Friday, November 30, 2012

Now He Tells Us

Pastor Rick Warren has had a political Damascus Road experience of sorts:
Saddleback Church founder and author Rick Warren, who once praised President Barack Obama's "courage" for inviting the conservative pastor to give the invocation at his inauguration and hailed his "commitment to model civility," has drastically changed his tone on the man who helped make him a familiar name to many Americans.

Obama is "absolutely" unfriendly to religion and his administration's policies have "intentionally infringed upon religious liberties," Warren said in an interview Wednesday.
Well, yes, but we've pretty much known this for about a year now. It may have been helpful had Pastor Warren declared his disenchantment with Mr. Obama in, say, September. Maybe he did and I just missed it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Colleges and Tyranny

Michael Barone surveys two new books at NRO both of which expose how ideological liberalism at our colleges and universities both harms and tyrannizes students. Barone writes:
In recent weeks, two books have appeared about another of America’s gleaming institutions, our colleges and universities. Either of them could be subtitled “The Shame of the Universities.”

In Mismatch, law professor Richard Sander and journalist Stuart Taylor expose, in the words of their subtitle, How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It. In Unlearning Liberty, Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), describes how university speech codes create, as his subtitle puts it, Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.

Mismatch is a story of good intentions gone terribly awry.

Sander and Taylor document beyond disagreement how university admissions offices’ racial quotas and preferences systematically put black and Hispanic students in schools where they are far less well prepared than others.

As a result, they tend to get low grades, withdraw from science and math courses, and drop out without graduating. The effect is particularly notable in law schools, where large numbers of blacks and Hispanics either drop out or fail to pass the bar exam.

University admissions officers nevertheless maintain what Taylor calls “an enormous, pervasive and carefully concealed system of racial preferences,” even while claiming they aren’t actually doing so. The willingness to lie systematically seems to be a requirement for such jobs.
It might be pointed out that affirmative action is insidious in another way. It tacitly diminishes the achievement of those minorities who do succeed in college. They're stigmatized both in school and beyond graduation by the suspicion that the only reason they succeeded is because they were given preferential treatment. This stigma is an extremely painful insult to have to bear throughout one's life, and the fact that colleges nevertheless continue to perpetuate it by continuing the practice of affirmative action in their admissions is an example of how liberal good intentions actually result in acts that are basically cruel to the people the liberal thinks he's helping.

Barone goes on to discuss campus speech codes:
The willingness to lie systematically is also a requirement for administrators who profess a love of free speech while imposing speech codes and penalizing students for violations.

All of which provides plenty of business for Lukianoff’s FIRE, which opposes speech codes and brings lawsuits on behalf of students — usually, but not always, conservatives — who are penalized.

Those who graduated from college before the late 1980s may not realize that speech codes have become, in Lukianoff’s words, “the rule rather than the exception” on American campuses.

They are typically vague and all-encompassing. One school prohibits “actions or attitudes that threaten the welfare” of others. Another bans e-mails that “harass, annoy or otherwise inconvenience others.” Others ban “insensitive” communication, “inappropriate jokes,” and “patronizing remarks.”

“Speech codes can only survive,” Lukianoff writes, “through selective enforcement.” Conservatives and religious students are typically targeted. But so are critics of administrators, like the student expelled for a Facebook posting critical of a proposed $30 million parking garage.
There's much more at the link. When liberals have authority they tend to use it to control other people's lives in order, they think, to bring about a just world. They want to control what people say as well as what they do, but the more they try to control individual speech the more oppressive they become and the less freedom people have. Barone cites a survey that shows that only 30% of university seniors feel they're free to voice opinions at variance with the university orthodoxy.

Liberalism's insistence on conformity is the greatest threat to freedom in the Western world today, but unfortunately too many students have grown up thinking that the way things are is the way they should be. They lack the time horizon to see how much their freedom is eroding, and, like the frog in the pot of boiling water, too many of them are unaware, or unconcerned, that it's happening.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is ID Science?

If you've ever heard the criticism of Intelligent Design that it's not a scientific theory and should therefore not be taught in public schools you might be interested in perusing the information at Evolution News and Views.

Casey Luskin amasses a formidable array of resources which collectively make the case that ID is every bit as much a scientific theory as is anything else.

Along the way Luskin mentions the demarcation problem which, to my mind, makes the whole question of the status of ID moot. The demarcation problem is the challenge of trying to determine what it is about science that separates it from non-science. Most philosophers of science agree that there really is no clear boundary or demarcation and that the best way to define science is to say that it's simply whatever it is that scientists do.

If that's the case then it seems a bit futile to insist that ID is not science.

Not Over Yet

It looks like there'll be yet another challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) before the law is fully implemented:
President Obama’s national health care law will be back at the U.S. Supreme Court by next fall, according to a lawyer for Liberty University, which is challenging the constitutionality of the law on different grounds from the recent major health care suit.

Earlier on Monday, the Supreme Court ordered the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia to rehear a suit brought by Liberty University challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare.

“We’ll probably be back before the Supreme Court in fall of 2013, about a year from now,” Mathew Staver, the lawyer representing Liberty University, predicted in a phone interview with the Washington Examiner.

When the Supreme Court upheld the law’s individual mandate this past June, it did not address other issues raised by the suit brought by the Christian college.

In addition to challenging the individual mandate, Liberty has argued that the additional mandate forcing employers to offer their workers federally-approved health insurance or pay a penalty violated the Constitution. Should judges reject the argument that the employer mandate is broadly unconstitutional, Staver emphasized that the university is also making the narrower argument that the individual and employer mandates are unconstitutional “as applied” to religious institutions, because the law forces them to pay for abortions. This, Staver said, “collide(s) with the free exercise of religion.”
There's more at the link. "Fundamentally transforming" the country is a messy and difficult business, of course, and lots of obstacles stand in the way of seizing power and control over people's lives.

It's an interesting historical footnote that it seems that it's always religious institutions and individuals motivated by religious principles that get in the way of those who wish to aggrandize more power to themselves and to the state. It's doubtless one reason why there are, and will probably continue to be, so many martyrs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Couple of Rarities

The winter season often brings rare birds to my part of the country and this year has not disappointed. Two of the unusual species to be spotted in Pennsylvania so far this season are shown below.

The little fella pictured below is a Pacific-slope flycatcher. They're normally found in the Pacific coast states but recently one turned up in Cumberland county in Pennsylvania almost three thousand miles out of its usual range. The Pennsylvania bird was only the second confirmed sighting of this species in the state.

Another rare bird found to be visiting Pennsylvania recently was a Calliope hummingbird, the smallest North American bird and the smallest long-distance migrant bird in the world. The Calliope is only about three inches long and is normally only found in the western mountain states. The first picture shows an adult male Calliope, the second shows a juvenile, which is what turned up in Chester county a couple of weeks ago.

Great Review of Absence

Emails like this one from a reader named T.J. just make my day:
I finished reading In the Absence of God yesterday, which isn't anything to marvel at other than the fact that I also started reading In the Absence of God yesterday. I don't think I've ever read an entire book in one sitting before, and I certainly wasn't planning on reading this book in one day, but I simply couldn't put it down. Also, I don't think a book has ever affected me so deeply as this one has. I cannot stop thinking about the ideas that were presented throughout In the Absence of God.

I was nervous when I started reading the book that I would be bored by an abundance of philosophical ideas, but the conversations in the book were engaging and masterfully weaved throughout the action and plot. The speech at the end by "Smerk" gave me chills as I was reading it, and I was deeply disturbed by how true it was that this was the logical conclusion of a materialist worldview.

I identified with Professor Weyland in that I have been through some very difficult struggles with my faith because it seems as though the more "intellectual" and "logical" way to look at the world is through the lens of materialism. This book answered many questions that I've been asking for a long time, and I feel stronger in my faith because of it.

One quote in particular stuck with me as I finished the book, "For so much of his life Weyland simply took for granted that atheism made so much more sense, was so much more reasonable, so much more intelligent, than theism, but he could no longer think that. He'd never again be able to think his rejection of God, if that was the choice he ultimately made, was because atheism was so much more appealing or satisfying. What appeal is there in a worldview that has no answer to life's most important questions?" This describes where my mind was before reading this book.

Thank you for writing this book and reminding me of the truth I should have known all along.
If you'd like to read more about In the Absence of God click on the link at the upper right of this page. It'd make a fine Christmas gift.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Finding Out What's in It

Bethany Mandel at Commentary points out one way that the Affordable Care Act is harming the very people it was intended to help, especially those workers in the restaurant business:
Since the president’s reelection earlier this month, four large restaurant chains, Papa Johns, Applebee’s, Denny’s and Darden Restaurants (the company that owns the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and LongHorn Steakhouse chains) have all recently released statements about their companies’ plans to respond to the increased costs of complying with Obamacare regulations.

According to the healthcare law, every full-time employee must be provided with comprehensive medical coverage if the company employs more than 50 full-time workers. If a company refuses to comply, they will be faced with fines of $2,000 per year, per employee, as of January 1, 2014.
According to Mandel, it's coming as a bit of a shock to the left that Obamacare has severe economic consequences for lowly employees, but, of course, it does:
Appearing on Fox News Business early last week, Applebee’s CEO Zane Tankel explained the steps his business would have to take in order to stay in operation:

The costs of fines or healthcare for dozens of employees per restaurant have the potential to bankrupt individually owned chains across the country. The Applebee’s in New York City would face fines of $600,000 per year if insurance isn’t provided for full-time staff, and estimates for offering federally approved insurance would cost “some millions” across the Applebee’s system.

The restaurant industry, already operating with razor thin margins, doesn’t have the ability to absorb tens of thousands more in healthcare expenditures without a considerable increase in sales. It’s a basic realty of economics: more has to be coming in than going out.

The only solution for restaurants that want to stay open and maintain competitive pricing would be to cut employee hours to part-time status. This is the conclusion already reached by several large chains–companies that provide jobs to tens of thousands of working class Americans.
This would be devastating to many of those workers, however:
If workers are moved to part-time status, the onus for paying for insurance would then be placed on employees who have suddenly seen their incomes reduced drastically. Another provision of Obamacare is the requirement for Americans to purchase insurance or face a financial penalty, a tax as defined by the Supreme Court.

Some of these employees may qualify for Medicaid and would be exempt from the tax specifically designed to compel Americans to purchase insurance, regardless of their desire to do so. Cash-strapped states would then be on the hook for expanding Medicaid in order to fulfill the needs of the estimated 11-17 million Americans newly enrolled on Medicaid thanks to Obamacare.

These workers, directly pushed further into poverty by Obamacare via reduced hours would then be enrolled in a system with the worst healthcare outcomes in the country, including the ranks of the uninsured. The costs of providing millions more with insurance would then be passed on by states unable to afford the Medicaid loads they already have. As a result, residents should expect fewer services from their states or higher taxes, if not both.
Nancy Pelosi said that we had to pass Obamacare in order to find out what's in it, and she rammed it through the House of Representatives without a single Republican vote. Now it's the law and we're starting to discover what's in it. Inter alia, the very people the Democrats claim to care so much about - young, poor, single moms struggling to make ends meet for their children - are going to get clobbered. They shouldn't feel too bad though. They can take comfort in knowing that liberals care about them.

Why Does Homosexuality Exist?

The Supreme Court decides this week whether to hear an appeal of the California Supreme Court's ruling that Proposition 8, the 2008 voter initiative that limited marriage to a man and a woman, is unconstitutional.

In addition to the constitutional questions surrounding gay marriage, there are some interesting biological questions to be asked about homosexuality as well. For instance, given the assumption that homosexuality is genetically based and the further evolutionary assumption that traits that confer no reproductive advantage eventually die out in a population, why does homosexuality exist in the first place?

Evolutionary biologist David Barash tackles this question at The Chronicle of Higher Education. He writes:
If evolution is true then homosexuals, who of course reproduce at far lower rates than do heterosexuals, should not exist, but of course they do.
This is a vexing enigma for evolutionary theorists and Barash surveys the various speculations scientists have advanced to explain the existence of a phenomenon which, evolutionarily speaking, should not exist. The speculations he adduces sound unconvincingly feeble, but they're evidently the best that the theorists have been able to come up with.

Barash admits that the solution to the mystery of the existence of a trait that confers no reproductive benefit has eluded our best scientific minds:
The sine qua non for any trait to have evolved is for it to correlate positively with reproductive success, or, more precisely, with success in projecting genes relevant to that trait into the future. So, if homosexuality is in any sense a product of evolution — and it clearly is, for reasons to be explained — then genetic factors associated with same-sex preference must enjoy some sort of reproductive advantage. The problem should be obvious: If homosexuals reproduce less than heterosexuals — and they do — then why has natural selection not operated against it?

Anything that diminishes, even slightly, the reproductive performance of any gene should (in evolutionary terms) be vigorously selected against. And homosexuality certainly seems like one of those things. Gay men, for example, have children at about 20 percent of the rate of heterosexual men. I haven't seen reliable data for lesbians, but it seems likely that a similar pattern exists. And it seems more than likely that someone who is bisexual would have a lower reproductive output than someone whose romantic time and effort were devoted exclusively to the opposite sex.

Across cultures, the proportion of the population who are homosexual is roughly the same. What maintains the genetic propensity for the trait?

Nor can we solve the mystery by arguing that homosexuality is a "learned" behavior. That ship has sailed, and the consensus among scientists is that same-sex preference is rooted in our biology.
The author continues at some length to try to explain the inexplicable fact of homosexuality. He's adamant that homosexuality is a product of evolution, but despite his promise to explain why he offers no substantive evidence to support the claim. He also insists that it's a genetically based phenomenon but offers scant evidence to support that view.

Maybe someone ought to call the departed ship back to port and give it another look.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book Signing

I'm pleased to announce that I'll be doing a book signing/meet and greet on behalf of my book In the Absence of God at Hearts and Minds bookstore in Dallastown, PA on the evening of December 14th starting at 7:00pm.

My friend Byron Borger, the proprietor of Hearts and Minds, has graciously offered to host this event at his bookshop, and I hope many of you can make it, especially if you live close-by. It'll be an evening of good conversation, light refreshments, an opportunity to make new acquaintances, and an opportunity to browse the shelves of perhaps the most charming bookstore you'll ever visit.

It's also a great place to do some Christmas shopping, and In the Absence of God may make the perfect gift for someone who prefers novels to non-fiction and who's interested in questions about God. For more information on the book click on the link at the upper right of this page.

The address of Hearts and Minds is 234 East Main Main Street, Dallastown, PA. I hope to see you there.

Why the Israelis Stopped

Debkafile has a fascinating piece on what precipitated Israel's agreement to commence a cease-fire in the recent hostilities with Hamas. Here's the lede:
Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to a ceasefire for halting the eight-day Israeli Gaza operation Wednesday night, Nov. 21, after President Barack Obama personally pledged to start deploying US troops in Egyptian Sinai next week, debkafile reports. The conversation, which finally tipped the scales for a ceasefire, took place on a secure line Wednesday morning, just hours before it was announced in Cairo. The US and Israeli leaders spoke at around the time that a terrorist was blowing up a Tel Aviv bus, injuring 27 people.

Obama’s pledge addressed Israel’s most pressing demand in every negotiating forum on Gaza: Operation Pillar of Cloud’s main goal was a total stoppage of the flow of Iranian arms and missiles to the Gaza Strip. They were smuggled in from Sudan and Libya through southern Egypt and Sinai. Hostilities would continue, said the prime minister, until this object was achieved.

Earlier, US officials tried unsuccessfully to persuade Israel to accept Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s personal guarantee to start launching effective operations against the smugglers before the end of the month. The trio running Israel’s Gaza campaign, Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, were willing to take Morsi at his word, except that Israeli security and intelligence chiefs assured them that Egypt has nothing near the security and intelligence capabilities necessary for conducting such operations.
There's much more to this development at the link. Debkafile notes three significant consequences of the American deployment:
1. A US special forces operation against the Sinai segment of the Iranian smuggling route would count as the first overt American military strike against an Iranian military interest.

2. The US force also insures Israel against Cairo revoking or failing to honor the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979.

3. It essentially makes the U.S. a partner in the blockade of Gaza.
The debkafile article doesn't mention it but the deployment to the Sinai also puts American troops in harm's way on behalf of Israel. Until now we've managed to keep out of Israel's neighborhood but will now be seen as intervening directly on their behalf. This is not a reason not to do it, but rather a significant change in what has been the United States' position heretofore and a very significant change in the Obama administration's attitude toward the conflict in the Middle East. At the very least it sends a message to Iran that Mr. Obama is not unwilling to use force against their interests, a consideration that should make their pursuit of nuclear weapons a bit more problematic.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lincoln

Last Wednesday my wife and I went to see the movie Lincoln and came away impressed once again with Steven Spielberg's ability as a story-teller and filmmaker. To my untutored eye everything about the film seemed genuine, from the sets, to the costumes, to the dialogue, to the corrupt way politics was done in the 19th century (and in the 21st century).

I was a bit concerned at the outset when it looked as if the film was going to wallow in political correctness and white guilt, but it didn't, or if it did, it didn't seem to detract at all from the story of how Abraham Lincoln and his supporters in Congress managed to get the 13th amendment to the Constitution passed.

The movie captures dramatically the enormous pressures Lincoln (played magnificently by Daniel Day-Lewis) was under not only because of the carnage of the Civil War, and not only because of the uphill political battle he was fighting, but also because of his marriage to the emotionally troubled Mary Todd (also played magnificently by Sally Field). Despite these pressures he was able somehow to keep himself calm and focused on the tasks set before him - preserving the union and freeing the slaves.

Historians may find this or that detail to quibble about, but one comes away from the theater with a renewed appreciation for Lincoln as a man and a leader. If there was one thing that I'd caution potential viewers about it's that it might be difficult to follow the story unless one has a little background knowledge of who some of the key players are. Spielberg sets a fast pace that doesn't suffer a wandering mind.

Another thing that struck me and made me wonder if it was intentional was that Spielberg seemed insistent on impressing upon the viewer that the opponents to the 13th amendment were almost all Democrats. He seemed at times to go out of his way to point this out. It was a bit odd since Spielberg is himself a Democrat, but it's an interesting historical tidbit that the party that African-Americans are so loyal to today is historically the party which, had they had their way, would have kept blacks in slavery and would have kept them as second class citizens once they were freed.

Anyway, Lincoln is an outstanding film and I encourage you to see it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

I'd like to wish all our readers a very meaningful Thanksgiving. I can think of no better way to observe the day on VP than to repeat our annual post of the Thanksgiving proclamation of one of the greatest Americans who ever lived:
THANKSGIVING DAY PROCLAMATION OF 1789 BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor - and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be - That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks - for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation - for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war - for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed - for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions - to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually - to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed - to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord - To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us - and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington
No doubt those who like to believe that this country was not founded by religious men nor upon Judeo-Christian presuppositions would rather you not read this, but there you have it.

I encourage each of us to take time this day to reflect upon all that we have to be grateful for, having been born in this country or having come to reside here, and to reflect, too, upon the nature of our relationship to the God from whom all our blessings flow.

I urge each of us to take a moment to pray for those of our acquaintances who find themselves grieving a loss or suffering in pain that God may hold them especially close to His bosom and give them consolation and comfort.

Finally, we should also keep in mind those who languish in poverty, either physical, psychological, or spiritual and ask God that He show us what He would have us do to bring relief where we can.

Have a great Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why I'm Not Neutral

With the onset again of open warfare in the Middle East I've been told that the moral position is to remain neutral between the Palestinians and the Israelis and have been challenged to explain my reasons for thinking that neutrality is neither wise nor moral. Here are ten reasons why I think that anyone who believes morality matters and that we should support those who strive to do the right thing should support the Israelis:

The Israelis
  • Did not initiate hostilities.
  • Do not vow to exterminate the Palestinians.
  • Do not teach their children in school to hate the Palestinians.
  • Do not deliberately target civilians with their munitions.
  • Do not send rockets on a daily basis into Palestine.
  • Do not try to cross the border to murder Palestinian children.
  • Do not act like savages toward those who support and abet Hamas.
  • Do not use their civilians as human shields behind which they hide themselves and their weapons.
  • Do not strap bombs to their children and send them off to blow themselves and other children to bits.
  • Would never say something as perverse as "they [the Israelis]love life, we love death."
The Palestinians, mutatis mutandis, have done all these things.

Israel is a nation founded on principles of freedom and democracy. It's a tiny life raft of human achievement fighting for survival in a sea of frothing hatreds, savagery, and dysfunction.

But what of the Israeli blockades, the wall, the closed borders? Don't the Palestinians have a legitimate grievance because of the hardships these place on the people? Perhaps, but why have the Israelis adopted these measures? Is it realistic to think that the Israelis would undertake this expense and be willing to suffer the censure of the world just to punish the Palestinians for the sake of punishing them? Is it not more plausible to think that such measures are the only way to stop the importation of weapons and to prevent suicide bombers from committing mayhem among the civilian population of Israel? None of these impositions would exist were it not for the fact that they've been made necessary by the fanatical hatred of the Palestinian Arabs who will exploit any opportunity to kill Israelis.

The Israelis have been criticized because their response to Palestinian terror seems "disproportionate." Far more Palestinians are killed by Israeli bombs, people say, than Israelis are killed by Palestinian rockets. As much as I admire the principles of Just War theory, the principle of proportionality in Jus in Bello, at least as some interpret it, is an anachronism.

It entails that if your enemy fires at you with a pistol you must return fire only with a weapon of comparable firepower. According to the interpretation some give the concept, the use of anything more powerful, like an automatic rifle, would be immoral. In the present case the fact that over a hundred Palestinians have died but "only" three Israelis have been killed is cited as proof that the Israelis have responded "disproportionately."

This is nonsense. If followed to its logical conclusion it would mean that the victor in every war has acted immorally, even if he was acting in self-defense, since his success is disproportionate to that of the loser, since he has probably killed more of the enemy than he has lost to the enemy, and since he has employed superior manpower, firepower, and/or tactics.

What the proportionality criterion should mean is that no more damage be inflicted upon the foe than is necessary to subdue him and to gain his defeat. Gratuitous killing and destruction is to be condemned. It's not at all clear, however, that anything the Israelis have done is in any way gratuitous. They have the right to live in peace and if the Palestinians refuse to let them, if the Palestinians persist in trying to kill them, then the Israelis have the right, the duty even, to do what's necessary to stop them and the Palestinians must bear the consequences of their hatreds and of the leadership they have elected.

I feel deeply sorry for those among the Palestinian people who do want peace and who have suffered grievously because those to whom they have handed power are filled with so much hatred. But while I sympathize with and pray for those people I do not wish to see Hamas prevail. It would be a catastrophe for the people of Israel and for civilization in general.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Down the Drain

A friend told me I should watch this video but not, he cautioned, if I was having a good day. The video would be certain to ruin it. He was right, the video does induce a certain angst for the future of our nation, but I couldn't help laughing at it anyway.

It's titled "Why Our Country Is Going Down the Drain," and if the young man who appears before Judge Judy is in any way typical of the rising generation of Americans then the title is hard to dispute. He seems to be completely unaware that when he's given taxpayer money to use for a specific purpose that he then has an obligation, both legal and moral, to use it for that purpose:
I don't know if the country's going down the drain, but the $70,000 spent on this fellow's education certainly seems to be going for nought.

Reagan's Vindication

In the last ten years thousands of rockets have been launched at Israel from Gaza. In the four days leading up to yesterday 846 rockets were fired into the country out of which 302 were intercepted by the Iron Dome antimissile system. The system is able to calibrate which incoming missiles pose a threat to populated areas and which will fall where they're unlikely to cause harm. The system then launches an interceptor missile at the dangerous rockets and ignores the others. Israeli officials say that 90 percent of the attempted interceptions have worked, thus providing life-saving protection for population centers like Tel Aviv.

Those of a certain age might remember the ridicule President Reagan took for advocating an antimissile system to protect us against Soviet ICBMs. Scoffers derided the idea that such a system would ever work, they mockingly labelled it Reagan's "Star Wars" program, but Reagan was convinced it was a way to protect human life that we could ill-afford not to develop. He was confident that the nay-sayers would be proven wrong and they were. Today "Star Wars" is a term of approbation and its understandably hard to get those who lampooned the idea in the 1980s to admit to their poor judgment.

Anyway, the Israelis are certainly glad Reagan went ahead with the R&D because the technology developed to intercept ICBMs is today being used to save lives throughout the tiny nation of Israel.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I, Pencil

Most of us take the products we use everyday for granted. We never give a moment's thought to how they came to be or how many people were involved in their production. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has taken a story by Leonard Read about the simple lead pencil and turned it into an excellent video illustrating how complex and intricate free markets are.

They're like ecosystems, and, like ecosystems, they're vulnerable to human interference, particularly to interference by a government which thinks it can somehow control some aspect of the process without disrupting the whole system.
Thanks to Mary Katherine Ham at Hot Air for posting the video.

Open Borders

A student sends along a humorous piece by Joey Vento on the plight of illegal immigrants in this country. Vento observes that:
If you cross the North Korean border illegally, you get 12 years of hard labor. If you cross the Iranian border illegally, you're detained indefinitely. Cross the Afghan boarder illegally, you get shot. Cross the border illegally in Venezuela, you're considered a spy and thrown in jail to rot.

NOW, you cross the border illegally in America, you get a job, drivers license, social security card, welfare, food stamps, credit card, subsidized rent or a loan to buy a house, free education, a lobbyist in Washington, and the right to carry your country’s flag while you protest that you don’t get enough respect.
It's funny because it's true. There's no other country in the world whose borders are as porous as ours, no other country which entitles those who cross their borders illegally such astonishing access to its citizens' wallets, and no other country which takes it more to heart than does ours when people complain that we don't do enough for the illegal aliens in our midst.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Quantum Entanglement

From time to time I've mentioned my fascination with the phenomenon known as quantum entanglement (QE) in which two particles which start out in contact with one another but are then sped at the speed of light to opposite ends of the universe, remain somehow mysteriously connected. Even though there's no conceivable way the particles can be in contact with each other nevertheless a change in one particle instantly "causes" a corresponding change in the other, as if they were somehow still joined together.

When I tell my students this I often get the feeling that they think I'm pulling their collective leg, but this phenomenon is well-known among physicists. Here's physicist Brian Greene discussing it:
All I can do when I see a video like this is paraphrase Shakespeare in Hamlet: There are more things in heaven and on earth than we could ever dream of. QE certainly lends credence to the view of physicist Sir James Jeans that the world looks more like a grand idea than a grand machine. In fact, it looks very much as though, at bottom, it's an idea in the mind of God. At least that might explain how one particle "knows" what's happening to the other.

Materialism and Electrical Bacteria

Rabbi Moshe Averick reports on the discovery of an amazing phenomenon that occurs at the bottom of the oceans. It turns out that certain filamentous bacteria have the ability to conduct electricity through their cells for distances of up to a centimeter. Averick comments:
In layman’s terms it means that living bacteria at the bottom of the ocean act as a network of electrical cables complete with insulation that transmit electricity over a distance of one centimeter. If these “marvelous microbes” were the size of human beings the signals would be transmitted for 12 miles. Several years ago researchers had detected electrical currents on the ocean floor but until now had no idea of their source. Science Daily reports that “they make up a kind of live electric cable that no one had ever imagined existed.” One researcher described it as “unreal and fantastic.”

A single teaspoon of mud contains at least a half mile of these living cables. The electrical currents generated by these bacteria seem to play an important role in the nutrient cycles of sea life.
Averick uses this discovery as a springboard for poking a little fun at Darwinian materialists:
When the Supreme Court of Tennessee reviewed the guilty verdict of the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” (1925), Justice Chambliss noted the following statement by Dr. E.N. Reinke, Professor of Biology at Vanderbilt University, which was repeatedly referred to in the briefs of counsel for the defense:

“The theory of evolution is altogether essential to the teaching of biology....To deny the teacher of biology the use of [evolution] would make his teaching as chaotic as an attempt to teach...physics without assuming the existence of the ether.”

In hindsight, Dr. Reinke’s remarks are nothing short of comical. The theory of the luminiferous ether was abandoned by science long ago and even today physicists and historians of science get slightly red-faced when the subject comes up.
Just as the theory of an ether died a slow death among scientists and was eventually buried, so, too, Averick claims is materialism dying a slow death among philosophers. He quotes no less an authority than philosopher Thomas Nagel in his book Mind and Cosmos: Why Neo-Darwinian Materialism Is Almost Certainly Wrong:
“For a long time I have found the materialist account of how we and our fellow organisms come to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how the evolutionary process works. The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes...It seems to me that...the current orthodoxy about the cosmic order is the product of governing assumptions that are unsupported and that it flies in the face of common sense.”
When even atheists like Nagel begin to see materialism as a dead end then you know the theory is in trouble.

Friday, November 16, 2012

More War in the Middle East

The Palestinians have been goading the Israelis into war for a long time. Hundreds of rockets have been launched at Israeli civilians from sites in Gaza, and finally Israel has responded to the provocation.

First came the attack on Hamas' long-range missiles in storage in Sudan a couple of weeks ago and then came the targeted assassination of Hamas terrorist leader Ahmed Jabari on Wednesday. Jabari was responsible for numerous murders of Israeli citizens. Here's video of the attack on his vehicle:
The Israelis followed this up with precision attacks on sites where Hamas has stored missiles capable of covering distances up to 75 km. which brings most of Israel's major cities and towns within range.

The Palestinians responded with yet another missile barrage aimed at civilians, but the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted most of those missiles which posed a threat and let the rest fall harmlessly in the countryside. Nevertheless, several Israeli civilians were killed.

Whether Israel will now send ground troops into Gaza is unclear, but they're massing men and tanks on the border.

Debkafile has a story on how different the state of the Israeli military's preparation has been this time compared to their war on Hezbollah in Lebanon and operation Cast Lead in Gaza a couple of years ago. Hot Air has some good insights into this as well.

It'll be interesting to see how the U.S. and indeed the rest of the world responds. If the past is an indication there'll be calls for Israel to show "moderation" and condemnations of Israel when the Palestinian casualties start to mount. There have been no calls, however, for Hamas to stop the rocket attacks against Israeli towns and there'll probably be no condemnation of the Palestinians either.

This leads one to suspect that there's a great deal of bigotry afoot. Either the world community, including a large segment of the American media, is anti-Israel or they just don't think that the Palestinians can be held to the same standards of civilized behavior to which the Israelis are held. Or maybe it's both. It's funny how bigotry on the left is acceptable as long as it's the proper sort of bigotry.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Wish I'd Been Wrong

In a post last week I listed a number of things that I'm afraid we can expect in a second Obama term. I took criticism from some readers who thought I was unduly negative and pessimistic. It gives me no satisfaction to point out that a couple of those predictions are already starting to be fulfilled. For example:

Obamacare, according to this report, is forcing dozens of companies to lay off employees:
With 20 or so new or higher taxes set to be implemented, ranging from a $123 billion surtax on investment income, through the $20 billion medical device tax, all the way down to the $600 million executive compensation limit, Obamacare will be a nearly unbearable tax burden on the economy.

Who will pay? The middle-class workforce, of course.
The report goes on to list dozens of companies that are each laying off dozens, or even hundreds, of workers because the employers simply can't afford to carry them now that Obamacare will not be repealed.

At least the laid off employees will still have health care coverage under Obamacare. There's that to brighten their day, I suppose.

Here's a chart that illustrates what the Obama administration has in store for employers over the next ten years. It'll be amazing if after that time anyone at all has a job:



I also expressed fears in the earlier post that the president would continue his assault on our constitutional protections, particularly the first and second amendments to the Bill of Rights. I've been joined in my concerns by no less an authority on the subject than Nat Hentoff, perhaps the most famous leftist civil libertarian in the country. Hentoff is especially concerned, indeed he's obviously angry, in this article about the threat Mr. Obama's policies pose for the fifth amendment. Here's his lede:
President Barack Obama went far beyond his predecessor’s administration to become the most destructive uprooter of our Constitution in our nation’s history....

But never did I even imagine that an American president, without insuring due process in a court of law, would – as Obama does – use a kill list to target suspected terrorists for assassination. So far this list has also included three American citizens.

The secrecy with which Obama discards the Constitution to rule over us is evident in his dictatorial use of the “state secrets” privilege, which actually prevents judges from even hearing cases brought by citizens who claim their fundamental constitutional rights have been expunged by the president’s censors.
There's much in the rest of Hentoff's piece that's worth reading.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Vegetative States and Consciousness

There's a fascinating story at the BBC website about new research being done on persons in a "vegetative" state due to severe brain injury that shows that not only are some of them conscious they can even respond to questions:
It's the first time an uncommunicative, severely brain-injured patient has been able to give answers clinically relevant to their care.

Scott Routley, 39, was asked questions while having his brain activity scanned in an fMRI machine.

Vegetative patients emerge from a coma into a condition where they have periods awake, with their eyes open, but have no perception of themselves or the outside world.
Mr. Routley was injured in an automobile accident 12 years ago, and none of his physical assessments since then have shown any sign of awareness, or ability to communicate.
But the British neuroscientist Prof Adrian Owen - who led the team at the Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario - said Mr Routley was clearly not vegetative.

"Scott has been able to show he has a conscious, thinking mind. We have scanned him several times and his pattern of brain activity shows he is clearly choosing to answer our questions. We believe he knows who and where he is."
One of the questions that Owen's patients "answered" was whether they were in pain. Their MRI scans indicated that they were not. Owen was able to get some level of response from one in five severely brain-damaged patients that he tested.
It's hard to imagine what it must be like to be conscious in a body but not be able to make the body function in any way that would allow for communication with the outside world. One would think that such individuals would go insane.

On the other hand, perhaps their level of consciousness is similar to that of someone under an anesthetic like sodium pentathol. They can respond to questions but they're not aware that they're doing it.

In any case, it certainly raises a host of ethical questions about terminating someone's life when they're in a vegetative state. Was Terri Schiavo, for instance, aware of what was being done to her as she was slowly dehydrated and starved to death?

There are more interesting details on this research at the link.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Modernist's Prayer

A recent issue of First Things (subscription required) contains this prayer by Ronald Knox which pretty well sums up the conviction, or lack of it, of at least a few modern churchmen and theologians:
O God, forasmuch as without Thee
We are not enabled to doubt Thee,
Help us all by Thy grace
To convince the whole race
It knows nothing about Thee.
The prayer also seems to inadvertently give an elbow to the ribs of theistic evolutionists who affirm that God is behind the creation but who deny, despite the testimony of Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19:1, that there's any empirical evidence of this.

Sam Harris on Free Will

Atheist thinker Sam Harris has a new book out on the topic of free will in which he ostensibly chooses freely to aver that there isn't any. The logic of atheistic materialism forces one to the conclusion that if there's nothing more to us than the chemical processes that go on in our bodies, especially in our brains, then there's no room for anything which would act independently of the laws of physics and thus there's no room in the human machine for any kind of genuine freedom. Harris says in his book that:
Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have.
Martin Cothran at Evolution News and Views directs our attention to the irony in the claim of those who hold to Harris' metaphysical persuasion:
[They insist that] their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic)....But their very stated position is that any mental state -- including their position on this issue -- is the effect of a physical, not a logical, cause.

By their own logic, it isn't logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if it's not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.

And this is not only a mortal consequence for Harris, it is also problematic from the reader's perspective: If we are convinced by Harris's logic, we would have to consider this conviction as something determined not by the rational strength of his logic, but by the entirely irrational arrangement of the chemicals in our brains. They might, as Harris would have to say, coincide, but their relation would be completely arbitrary. If prior physical states are all that determine our beliefs, any one physical state is no more rational than any other. It isn't rational or irrational, it just is.

If what Harris says is true, then our assent to what we view as the rational strength of his position may appear to us to involve our choice to assent or not to assent to his ostensibly rational argument, but (again, if it is true) it cannot be any such thing, since we do not have that choice -- or any other.
I haven't read the book but I wonder if these problems have occurred to Harris. They should've because they're common objections to the position he holds, but if they have I wonder how he would choose, er, be determined to respond to them.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Why Stay?

Victor Davis Hanson, in a piece for City Journal, looks at what's become of California and asks why anyone who could leave doesn't. Most of his article is an elaboration on the reasons why many people, including himself, choose to stay - reasons that include the natural beauty of the state, family heritage, climate, and so on, but how much longer those allurements will continue to work their charm is an open question given all that's wrong:
California’s multidimensional decline — fiscal, commercial, social, and political — sometimes seems endless. The state’s fiscal problems were especially evident this past May, when Governor Jerry Brown announced an “unexpected” $16 billion annual budget shortfall. Two months later, he signed a $92 billion budget that appears balanced only if voters approve an $8.5 billion tax increase in November. According to a study published by a public policy group at Stanford University, California’s various retirement systems have amassed $500 billion in unfunded liabilities. To honor the pension and benefit contracts of current and retired public employees, state and local governments have already started to lay off workers and slash services.

Not just in its finances but almost wherever you look, the state’s vital signs are dipping. The average unemployment rate hovers above 10 percent. In the reading and math tests administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, California students rank near the bottom of the country, though their teachers earn far more than the average American teacher does. California’s penal system is the largest in the United States, with more than 165,000 inmates. Some studies estimate that the state prisons and county jails house more than 30,000 illegal aliens at a cost of $1 billion or more each year. Speaking of which: California has the nation’s largest population of illegal aliens, on whom it spends an estimated $10 billion annually in entitlements. The illegals also deprive the Golden State’s economy of billions of dollars every year by sending remittances to Latin America.

Meanwhile, business surveys perennially rank California among the most hostile states to private enterprise, largely because of overregulation, stifling coastal zoning laws, inflated housing costs, and high tax rates. Environmental extremism has cost the state dearly: oil production has plunged 45 percent over the last 25 years, even though California’s Monterey Shale formation has an estimated 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Geologists estimate that 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas sit untapped as well. Those numbers could soar with revolutionary new methods of exploration.

Between the mid-1980s and 2005, the state’s aggregate population increased by 10 million Californians, including immigrants. But that isn’t the good economic news that you might think. For one thing, 7 million of the new Californians were low-income Medicaid recipients. Further, as economist Arthur Laffer recently noted in Investor’s Business Daily, between 1992 and 2008, the number of tax-paying Californians entering California was smaller than the number leaving — 3.5 million versus 4.4 million, for a net loss of 869,000 tax filers. Those who left were wealthier than those who arrived, with average adjusted gross incomes of $44,700, versus $38,600. Losing those 869,000 filers cost California $44 billion in tax revenue over two decades, Laffer calculated.

Worst of all is that neither the legislature nor the governor has offered a serious plan to address any of these problems. Soaring public-employee costs, unfunded pensions, foundering schools, millions of illegal aliens, regulations that prevent wealth creation, an onerous tax code: the story of all the ways in which today’s Californians have squandered a rich natural and human inheritance is infuriating.
You can read Hanson's reasons for sticking it out despite these manifold dysfunctions at the link. He closes with this:
The four-part solution for California is clear: don’t raise the state’s crushing taxes any higher; reform public-employee compensation; make use of ample natural resources; and stop the flow of illegal aliens. Just focus on those four areas—as California did so well in the past—and in time, the state will return to its bounty of a few decades ago. Many of us intend to stay and see that it does.
Unfortunately, last Tuesday Californians chose to disdain Hanson's advice and voted to raise taxes on the wealthy yet again.

One reason this is important for non-Californians is that many of the policies that have plunged what used to be an economic mecca into economic and social decrepitude are similar to what Mr. Obama wishes to foist upon the rest of the nation. Higher taxes, unrestricted immigration, restricted use of natural resources, and more onerous regulations on business are all on the menu for the next four years, and unrealistic public-employee compensation is an integral part of the Democrats' plans in many other states besides California.

We can't afford it any more than California can, and if we continue to tax and spend like we have for the last 4-6 years we'll wind up like California writ large and asking ourselves why anyone who can afford to leave the U.S. doesn't.

Andrew Wilkow and Peter Schiff offer some thoughts on the unintended consequences of taxing the rich in this video:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cashmore and Pastore on Free Will

Biologist Anthony R. Cashmore, wrote a paper a couple of years ago on the topic of free will and determinism that I think is instructive. It illustrates how determinism, materialism and naturalism entail each other. A person who holds one of these views generally (though not necessarily) holds all three. Cashmore, who is himself a naturalist, writes:
Many discussions about human behavior center around the relative importance of genes and environment, a topic often discussed in terms of nature versus nurture. In concentrating on this question of the relative importance of genes and environment, a crucial component of the debate is often missed: an individual cannot be held responsible for either his genes or his environment.

From this simple analysis, surely it follows that individuals cannot logically be held responsible for their behavior. Yet a basic tenet of the judicial system and the way that we govern society is that we hold individuals accountable (we consider them at fault) on the assumption that people can make choices that do not simply reflect a summation of their genetic and environmental history. As de Duve has written, “If . . . neuronal events in the brain determine behavior, irrespective of whether they are conscious or unconscious, it is hard to find room for free will. But if free will does not exist, there can be no responsibility, and the structure of human societies must be revised.”

It is my belief that, as more attention is given to the mechanisms that govern human behavior, it will increasingly be seen that the concept of free will is an illusion, and the fallacy of a basic premise of the judicial system will become more apparent. Certainly, the determination of the sequence of the human genome and the assignment of function to these genes is having a dramatic effect on our understanding of the role of genetics in human behavior.
The rest of the article can be summarized in a simple syllogism: Material objects are subject to the deterministic laws of physics. There's nothing about us that's non-material. Thus, there's nothing about us that's not subject to the deterministic laws of physics.

If that much is correct then a further conclusion can be drawn: There's no such thing as a free, undetermined choice for which we could be held responsible. Our choices are simply the product of electro-chemical phenomena occurring in our brains and these are the product of our genes or our past experiences.

There's no room in the world of the materialist for a mind or soul and thus no room for free will. But, if we're determined (pardon the pun) to discard libertarian freedom, we must also discard moral responsibility and any notion that reward or punishment are ever deserved.

If we're not really in some sense free to decide between alternative courses of action, if the choice we make is determined by factors over which we have no control, then no one deserves any blame or punishment, no one deserves any praise or reward, and no one is ever morally guilty of doing anything that violates the behavioral codes of the consensus.

If, on the other hand, one does believe himself to be free then, as is argued in the following video, one may also believe that there's more to us than just the physical stuff that makes us up. Belief in metaphysical freedom entails a belief in something like a non-physical mind or soul that serves as the seat of our freedom.

Frank Pastore, a former major league pitcher who studied philosophy after his retirement from baseball and who now hosts a radio talk show, discusses the problem materialism poses for a belief in free will and vice-versa:

Friday, November 9, 2012

What's Needed

There's been a lot of soul-searching among Republicans and conservatives - the two intersect but they're not necessarily the same thing - after last Tuesday's election results.

Much of it has focused on how Republicans should bend their principles to appeal to the demographic reality of a "browning" of America. In my opinion this is foolish advice. If conservative principles are right then they should be non-negotiable and not subject to compromise.

What conservatives do need, however, are candidates who are more sophisticated concerning the cultural milieu of modern America than some of GOP candidates have shown themselves to be.

Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Rick Perry, and even Mitt Romney simply don't seem to understand how their words, particularly what they say about abortion, sound to the average voter, especially the average low-information voter. What they say may reflect a mainstream view, but to media elites they sound like they're way out on the fringe and the elites are delighted to portray them that way.

We need candidates who are rhetorically sophisticated, who are conversant with the culture, who are at ease with people from outside their socio-economic class, and who understand that the media will forgive almost anything a Democrat says (Joe Biden is exhibit A) but relentlessly excoriate anything at all uttered by a Republican.

Contrary to what some are saying this week, Republicans don't need to trim their message to appease interest groups like African-Americans, Hispanics, women, or young people. Instead they need to be able to articulate a cogent case for why their principles are in the best interest of all Americans.

Let the Democrats indulge in identity politics and class warfare. Conservatives need to tirelessly make the case that the government is, as Rush Limbaugh says, not Santa Claus, and that those who want more and more from government are ultimately harming both themselves and their communities. Republican candidates do, however, need to spend time in those communities and show the people there that they're not being written off. They need to make the case for conservative principles to the people who don't understand them and do it, not from afar, but from within the communities in which those people live. It does little good to make the conservative case over and over, as talk radio hosts do, to audiences which already accept it.

Speaking of talk radio, although their message is fine, the way the message is delivered is often embarrassing and self-defeating. Conservatives, in my opinion, need to get rid of the shrill and pompous voices on radio and television which do nothing but alienate those who are not already in the conservative camp and which even repel many who are already in the fold. Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, and the Rush Limbaugh of recent years need to either change their style or stop speaking on behalf of conservatism because they're doing the cause no favors. They may be right on the issues, they may be informative and offer good insights into contemporary debates, but all that goes for naught if they're only preaching to the choir while offending those who might from time to time stop by to see what conservatism is all about.

Conservatism would be better served and seem much more appealing to those people conservatives wish to persuade if there were more people like the late William F. Buckley fighting the good fight. Conservatism needs more columnists like George Will, Michael Gerson, Cal Thomas, and Peggy Noonan and more radio hosts like Mike Huckabee and Dennis Prager. We need people who can defeat liberalism not by out-shouting it, but by showing with humility the bankruptcy of its basic philosophy in a calm, respectful, humorous and winsome manner.

Sure, there's a time for anger and indignation, but if that's all there is, and if the messenger is typically rude, arrogant, obnoxious, childish, or narcissistic, or worse, if they're all of these together (as, in my opinion, Hannity is), if, when a listener tunes in, all he/she hears is a screed from beginning to end, it's repulsive.

The country needs liberals to call our attention to social problems. They're especially good at spotting them, but their solutions to those problems are often wrong-headed. The country needs conservatives to implement wise solutions, and it needs skillful spokespersons who can persuade those who may be historically averse to the Republican party to articulate in compelling ways why the Republican party offers, at least right now, the only hope that those solutions will ever see the light of day.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Not Enough Time

Ann Gauger, co-author of Science and Human Origins, and senior scientist at the Biologic Institute, argues in this video, and in her book, that the time necessary to fix the number of mutations necessary to evolve a human from a chimp-like predecessor is greater than the age of the universe.

In other words, even if it were possible to coordinate the needed mutations so that they would bring about the desired effect, it would take billions of years for these mutations to occur in just the right sequence, at least if they were to occur by chance.

Gauger is not saying that man did not arise from an ape-like ancestor, but rather that if he did, it is astronomically improbable that his evolution was driven solely by physical mechanisms like chance mutations, genetic drift, and natural selection. In order to make such an evolution plausible there must be something else, something in addition to the physical processes, that can drive biological change toward a goal, something that has foresight and engineering genius. A mind. Apart from a mind behind the process, or something like mind, there's very little reason to think that Darwinian evolution is anything more than a materialist fairy tale.

Gauger's book is a good read and very informative, especially her chapter in which she discusses all the changes that would need to take place to derive a human from an ancestral ape.

Thanks to Evolution News and Views for the video.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Does it Mean?

In the wake of yesterday's election, a few thoughts:

The American people have spoken and have chosen Mr. Obama to serve as our president for another four years. What does that portend for us as a people and as a nation? There's no way to know for sure, of course, but here are a few conclusions that I think we can draw, or probably draw, from Mr. Obama's reelection.

In my opinion, yesterday's vote tells us that:
  • we will continue to amass more and more debt and pay higher and higher taxes to service that debt and our children will find themselves crushed under its weight.
  • the value of our money will diminish as the fed prints currency to try to service the debt which means that we'll be able to buy less, perhaps much less, with our paychecks in the coming years.
  • the welfare state will grow apace. Those who pull the wagon will be expected to do more for the increasing number of people who'll be riding in it.
  • as part of Mr. Obama's vendetta against fossil fuel the coal, oil, and natural gas industries will be regulated out of business, or, at the least, will be forced to curtail production and undergo massive layoffs, and we will grow increasingly dependent upon foreign sources for our energy needs.
  • business in general is going to be more heavily regulated and taxed and will thus produce fewer jobs and more expensive products.
  • the Supreme Court will probably be dominated by far left progressives for at least a generation.
  • our military will be significantly weakened and rendered less effective.
  • Israel will probably have to face a nuclear Iran by themselves.
  • government assaults on both the first and second amendment of the Constitution will probably continue.
  • young people will find it increasingly hard to secure good jobs and the elderly will find it increasingly hard to get good medical care.
  • as a nation we have chosen to reelect perhaps the most divisive president we've ever had, a man who rewards his fat cat donors with billions in taxpayer money and who, in his own words, sees political opponents as "enemies" who need to be "punished" and upon whom his supporters should seek "revenge."
  • we are ourselves more divided than ever between people who are apparently indifferent to all of the above and people who are deeply concerned about it. We are also probably more polarized along racial lines than at any time since the 1970s and more polarized along ideological lines than at any time in our history.
All in all, it's a very sad day for America, or at least for those Americans who believe the course Mr. Obama has plotted for the country is taking us toward national senescence.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Exceptionalism and Its Critics

Clifford May has a fine essay on American exceptionalism and its critics on National Review Online. There's a lot to his essay, but perhaps the heart of his message is these paragraphs:
In May 2011, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, a columnist I admire, wrote an opinion piece titled “The Myth of American Exceptionalism.” In it he opined that the “problem of the 21st century is the problem of culture,” in particular the “culture of smugness,” the emblem of which “is the term ‘American exceptionalism.’ It has been adopted by the right to mean that America, alone among the nations, is beloved of God.”

I wrote a rebuttal, contending that exceptionalism means nothing of the sort, and that no one on the right that I was aware of — and no one, evidently, that Cohen was aware of since he quoted no one to substantiate his thesis — would define exceptionalism as he had.

So I was particularly interested to see a recent “news analysis” by the New York Times’ Scott Shane, a reporter I admire, titled “The Opiate of Exceptionalism.” In it, Shane defines exceptionalism differently than Cohen had — but equally incorrectly. He opines — excuse me, analyzes — that American voters “demand constant reassurance that their country, their achievements and their values are extraordinary.” He goes on to assert that Americans want their presidents to be “cheerleaders,” and that this is a “national characteristic, often labeled American exceptionalism.”

No, no, and no. American exceptionalism does not imply that — nor is it an assertion of “American greatness,” as Shane also claims. It is something simpler and humbler: recognition that America is, as James Madison said, the “hope of liberty throughout the world,” and that America is different from other nations in ways that are consequential for the world. Let me briefly mention three.

Most nations are founded on blood. America, by contrast, was founded on ideas. This is why anyone from anywhere can move to America and become American. This is among the reasons so many people want to become American — and do. One cannot just as easily move to Japan and become Japanese. Nor can one simply become Ukrainian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Portuguese, or Egyptian.

For those who do become Americans — and especially for their children — anything is possible. Consider such all-Americans as Colin Powell, Jeremy Lin, Bobby Jindal, Tiger Woods, and of course the most obvious example: An African student marries an American girl, and their son goes on to become the president of the United States. When I was a student in Russia years ago, I had friends from Africa and some married Russian girls. Does anyone believe that the children of these couples can hope to succeed Vladimir Putin?

A second way America is exceptional: The ideas on which this nation is based were revolutionary in the 18th century — and still are today. All men are created equal? Governments derive their powers only from the consent of the governed? We are endowed by our Creator with rights and freedoms that no one can take away? China is nowhere close to embracing such principles. Nor is most of the Middle East, the “Arab Spring” notwithstanding. Latin America and Africa have a long way to go. And in Europe, I fear, the commitment to individual liberty has been weakening.
May has much more to say and much that's worth reading in the remainder of his column. Give it a look.

To talk of American exceptionalism is not hubris or chauvinism. It's a simple fact, and an important one. America has been a historically exceptional nation in terms of its power and economy, to be sure, but also, as May stresses, the ideas upon which it was founded and the benefit that has accrued to the world as a result of American largesse.

We need to talk about it more and to value it more deeply because if we no longer think it important that America occupy a special place in the world, if we grow content to just be a nation like every other, if we become satisfied with national mediocrity, then that specialness will rapidly disappear. If those who are at pains to deny that America has been a historically unique place are successful in persuading rising generations of Americans that such thinking is unseemly and unwarranted it'll be much more difficult to persuade our people to make the sacrifices and investments necessary to carry the mantle of American leadership into the future, and both we and the world will be the worse for it.

May adds this thought:
Finally, there is leadership. If America does not accept this responsibility — and that’s how it should be seen, not as a privilege or entitlement, not as a reason to shout “We’re No. 1!” — which nation will? Iran’s theocrats would be eager — but that means they would impose their version of sharia, Islamic law, well beyond their borders. Putin will grab whatever power is within his reach but he would rule, not lead. There are those who see the U.N. as a transnational government. They don’t get why it would be disastrous to give additional authority to a Security Council on which Russia and China have vetoes, or a General Assembly dominated by a so-called Non-Aligned Movement constituted largely of despotic regimes that recently elevated Iran as their president.
There's more at the link.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Scorched Earth Campaign

The Washington Post's Michael Gerson writes a fine essay in which he deftly adumbrates the campaign strategies of both candidates, a strategy that was predicted a year ago by Democrat pollsters Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen. Read Gerson's column and ask yourself which strategy, of the two, you'd prefer to have your president to have waged.

Here are his opening paragraphs:

In November 2011, former Democratic pollsters — and current gadflies — Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell made a much-discussed argument in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The miserable state of the economy, they claimed, restricted the options for President Obama’s reelection strategy. He could still win. “But the kind of campaign required for the president’s political survival,” they said, “would make it almost impossible for him to govern — not only during the campaign, but throughout a second term. Put simply, it seems that the White House has concluded that if the president cannot run on his record, he will need to wage the most negative campaign in history to stand any chance.”

Schoen and Caddell added a bit of street theater to their political analysis: Obama should step aside to allow Hillary Clinton to run. The left heaped scorn. The argument was “bilge” and “fantasy.” Schoen and Caddell were “con artists” and “losers.”

Except that the 2012 presidential campaign has proceeded much as they predicted. Both parties’ campaigns have been largely conducted according to their theory.

The shape of the race was set in early summer. In April, May and June, job creation dipped well below 100,000 — some of the worst economic news since the worst days of the Great Recession. Public approval for Obama’s handling of the economy dropped. Political scientists often argue that public impressions about the state of the economy get locked in during the summer before a presidential election. In the doldrums of 2012, Americans determined they wanted economic change — though they were not yet convinced that Mitt Romney could deliver it.

The Obama campaign fully internalized this political reality. It could not talk of “morning in America” during a continuing economic twilight. In a remarkable New York magazine article by John Heilemann this May, senior Obama aides frankly described the task ahead — delegitimizing Romney. He would be attacked as a vulture capitalist, a cultural revanchist, a social Darwinist. “For anyone still starry-eyed about Obama,” said Heilemann, “the months ahead will provide a bracing revelation about what he truly is: not a savior, not a saint, not a man above the fray, but a brass-knuckled, pipe-hitting, red-in-tooth-and-claw brawler.”

“Bracing” does not fully capture it. Throughout the summer, the Obama campaign and its allies accused Romney of not paying taxes, of possibly committing a felony, of personally outsourcing jobs to China and India, of stashing money in the Cayman Islands, of bearing responsibility for a woman’s death from cancer. The attempt to discredit Romney had an added political benefit. A presidential campaign consumed by the jabs and parries of the 24-hour news cycle was less focused on larger matters such as the economy.
The Obama folks, with the president's obvious approval, have waged the most negative campaign in modern history. I believe Caddell and Schoen are correct. If Mr. Obama wins it'll be a Pyrrhic victory. He won't be able to govern except by extra-constitutional executive fiat. The campaign has been poisoned by the politics of personal destruction that resulted from the Democrats' decision to not even try to defend their record but rather to attack Romney in any way they thought would gain them purchase with the electorate.

Now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reinforces the Schoen/Caddell thesis by threatening to block Romney, should he win on Tuesday, from doing whatever he tries to do to rescue the nation from the disastrous economic trajectory Reid's party has put us on.

It's sad, but we have become so ideologically polarized in this country that it seems the only way to get anything done in Washington, whether it be good or bad, is for one party to control both the executive and both houses of the legislative branch of government. There's so much ill-will between Republicans and Democrats, such a vast philosophical divide on how best to solve the country's problems, or even on what the problems are, that I sometimes think there may be a greater likelihood that the Israelis and the Palestinians will reconcile than that the Republicans and Democrats will be able to work together for the common good.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Seven Things about Mitt

The Obama reelection team has done their best to demonize Mitt Romney, and the press has been complicit in the deed, but what sort of person is he? Is he really the cold, aloof fat cat that he's been portrayed as for the last six months?

If you think so you need to read this column by John Hawkins. Hawkins gives seven examples of Mitt Romney's character that you won't read about in the mainstream press.

Go to the link, read Hawkins' column, and ask yourself whether the man that's been portrayed by the Obama team and the media wing of their reelection effort is anything like the man who did these things.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Is Life Rare?

An article in Science Daily reinforces the view that no matter how many planets there may be in the universe the number that are suitable for life and situated in such a way as to be able to produce and sustain life may be vanishingly small.

Even if another planet like earth exists and possesses all the hundreds of properties that are necessary to engender higher forms of life - a suitable star, an orbit not too close, not too far from the star, a large moon, continental plates, water, the proper period of rotation, and so on - this still may not be enough. It seems that it also has to reside in a system of planets that consists of a belt of asteroids and a large planet like Jupiter:

Here's the lede:
Solar systems with life-bearing planets may be rare if they are dependent on the presence of asteroid belts of just the right mass, according to a study by Rebecca Martin, a NASA Sagan Fellow from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and astronomer Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.

They suggest that the size and location of an asteroid belt, shaped by the evolution of the Sun's protoplanetary disk and by the gravitational influence of a nearby giant Jupiter-like planet, may determine whether complex life will evolve on an Earth-like planet.

This might sound surprising because asteroids are considered a nuisance due to their potential to impact Earth and trigger mass extinctions. But an emerging view proposes that asteroid collisions with planets may provide a boost to the birth and evolution of complex life.

Asteroids may have delivered water and organic compounds to the early Earth. According to the theory of punctuated equilibrium, occasional asteroid impacts might accelerate the rate of biological evolution by disrupting a planet's environment to the point where species must try new adaptation strategies.

The astronomers based their conclusion on an analysis of theoretical models and archival observations of extrasolar Jupiter-sized planets and debris disks around young stars. "Our study shows that only a tiny fraction of planetary systems observed to date seem to have giant planets in the right location to produce an asteroid belt of the appropriate size, offering the potential for life on a nearby rocky planet," said Martin, the study's lead author. "Our study suggests that our solar system may be rather special."
There's much more to this story at the link. The interesting thing about it is that it fits the thesis of two books that have been criticized for suggesting that life-bearing planets and thus life itself, may be very rare phenomena in the universe and indeed may exist only on earth. The two books are Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee and Privileged Planet by Gonzalez and Richards.

This notion contradicts the claim of people like astronomer Carl Sagan who argued that there are likely billions or hundreds of billions of planets in the universe capable of supporting life and that life is doubtless common in the cosmos.

If life really is rare or even unique to earth then it upsets the so-called "principle of mediocrity" which states that there's nothing special about earth and nothing special about human beings. If earth is the only life-bearing planet in the universe and human beings are the highest form of life then there really is something special about humanity after all.

The more scientists learn, the more reason there is to think that the principle of mediocrity is going to someday quietly disappear from the discussion of life in the universe.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Chastened Humanism

I recently read and enjoyed A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living by French philosopher Luc Ferry. I was therefore eager to read an article on the book in the current issue of First Things titled Chastened Humanism. The author, Robert Royal, writes:
Ferry is not a believer, though he presents Christianity with a warm Gallic clarity in a recent volume, La Tentation du Christianisme (The Temptation of Christianity, never translated). He cannot give in to that temptation, he thinks, because Christianity is “too good to be true” and also makes us slightly less lucid in our reasoning than does philosophy straight with no chaser. Or maybe, he muses, he just hasn’t been given the gift of faith.

In any event, he would like to preserve the “humanistic” values he recognizes as indebted to the Christian tradition, even as he goes about trying to find a place for them in a chastened, post-Nietzschean humanism. Though ultimately he parts ways with Nietzsche’s “philosophizing with a hammer,” he believes it impossible to avoid both the great German’s critique of modern humanism and the need to propose something post-Nietzschean and “after deconstruction” that can support a life worthy of human beings.

His current international bestseller, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living, is aimed precisely at this ongoing reassertion of humanism. In a lucid and accessible little volume, he tries to offer “spirituality” for the reflective contemporary nonbeliever who has lost faith, usually because of some modern philosophical analysis or scientific discoveries. In Ferry, however, there’s none of the mockery and incomprehension of religion to be found in the new Anglo-atheist school led by Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, et al., or even in the old French fire-breathers like Bayle, Diderot, and Voltaire.

For him, the Christian temptation is powerful and possesses its own appealing rationality. That’s the main reason it triumphed over ancient philosophy for close to 1,500 years. Along with figures like the Swiss writer Alain de Botton and the French materialist AndrĂ© Comte-Sponville ... he recognizes that religiosity responds to a human need and that those in the modern age who cannot or will not believe must explicitly seek to create a non-theistic humanist equivalent to fill the void.

A Brief History of Thought looks at five philosophical responses, in historical sequence, to three questions that every philosophy claiming to be the pursuit of wisdom tries to answer: What is the nature of the world (theory), How are we to act in it (ethics), and What should my ultimate goal be (salvation)?
Ferry admits that Christianity offers the most powerful answers to these questions and thus carries a powerful appeal. This was particularly true in the Roman world of the first century. Early Christianity was revolutionary in it's emphasis on individual accountability before God and the possibility of individual, as opposed to group, salvation. It's emphasis on the eternal life of the body rather than a disembodied spiritual existence; its belief that the physical body and the material world are good; the belief that the mysteries of the world can be discovered through human reason because it's the creation of a reasonable, logical God who is not capricious; its teaching that even the lowliest person had dignity and worth in the eyes of God and could be saved, not through their own efforts but because God loved even them; the notion of the equality of all men and women in the eyes of God; and the emphasis on love for one's neighbor as a guiding principle of life, all had enormous attraction in the world of the first century A.D. which knew little or nothing of such things.

But Ferry ultimately settles for the pale imitation of Christianity called humanism which embraces Christian values while rejecting the theistic base in which those values are grounded. Not having any foundation in anything more substantial than one's own personal preference, humanism simply can't withstand the charge of being an arbitrary, subjective ethical taste.

Ferry recognizes this, but for him it's the best alternative because in an age of science he can't bring himself to believe in the Christian notion of God. It's too bad. It reminds me of the man lost in the desert, thirsty and parched, drinking his own sweat and urine until even these dry up. The man improbably encounters a traveler who offers him all the water he can drink from his canteen, but the lost man turns it down because he can't believe that the traveler is really anything more than a mirage. Rather than accepting the traveler's offer he ignores it and presses on, scanning the hot, barren desert of human philosophies for an oasis, hopeful that if he can just make it over the next dune he'll find what he's searching for, all the while thinking that wouldn't it've been wonderful if the traveler who offered him the water wasn't just an illusion.

The Case (in Part) Against the Incumbent

This video lays out part of the argument against reelecting Mr. Obama on Tuesday succinctly and powerfully. I commend it to you with one caveat. I do not support it's endorsement of conservative talk radio, or at least of Sean Hannity who is, in my opinion, a rude, childish narcissist. Otherwise, the video is very good:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Shameful

If, like me, you thought that the Lena Dunham ad was about as bad as it could get then you, like me, were way wrong.

The Democrats - actually Michael Moore and Moveon.org - have made an ad that makes a play for the potty-mouthed senior citizen vote. Because we have certain standards to maintain I'm not going to put the ad on Viewpoint, but you can click on this link to The Daily Caller if you're interested in seeing the sorts of people to whom Obama supporters feel they have to appeal if they're to win the election.

Here's an ad we will show, however. It's a group of children who've obviously been taught to think that Romney is the human incarnation of Lucifer and that their parents are his henchmen:
Here are the lyrics in case you couldn't make them out or couldn't bear to watch:
Imagine an America
Where strip mines are fun and free
Where gays can be fixed
And sick people just die
And oil fills the sea
We don’t have to pay for freeways!
Our schools are good enough
Give us endless wars
On foreign shores
And lots of Chinese stuff

We’re the children of the future
American through and through
But something happened to our country
And we’re kinda blaming you

We haven’t killed all the polar bears
But it’s not for lack of trying
The Earth is cracked
Big Bird is sacked
And the atmosphere is frying
Congress went home early
They did their best we know
You can’t cut spending
With elections pending
Unless it’s welfare dough

We’re the children of the future
American through and through
But something happened to our country
And we’re kinda blaming you

Find a park that is still open
And take a breath of poison air
They foreclosed your place
To build a weapon in space
But you can write off your au pair
It’s a little awkward to tell you
But you left us holding the bag
When we look around
The place is all dumbed down
And the long term’s kind of a drag

We’re the children of the future
American through and through
But something happened to our country
And we’re kinda blaming you

You did your best
You failed the test
Mom and Dad
We’re blaming you!
It's so juvenile one might think the kids wrote it themselves, but according to The Blaze it was actually written by a couple of ad men who, presumably, are chronological adults.

Don't the president's people think there's something sordid about exploiting children, who surely don't know what they're doing, in this fashion? Doesn't the president himself think there's something wrong with this? Does he think it's a good thing to set children against their parents and to brainwash them into believing that there's any truth at all in the lyrics they're singing?