the attackers the guards believe want them dead.

TIME’s Steven Sotloff has talked to the guards for their account of what happened on the night of Sept. 11, 2012 and the early hours of the day after. Five of the guards were employees of the British security company Blue Mountain, and three others were members of the Islamist-leaning February 17th militia who were tasked with providing diplomatic security for foreign missions.

To protect them from possible retribution, their names have been changed. What is clear is that, as others have reported, there was no protest, simply a sudden siege of the compound; U.S. security forces–including U.S. Marines who arrived at an American safe house outside the consulate grounds–were overwhelmed and stymied; and that the looters apparently came upon the body of a still-breathing Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Read the rest at the link.

Breathtaking Mendacity

An article by Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and accomplished writer and economist, sheds some light on the integrity and character of Barack Obama. In his column Sowell addresses the speech given by then Senator Obama to a mostly black audience at Hampton University on June 5, 2007.

Speaking in condescendingly affected black accents not natural to him Senator Obama pointed out that after 9/11 and after Hurricane Andrew the government waived the Stafford Act in New York and Florida. The act requires that communities contribute 10% of disaster relief received from the federal government. But, Obama told this audience of black ministers, the government did not waive it after Katrina hit New Orleans. The reason, he suggested, is because the government, i.e. the Bush administration, just didn't care about the black people of New Orleans.

Perhaps Mr. Obama really believed this, but it's false, and it's hard to give him the benefit of the doubt on it because, as Sowell points out, he must have known it was false.

Two weeks earlier, on May 24, 2007, the U.S. Senate voted 80-14 to waive the requirement of the Stafford Act for New Orleans and more federal money was subsequently pumped into New Orleans than was spent in New York and Florida combined.

Moreover, Senator Obama must have known of this vote even as he was denying it to his audience because, according to Sowell who cited the Senate record, Obama himself took part in it.

But here's the kicker. Not only was Mr. Obama indulging in racial demagoguery, not only was he falsely claiming that the government wouldn't do something for blacks that it, in fact, did do two weeks earlier, but when the bill came up for that vote two weeks before he gave that speech in Hampton, Barack Obama was one of the 14 who voted against waiving the ten percent requirement for New Orleans.

Keep this in mind as you watch recently discovered video of his speech. The relevant portion begins at about 2:42:
As we saw again in the wake of the Benghazi attack, after which the administration insisted for two weeks that the assault on the embassy was conducted by a motley mob outraged by an offensive video when in fact they knew almost from the first day that it was a pre-planned terrorist assault, truth is just not held in very high esteem by this president.

Maybe there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this. Maybe Sowell somehow got his facts confused. But if not, the hubris and mendacity Mr. Obama displayed in this speech is breathtaking.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The President's Dysfunctional Foreign Policy Team

Rosa Brooks is a law professor at Georgetown University and a Schwartz senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as a counselor to the U.S. defense undersecretary for policy from 2009 to 2011 and previously served as a senior advisor at the U.S. State Department so when she talks about the disarray in the Obama administration's foreign policy she knows whereof she speaks.

In a recent article in Foreign Policy, Brooks, who is actually an admirer of the president, paints a picture of a foreign policy team staffed by neophytes and led by a chief executive who is, simply put, unqualified for the job he's in. She doesn't put it quite that baldly in her essay, but that's the import of what she says.

After summarizing Mr. Obama's foreign policy inadequacies she writes this:
In foreign policy as in life, stuff happens -- including bad stuff no one could have predicted. Nonetheless, to a significant extent, President Obama is the author of his own lackluster foreign policy. He was a visionary candidate, but as president, he has presided over an exceptionally dysfunctional and un-visionary national security architecture -- one that appears to drift from crisis to crisis, with little ability to look beyond the next few weeks. His national security staff is squabbling and demoralized, and though senior White House officials are good at making policy announcements, mechanisms to actually implement policies are sadly inadequate.
Brooks then lists six things the president needs to do to remedy the deficiencies in his foreign policy "team," and elaborates at length on all six in her article. She states that Mr. Obama needs to:

1. Get a global strategy.
2. Get some decent managers.
3. Get some people who actually know something.
4. Get out of the bubble.
5. Get a backbone.
6. Get rid of the jerks.

Her explanations of each of these make for very interesting reading. She closes her essay with this:
President Obama came into office with so much good will -- from his own staff, from the American people, and from the world. But through his own unforced errors, he's lost much of that goodwill. To some extent, his errors are errors of inexperience: Obama simply undervalued issues of strategy, structure, process, and personnel.

These are understandable mistakes for a first-term president with little prior government experience (or management experience, for that matter). But such errors will be far less excusable if Obama gets a second term. If American voters give Obama four more years, he needs to push the foreign policy "reset" button.
This highlights the foolishness of thinking that qualifications don't matter while electing to the presidency a man who never in his life managed anything. Mr. Obama never ran a business, he was never a governor of a state, he was never an officer in the military. Why did anyone in 2008 think he could manage the most powerful nation in the world and what reason has he given us for thinking that the next four years would be any different than the last four?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ben Who?

The following video was made at a recent Obama campaign rally at Ohio University. It's cause for despair. One would think that students and others who take the trouble to attend a campaign rally would be at least a little bit informed about the more prominent issues of the day, but perhaps not.
I found myself expecting one of these kids to ask the interviewer who Ben Ghazi is. One wonders what these voters think about the national debt or the state of the economy.

It all reminds me of a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "If a nation expects to remain ignorant and free ... it expects what never was and never will be."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

New Review of In the Absence of God

Byron Borger is the proprietor of what may well be the best known independent bookstore in the Middle Atlantic states. I say that not because he's a personal friend but because it's true. His establishment is named Hearts and Minds Bookstore, and it would be hard to come up with a more apt or more succinct description of his shop. I doubt that there are many bookshop owners who know the books and music they carry on their shelves as thoroughly as Byron does nor are there many, I bet, who work harder to please their customers.

Because Byron is so well-known among book lovers in the area and because he's so knowledgeable about books, I was thrilled when he wrote a review of my own book In the Absence of God for his store's website. I urge anyone thinking about purchasing Absence to read his evaluation.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from his review to whet your interest:
So, no, this isn't a quick bit of mindless entertainment, but - happily -- it is quite entertaining. There are colorful characters, true-to-life plot lines, drama, romance, sports (Cleary was a football coach, too, so the athletic scenes of locker-rooms and game films and bus-rides to away games and inter-racial comraderie and tensions on the teams are realistic and believable.) And there is violence. Did I mention this is a tensely wrought, suspenseful crime story? I don't think Dick was being intentionally commercial (he just isn't that kind of a schemer and has too much stubborn integrity to allow anything to alter his vision) but as a bookseller, I can say that, as popular novels go, this truly has something for everyone.

The plot of In the Absence of God is fairly simple to tell, but the long conversations and the numerous sub-plots are many, so I don't want to summarize it too briefly. In a nutshell, the plot revolves around several college professors and their generally friendly intellectual debates and a handful of students that are struggling to determine which basic philosophical starting points are true.

Cleary's thesis, comes up posed as a question over and over: Can we truly say anything is actually wrong/immoral if there is no God? At a garden party near the end of the book, some free thinkers take exception to what they've heard of Dr. Peterson's view, and attack him rudely for daring to believe that atheists cannot be moral. Of course, Peterson has never said this---even in a novel, that would be outrageously dumb. Peterson's position is not that atheists cannot be good, since they obviously can be, but that there is no intellectual basis for saying something is good, no coherent foundation for ethics or morals, no way to really say that something is right or wrong. That is, there cannot be, if there is no universal right or wrong that transcends personal taste or social convention, which there cannot be if there is no God.

In the Absence of God contains episodes that are quite believable for anyone who has worked in higher education: the Christian prof, a biologist that is generally liked in his department, comes to blows with his department chair. There is a debate sponsored by the political science department about U.S. foreign policy and the left-wing perspective gets much more voice in an imbalanced panel - what a show that was, and what a good conversation some of them had afterwards. There is a sub-plot about interracial dating, a sub-plot about middle-aged professors caring for their aging parents (which I found very, very moving.) And there are some exciting football games, described without too much detail, but offering enough sports coverage to qualify as a bit of a novel for sports fans.
You can order the book directly from Hearts and Minds by clicking on this link. I have to say that Absence would make a fine Christmas gift for any thoughtful reader, but especially for a young man, who might be wrestling with questions about God.

What Is Time?

The nature of time has been described as perhaps the universe's most baffling mystery. Immanuel Kant thought that time was a part of our mental structure that enabled us to experience an external world that would be incomprehensibly incoherent without that structure.

Many modern thinkers, on the other hand, think of time as an objective reality that exists statically and through which we somehow pass.

Somewhat between these two views is the theory that what we call time is a collection of states of affairs that we experience, but that time itself is an illusion.

Derek sends along a link to an article in Popular Science by astrophysicist Adam Frank who seems to adopt this latter view. Frank presents us with an excerpt from his book About Time in which he advances the interesting theory that time has no real existence and describes the thinking of physicist Julian Barbour in support of his theory:
Julian Barbour’s solution to the problem of time in physics and cosmology is as simply stated as it is radical: there is no such thing as time.

“If you try to get your hands on time, it’s always slipping through your fingers,” says Barbour. “People are sure time is there, but they can’t get hold of it. My feeling is that they can’t get hold of it because it isn’t there at all.”

Isaac Newton thought of time as a river flowing at the same rate everywhere. Einstein changed this picture by unifying space and time into a single 4-Dimensional entity. But even Einstein failed to challenge the concept of time as a measure of change. In Barbour’s view, the question must be turned on its head. It is change that provides the illusion of time. Channeling the ghost of Parmenides, Barbour sees each individual moment as a whole, complete and existing in its own right. He calls these moments “Nows.”

“As we live, we seem to move through a succession of Nows,” says Barbour, “and the question is, what are they?” For Barbour each Now is an arrangement of everything in the universe. “We have the strong impression that things have definite positions relative to each other. I aim to abstract away everything we cannot see (directly or indirectly) and simply keep this idea of many different things coexisting at once. There are simply the Nows, nothing more, nothing less.”

Barbour’s Nows can be imagined as pages of a novel ripped from the book’s spine and tossed randomly onto the floor. Each page is a separate entity existing without time, existing outside of time. Arranging the pages in some special order and moving through them in a step-by-step fashion makes a story unfold. Still, no matter how we arrange the sheets, each page is complete and independent.

As Barbour says, “The cat that jumps is not the same cat that lands.” The physics of reality for Barbour is the physics of these Nows taken together as a whole. There is no past moment that flows into a future moment. Instead all the different possible configurations of the universe, every possible location of every atom throughout all of creation, exist simultaneously. Barbour’s Nows all exist at once in a vast Platonic realm that stands completely and absolutely without time.

“What really intrigues me,” says Barbour, “is that the totality of all possible Nows has a very special structure. You can think of it as a landscape or country. Each point in this country is a Now and I call the country Platonia, because it is timeless and created by perfect mathematical rules.” The question of “before” the Big Bang never arises for Barbour because his cosmology has no time. All that exists is a landscape of configurations, the landscape of Nows.

“Platonia is the true arena of the universe,” he says, “and its structure has a deep influence on whatever physics, classical or quantum, is played out in it.” For Barbour, the Big Bang is not an explosion in the distant past. It’s just a special place in Platonia, his terrain of independent Nows.
There's more on this at the link. Take the time to read it, or perhaps I should say, enter the Now of reading the article.

No Warming in Sixteen Years

A report released quietly to the internet with no real publicity attached to it bears some surprising and controversial news. It seems that since 1997 global temperatures have not risen at all. Despite all the talk of global warming and the Greenhouse Effect, despite the fears provoked by Al Gore's books and movies, there has been no planetary warming in almost 16 years.

The following chart illustrates the data:

Indeed, since 1887 the mean global temperature has risen only .75 degrees Celsius. hardly enough to produce significant changes in ice cover or biogeography. These changes do appear to be happening, however, but perhaps we should be looking elsewhere than rising temperatures, man-caused or otherwise, for the cause.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Near Death Experience

Perhaps you've heard the story of neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, who was in a coma for a week due to an attack of meningitis. Widely published, Dr. Alexander teaches at the University of Virginia Medical School and has been on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. The story of his Near Death Experience appeared in Newsweek magazine recently and it's a fascinating account, fraught with difficulties both for materialists and also, perhaps, for some religious believers.

Here's an excerpt of what he writes:
It took me months to come to terms with what happened to me. Not just the medical impossibility that I had been conscious during my coma, but -- more importantly -- the things that happened during that time. Toward the beginning of my adventure, I was in a place of clouds. Big, puffy, pink-white ones that showed up sharply against the deep blue-black sky...

Higher than the clouds -- immeasurably higher -- flocks of transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamerlike lines behind them. Birds? Angels? These words registered later, when I was writing down my recollections. But neither of these words do justice to the beings themselves, which were quite simply different from anything I have known on this planet. They were more advanced. Higher forms.

A sound, huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above, and I wondered if the winged beings were producing it. Again, thinking about it later, it occurred to me that the joy of these creatures, as they soared along, was such that they had to make this noise -- that if the joy didn't come out of them this way then they would simply not otherwise be able to contain it. The sound was palpable and almost material, like a rain that you can feel on your skin but doesn't get you wet...

It gets stranger still. For most of my journey, someone else was with me. A woman. She was young, and I remember what she looked like in complete detail. She had high cheekbones and deep-blue eyes. Golden brown tresses framed her lovely face. When first I saw her, we were riding along together on an intricately patterned surface, which after a moment I recognized as the wing of a butterfly. In fact, millions of butterflies were all around us -- vast fluttering waves of them, dipping down into the woods and coming back up around us again...

Without using any words, she spoke to me. The message went through me like a wind, and I instantly understood that it was true. I knew so in the same way that I knew that the world around us was real -- was not some fantasy, passing and insubstantial. The message had three parts, and if I had to translate them into earthly language, I'd say they ran something like this:
"You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever."
"You have nothing to fear."
"There is nothing you can do wrong."
What happened to me demands explanation.
What to make of this? First, some materialists, i.e. those who believe that physical matter is all there is, are scoffing at the report, claiming that Dr. Alexander simply dreamt the tale, but if he was in a genuine coma then he didn't dream it. Dreams are impossible in a coma.

Second, if he's accurately recounting what happened to him then materialism is clearly false.

But there's a problem here for some religious people as well. Alexander says in the article that:
Although I considered myself a faithful Christian, I was so more in name than in actual belief. I didn’t begrudge those who wanted to believe that Jesus was more than simply a good man who had suffered at the hands of the world. I sympathized deeply with those who wanted to believe that there was a God somewhere out there who loved us unconditionally. In fact, I envied such people the security that those beliefs no doubt provided. But as a scientist, I simply knew better than to believe them myself.
Many Christians believe that a nominal believer like Alexander does not go to heaven when he dies, but, again, if Alexander is correct then it would appear that that may not be the case.

He closes with this:
Today many believe that the living spiritual truths of religion have lost their power, and that science, not faith, is the road to truth. Before my experience I strongly suspected that this was the case myself.

But I now understand that such a view is far too simple. The plain fact is that the materialist picture of the body and brain as the producers, rather than the vehicles, of human consciousness is doomed. In its place a new view of mind and body will emerge, and in fact is emerging already. This view is scientific and spiritual in equal measure and will value what the greatest scientists of history themselves always valued above all: truth.
I admit that when I've read stories of NDEs in the past I was skeptical of their reliability, but when a man who's only a nominal believer, a neurosurgeon who works with brains everyday and has no religious axe to grind, relates such a narrative, it has a lot more credibility, at least for me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Modern Exodus

Once upon a time much of the Middle East and the entire northern tier of African countries was Christian. Then came the repeated and brutal Muslim invasions of the 7th through the 14th centuries and Christians were slaughtered, dispersed, or converted to Islam. Today it's hard to find Christian communities anywhere in North Africa. One place they have existed for two thousand years is Egypt, but the Arab "Spring" is putting an end to that presence as well. Islam is the least tolerant religion in the world, even less tolerant than atheistic communism, and it brooks no competition.

Samuel Tadros of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom writes a poignant article in the Wall Street Journal in which he describes the plight of Egypt's Coptic Christians. Here's part of his column:
Visit any Coptic church in the United States and you immediately recognize the newcomers. You see it in their eyes, hear it in their broken English, sense it in how they cling to the church in search of the familiar. They have come here escaping a place they used to call home, where their ancestors had lived for centuries.

Waves of Copts have come here from Egypt before, to escape Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalizations or the growing Islamist tide. Their country's transformation wasn't sudden, but every year brought more public Islamization. As the veil spread, Coptic women felt increasingly different, alien and marked. Verbal abuse came from schoolteachers, bystanders in the bus station who noticed the cross on a wrist, or commentators on state television.

But life was generally bearable. Hosni Mubarak crushed the Islamist insurgency of the 1980s and '90s. He was no friend to the Copts, but neither was he foe. His police often turned a blind eye when Coptic homes and shops were attacked by mobs, and the courts never punished the perpetrators—but the president wasn't an Islamist. He even interfered sometimes to give permission to build a church, or to make Christmas a national holiday.

To be sure, Copts were excluded from high government positions. There were no Coptic governors, intelligence officers, deans of schools, or CEOs of government companies. Until 2005, Copts needed presidential approval to build a new church or even build a bathroom in an existing one. Even with approval, state security often blocked construction, citing security concerns.

Those concerns were often real. Mobs could mobilize against Copts with the slightest incitement—rumor of a romantic relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman, a church being built, reports of a Christian having insulted Islam. The details varied but the results didn't: homes burned, shops destroyed, Christians leaving villages, sometimes dead bodies. The police would arrive late and force a reconciliation session between perpetrators and victims during which everything would be forgiven and no one punished. What pained the Copts most was that the attackers were neighbors, co-workers and childhood friends.

Then came last year's revolution. Copts were never enthusiastic about it, perhaps because centuries of persecution taught that the persecuting dictator was preferable to the mob. He could be bought off, persuaded to hold back or pressured by outside forces. With the mob you stood no chance. Some younger Copts were lured by the promise of a liberal Egypt, but the older generation knew better.
Read the rest at the link. Like those younger Copts Tadros mentions, our own political leadership was seduced by the promise of a liberal Egypt, but a lot of other Americans knew better. They knew that the young Egyptians dying in Tahrir Square were simply pawns being used by the Islamists. They knew that when their usefulness was exhausted they would simply be shoved aside and that the radicals would establish themselves in the seat of power. It wasn't hard to predict because it's always been this way, particularly in the Arab world.

What lies in store for Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan and everywhere else where Muslim Arabs dominate is less freedom, more oppression, and greater religious rigidity. At best this process has been slowed by the influence of Western nations like the U.S. At worst, though, the West acquiesces in, or even facilitates - as it did in Egypt - the deepening Islamization of these countries and the tyrannical oppression of their people, particularly religious and ethnic minorities.

Monday, October 15, 2012

No Win Situation

A report out of Florida illustrates one difficult situation that educators in districts across the country find themselves in. Here are the highlights:
The Florida State Board of Education passed a plan that sets goals for students in math and reading based upon their race.

On Tuesday, the board passed a revised strategic plan that says that by 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. For math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids to be proficient, whites at 86 percent, Hispanics at 80 percent and blacks at 74 percent. It also measures by other groupings, such as poverty and disabilities, reported the Palm Beach Post.

The plan has infuriated many community activists in Palm Beach County and across the state.

“To expect less from one demographic and more from another is just a little off-base,” Juan Lopez, magnet coordinator at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Riviera Beach, told the Palm Beach Post.

“Our kids, although they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, they still have the ability to learn,” Lopez said. “To dumb down the expectations for one group, that seems a little unfair.”

Others in the community agreed with Lopez’s assessment. But the Florida Department of Education said the goals recognize that not every group is starting from the same point and are meant to be ambitious but realistic.

As an example, the percentage of white students scoring at or above grade level (as measured by whether they scored a 3 or higher on the reading FCAT) was 69 percent in 2011-2012, according to the state. For black students, it was 38 percent, and for Hispanics, it was 53 percent.

Palm Beach County School Board vice-chairwoman Debra Robinson isn’t buying the rationale.

“I’m somewhere between complete and utter disgust and anger and disappointment with humanity,” Robinson told the Post. She said she has been receiving complaints from upset black and Hispanic parents since the state board took its action this week.

Robinson called the state board’s actions essentially “proclaiming racism” and said she wants Palm Beach County to continue to educate every child with the same expectations, regardless of race.
The Florida Board of Education is between a rock and a hard place. They can hold all students to the same uniform standards of educational achievement and thereby set a large share of minority students up for almost certain failure as they find themselves generally unable to compete academically with members of other groups. Or they can recognize that not all groups, as groups, have the same academic potential, establish accomodations for that fact, and be branded racists for their trouble.

Either course will lead to stratified schools and an equally stratified society for years to come as academically accomplished whites and Asians continue to rise to the top and academically challenged minorities sink toward the bottom.

Although I sympathize with those who wish to help minority kids succeed by facing up to the realities of racial disparities, I think such policies will only lead us back to some form of segregation. Better to hold all kids to the same expectations so that those who can meet those challenges will have the same opportunities to succeed in their life's work as members of other groups. Academic race-norming will only stigmatize the achievements of those who are genuinely capable and reinforce the reluctance of employers to hire minorities for jobs that they'll be afraid the applicant hasn't been prepared to handle.

Stratification may be an insoluble problem but at least we should keep the standards high for those who have the wherewithal to transcend it.

Class Clown

The first video below counts the number of times in last Wednesday's debate that Vice-President Biden interrupted Paul Ryan as Ryan tried to speak. The second video shows Mr. Biden appearing to be auditioning for the role of the Joker in the next Batman movie.
So far from being mortified by their candidate's embarrassing behavior the Democrats have launched a devastating video of their own. In their vid they count the number of times Congressman Ryan ... takes a drink of water. That should win them a couple of votes.

Actually, the utter triviality of the Democrats' video is of a piece with their response to the spanking Mr. Obama took from Mitt Romney in their earlier debate. The country is in dire fiscal peril. Diplomats are being murdered in Libya and Yemen. The biggest terrorist state in the world, Iran, is on the threshold of having a nuclear weapon, and Mr. Obama seeks to persuade people not to vote for Romney on the grounds that he'll kill Big Bird.

Here's an interesting thought experiment. Imagine that it was Paul Ryan who acted like Joe Biden did last Wednesday and that Biden acted as calmly and professionally as did Ryan. What would the media be saying about the comparative suitability of the two men to be first in the line of succession to the presidency?

Ryan would've almost certainly been declared non compos mentis by the pundits before the hall even cleared and the election would've been pronounced over. America would never, and should never, we would be told every minute of every day from now until November 6th, elect such a buffoon to serve in such high office. Instead, since it was Biden who played the clown, the left is actually reveling in his gaucheries, and the mainstream liberal media is pretty much pretending they didn't notice.

The polls, however, are showing that the American people did notice.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Belief, Disbelief, and Will

One of the claims I make in my book In the Absence of God (see link above right) is that belief and disbelief are for most people, believers and unbelievers alike, matters of the will and not matters of evidence or reason.

It's common to hear "New Atheists," for example, accuse Christians of Freudian wish fulfillment, of believing what they fervently want to be true. Perhaps they're right. I certainly think it's true of many Christians that they believe the Gospel because the Christian story is so compellingly beautiful and they just want that story to be true, but it's also true of most atheists.

Philosopher Thomas Nagel says in his book The Last Word that he is curious
"whether there is anyone who is genuinely indifferent as to whether there is a God - anyone who, whatever his actual belief about the matter, doesn't particularly want either one of the answers to be correct ..."
He himself openly admits in the book that his disbelief is not a matter of reasoned thinking about the matter:
I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.
I think that were most atheists as honest with themselves as is Nagel they'd say the same thing. Nobel Prize-winning biologist George Wald presents us with another example of what we might call atheistic wish-fulfillment. Back in 1954 he wrote:
There are only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of God. There is no third possibility....I will not accept [a supernatural creative act of God] philosophically because I do not want to believe in God, therefore I choose to believe that which I know is scientifically impossible; spontaneous generation arising to Evolution.
I confess that though I certainly think that many atheists disbelieve simply because they don't want there to be a God, I have difficulty understanding this desire. Why would someone not want the universe to be the sort of place where there's a ground for moral duties, where life has genuine meaning, where one has good reason to hope that death is not final and that this life is not all there is, where there's good reason to think that ultimately justice will prevail, where human beings have genuine dignity and worth, and where the Platonic ideals of the Good, the Beautiful and the True are actually instantiated in a Being who deeply loves us?

I don't understand why anyone would want the world to be the sort of place where none of these are possible and indeed where life is meaningless, moral obligation is non-existent, where there's no hope of anything transcendent, where human beings are nothing more than transient collocations of atoms, where life is nothing more than a cruel joke and nihilism and despair are perfectly rational responses to the human predicament.

Those are the two worlds each of us must choose between. To want God to exist is to opt for the first, to want him to not exist is to prefer the second.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Shameful Behavior

It's entirely understandable if viewers who tuned into last night's vice-presidential debate promptly switched to the baseball or football games. Watching the debate was a disappointingly unedifying experience. Although not entirely. If, for example, we want the man who stands only a heartbeat away from the presidency to be a rude, ill-mannered, boorish buffoon then we certainly learned last evening that Joe Biden is our man.

Taking a page from the debate tactics of Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity - never let your opponent complete a sentence, talk over him so he can't be heard, and mock him at every turn - Mr. Biden was successful beyond the hopes of even the most partisan Democrat at preventing the viewer from actually learning much of anything about how Republicans would address the grave problems facing the country.

If one were to read the transcript of the debate one might come to the conclusion that both men did reasonably well, but watching it on split-screen television, Mr. Biden's arguments, whatever their merits, were rendered moot by his obnoxious discourtesies directed at his opponent. Focussing on what Ryan was saying was extremely difficult with Biden guffawing on camera at almost every argument and claim Ryan made.

It's really too bad. The American people want to cast an informed vote, but the Democratic candidate made sure that few people who tuned in to last night's "debate" would be more informed when it ended than they were when it started.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Ed Morrisey at Hot Air claims that the economic policies of the current administration have been a complete and miserable failure, a claim that receives considerable support from this video:

Another Administration Scandal

ABC reports the story of what happened in Benghazi the night that our ambassador and three other Americans were murdered. There are two very troubling aspects of this story that reflect poorly on the Obama administration and on Mr. Obama himself.

The first is that for two weeks after this attack the administration, including Mr. Obama, made a concerted effort to conceal the actual nature of the attack, misleading the American public into thinking that it was a spontaneous raid by an enraged mob which was protesting an anti-Muslim video.

Why the administration repeatedly tried to establish this narrative is unclear, but perhaps they realized that if the attack were seen as a terrorist assault it would show Mr. Obama's foreign policy of rapprochement with Muslims abroad to be pretty much a futile, failed effort. Whatever the case, the administration knew within 24 hours what had happened and that it wasn't the work of an offended mob. It was a planned terrorist atrocity. The administration knew this and continued nevertheless to mislead the American people about it.

The second scandalous aspect of this awful episode is that the ambassador and others in Libya had several times requested more security for themselves and other diplomatic personnel. They had intelligence that their lives were in serious danger but each request for more protection was refused by a State Department official named Charlene Lamb who testified to Congress that she thought the ambassador had sufficient security.

This whole tragic debacle has about it the odor of incompetence, poor judgment, and cynical political calculation for which both the President and his Secretary of State should be held accountable.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More Praise for In the Absence of God

My brother Bill just finished reading In the Absence of God and writes this:
Congratulations on a great story. I realized I was in for a Clancy-esque experience when the narrative in the first chapter describing Jesse chasing the ball carrier was suspended and another thread introducing Weyland and Peterson was developed. That technique contributes to the page-turning quality of the story.

Before the book arrived I suspected I would see some familiar ideas similar to what you post on Viewpoint. It was nice to find them in a single, consolidated presentation.

In The Absence Of God will make for a meaningful gift idea for family and friends. Thanks for taking the time to write Absence, we're all better off for it!
I agree (with humility, of course) that the book would make a fine Christmas gift, especially for intelligent young adults (especially young men) who might be wrestling with questions about God and who are willing to spend some time thinking about those questions.

If you'd like to read more, Bill has added a feature to Viewpoint that links to more information on what the book's about and where you can purchase a copy. Just click on In the Absence of God in the upper right side of this page.

What Is Reality?

New Scientist has a short article (available for another day without subscription) by British philosopher Jan Westerhoff on the nature of reality. The article is accompanied by this video:
Westerhoff opens his essay with this:
What do we actually mean by reality? A straightforward answer is that it means everything that appears to our five senses - everything that we can see, smell, touch and so forth. Yet this answer ignores such problematic entities as electrons, the recession and the number 5, which we cannot sense but which are very real. It also ignores phantom limbs and illusory smells. Both can appear vividly real, but we would like to say that these are not part of reality.
Later in the piece Westerhoff adds:
There are two definitions of reality that are much more successful. The first equates reality with a world without us, a world untouched by human desires and intentions. By this definition, a lot of things we usually regard as real - languages, wars, the financial crisis - are nothing of the sort. Still, it is the most solid one so far because it removes human subjectivity from the picture.

The second equates reality with the most fundamental things that everything else depends on. In the material world, molecules depend on their constituent atoms, atoms on electrons and a nucleus, which in turn depends on protons and neutrons, and so on. In this hierarchy, every level depends on the one below it, so we might define reality as made up of whatever entities stand at the bottom of the chain of dependence, and thus depend on nothing else.
Well, this is interesting. In the paragraph op cit. Westerhoff suggests that human subjectivity shouldn't be part of our picture of reality, but what if what stands at the "bottom of the chain of dependence" is mind rather than anything material? What if, as physicist Sir James Jeans once observed, the universe is more like a grand idea than a grand machine? What if mind is the fundamental reality and matter is just an illusion we experience because we're the size and sort of beings we are?

I'm not saying that matter is just an illusion, but when we reduce matter down to the "entities that stand at the bottom of the chain of dependence" we find that they themselves are immaterial. They're simply energy (whatever that is). If atoms, the basis of all material stuff, are reducible to just energy then in what sense are atoms real, and, a forteriori, in what sense is matter real?

There are stirrings in both physics and philosophy that suggest that at least some of the practitioners in each of these fields are growing increasingly disenchanted with the 19th century view that reality is fundamentally material. Indeed, I suspect that the only reason that more of them are not abandoning materialism altogether is that the view that the world is at bottom a product of mind has too many disconcerting theological implications.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tough Ad

If a picture is worth a thousand words how much are 30 seconds of picture worth?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Did You Know?

Here are a few facts about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) gleaned from a Wall Street Journal article written by Heather Higgins and Hadley Heath:
  • Americans know that ObamaCare requires insurance companies to allow families to keep adult children up to age 26 on their parents' policy. They are less likely to know that the provision increased the average family premium—even for families that didn't add adult dependents—by $150-$450 in 2011.
  • The average family's health-insurance premiums are already up $1,300.
  • Young workers who buy their own insurance will see a 19%-30% increase in premiums as a result of ObamaCare.
  • Remember the 700,000 people whom the Congressional Budget Office predicted would make use of ObamaCare's federal high-risk program? Just 78,000 people have enrolled. As a result, each person in the program costs taxpayers millions of allocated dollars. Americans, when they hear this, know instinctively that there must be a better way to address the problem.
  • ObamaCare was sold as the solution to covering the 47 million uninsured in America, but 10 years after the law is implemented, 30 million Americans will still be uninsured. What problem, exactly, is ObamaCare solving again?
  • Americans are also generally familiar with Medicaid's problems, among them the refusal by many doctors to accept Medicaid patients. What most people don't know is that approximately 10 million of those who gain insurance under ObamaCare will just be dumped into the already cash-strapped Medicaid system.
There's a lot more information on the Health Reform law at this site. You read this stuff and you can understand why the GOP wants to rescind much of it. It looks like there was no more preparation put into it than was put into Mr. Obama's debate appearance Wednesday night.

Child Abuse

Good teachers across the country are deeply concerned that their standing in the public's esteem has been declining for several decades. This is unfortunate because there are so many outstanding people working with our kids in their schools, but what the public often sees are the ones who have no business being in the classroom. Like this woman at Philadelphia's Charles Carroll High School who apparently missed the in-service program on teaching tolerance and respect for young people:
A Philadelphia high school that normally requires students to wear uniforms initiated a casual dress day on Wednesday. But for one student at Charles Carroll High School, the opportunity to dress down was accompanied by a public dressing down, station KSDK reports.

Samantha Pawlucy, a sophomore, came to school clad in a Romney-Ryan T-shirt. The day passed without incident until she arrived at her geometry class. Her teacher, who is black, became so exercised at the sight of the shirt that she ordered the 16-year-old out of her classroom. When Samantha refused to leave, the teacher told her to remove the shirt, demanding to know whether her parents were (cover your ears) “R*p*blican.” She explained that Carroll High is a “Democratic school” and that wearing a Republican shirt is in her view akin to wearing a KKK shirt.

Still not satisfied that this important lesson had taken, the teacher marched Samantha out into the hallway, where she urged other teachers and students to mock her for her impertinence.

“I was really embarrassed and shocked,” the teen is quoted as saying. “I didn’t think she’d go in the hallway and scream to everyone.”

Samantha told reporters that she had decided to wear the shirt after researching the two major party candidates for president and concluding that she liked Romney’s message better. Her father, Richard Pawlucy, said she was especially interested in Romney’s opposition to partial-birth abortion.
When teachers lament that their communities are losing respect for them, when they complain that they're not being treated like professionals, maybe they should ask themselves why their unions protect numbskulls who think that a publicly funded school is a "Democratic" school, who seek to impose their beliefs by bullying and humiliating their students, and who extol diversity in race, gender and sexual orientation, but not in political opinions.

Unless there's a lot more to this story than what's at the link, this woman should be fired. Whatever she is she's not a teacher.

The article reminds us that neither is this woman an isolated example. There was, for instance, the teacher in North Carolina last spring who demanded that her students stop speaking ill of Mr. Obama and threatened them with arrest if they didn't.

Schools used to have standards that prospective teachers had to meet before they were placed in a classroom. Apparently, nowadays they let almost anyone do the job. With so many young, qualified people with IQs well above normal looking in vain for teaching positions, why do we inflict people like these on our kids? It's a form of child abuse.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why Is Anyone Surprised?

I was mildly amused by the reaction of liberal pundits to the carnage Mitt Romney inflicted during Wednesday night's presidential debate. The left has been almost uniformly shocked at the president's poor showing and uniformly astonished at Mitt Romney's impressario performance.

I think both reactions show how out of touch the left is with reality and how much they've been gulled by their own mythologizing.

Ever since Barack Obama first strode onto the national stage at the 2004 Democratic convention, liberals have apotheosized the man, creating a myth and an aura that was out of all proportion to his actual accomplishments and record. Adducing no evidence to support their claims, Mr. Obama's media acolytes nevertheless insisted that he was the most brilliant human being ever to campaign for high office. He was an eloquent policy expert who mastered the minutiae of every issue, and who would bring peace, tranquility and renewed respect for the U.S. to a troubled land. His administration would banish lobbyists and achieve historic levels of transparency, racial comity, and bipartisanship. Nor would any taint of corruption ever attach to the administration led by the man who was sending tingles up the legs of television pundits and inducing fainting spells among young women at his rallies.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, was a stiff, wooden, doofus or, alternatively, a cunningly malevolent Darth Vadar. A rich white guy who was not only a felon, a tax cheat, a murderer of men's wives, but, perhaps worse, inarticulate and geeky.

The prospect of these two meeting on stage in mortal combat caused liberal hearts to pound and mouths to water. They couldn't wait to see their god-like gladiator fell the evil, insipid, goofball Romney with a mere word from his divine lips. Their anticipation of the impending rout and their scorn for Mr. Obama's adversary approximated, perhaps, how the Philistines must have felt when the Israelites sent out an unarmed David to face their great Goliath. And likewise was their utter mortification at the result. The debacle was completely unanticipated because the left had come to believe their own caricatures of both men. They created an image of both Obama and Romney that the former could never live up to and which completely misrepresented the latter.

Now they're bitter, and, as Matthew Continetti writes in a scintillating column at Free Beacon, they're turning on their own like a bunch of cannibals. Yet the liberal punditocracy is as much to blame as is their humiliated champion. Nothing in Mr. Obama's past could have given anyone who wasn't blinded by his superficial charm the idea that he was really anything more than a very lucky community organizer who rose to the highest office in the land in much the same fashion that Chauncy Gardner rose to prominence in the movie Being There.

Mr. Obama's votaries are now reaching for even the most risible excuses. Al Gore blamed it on Denver's altitude. Bob Woodward suspects Obama had something weighing heavily upon his mind. But the fact is that Mr. Obama was forced into the unfortunate position of having to defend an indefensible record without the benefit of a prepared speech or a complaisant media to run interference for him. He had to rely solely on his true abilities and so did Mr. Romney. The results and the contrast were pretty stark.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Get to the Bottom of Benghazi

The editors of National Review are calling on the president to deliver on his promise in 2008 to run a transparent administration and come clean on the murders of our diplomats in Benghazi. Here's an excerpt:
Less than a week later, four Americans were dead in Libya and al-Qaeda flags flew over our diplomatic missions in Benghazi and Cairo on the anniversary of 9/11. The juxtaposition of the campaign brag with the video of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s body being dragged through the streets was politically unfortunate for the president — especially given his earlier boast that anti-Americanism would wane under his administration.

This perhaps explains, though can never justify, what is now clear about the administration’s persistent denial that the attack was preplanned. Namely, that the White House either was deliberately less than truthful, was cataclysmically incompetent, or both.

From a handful of investigative reports and a few intrepid whistleblowers who came forward to Representative Darrell Issa’s House Oversight Committee, we now know that before Benghazi — before Charlotte — the U.S. intelligence community was well aware that al-Qaeda was in an “expansion phase” in Libya.

Indeed, anti-Western attacks, including RPG and IED attacks on the Benghazi consulate, had been ramping up since as early as April, and by June Libyan militants were openly discussing targeting Ambassador Stevens on social networks. We also know that despite all this, repeated requests for additional security from U.S. mission staff in Libya were denied.

Within 24 hours of the Benghazi attack that killed Stevens and three others, U.S. intelligence had “very good information” that the strike was preplanned and perpetrated by al-Qaeda-connected militants. And yet on September 13, Jay Carney was saying they were “not directly in reaction to . . . the government of the United States or the people of the United States.” And as late as September 16, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was flooding the Sunday chat shows with the same message: “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

It wasn’t until more than a week later that administration officials admitted Benghazi was a terrorist hit, and it wasn’t until nearly two weeks later that the president yielded as much. This long after the intelligence community — not to mention the Libyan government, Senator John McCain, House Select Committee on Intelligence chairman Mike Rogers, a number of reporters and pundits, and anyone with a handful of functioning neurons and an Internet connection — had reached the same conclusion.

In the interim, the yawning gap between the administration’s official line and the dictates of common sense raised the critical question: Was the White House wishfully guessing because it actually didn’t know or care about the conditions on the ground in a state in which it had intervened with precision-guided munitions to create, or was it telling tales as part of a shortsighted political calculation to keep the first assassination of a U.S. ambassador in 30 years from becoming a campaign issue down the home stretch?

If it’s the former, it suggests a startling and dangerous disconnect between the administration’s diplomatic, intelligence, and political chains of command in a region critical to the national security of the United States. If it’s the latter, it reveals something just as dangerous: an administration willing to suppress the truth about the murder of Americans to protect its short-term political interests.
What's unconscionable in the reports about this terrible incident is that the ambassador had for some weeks feared for his life, requested that the State Department give him more protection, and was ignored or refused. How can the paper-pushers at the State Department live with themselves knowing that when this man was in jeopardy they did nothing to help him? How can they keep their jobs?

Read the rest of NR's editorial at the link. The whole thing has about it the odor of a cover-up, a tactic which this most "transparent" of administrations is getting a lot of practice at lately.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What Is Knowledge?

Philosopher Paul Pardi gives an easy-to-understand overview of some of the problems of epistemology in an essay at Philosophy News. He begins with this:
Studying knowledge is something philosophers have been doing for as long as philosophy has been around. It’s one of those perennial topics—like the nature of matter in the hard sciences--that philosophy has been refining since before the time of Plato.

The discipline is known as epistemology which comes from two Greek words episteme which means knowledge and logos which means a word or reason. Epistemology literally means to reason about knowledge. Epistemologists study what makes up knowledge, what kinds of things can we know, what are the limits to what we can know, and even if it’s possible to actually know anything at all.

At first this might seem like one of those topics that gives philosophy a bad name. After all, it seems kind of silly to ask whether we can know anything since is obvious we do. It's even more silly when you consider that to even ask the question, you must assume you know something! So why have some of the greatest minds the world has ever produced spent such a great deal of time on the subject?

In order to answer that question, you probably have to have some idea what the term “know” means. If I asked, “Have you seen the flibbertijibbet at the fair today?” I’d guess you wouldn’t know how to answer. You’d probably ask me what a flibbertijibbet is. But most adults tend not to ask what knowledge is before they can evaluate whether they have it or not. We just claim to know stuff and most of us, I suspect, are pretty comfortable with that. There are lots of reasons for this but the most likely is that we have picked up a definition over time and have a general sense of what the term means. Many of us would probably say knowledge that something is true involves:
  • Certainty – it's hard if not impossible to deny
  • Evidence – it has to based on something
  • Practicality – it has to actually work in the real world
  • Broad agreement – lots of people have to agree it's true
But if you think about it, each of these has problems. For example, what would you claim to know that you would also say you are certain of? Let’s suppose you’re not intoxicated, high, or in some other way in your “right” mind and conclude that you know there is a computer in front of you. You might go further and claim that denying it would be crazy, but isn’t it at least possible that you’re dreaming or that you’re in something like the Matrix and everything you see is an illusion?

Before you say such a thing is absurd and only those who were unable to make the varsity football team would even consider such questions, can you be sure you’re not being tricked? After all, if you are in the Matrix, the robots that created the Matrix would be making you believe you are not in the Matrix and that you’re certain you aren’t.
Pardi has many more interesting things to say about the questions addressed by epistemologists in his article at the link. Check it out.

Extreme Deep Field

The pic below was featured at the Hubble Space Telescope website. Here's what the Hubble folks said about it:
Like photographers assembling a portfolio of best shots, astronomers have assembled a new, improved portrait of mankind's deepest-ever view of the universe. Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the photo was assembled by combining 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken of a patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The XDF is a small fraction of the angular diameter of the full Moon.

The XDF contains about 5,500 galaxies even within its smaller field of view. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can see.
Each of these galaxies contains billions of stars. If we could see them more closely many of them would look like this:
Photos like the Extreme Deep Field pic sometimes raise theological questions. For example, if God created the universe why was he so extravagant? Why so many galaxies? Why is the universe so big? Why is it so old?

No one knows the answers for sure, of course, but I think we can take a pretty good guess.

If God created the universe in order for us to inhabit it, and if he chose to bring it into being the way cosmologists believe it came into being - in a huge explosion ex nihilo(the Big Bang) - then it has to be as old as it is and as big as it is for us to be here. Here's why:

Following the initial explosion the universe would have been nothing but energy. As it cooled the energy formed hydrogen which gradually coalesced into stars which produced heavier elements in their cores in the process of nuclear fusion. Eventually these stars exploded and spewed these heavy elements into space. These elements were later captured around stars like the sun and coagulated into spheres (planets).

This whole process by which the universe got to the point where the elements necessary for life could form and where life could be supported took billions of years all during which the universe was rapidly expanding. Thus, given that God may have chosen to create the universe in this way, the universe has to be as old as it is and therefore as big as it is.

It could well be the case that all of it, in its incomprehensible immensity, exists simply so that we can. If so, then the universe really would be anthropocentric. We really would be the point, or center, of the whole thing.