Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Future of the GOP

You've probably heard the story of the child who was asked at a custody hearing which parent he wanted to go home with. One parent gave him everything he wanted, promised him more, and allowed him to do pretty much as he pleased. The other parent told him he'd have to work hard and earn the things he wanted, that he'd have to follow certain rules and meet certain behavioral expectations.

Which parent do you think the child chose to live with?

The Republican party finds itself today in the situation of the parent who told the child that he'd have to work hard and follow the rules. There's just no way they can compete for votes among an electorate in which a majority of people, like the child in the custody story, will vote for whomever promises them the most stuff.

Mr. Obama offers "free" medical care, "free" birth control, "free" cell phones, "free" housing and "free" food. Does the child care how the parent will pay for their amenities? No, all the child cares about is that he's going to get them and that he's not the one who'll have to pay. Nor will he have to do anything more arduous to get them than fill out a form.

It's been said that a democracy can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself money out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits which inevitably eventuates in the collapse of the democracy which is ultimately supplanted by a tyranny.

The base of Mr. Obama's plurality consists largely of the poor and young people. These are two of the least invested demographic groups in our nation. They're the least informed, they usually pay little to no income tax, and they're often the most indifferent to politics, but their numbers are growing. They're a major reason why Mr. Obama won in both 2008 and 2012.

Republicans have before them three roads that they can take. They can either resign themselves to being a rump party, irrelevant to the governance of the country; or they can morph into a kind of Democrat-lite, abandon their conservative principles and pander to the various groups that comprise the majority of voters; or they can find a better way to teach those principles and make them more attractive to those whose support they need.

I vote for the third option, fully recognizing that it'll be the most difficult to pull off. It'll be very much like trying to convince the child that it's in his best interest to go with the parent who offers him discipline and responsibility, but the future of the country and of our children depends upon it.

Monday, April 29, 2013


One of the deepest mysteries in science and philosophy is the nature of time. The puzzlement goes back at least as far as Augustine (354-430) who raised a number of perplexing questions about it in his Confessions. Some thinkers, including many physicists, follow Immanuel Kant in believing that time has no existence apart from the human mind and that our experience of time is a kind of illusion. Lee Smolin, however, dissents from the consensus view in his new book Time Reborn.
In a conversation with Duke University neuroscientist Warren Meck, theoretical physicist Smolin, who's based at Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, argued for the controversial idea that time is real. "Time is paramount," he said, "and the experience we all have of reality being in the present moment is not an illusion, but the deepest clue we have to the fundamental nature of reality."

Smolin said he hadn't come to this concept lightly. He started out thinking, as most physicists do, that time is subjective and illusory. According to Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity, time is just another dimension in space, traversable in either direction, and our human perception of moments passing steadily and sequentially is all in our heads.

Over time, though, Smolin became convinced not only that time was real, but that this notion could be the key to understanding the laws of nature.

"If laws are outside of time, then they're inexplicable," he said. "If law just simply is, there's no explanation. If we want to understand law … then law must evolve, law must change, law must be subject to time. Law then emerges from time and is subject to time rather than the reverse."
This view, however, is subject, as Smolin acknowledges, to a major criticism called the "meta-law dilemma":
If physical laws are subject to time, and evolve over time, then there must be some larger law [i.e. a meta-law] that guides their evolution. But wouldn't this law, then, have to be beyond time, to determine how the other laws change with time? Other physicists have cited this objection in reaction to Smolin's work.

Columbia University physicist Peter Woit wrote to Smolin on his blog that "you speculate a bit in the book on ways to resolve this, but I don't see a convincing answer to the criticism that whatever explanation you come up with for what determines how laws evolve, I’m free to characterize that as just another law."
Smolin is persistent, though. He believes the meta-law problem can be solved. Perhaps it can, but the discussion sounds as though it's pointing to a higher reality beyond the space-time reality in which we are embedded. It's interesting how so much of science tends to do that.

At any rate, the view that time is an illusion is believed by some to entail that all events are simultaneously existent. Future and past events exist concurrently with the present, like frames on a movie film, but our consciousness moves through them in such a way as to give the illusion that they are coming to be and ceasing to be. Think of the movie projector, our consciousness, moving along the film casting the frames on our mind rather than the film moving through the projector.

Unfortunately, if the future already exists then we're not really free to create it. If we're not free to choose what the future will be then we're just so much temporal flotsam carried along by the current of existence, and it's hard to imagine what basis there'd be in such a world for human dignity.
"If I think the future's already written, then the things that are most valuable about being human are illusions along with time," Smolin said. "We still aspire to make choices in life. That is a precious part of our humanity. If the real metaphysical picture is that there are just atoms moving in the void, then nothing is ever new and nothing's ever surprising — it's just the rearrangement of atoms. There's a loss of responsibility as well as a loss of human dignity."
I wonder, though, why time can't be an illusion, a subjective phenomenon created by our minds, without that entailing a predetermined future. I suppose I should read the book.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Graduation, Mothers' Day Gift

Graduation is right around the corner. Mothers' Day is even closer. If you're trying to think of a gift to give the family member or friend who's about to graduate, or if mom's a reader, perhaps you might consider presenting them with a copy of In the Absence of God.

If you're not familiar with it you can read about it by following the link at the upper right of this page.

Absence is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Berean, BAM, Lifeway, and my favorite bookstore, Hearts and Minds.

Books aren't a gift appreciated by everyone, of course. A lot of people, unfortunately, don't read, and if they do they sometimes shy from reading anything that might be a little demanding, but if you know someone who enjoys books and who's not averse to having a little metaphysics mixed in with their drama (or vice versa), you could do a lot worse than putting a copy of Absence in their hands.

Aside from making a good gift for a thoughtful graduate or mom, In the Absence of God would also make a fine selection for book clubs, reading groups, or youth groups. Here's what one reader said about it:
Thanks for telling me about your book, In the Absence of God. I bought it last Tuesday for my Kindle and finished it in two evenings, although the last evening lasted until 3:05 a.m.. I could not put it down. Thought provoking, good story lines and characters, entertaining reading, and very educational. Absolutely loved the book and have been talking about it to my kids, family and friends.
If you order a copy from Hearts and Minds I'll autograph it if you request it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Background Knowledge

The Pew Research Center gave slightly more than one thousand adults a thirteen question true/false test to assess the general population's scientific background knowledge. Only 7% of those taking the test got all thirteen questions correct. You can take the test yourself here.

How did you do?

Most people got between 7 and 11 answers correct. One percent of respondents answered none of the thirteen questions correctly. An analysis of the results can be found here.

The Coming Insurrection

I recently shared a thought with a reader during an email exchange that I'd like to also share with the VP audience. I told the reader this:
I'm going to make a prediction. I think that there'll be an increasing estrangement between legislative Democrats and the White House over the remainder of Obama's presidency. As things stand now their alliance is one of political necessity, but I don't think there's much fondness flowing in either direction in their marriage. If the Democrats fail to retake the House in 2014 Obama will be a very lame duck, and I think the cumulative frictions and irritations that have been festering privately between his party and him are going to become less endurable, and their relationship will grow more noticeably frosty.

I also think that now that Obama is safely reelected media cheerleaders will begin to feel freer to criticize him for his manifold shortcomings. I expect that we'll see less adulation and more impatience from journalists who wish to salvage their tattered reputations and make themselves appear to be something more than frenzied groupies pleading with Obama to toss them a sweaty handkerchief from the stage or to permit them to touch the hem of his garment.
If the Dems also lose the Senate in 2014 Mr. Obama will spend the last two years of his presidency playing golf and jetting around the world with his family, and the Democratic Party will privately, and maybe even publicly, seethe at his imperiousness, their abandonment, and his indifference to their political fate. It'll be interesting to watch.

Indeed, there are signs that the disaffection is already well underway. One indicator is the growing Democratic disillusionment with Obamacare. Of course, the Democrats were eagerly complicit, at the White House's behest, in ramrodding this socialist grotesquerie through the legislature. Never having taken the time to actually read the legislation themselves, they simply trusted the administration that it was good, well-thought-out policy. Now that it's turning out to be quite otherwise, they're embarrassed by their support for it.

With every passing week the Dems are realizing that they've created a monster that's going to have very painful consequences for the American people and, consequently, very painful political consequences for the Democrat party. They're angry, some of them, that they've essentially been compelled to sacrifice their political careers on the altar of the President's progressive ambitions, and they resent him for it.

Another indication, perhaps, that the days of blindly doing the President's bidding are over was the recent thwarting by Senate Democrats of Mr. Obama's desire to see gun control legislation enacted.

I suspect we'll see other such instances in the months ahead, especially if the Democrats get spanked in the 2014 midterm elections. If that happens rank and file resentments might turn into outright hostility toward the administration. I hope so. It'd be good for the country.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Molecular Machines

Among the phenomena which support the claim that life is the product of intentional, intelligent design is the sheer number of complex molecular machines that operate in each of the trillions of our body's cells to ensure that these cells carry out the functions that keep us alive.

One of these machines is the system of proteins that synthesizes adenosine triphosphate (ATP) from adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Here's a short video animation that describes how this machine, called ATP synthase, works:
There are thousands of such machines in the cell, all of which, on the standard Darwinian account, somehow developed - through random, undirected, processes - not only their structure, not only the coordination with other systems in the cell necessary for proper function, but also the genetic regulatory mechanisms that control how and when the machine operates.

David Hume, in his famous essay On Miracles, wrote that when we hear an account of a miracle we should ask ourselves whether it's more likely, given our experience, that a law of nature had been violated or that the witness was somehow mistaken. Hume argued that a mistaken witness is always more likely than that a law of nature had been violated, and we should always, he insisted, believe what's most likely. Applying the principle to the present case, when confronted with a structure like ATP synthase we should ask ourselves, what is the greater miracle, that such an astonishing thing came about by chance and luck or that it came about by intelligent engineering?

It seems to me that the only way one can assert the former is if they've already, a priori, ruled out the possibility of the existence of the intelligent engineer, but, of course, that begs the question. Whether the intelligent engineer exists is the very matter we're trying to answer by asking whether blind chance or intelligence is the best explanation for the existence in living things of such machines as ATP synthase.

If we allow the evidence to speak for itself rather than allow our prior metaphysical commitments to dictate what the evidence says then I'm pretty sure most people would say that the kind of specified complexity we see in this video points unequivocally to the existence of a designing mind.

If this video has whetted your interest here's another that pushes us toward the same conclusion. It's an animation of just a few of the structures and processes in a living cell. Note the amazing motor protein that carries the vesicle along the microtubule:
How does the motor protein "know" to carry the vesicle along the microtubule and where to take it? What regulates the process? How and why did such a complex system ever come about? Was it all just blind chance and serendipity or was it the product of intelligence?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Dying Sport?

Chicago tribune columnist John Kass predicts that football is a dying sport and that within ten years it will cease to be played. This sounds preposterous given all the money it brings in, especially at the college and pro levels, but Kass believes that lawsuits will force high schools to drop programs and without the scholastic feeder systems the upper levels of the sport will wither and die:
With all that college beef on parade this week, the NFL draft is a wonder of sports marketing, a televised pageant for the multibillion-dollar American football industry.

But there's something football fans should know:

Football is dead in America.

Even through all the chatter and cheerleading and media hype, football as an American cultural institution lies in final spasm. It's as dead as the Marlboro Man.

And if the professional game survives at all, it will be relegated to the pile of trash sports, like mixed martial arts or whatever is done in third-rate arenas with monster trucks and mud. It won't be as American as apple pie. Instead, football will become the province of people with face tattoos.

Lawyers are circling football now. For years they've had their wings locked, cruising overhead, but lately they've swooped in low, landing and hopping over to take chunks out of the great billion-dollar beast. But it's not the lawyers who are the death of football. Blaming lawyers misses the point. Like their counterparts in nature, lawyers are merely the cleanup crew. What finishes football are the parents of future football players.

The NFL desperately needs American parents. Not as fans, but as suppliers of young flesh.

The NFL needs parents to send their little boys into the football feeder system. And without that supply of meat for the NFL grinder — first youth teams, then high school and college — there can be no professional football. And yet every day, more American parents decide they're finished with football. Why? Because parents can no longer avoid the fact that football scrambles the human brain.
Kass may well be right about this. Athletes today are so much bigger, stronger, and faster than they were thirty or forty years ago, the speed of the game and the violence of the collisions at every level of play is so far beyond what it once was that it well may be that football has literally outgrown itself.

But here's an irony. For all the concern about concussions and head trauma among football players I have personally seen more athletes diagnosed with concussion in the last five years watching my grandchildren play soccer than I saw in two decades of coaching high school football, and yet no one seems to be demanding that youth and high school soccer players be required to wear some sort of protective head gear. Why is that?

If we're so concerned about head trauma why do we allow kids to participate in a sport in which they use their heads to redirect the ball, in which they often bang their heads on the turf during a hard fall, or, in the case of goalies, get kicked in the head by opposing players, all without requiring them to wear any kind of protective equipment? It makes no sense to me.

Kass goes on in his column to explain that he played football and loves the game but he and his wife decided not to let their sons play it, and that a lot of parents are making the same decision. This parental veto, he argues, will bring about the demise of the game.

He may be right. Parental concern may reduce the number of kids playing, but if so, I think the effect will be seen mostly among the more affluent. At the elite level, however, football is largely played by kids that don't come from wealth. Many of those kids are poor and their parents may not be as likely as more educated parents to force them when they're young into an alternative like soccer.

We'll see. Here's Kass (after the ad):

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Maher Is Right Again

Sometimes events transpire so as to cause one to worry that the world is turning upside down. For the second time in as many weeks I find myself applauding Bill Maher for calling liberal flummery what it is - though flummery is perhaps more polite than the word Maher chooses to use.

The first time I found myself agreeing with Maher was when a week or so ago he refused to go along with Rachel Maddow's desire to see the wealthy socked with even higher tax rates than they already pay. In the present case he makes a guest named Brian Levin, a putative expert on religiously inspired terrorism, look condignly simple-minded.

Levin tries to argue that all religions are equally violent, a claim so preposterous that even someone as hostile to religion as Maher can't let it pass:
It's incredible that an intelligent, educated man could believe what Levin apparently believes, i.e. that there is some sort of equivalence among the world's religions in terms of their propensity to commit violence.

The fact that Levin had to go back seven hundred years to find examples of how Christians committed the kinds of atrocities that are routine today throughout the Islamic world should have given him a clue that he was making himself sound foolish.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Nation Asks Why

The headline in my local paper yesterday read a "Nation Asks Why," in reference, of course, to the Boston bomb attack. If any among the authorities knows what motivated the Tsarnaev brothers to commit this awful crime, they haven't yet made the information public, but I have a couple of thoughts nonetheless.

1. Moral evil is real: It's fashionable in our post-modern, non-judgmental, enlightened age to pooh-pooh the notion of evil as an anachronism, a throw-back to an age when we knew less than we do today about neuroscience and how the brain works. Today sophisticated, educated people know that those who do terrible things simply have something wrong with their brains. It's not a moral issue at all.

To all of which we might respond that a society that's reluctant to call the deliberate maiming of children and other innocents evil is a society that is morally paralyzed and perishing from spiritual inanition. It has lost its soul.

I tell my students the story of a prof at Yale who after the 9/11 attack surveyed her students and found many of them were unwilling or unable to call the mass murder perpetrated on that day evil. They couldn't bring themselves to pass judgment on people from a different culture. Ironically, however, a couple of weeks before this survey the same students were almost unanimous in condemning those who kill whales for a living.

Not only are we morally paralyzed, we, or at least some of us, are terribly confused.

2. Evil is ubiquitous: Alexander Solzhenytsin said that the line between good and evil does not run between nations or cultures but through every human heart. Human beings need something outside of themselves, a set of convictions, to constrain them from the evil they often feel impelled to do, but other than Christianity there's no belief system in the world that offers an adequate constraint.

This is not to say that Christians have not done evil. They have, but the difference is that if a Christian wantonly murders innocent people he is violating the beliefs he professes to hold. He's repudiating the most fundamental tenets of his religion and betraying the God he professes to love. When, however, a Muslim or an atheist murders, especially if they murder religious or political enemies, they're not violating any such set of beliefs. Most Muslims or atheists will subjectively recoil from the idea of such a crime, but nothing in their belief systems forbids it. Their aversion to acts of evil is purely a consequence of their personalities. If those personalities were otherwise there would be no check, internal or external, on their passions.

So perhaps at least part of the answer to the question why the Tsarnaevs were willing to slaughter three people, including an 8 year-old boy, and blow the limbs off dozens of others is because the Tsarnaevs were haters and there was nothing in their hearts or minds telling them that hatred is evil and that acting upon it is even worse. Quite the opposite, in fact. In their religion hatred of infidels is good and acting upon it gains Allah's favor. For people such as the Tsarnaevs the only internal factors limiting the carnage and suffering they're prepared to inflict are their intelligence and their courage.

So, why did they do it? Because they could, and there are, I fear, lots of Tsarnaevs out there.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mind Over Matter

Barry Arrington at Uncommon Descent has posted a number of quotes from the founder of modern quantum mechanics and Nobel Prize winner (1918) Max Plank. Unlike many physicists of his time and ours, Plank was not a materialist. He believed that everything in the universe ultimately reduces to consciousness, and that mind underlies the phenomena that science studies. Here's a sampling of the quotes Arrington put up at UD:
As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.

I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.
Not only did Plank spurn the materialist faith of many of the scientists of his day (and ours), he also had disdain for the attempts by scientists (like Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Stephen Hawking) to bury religious belief:
Under these conditions it is no wonder, that the movement of atheists, which declares religion to be just a deliberate illusion, invented by power-seeking priests, and which has for the pious belief in a higher Power nothing but words of mockery, eagerly makes use of progressive scientific knowledge and in a presumed unity with it, expands in an ever faster pace its disintegrating action on all nations of the earth and on all social levels. I do not need to explain in any more detail that after its victory not only all the most precious treasures of our culture would vanish, but — which is even worse — also any prospects at a better future.
This is an important point, I think. There's so much in our culture that is beautiful and noble, and just about all of it is rooted in the Christian tradition that the secularists and new atheists seek to ignore or eradicate. Read, for instance, what Jurgen Habermas, an atheistic philosopher, says about our culture's indebtedness to its Christian heritage:
Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is post-modern chatter.
Habermas might have added science to his list of goods that are rooted in the Christian worldview. That worldview holds that the universe is the ordered creation of a rational God, that it is governed by logical laws, and that through the use of reason and empirical investigation its secrets can be uncovered. It also holds that the world is given to man for his use and is neither sacred, as the pantheists and others believed, nor contemptible, as the Greeks believed. Thus it is no sacrilege to study it and no defilement to work with it. It was these assumptions, widely held in the Christian world of post-Roman Europe, that allowed science to grow and flourish. It did so nowhere else because no other worldview was compatible with sustained scientific investigation.

Finally, since we're on the topic of Christian contributions to culture, we might also mention the modern university, hospitals, charities, art and music, women's rights and almost everything else that, when we stop to think about it, we consider a blessing. Christianity is the fountain of all this, but the secularists wish to ignore it, and the new atheists want to do away with it. What they yearn for and advocate, however, would amount to cultural suicide.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Why the President Lost

President Obama waxed choleric over his recent defeat in the Senate of the Manchin/Toomey gun-control bill. He went so far as to essentially call opponents of the bill liars and blamed the Republicans for the loss while somehow failing to note the critical fact that four Democrats voted against it.

Anyway, the President suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune on this one for a number of reasons. Here are three:

1. The bill would have done nothing to prevent the Sandy Hook tragedy nor any of the other mass shootings which were cited as making the legislation necessary. Nor would it do anything to prevent the obscene gun violence in places like Chicago where three or four kids are shot to death every day. The bill was at best well-intentioned window dressing. At worst, it was an incremental addition to the burgeoning power of the federal government.

2. Even though the major feature of the bill, universal background checks, seems innocuous, and protections were built into the legislation to keep it from being turned into a registry of firearms owners, the fact is that tens of millions of people simply don't trust this president. The sense is that this was just the camel's nose insinuating itself into the tent and that just as the president, as soon as he won repeal of the Bush tax cuts, began campaigning for even more tax hikes, so, too, the concern was that once background checks were in place there'd be a campaign for even further restrictions on gun ownership.

Almost nobody believes this president when he assures us that he supports Second Amendment rights, just as nobody believed him when he said in 2008 that he opposed gay marriage. Most people are convinced, rightly or wrongly, that Mr. Obama's ultimate goal is to make it next to impossible to purchase a gun and to essentially drive American gun manufacturers out of business, just as the ultimate goal of his environmental regulations is to put the coal industry out of business and his apparent goal with Obamacare is to put private insurance companies out of business.

3. The Manchin/Toomey bill ignores what many people believe to be the real cause of much of the violence in our society: Our culture's increasing secularization, it's lust for violent entertainment, and the accelerating dissolution of the family. Put these three factors together and you get millions of young men growing up in a religious/moral vacuum with no strong male figure to inculcate virtue into their savage little hearts. These young men consequently spend their adolescent years wallowing in entertainment that makes killing and bloodshed exciting and cathartic, and there's no one in their lives to effectively teach them otherwise.

It's as though our society were in an advanced stage of a virulent cancer and the Manchin/Toomey bill sought to treat it by applying lip balm. Consequently, no one but Democrats really took it seriously.

The President's petulant reaction in the Rose Garden may have been sincere, but it's hard to believe that he really thought that the legislation, had it passed the Senate, would have also made it through the House of Representatives. He must have known that the Republican-run House would defeat it so why was he so upset that it lost in the Senate?

I don't wish to sound cynical, but I have little doubt that at least part of the reason he was angry was that it was defeated in the Senate due to Democrat defections. Had it passed in the Senate and then gone down in the House he would've had a club to use against House Republicans in the 2014 election. This is a crucial matter. Unless President Obama wins the House in 2014 he's going to be a very lame-duck president and he'll accomplish none of his remaining goals. Now, thanks to four of his fellow Democrats, the cudgel with which he had hoped to pummel the GOP won't be available to him.

I don't suppose those four Democratic senators should expect any White House dinner invitations for the next three years.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I just finished reading Susan Cain's book titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. It's a delightful read, and I couldn't help thinking that in so much of what she said she was perfectly describing me.

Early in the book she provides a test which will reveal whether the reader is more of an introvert or an extrovert. You can take it yourself here:
Identify whether the following statements about you are true or false:
  1. I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.
  2. I often prefer to express myself in writing.
  3. I enjoy solitude.
  4. I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame, and status (and popularity).
  5. I dislike small talk but I enjoy talking more deeply about topics that matter to me.
  6. I'm told that I'm a good listener.
  7. I'm not a big risk taker.
  8. I enjoy work that allows me to "dive in" with few interruptions.
  9. I prefer to celebrate birthdays quietly and on a small scale with only a few friends or family members.
  10. I'm sometimes described as "soft-spoken" or "mellow."
  11. I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until I'm finished.
  12. I dislike conflict.
  13. I work best on my own.
  14. I tend to think before I speak.
  15. I feel "drained" after I being in a social setting, even if I've enjoyed myself.
  16. I often let calls go through to voice mail.
  17. If I had to choose, I'd prefer a weekend with nothing to do to one with many activities scheduled.
  18. I don't enjoy multitasking.
  19. I can concentrate easily.
  20. I prefer lectures to seminars in classroom situations.
The more of these that are true about you the more likely you are to be an introvert. If a roughly equal number are true as are false then you are likely an "ambivert," and, of course, if the statements are in your case mostly false then you're probably an extrovert.

There's nothing wrong with being any of these, but Cain is herself an introvert and her book is about introversion and the struggles that introverts sometimes have in a culture that seems to reward extroverts. She offers a lot of interesting insights on this and related themes.

If you're an introvert you'll certainly learn a lot about yourself from reading her book.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Strange Bedfellows

It's not often that the radical left and the libertarian right agree on an issue and agree for the same reasons, but gun control seems to be an issue that has united the two in opposition to the attempt to restrict gun ownership.

Libertarians believe that the second amendment to the Constitution was put there to allow the people to protect themselves from tyranny, whether foreign or domestic.

The radical left doesn't give a fig for the second amendment or for the Constitution, for that matter, but apparently many radicals see easy access to guns as a necessary means to facilitate violent revolution. In other words, just like libertarians on the right, radical lefties are afraid of a tyrannical government, or at least one that will weaken labor unions and stop paying for birth control.

An article by Arun Gupta at Truthout provides us with examples of the thinking of his leftist friends. Gupta states:
Pick an issue and the left is organizing around it - climate justice, labor, rape culture, immigrant rights. But why not gun control? Because, most leftists, myself included, agree with the principle Tony advocated, which is political violence - meaning collective self-defense - is a necessary though not sufficient means of securing freedom from a violent state.

[S]ome [Americans] support gun rights and some oppose it. Many leftists are in the former camp. To confirm this, I asked a couple thousand Facebook "friends" if they opposed gun control and their reasons why. The responses came pouring in:
"Is a state monopoly on arms in the best interests of the working class?"

"Gun laws, much like drug laws, are used to oppress the poor and people of color."

"We can't have a revolution without them."

"Governments already have too much of a monopoly on violence and we will one day have to bring this one down."

"I'll be damned [if] a cop can have a gun but I can't."

"Gun control laws ... are another step down the incline to a full-fledged police state."

"[I support] the right to bear arms - because I'm horrified that racist whites are heavily armed in areas of the country that oppose democratic rights."
Judging from these comments, many leftists agree with the right that the biggest threat to society is not mentally ill shooters like Adam Lanza. It's the state. The implication is that the solution to a society with too many guns is more guns.
Gupta himself is moving away from this position (at least, I think he is. His article is long and wordy and a bit unclear), but evidently, a lot of his friends are firmly committed to it.

It's a little scary to think that people who would aspire in real life be avatars of the character Bane in The Dark Knight Rises are arming themselves, just as it's scary to listen to libertarians like Glenn Beck argue that the second amendment entails that citizens should be able to own and carry whatever weaponry is available to the military.

It causes one to wonder whether the whole world is going nuts.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Has Dawkins Lost?

An article in the British Spectator titled Dawkins Has Lost discusses how the militant anti-religion of so-called New Atheists like Richard Dawkins seems to have run its course and no longer has the cachet it once did.

I don't know whether that's true, but if it is it's doubtless largely due to the fact that the arguments of people like Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and others were so manifestly implausible, ill-informed, and philosophically untenable as to, in the end, invite derision even from their fellow naturalists.

In any case, there was one line in the article that many readers might gloss over without thinking to question but which really should be examined. It was this:
In previous generations, the atheist was keen to insist that non-believers can be just as moral as believers. These days, this is more or less taken for granted.
Actually, this is a bit simplistic. It's certainly true that atheists can live by the same moral values as anyone else, but that's such a trite assertion as to be hardly worth making. The crucial point is that, on atheism, any values one chooses to live by are arbitrary and subjective. An atheist can choose to live a life of kindness or he could choose to be selfish. Neither is more "right," in a moral sense, than the other. On atheism, selfishness is not "wrong," it's just different.

Here are some of the questions that need to be asked in our discussions of issues like this: If atheism is true why would it be wrong for me to just live for myself? If there really is no transcendent personal moral authority (TMA) why would it be wrong to adopt a "might makes right" ethic of life? In what sense would anyone be wrong to do whatever they can get away with doing? If death is the end of our existence then what does it even mean to say that any act, no matter how horrific, is wrong? What does the word "wrong" even mean if our moral sense is just a product of blind, purposeless evolutionary forces?

Most of us recoil from thinking that the massacres of children, the torture of political opponents, the ecological degradation of the planet, or even simply lying to one's friends and family are not actually wrong, yet, given that there's no TMA, no existence beyond this one, it's hard to see how they're anything more than merely behaviors we don't like or approve.

Most atheists, however, including, presumably, Richard Dawkins, would affirm that cruelty is objectively wrong, that selfish acts like refusing to save a life when it would cost us nothing to do is objectively reprehensible. But if they're correct about that, as most of us believe they are, then perhaps they should reexamine their denial of the TMA.

Philosopher Joel Marks puts the matter straightforwardly in his Amoral Manifesto. He writes:
[I had] been laboring under an unexamined assumption, namely that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I now believe there isn’t....The long and short of it is that I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and since I am an atheist, I must therefore embrace amorality....I experienced [a] shocking epiphany that religious fundamentalists are correct; without God there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality....Even though words like “sinful” and “evil” come naturally to the tongue as, say, a description of child molesting. They do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God....nothing is literally right or wrong because there is no Morality.
My novel In the Absence of God (see link at upper right) is largely devoted to this very theme. If people are going to reject God and still live consistently with their convictions, they're pretty much going to have to agree with Marks - and numerous other atheist philosophers - who are admitting that their choices are not really a matter of right or wrong but simply expressions of a personal preference with which they feel comfortable.

Charles Darwin, for example, wrote in his autobiography that:
One who does not believe in God or an afterlife can have for his rule of life…only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best.
And philosopher Richard Rorty put it like this:
I would accept [philosopher] Elizabeth Anscombe’s suggestion that if you do not believe in God, you would do well to drop notions like “law” and “obligation” from the vocabulary you use when deciding what to do.
The unbeliever who makes moral judgments, who talks about a "moral law" or "moral obligation" is simply talking nonsense. He should give up thinking that some behaviors are morally better or worse than others or he should give up his unbelief. He can't reasonably hold on to both.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Perhaps the end is near when liberals like Bill Maher are complaining that his taxes are too high. That's what he gets, I suppose, for being a member of the 1%.

Speaking of the one percent, I received an email recently from the left-wing website Reader Supported News, from which I get regular mailings, complaining that only 1% of their readership is supporting the work that everyone else benefits from. It read:
We cannot provide service to 100% of our Readership on the donations we receive from 1% of our Readers. A few of you DO help support the project. The vast majority do not. That is not fair to those who are sustaining the project, nor is it fair to the project we all want RSN to be. We love this project and this community, but we must ask you in the strongest terms to take the funding drives more seriously.
Well. There's surely an irony here. RSN is all in favor of raising taxes on the wealthiest 1% of American income earners to pay for the benefits received by the rest of Americans, but if RSN thinks it unfair to expect 1% of its readership to carry the other 99% on their backs why is it any more fair to expect 1% of Americans to carry most of the rest of the country on their backs. The top 1% of income earners pay 36.7% of all taxes paid in this country. The top 10% pays 70.47%, but almost half of Americans pay no federal income tax at all. Is that fair? RSN thinks so, except when it's their enterprise that's harmed by the logic.

The story of the prof who sought to disabuse his students of their infatuation with progressive views on taxation, like those advocated by sites like RNS, is probably apocryphal but nevertheless instructive.

The story goes that his students were adamant that taxing the more successful Americans at higher rates so that the poorer Americans can be given more is just and compassionate. After all, the wealthy don't need all that wealth and the poor need more than what they have. Taking from the rich and giving to the poor would promote social solidarity and communal concern for our less fortunate brethren.

The prof said he agreed with the principle and informed his class that henceforth those students who currently had an A in the class would have points taken from them and given to those students who had Fs. After all, nobody really needs anything more than a B, but neither should anyone be allowed to fail. It would be, he averred, just and compassionate, and promote a feeling of solidarity among the students in the class, to redistribute the grades so that the best had less and the weakest had more.

But of course it didn't. Although the plan was greeted with smiles of approval from the failing students it was received with howls of outrage from the high achievers and even some of the B and C students. How, he was asked, can you justify punishing those who work hard and make good decisions by making them subsidize and reward those who don't? How, he was asked, did he expect anyone to have any incentive to work hard if he was going to take the grades away from those who did work and give them to the slackers? All he was doing, the bright students protested, was promoting mediocrity and encouraging a kind of academic parasitism.

Yes, the prof agreed, but then that's what liberalism always does.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Brilliant Solipsist

Perhaps you're familiar with Ray Kurzweil. If not you probably will be one of these days. The man is a creative genius and, as Wall Street Journal writer Holman W. Jenkins notes, he's probably the closest thing to Thomas Edison alive today, an appraisal which segues us into the point of Jenkin's article. Kurzweil isn't satisfied with just being alive today. He hopes and intends to extend his life indefinitely. Here's Jenkins' lede:
Ray Kurzweil must encounter his share of interviewers whose first question is: What do you hope your obituary will say?

This is a trick question. Mr. Kurzweil famously hopes an obituary won't be necessary. And in the event of his unexpected demise, he is widely reported to have signed a deal to have himself frozen so his intelligence can be revived when technology is equipped for the job.

Mr. Kurzweil is the closest thing to a Thomas Edison of our time, an inventor known for inventing. He first came to public attention in 1965, at age 17, appearing on Steve Allen's TV show "I've Got a Secret" to demonstrate a homemade computer he built to compose original music in the style of the great masters.

In the five decades since, he has invented technologies that permeate our world. To give one example, the Web would hardly be the store of human intelligence it has become without the flatbed scanner and optical character recognition, allowing printed materials from the pre-digital age to be scanned and made searchable.

If you are a musician, Mr. Kurzweil's fame is synonymous with his line of music synthesizers (now owned by Hyundai). As in: "We're late for the gig. Don't forget the Kurzweil."

If you are blind, his Kurzweil Reader relieved one of your major disabilities—the inability to read printed information, especially sensitive private information, without having to rely on somebody else. In January, he became an employee at Google. "It's my first job," he deadpans, adding after a pause, "for a company I didn't start myself."

There is another Kurzweil, though—the one who makes seemingly unbelievable, implausible predictions about a human transformation just around the corner. This is the Kurzweil who tells me, as we're sitting in the unostentatious offices of Kurzweil Technologies in Wellesley Hills, Mass., that he thinks his chances are pretty good of living long enough to enjoy immortality. This is the Kurzweil who, with a bit of DNA and personal papers and photos, has made clear he intends to bring back in some fashion his dead father.

Mr. Kurzweil's frank efforts to outwit death have earned him an exaggerated reputation for solemnity, even caused some to portray him as a humorless obsessive. This is wrong. Like the best comedians, especially the best Jewish comedians, he doesn't tell you when to laugh. Of the pushback he receives from certain theologians who insist death is necessary and ennobling, he snarks, "Oh, death, that tragic thing? That's really a good thing." "People say, 'Oh, only the rich are going to have these technologies you speak of.' And I say, 'Yeah, like cellphones.' "
Kurzweil is a man who believes there are no limits to what technology can accomplish, and one of those accomplishments is an unlimited life span. Perhaps he's right, but then what would we do with the children? How would we prevent them from over-populating the earth? Turn them over to the Kermit Gosnell's of the world? I suppose Kurzweil would reply that if we can solve the problem of immortality we'll be able to solve the problems of over-population.

At the end of the article Jenkins writes:
Kurzweil submits to a relentless series of blood tests to monitor his efforts to reprogram his body chemistry against aging and against inherited propensities for diabetes and heart disease. "I'm reasonably confident that I will make it," he adds. "But it's not guaranteed. There are still many diseases we don't have an answer to, though I do have some good ideas about cancer and heart disease." If diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, he adds, he already has plans to put aside his other projects and develop a cure.
This is a little disconcerting. Kurzweil apparently thinks himself able to develop cures for killer diseases, but he'll only do it if he himself develops the disease. Maybe he didn't intend what he said to make himself sound like a selfish solipsist, but he managed to anyway. It'd be nice, don't you think, if he'd drop those other projects right now and start to work on those cures.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Media Blackout

Hot Air's Ed Morrissey has a good roundup of the articles that are being written about the media's complete lack of interest in the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell who NightLine's Terry Moran said may be the most successful serial killer in American history.
Kermit Gosnell
The major media, however, are evidently busy on other matters and are ill-disposed to call the public's attention to the horrors that routinely occurred in Gosnell's clinic. Molly Hemingway in an excellent piece at Patheos offers a sarcastic but apt description of the media's indifference to the issues involved:
And what policies could possibly be under discussion with this Gosnell trial? Other than, you know, abortion clinic hiring practices? And enforcement of sanitary conditions? And laws on abortion practices that extend to killing live infants by beheading them? And the killing of their mothers? And state or federal oversight of clinics with records of botched abortions? And pain medication practices? And how to handle the racist practices of some clinics? And how big of a problem this is (don’t tell anyone but another clinic nearby to Gosnell was shut down this week over similar sanitation concerns)? And disposal of babies’ bodies? And discussion of whether it’s cool to snip baby’s spines after they’re born? And how often are abortion clinics inspected anyway? What are the results of inspections? When emergency rooms take in victims of botched abortions, do they report that? How did this clinic go 17 years without an inspection? Gosh, I just can’t think of a single health policy angle here. Can you?
Hemingway points out that the media is all too happy to jump on pro-life targets, but an abortionist who commits ghastly crimes is granted media silence.
Just think, in the last year, we saw the media drop any pretense of objectivity and bully the Susan G. Komen Foundation into funding Planned Parenthood. And then we had how many months of coverage focused on someone calling a birth control activist a bad name [a reference to the Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke dust-up]? And who can forget every pro-life person in the country being asked to respond to Todd Akin’s stupid remarks about rape?
Ed Morrissey adds that we were treated to far more coverage of Michael Vick's mistreatment of dogs than to Kermit Gosnell's grisly murders of live-born infants and some of their mothers as well.
Photo of the media section of the courtroom taken during the trial
Some reporters justified their inattention by pleading that this was nothing more than a local crime story, and was beneath their pay grade. Of course, the Trayvon Martin shooting was a local crime story, too, but that didn't stop the media from doing everything they could to publicize it.

Observing that reporters would have been all over this case had it presented an opportunity to embarrass a republican politician Hemingway tutors reporters on how they might frame the question to get the opinions of liberal politicians like Mr. Obama on the trial:
See, the way you get Presidents and others to talk about uninteresting little local crime stories is that you ask them to.

I offered this [example] up to Kliff [a WaPo reporter who covers health and abortion issues but who has been AWOL on this one] earlier but I’ll share it widely:
"President Obama worked against the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act back in the Illinois Senate. He said he thought it was unnecessary and that he was worried it would undermine Roe. How has the Gosnell case affected his thinking on protections for children such as the ones Gosnell is accused of killing?"
Variations of that would work on any and all pro-choice politicians, particularly the ones that share Obama’s extreme views on this topic. Remember how reporters asked every pro-life individual in America (or so it seemed back in October) to respond to Todd Akin’s remarks on rape? Go ahead and ask just a few prominent pro-choice activists and pols for their take on Gosnell. And try to ask some tough questions. No, like real questions.
Both Morrissey's and Hemingway's articles are worth taking fifteen minutes to read, and they're powerful indictments of the pathetic state to which our media has fallen. Modern media personnel are not journalists, nor are they reporters. Those occupations are noble and have a certain ethical standard to which their practitioners adhere. The people in the left/liberal media today who arrogate these titles to themselves are not professionals except insofar as they get paid. They're in fact simple hacks, propagandists of the ideological left who see it as their mission not to inform the public but to promote the left/liberal agenda.

Showing the public the inhumanity to which that agenda leads by revealing what's going on in our neighborhood abortion clinic is counterproductive. It doesn't help the cause. So it gets ignored.

If you think this is a bit too critical ask yourself two questions: Had you heard of Kermit Gosnell before reading this post? Do you think that had Gosnell been shooting babies with automatic weapons instead of snipping their spines with scissors you would have heard of him before now?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Tough Times for Enviros

It's been a rough couple of weeks for those who wish to convince us that the earth is on the way to becoming an unendurable hothouse and that hydraulic fracking as a means of freeing natural gas from shale formations is fraught with all manner of environmental hazards.

The global-warming alarmists have had to suffer through a series of articles on research that shows that, even though we've been pumping CO2 into the atmosphere at rates guaranteed to give Al Gore apoplexy, global temperatures have for the last ten years been flatlining. This is inexplicable on all the models climatologists rely upon to scare the bejabbers out of the rest of us with terrifying predictions of "hockey stick" temperature increases and rising sea levels:
"The idea that CO2 is the tail that wags the dog is no longer scientifically tenable," said Marc Morano of ClimateDepot.com, a website devoted to countering the prevailing acceptance of man-made global warming. In recent weeks, Der Spiegel, the Telegraph and The Economist have reported the unexpected stabilizing of global surface temperatures. Even former NASA scientist and outspoken climate change activist James Hansen has acknowledged the 10-year lull.

Morano said: "In the peer-reviewed literature we're finding that hundreds of factors influence global temperature, everything from ocean cycles to the tilt of the earth's axis to water vapor, methane, cloud feedback, volcanic dust, all of these factors are coming together. They're now realizing it wasn't the simple story we've been told of your SUV is creating a dangerously warm planet."

The stabilization [of surface temperatures] suggests that computer models which predict harsh consequences of global warming may need reassessing.

As The Economist put it on March 30, "It may be that the climate is responding to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in ways that had not been properly understood before. This possibility, if true, could have profound significance both for climate science and for environmental and social policy."

Indeed, no one disputes that levels of carbon dioxide are increasing globally, but CO2's impact has not been as great as many scientists had predicted.

"In the peer-reviewed literature, they've tried to explain away this lull," said Morano. "In the proceedings of the National Academy of Science a year or two ago they had a study blaming Chinese coal use for the lack of global warming. So, in an ironic twist, global warming proponents are now claiming that that coal use is saving us from dangerous global warming."
The article also includes responses by other researchers who think we're still overheating the planet, but their argument amounts to asseverations that thousands of crack scientists believe we're headed for doomsville and they can't all be wrong. Of course, if these scientists are all relying on the same incorrect assumptions about the ways in which the atmosphere behaves, assumptions which fail to account for the stagnant temperatures of the last decade, then it's not hard to imagine how they could all arrive at an incorrect conclusion.

To make things worse for the environmentalists, now comes a report on a study done at Durham University which shows that fracking, which has been blamed by environmental activists for, inter alia, contaminated water tables and earthquakes, is very unlikely to be a significant cause of either of these.
Earthquakes have been touted as one of the negative effects of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale rock. In fact, last year an Ohio tremor was purported to have been caused by fracking activities.

Although some studies claim to find evidence that the process of pumping water and chemicals into the rock leads to earthquakes, a recent study is questioning just how likely it is such quakes would even be felt. The results of a study released Wednesday from Durham University found fracking is “not significant” when it comes to causing earthquakes.

“We have examined not just fracking-related occurrences but all induced earthquakes – that is, those caused by human activity – since 1929. It is worth bearing in mind that other industrial-scale processes can trigger earthquakes including mining, filling reservoirs with water and the production of oil and gas. Even one of our cleanest forms of energy, geothermal, has some form in this respect,” professor Richard Davies with the Durham Energy Institute said in a statement.

“In almost all cases, the seismic events caused by hydraulic fracturing have been undetectable other than by geoscientists. It is also low compared to other manmade triggers. Earthquakes caused by mining can range from a magnitude of 1.6 to 5.6, reservoir-filling from 2.0 to 7.9 and waste disposal from 2.0 to 5.7.”

Fracking activities, Davies said, release an amount of energy that is “equivalent to or even less than someone jumping off a ladder onto the floor.”
It's one of the beauties of science that speculation is eventually compelled to yield to data. It's a good rule to follow that when people are running about with hysterical claims that the sky is falling its best to treat the alarums with a healthy dose of skepticism until the data is all in.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


When it comes to hating one's political opponents it's hard to beat the left for sheer meanness. Margaret Thatcher died yesterday at the age of 87. For those too young to remember she was the Prime Minister of England throughout the 1980s, a woman who almost single-handedly restored England to fiscal health and military formidability. She rescued her people from economic malaise, but her methods were despised by the left because she reined in the labor unions and stripped them of much of their power. Together with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul she was also credited with having broken the stranglehold the Soviet Union had over Eastern Europe, which two achievements probably account for much of the left's animus against her.

She left office 22 years ago, but such is the hatred of some on the left that they've been partying in the streets of England ever since word of her life-ending stroke became public.

There truly is something sick about people who would behave this way. Some of these people were probably children when she was Prime Minister, they probably have little personal memory of her, and yet they're filled with so much spite that they'll go to the trouble to join in a demonstration celebrating her death. One wonders what it is about leftism that so many people like this are attracted to it:
There's more video here if you have the stomach for it. Thatcher was a great woman, but even were she not it's sad that those who disagreed with her policies feel the need to rejoice in her death. It's the sort of behavior one expects from, well, savages. You can read a much more favorable opinion of her legacy here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


A post at HotAir by Ed Morrissey casts a gimlet eye on White House claims that our economy is improving. Despite historic highs in the stock market the prospects for young people graduating from high school and college this spring are exceedingly poor. Morrissey uses data from a U.S. Census Bureau report to give us some perspective:
As President Barack Obama began his second term in January, nearly 50 million Americans were living below the income line that defines poverty, according to the bureau. That's one out of every six Americans or 16 percent. When Mr. Obama took office in 2008 the number was 13.2 percent.

Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the modern-day food-stamp benefit is known, has soared 70% since 2008 to a record 47.8 million as of December 2012. Congressional budget analysts think participation will rise again this year and dip only slightly in coming years.

At the end of 2008, at the depth of the Great Recession and as President Obama first took office, that number was below 40 million.
Poverty is up because job creation, and thus employment, is dismal:
We have added 10 million people into poverty since Obama took office, most of whom fell into poverty after the stimulus and the technical recovery began. In comparison, we have only added 123,000 jobs over the same period ... which showed a seasonally-adjusted employment level in December 2008 of 143.369 million, compared to 143.392 million in February. The civilian participation rate in the workforce ... has dropped from 65.8 percent to 63.5 percent during that time, equaling August 2012 for the worst since September 1981.
No president has presided over an economy this bad for this long since the Great Depression of the 1930s and as long as Mr. Obama and his party refuse to allow the development of our energy wealth, continue to impose burdensome taxes and regulations on businesses, and insist on raising employers' costs by compelling them to conform to the requirements of Obamacare, there's no reason to think it'll get any better.

There's a sad irony here for graduates and African-Americans, the two groups who suffer the most in an economy that offers few jobs. These two demographic groups were the most enthusiastic supporters of the man and the party whose policies are most responsible for their bleak employment prospects.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Your Child Is Not Your Child

MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry is not shy about telling us how liberal/progressives view the family, and particularly how they feel about your quaint notion that your children are yours:
At least as far back as Plato the left has been demanding that children be seen as not belonging to their parents but to the state. They are a kind of communal property and how children should be raised and what they should be taught should be determined by the state.

Marx believed that the traditional family was a bourgeois institution that needed to be discarded. B.F. Skinner envisioned in Walden II a community in which children were taken from their parents (as Plato advised in The Republic) and raised by the community. Numerous others have expressed similar aspirations.

Such ideas are usually confined to academic circles, however, because to promote them publicly would be to to invite derision and discredit and make it difficult to achieve the political power necessary to enact them.

Nevertheless, the left's long, slow march through the institutions that commenced in the early 20th century and began to bear fruit in the 1960s - the relaxation of divorce laws, the disapprobation of parental authority, both in the home and in the now obsolete doctrine of in loco parentis in our public schools, the acceptance of alternatives to traditional marriage - has been tending inexorably toward the dissolution of the family as an essential social unit. It has been the lodestone toward which liberal policies have inclined for over a century.

The fact that a mainstream cable news network feels confident enough to air an ad like this suggests that they believe themselves on the cusp of achieving the influence necessary to talk openly about dissolving the bonds of family and achieving their goal of social atomism. Sadly, they're probably not wrong about this.

George Orwell captured perfectly the leftist vision of what the state and the family should look like in his novel 1984. If you've never read it you should.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Touchdown Run

This will make your day. A seven-year old brain cancer victim named Jack Hoffman is a big fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and some members of the team have taken him under their wing. They even had him suit up for their spring red/white game that culminates spring practice and got him on the field for a play. Watch:
You can read more about this wonderful gesture at HotAir. There are some fine young men on that Nebraska team.

The Dream and the Nightmare

Most biologists believe that evolutionary change proceeds gradually over long periods of time, but others hold to a view called punctuated equilibrium in which species enjoy long periods of stasis and stability punctuated by brief periods of rapid evolution.

Evolution, of course, adapts organisms to the environment they're in, and in the struggle for political survival nothing promotes survival like the ability of a politician to adapt his views quickly to conform to a fluid environment. Thus, we've witnessed in the last couple of weeks an astonishing series of rapid punctuations as one politician after another claims to be "evolving" on the issue of same-sex marriage (SSM). Previously firm convictions are willy-nilly mutating, as it were, to adapt them to the prevailing social and political climate and to make their survival more likely.

Ever since President Obama concluded his long, slow "evolution," filled, one imagines, with many agonizing hours of study and meditation, toward favoring SSM (spurred along, perhaps, by Vice-President Biden's awkward admission that it was really the President's position all along), there's been a flurry of similar "evolutions" by politicians of both parties toward the now fashionable view.

I'm not a politician and haven't myself evolved much in a while and don't expect that, short of some profound mutation in my thinking on this issue, I'll evolve much any time soon, and I thought I'd explain why. A recent post on the views of a gay man by the name of Doug Mainwaring who opposes gay marriage elicited a lot of comment from readers who wondered why anyone else should care if two people who love each other marry. There are economic advantages enjoyed by married persons that are denied to same-sex couples and this doesn't seem fair. Nor does it hurt Mainwaring if someone else marries so why should he object?

I think the matter is much deeper than this and that opposition to SSM is not motivated by any animus against gays, as some readers suggested, but rather by a desire to preserve the institution of marriage.

I take it as a given that traditional marriage, though often flawed in practice, is, on balance, a very good thing for society, indeed that it's crucially necessary for a healthy society. I also believe that gay marriage, on the other hand, is very bad for marriage, and is thus very bad for society. Here's why.

Marriage has traditionally been a union of one man and one woman, but as I've been arguing on VP ever since its inception, once we say that the gender of the parties in the union no longer matters we've lost the logical basis for saying that the number of persons in the union matters. Thus, once SSM is permitted there'll be no way that courts and legislatures will be able to deny "marriage" to any combination of persons of any gender (polyamory). Any attempt to limit marriage to two people will be seen as arbitrary and groundless.

Some people reply to this argument with incredulity. They say it's "icky" to think that people would do this, but the "icky" response is naive. People, or at least some of them, will do whatever they can do. Organizations already exist to promote polyamory and once gay marriage becomes legal there'll be a push to legalize group marriage, and the arguments will be exactly the same as though made in the campaign for SSM. If those arguments were sufficiently compelling to cause us to conclude that the definition of marriage should be expanded to include gays how can we not also include polyamorists?

Other people have very unusual relationships with their pets. A woman a few years back had a chimpanzee that she treated almost as though it were human (until she brought a friend over and the chimp ripped the friend's face off). Others leave huge inheritances to their pets. Suppose these people decide they want to actually marry their animals. On what grounds do we insist that marriage be between humans only? Why deny someone who deeply loves his or her chimpanzee the joy of being married to the beast? The point is that once we've crossed the Rubicon of saying that gender doesn't matter we can no longer say that anything matters.

Actor Jeremy Irons raises an interesting question at HuffPo. Spouses, he points out, are able to bequeath their estates to each other when they die without incurring taxes on the inheritance, but if the estate were left to a son or daughter, the offspring is taxed on the gift.

Irons asks, once we've decided that two consenting men can marry each other, what's to prevent a father from marrying his son so that he can leave his estate to his son without the son being burdened by inheritance tax? Irons' question could be extended, for that matter, to either parent and their children of either sex. Laws against incest are in place to prevent in-breeding, but if in-breeding is not a live possibility what reason could we have for denying parents the right to marry their adult children in order to achieve an economic benefit?

The possibilities are doubtless much more extensive than I've outlined here. Clever lawyers will be able to think of all sorts of implications of changing the law to permit SSM. It seems to me that doing so will be enormously disruptive to society and will ramify into every corner of our life and culture, and we'll all be affected by those ramifications whether we're in a traditional marriage or not. Indeed, one consequence will almost certainly be the destruction of marriage as a meaningful institution. When marriage means almost everything it won't mean anything. All of us will be affected because all of us will have to live in a society in which families are pretty much anything people want them to be.

Ever since the 19th century those who promote totalitarian communism, like Karl Marx, and those who write dystopian novels, like George Orwell, have promoted or depicted societies in which marriage ceases to exist and individuals become little more than social atoms, compliant putty in the hands of the state. Once SSM becomes the law of the land we will have, perhaps inadvertently, taken a big step toward making the dream of Marx and the nightmare of Orwell a reality in the 21st century.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Quantum Physics and Free Will

Tom Hartsfield has a column at Real Clear Science on how modern physics, particularly quantum mechanics, bears on the free will/determinism debate. He writes:
A determinist point of view says, "If I precisely know the complete workings of a system -- i.e., the position of every particle and how the laws of the universe operate -- I can tell you exactly what it will do in all future situations." For example, by measuring the sun's gravity and the motion of solar system bodies, we can calculate whether an asteroid will hit us or how to position a satellite in a complex orbit above the Earth.

But are you prepared to accept that your mind follows these same rules? That it is a machine which can be completely predicted, like pool balls on a felt table or comets circling a star? That you don't make choices: the choices are already made by the wiring patterns in your brain, and you just carry them out like a colossally complex adding machine? This is the philosophical endgame of classical physics (i.e., Newtonian physics) taken to its logical conclusion.

Those who accept this philosophy simply apply physics to the human brain: If we could know all the molecules and cells and what they were doing, we could predict human thought perfectly. In practice, of course, this is nearly impossible, but it is philosophically possible. And chilling.

Then along came quantum mechanics. When physicists observed that behavior at the atomic level was fundamentally indeterminate, the universal validity of classical physics, as well as philosophical determinism came into question. Physicists recoiled at the idea that their science could no longer claim to predict all things with infinite precision. But, that's what quantum mechanics teaches us. We absolutely cannot know exactly how something will turn out before it happens.

John Bell, in a famous 1964 paper, forced everyone to reconsider, both scientifically and philosophically, their support for determinism. His famous theorem, Bell's inequality, is an incredibly profound statement. This relatively simple mathematical proof, when applied to experimental results, gives us a choice: We must either give up determinism or give up the existence of an objective reality explained by science and measurable by humans with instruments. So if experiments on quantum phenomena are reliable, then Bell concludes that determinism is false. Most physicists agree.

Essentially, quantum mechanics tells us that there are things which we cannot know about the future, things which are not predetermined but happen with some factor of chance or randomness. Although many things in the world may be predicted, everything is not predetermined, and our actions do not unfold mechanically in a manner predetermined since the very moment of the Big Bang. Free will is preserved.
I happen to agree with Hartsfield's conclusion, but I don't think it follows from what he has said about quantum mechanics. What QM shows is that the behavior of subatomic particles is fundamentally unpredictable (or indeterministic), but that doesn't mean that our choices are not determined. To extrapolate from the micro-realm of particles to the relatively macro-realm of neuronic chemistry and electrochemical reactions in the brain would seem to require some sort of nexus that Hartsfield doesn't provide.

At any rate, following the links in his column leads to a discussion which does have some extraordinary consequences for the way we view the world. Put simply, given the confirmed behavior of the quantum world, one of the following three beliefs we commonly hold appears to be false:
1. Our belief that the rules of traditional logic hold always and everywhere.
2. Our belief that there's an objective world independent of our observation.
3. Our belief that no information-bearing signal can travel faster than the speed of light.
If any one of these beliefs is false it turns everything upside down. The world as we experience it is often a strange place, but the world as it really is is much more bizarre than we can imagine.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bumbles and Fumbles

Joe Klein at Time is growing impatient. I suspect that much of the rest of the liberal media is also growing impatient, and not a little nervous. They've invested an enormous amount of their own credibility and also the credibility of liberalism itself in the Obama administration. If it fails not only would millions of people suffer economically, not only would there be a failed liberal president, but the whole liberal ideal of big government would be discredited. Another concern, by no means to be minimized, is that if the first black president, unlike the first black baseball player, turns out to be a mediocrity it'll dash the hopes of all who saw in him the political version of Jackie Robinson.

So liberals are getting impatient waiting for signs of success, indications that this administration knows what it's doing and is not just a bunch of bumbling incompetents.

Klein, who was a loyal Democratic foot-soldier and cheer-leader for each of Mr. Obama's last two campaigns, is not shy about telling us that his patience is wearing thin:
Let me try to understand this: the key incentive for small businesses to support Obamacare was that they would be able to shop for the best deals in health care superstores — called exchanges. The Administration has had three years to set up these exchanges. It has failed to do so.

This is a really bad sign. There will be those who argue that it’s not the Administration’s fault. It’s the fault of the 33 states that have refused to set up their own exchanges. Nonsense. Where was the contingency planning? ....

[T]he Obama Administration has announced that it won’t have the exchanges ready in time, that small businesses will be offered one choice for the time being — for a year, at least. No doubt, small-business owners will be skeptical of the Obama Administration’s belief in the efficacy of the market system to produce lower prices through competition. That was supposed to be the point of this plan.

[W]e are now seeing weekly examples of this Administration’s inability to govern. Just a few weeks ago, I reported on the failure of the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to come up with a unified electronic health care records system. There has also been the studied inattention to the myriad ineffective job-training programs scattered through the bureaucracy. There have been the oblique and belated efforts to reform Head Start, a $7 billion program that a study conducted by its own bureaucracy — the Department of Health and Human Services — has found nearly worthless. The list is endless.

Yes, the President has faced a terrible economic crisis — and he has done well to limit the damage. He has also succeeded in avoiding disasters overseas. But, as a Democrat — as someone who believes in activist government — he has a vested interest in seeing that federal programs actually work efficiently. I don’t see much evidence that this is anywhere near the top of his priorities.
Perhaps Mr. Obama's failure to make federal programs run efficiently is due to the fact that it's in the nature of government programs administered by bureaucracies to be ineffective, costly, and wasteful, and no politician, no matter how gifted, can change that. Or perhaps it's due to the fact that Mr. Obama just isn't all that interested in devoting the time and effort it takes to get things right in Washington when it would mean fewer rounds on the golf course, fewer days vacationing in exotic climes at taxpayer expense, or fewer opportunities to schmooze with adoring celebrities.

In any case, there've been those who long predicted what Klein is just now beginning to see. We were warned, for instance, two years before it passed that Obamacare was unworkable. We were told that Mr. Obama's misbegotten green energy subsidies were little more than paybacks to his political supporters. We could see, if we cared to, that the Obama stimulus was in large part a reward to labor unions for their support, and it was evident before 2008 that Mr. Obama possessed no significant qualifications for the office to which he has since risen.

We were repeatedly told all of this, the evidence was plain for all to discern, but Mr. Obama wielded several enormous advantages. He had that which is most compelling for the young, the uninformed, and the apathetic - he had charisma and style. Moreover, he offered the electorate the opportunity to share in the making of history by voting into the White House the first black president. To voters who couldn't care less about the details of the federal deficit or the Affordable Care and Protection Act the combination of personal magnetism and racial progress that Barack Obama embodied was irresistible.

Now, however, there are signs of growing concern among liberals that perhaps they've been seduced by a very charming man who was never what they had hoped he was. Some of them are beginning to apprehend that he is not the post-racial intellectual colossus, bestriding a world that would be healed just by virtue of his very presence, that they had envisioned him to be. He's really just a guy whose primary experience and qualification was organizing people in the streets of Chicago to demand a better deal from their city government. His rise to the highest office in the land is reminiscent of the Chauncy Gardener character in the movie Being There, and some liberals are growing alarmed that they didn't realize this before now.

Klein can complain about the Obama administration's incompetence, he can worry that it's fumbling the ball, but he has no one to blame for this but people like himself who adjured the rest of us in 2008 and 2012 not to look at the man's qualifications or record but to focus instead on his potential. That was bad advice for the nation back then, and it may wind up setting the cause of liberal/progressivism back a couple of decades - at least among those who are paying the bills in this country, if not among those who are living off the bill-payers.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Gay Man on Gay Marriage

Recent Supreme Court cases have got everyone talking once again about gay marriage, but one voice that's seldom heard in this controversy is that of gay men who oppose gay marriage. Doug Mainwaring, co-founder of the National Capital Tea Party Patriots, is one such man and his essay in Public Discourse is worth reading by anyone concerned about this issue, especially gay men.

Mainwaring writes:
I wholeheartedly support civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, but I am opposed to same-sex marriage. Because activists have made marriage, rather than civil unions, their goal, I am viewed by many as a self-loathing, traitorous gay. So be it. I prefer to think of myself as a reasoning, intellectually honest human being.

The notion of same-sex marriage is implausible, yet political correctness has made stating the obvious a risky business. Genderless marriage is not marriage at all. It is something else entirely.

Opposition to same-sex marriage is characterized in the media, at best, as clinging to “old-fashioned” religious beliefs and traditions, and at worst, as homophobia and hatred.

I’ve always been careful to avoid using religion or appeals to tradition as I’ve approached this topic. And with good reason: Neither religion nor tradition has played a significant role in forming my stance. But reason and experience certainly have.
Mainwaring goes on to share his story, the story of his realization that he was homosexual and the struggles that ensued - his marriage, divorce and remarriage to the same woman - and then he says this:
Over several years, intellectual honesty led me to some unexpected conclusions: (1) Creating a family with another man is not completely equal to creating a family with a woman, and (2) denying children parents of both genders at home is an objective evil. Kids need and yearn for both.

Here’s a very sad fact of life that never gets portrayed on Glee or Modern Family: I find that men I know who have left their wives as they’ve come out of the closet often lead diminished, and in some cases nearly bankrupt, lives—socially, familially, emotionally, and intellectually. They adjust their entire view of the world and their role within it in order to accommodate what has become the dominant aspect of their lives: their homosexuality. In doing so, they trade rich lives for one-dimensional lives. Yet this is what our post-modern world has taught us to do. I went along with it for a long while, but slowly turned back when I witnessed my life shrinking and not growing.

In our day, prejudice against gays is just a very faint shadow of what it once was. But the abolition of prejudice against gays does not necessarily mean that same-sex marriage is inevitable or optimal. There are other avenues available, none of which demands immediate, sweeping, transformational legislation or court judgments.

We are in the middle of a fierce battle that is no longer about rights. It is about a single word, “marriage.” Two men or two women together is, in truth, nothing like a man and a woman creating a life and a family together. Gay and lesbian activists, and more importantly, the progressives urging them on, seek to redefine marriage in order to achieve an ideological agenda that ultimately seeks to undefine families as nothing more than one of an array of equally desirable “social units,” and thus open the door to the increase of government’s role in our lives.

And while same-sex marriage proponents suggest that the government should perhaps just stay out of their private lives, the fact is, now that children are being engineered for gay and lesbian couples, a process that involves multiple other adults who have potential legal custody claims on these children, the potential for government’s involvement in these same-sex marriage households is staggering.

Statists see great value in slowly chipping away at the bedrock of American culture: faith and family life. The more that traditional families are weakened in our daily experience by our laws, the more that government is able to freely insert itself into our lives in an authoritarian way. And it will. Marriage is not an elastic term. It is immutable. It offers the very best for children and society. We should not adulterate nor mutilate its definition, thereby denying its riches to current and future generations.
I've only selected a few passages from all that Mainwaring has to say. There's much more in his essay. Readers will perhaps find some of his opinions hard to accept, but it's somehow refreshing to hear someone who has a foot in both communities, a man who is very sympathetic to the struggles of gay men, speak out so strongly in favor of not tinkering with the definition of marriage.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

An Inconvenient Truth

Governments around the globe, including our own, have been panicked by the Al Gores of the world into spending billions of dollars to prevent what has been prophesied to be an almost certain eco-catastrophe. The earth is warming, we are warned, and the proof is irrefragable, just look at the hockey stick graph. Anyone who questions or doubts the conclusions of the climatologists who predict disaster has been labelled a public menace deserving banishment and maybe even prison.

But, like similar scares in the past which ultimately came to naught, it seems that there isn't really any significant warming occurring at all and that whatever is happening to our climate, if anything, it's by no means clear that humans have anything to do with it.

A recent article in The Economist, a journal which has been sympathetic to the global warming alarmists, makes the point:
Over the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.”

Temperatures fluctuate over short periods, but this lack of new warming is a surprise. Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading, in Britain, points out that surface temperatures since 2005 are already at the low end of the range of projections derived from 20 climate models. If they remain flat, they will fall outside the models’ range within a few years.
The mismatch between rising greenhouse-gas emissions and not-rising temperatures is among the biggest puzzles in climate science just now. It does not mean global warming is a delusion. Flat though they are, temperatures in the first decade of the 21st century remain almost 1°C above their level in the first decade of the 20th. But the puzzle does need explaining.

The mismatch might mean that—for some unexplained reason—there has been a temporary lag between more carbon dioxide and higher temperatures in 2000-10. Or it might be that the 1990s, when temperatures were rising fast, was the anomalous period. Or, as an increasing body of research is suggesting, it may be that the climate is responding to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in ways that had not been properly understood before. This possibility, if true, could have profound significance both for climate science and for environmental and social policy.
In other words, the skyrocketing temperatures predicted by Al Gore and illustrated by the alarming hockey stick graph simply aren't happening and climatologists don't have a good explanation as to why.

The top graph above shows the projected sharp, "hockey stick" rise in global temperatures that had been expected over the last decade. The bottom graph shows the actual data.

The models used to predict disaster seem to be inaccurate and several competing models show much less dire effects from atmospheric CO2. The Economist also points out that temperature fluctuations may be due to natural causes whose effects had been underestimated while the consequences of human activity have been overestimated:
the anthropogenic global-warming trends might have been overestimated by a factor of two in the second half of the 20th century.” It is possible, therefore, that both the rise in temperatures in the 1990s and the flattening in the 2000s have been caused in part by natural variability.
What conclusions should we draw from this? The first is that Al Gore has made himself very rich by frightening people into believing on the basis of very ambiguous evidence that the apocalypse is nigh.

The second is that drastic government programs that would wreak havoc on national economies and industries in order to mitigate CO2 emissions are at best premature and perhaps unnecessary.

The third is that it's prudent to be open-minded but skeptical of claims of impending disaster when the evidence the claims are based upon allows several different interpretations.

It may be that human activity is creating a perilous environmental situation, but, Mr. Gore's books notwithstanding, the evidence is far from conclusive and there's certainly no warrant for panic or economically ruinous efforts to prevent something that we don't know is happening, don't know we're causing if it is happening, and don't know what its effects would be.