Friday, May 31, 2013

Clue to Hannity's Popularity

One of the irritants in the life of one who seeks to keep abreast of current events, I think I have on occasion admitted, is Sean Hannity. I think he's right about much of what he says, but how he says it is very hard for me to take for more than about five minutes before I have to turn him off.

When, after a few minutes of his talking over and interrupting callers, his incessant prattling about himself (why does he insert himself into virtually every discussion topic?), or his endless recitations of the entire corpus of his opinions when he's interviewing guests who would be much more interesting to listen to than he is, I find myself yelling at the radio, I know it's time to switch the station to some easy-listening music.

Mr. Hannity is, I regret to say, vain, pompous, egotistical, rude, and talks like a fifteen year-old girl (Really?? Seriously??? I'm like ...) so why is he so popular, even with some liberals? Perhaps a study discussed here affords us a clue:
Being confident and loud is the best way to win an argument - even if you are wrong, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Washington State University drew this conclusion after studying the activity of Twitter users. The more opinionated they were, the more influential and trustworthy they were perceived to be.
Mr. Hannity is certainly confident and, if not loud, at least strident in expressing his opinions. The possibility that he might be mistaken is never allowed to perch upon his lips. Nor are his listeners permitted to hear any cogent counterpoints offered by his masochistic callers without him drowning them out. Sadly, maybe that's why he's so successful.

It really is a shame that someone with such a prominent platform from which to articulate ideas and who holds political views so worthy of being articulated, is such an insufferable, boorish spokesperson for those ideas.

Of course, this applies a forteriori to people like Keith Olberman and Chris Matthews on the other side of the ideological spectrum. In fact, if rude, loud, opinionated commentary expressed with no hint of intellectual humility is the key to popularity, Olberman and Matthews should be the two highest rated commentators in the business.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

What's Apple's Fair Share?

Congressman Keith Ellison was complaining recently to Ed Schultz of MSNBC that corporations like Apple don't pay their fair share of taxes.
Neither Mr. Ellison nor Mr. Schultz seemed to recognize the fatuousness of their remarks. Here are a few questions we might ask these gentlemen:
  • Whenever someone complains, as do Messers. Schultz and Ellison, that it's somehow immoral for a corporation or wealthy individual to take deductions to which they're legally entitled the first question we should ask them is whether they themselves shelter income or claim any deductions on their own tax return. If they do then isn't there something hypocritical about complaining that others do the same thing?
  • What exactly is the fair share that corporations should pay and how is that figure arrived at? Unless they can tell us this how does anyone know whether corporations are paying their "fair share" or not?
  • Have not these corporations, particularly Apple, blessed this country and the world with their i-phones, i-pods, i-pads, and macs? Why does Mr. Ellison seem to think that somehow Apple has gotten rich without making any contribution to the society in which it has prospered and that they haven't done enough good until they've also paid more taxes than the law requires of them?
These men are shortsighted, to be sure, but they're typical of the thinking commonly found on the left. Perhaps the most ironic thing about it is that Apple and other corporations simply follow the tax laws that Democratic congressman have devised and then these Democratic congressmen criticize them for following their laws.

Parenthetically, I wonder if Rep. Ellison and Mr. Schultz were as outraged that Democrat Charlie Rangel, who used to chair the Ways and Means Committee in Congress, the committee which writes tax law, was himself discovered to be not paying his taxes. I wonder, too, if these gentlemen were as outraged that Mr. Obama's choice for his first Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, was found to be in arrears in his tax payments. I doubt it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Gibson Guitar Raid

A couple of years ago an American guitar manufacturer was raided by the feds for reasons that seemed to make no sense at the time. Investors Business Daily has put the pieces together and, in light of what we now know about the corruption that permeates this administration, those raids seem to make perfect sense:
The inexplicable raid nearly two years ago on a guitar maker for using allegedly illegal wood that its competitors also used was another [example of] targeting by this administration of its political enemies.

On Aug. 24, 2011, federal agents executed four search warrants on Gibson Guitar Corp. facilities in Nashville and Memphis, Tenn., and seized several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. One of the top makers of acoustic and electric guitars, including the iconic Les Paul introduced in 1952, Gibson was accused of using wood illegally obtained in violation of the century-old Lacey Act, which outlaws trafficking in flora and fauna, the harvesting of which had broken foreign laws.

In one raid, the feds hauled away ebony fingerboards, alleging they violated Madagascar law. Gibson responded by obtaining the sworn word of the African island's government that no law had been broken.

In another raid, the feds found materials imported from India, claiming they too moved across the globe in violation of Indian law. Gibson's response was that the feds had simply misinterpreted Indian law.

Interestingly, one of Gibson's leading competitors is C.F. Martin & Co. According to C.F. Martin's catalog, several of their guitars contain "East Indian Rosewood," which is the exact same wood in at least 10 of Gibson's guitars. So why were they not also raided and their inventory of foreign wood seized?
Gibson claimed they were innocent and had violated no law either domestic or foreign. Nor had they done anything different than their competitor, so why were they being harassed like some Jewish business in the early years of the Nazi persecutions? IBD offers insight:
Grossly underreported at the time was the fact that Gibson's chief executive, Henry Juszkiewicz, contributed to Republican politicians. Recent donations have included $2,000 to Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and $1,500 to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

By contrast, Chris Martin IV, the Martin & Co. CEO, is a long-time Democratic supporter, with $35,400 in contributions to Democratic candidates and the Democratic National Committee over the past couple of election cycles. Nothing happened to Martin and Co. but Gibson endured "two hostile raids on its factories by agents carrying weapons and attired in SWAT gear where employees were forced out of the premises, production was shut down, goods were seized as contraband and threats were made that would have forced the business to close."
Gibson's support for Republicans cost them dearly, as IBD explains:
Gibson, fearing a bankrupting legal battle, settled and agreed to pay a $300,000 penalty to the U.S. Government. It also agreed to make a "community service payment" of $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation — to be used on research projects or tree-conservation activities.

The feds in return agreed to let Gibson resume importing wood while they sought "clarification" from India.
This is America under Mr. Obama. You play ball or you get punished. It's how thugs run protection rackets and how tyrants run countries. The Obama administration may very well turn out to be the most corrupt in the history of the United States, and while we should all decline the angry (and surprising) adjuration of the otherwise demure Andrea Tantaros to "punch Obama voters in the face" one can certainly sympathize with the outrage that elicited it.
Andrea Tantaros
Half the American electorate have foisted upon the rest of us a man lacking any discernable qualification for the job of President. He had never had a job in the private sector, never actually served in any executive or leadership position, was never accountable to anyone, and whose own personal history was, and still is, shrouded in mystery.

The president these voters have selected seems to lack any understanding of how government should behave in a free society, and whatever his own personal virtues might be, he has appointed people to run his administration who evidently have nothing but contempt for the niceties of the law, the constitution, and the truth.

These voters, in many cases, supported Mr. Obama for no weightier reason than that they thought it'd be "cool" to be part of the history-making election of the first black president, or they wished to clothe themselves in racial piety and demonstrate to themselves and others that they weren't racists.

At least those voters have the excuse, perhaps, of just being irresponsible. The voters who knew what Mr. Obama's ideological inclinations and ambitions were, what he would do and how he would do it, and voted for him anyway, or voted for him because that's precisely what they wanted from him, were something worse than irresponsible.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


People skeptical of both miracles and of the idea that the universe is intelligently designed often invoke the objection, which goes back to philosopher David Hume but which was most succinctly expressed by astronomer Carl Sagan, that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." The argument is that since the claim of a miracle - or an intelligent design (ID) of the universe - is extraordinary, and since no extant evidence matches the extraordinariness of the claim, we should remain skeptical that such things happened.

There's an excellent discussion and rebuttal of this objection by DonaldM (henceforth DM) at Uncommon Descent. DM labels the objection the EC-EE (Extraordinary Claims-Extraordinary Evidence) objection and reveals it to be a rather empty assertion.

For example, he notes that the term "extraordinary" in both EC and EE is so vague as to be meaningless. It is, moreover, a term that's worldview dependent. The claim that Jesus performed miracles is not at all extraordinary to the community of Christian theists but is extraordinary indeed for naturalistic materialists. Put differently, if a personal God exists the claim that miracles happened is not necessarily surprising. If God doesn't exist then a miracle would be surprising, of course, but one cannot assume that God doesn't exist and then conclude that miracle claims are "extraordinary" since that would beg the question.

Even setting that aside, the EC-EE objection cuts both ways. Intelligent Design advocates argue that the specified complexity (information) content of living cells is so improbable on naturalism as to make the claim that natural processes gave rise to it without the benefit of intelligent input an unimaginably extraordinary hypothesis. Where is the extraordinary evidence to support it? Yet, despite the utter paucity of evidence that blind, purposeless forces can produce meaningful information the very people who believe it happened often treat with scorn anyone who doubts it, and they demand of them "extraordinary evidence" that an intelligence guided the process while proffering none in favor of their own belief.

VJTorley has it right in the comments section of DM's post when he states that:
[W]hat I would say is not that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (which is a very vague term), but that they require evidence that renders alternative hypotheses very unlikely.
In the case of the resurrection of Jesus and of the fine-tuning of the cosmos the naturalistic explanations are so implausible that the only reason anyone would believe them is that they have an apriori commitment to naturalism. If, however, one suspends one's apriori commitments and leaves open the question of whether there is or is not a God the evidence for the resurrection and the fine-tuning of the universe certainly supports the conclusion that a miracle occurred in the first case and that a mind was involved in the second.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

On Memorial Day we remember the sacrifices and character of men like those described in these accounts from the war in Iraq:
A massive truck bomb had turned much of the Fort Lewis soldiers’ outpost to rubble. One of their own lay dying and many others wounded. Some 50 al-Qaida fighters were attacking from several directions with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. It was obvious that the insurgents had come to drive the platoon of Stryker brigade troops out of Combat Outpost Tampa, a four-story concrete building overlooking a major highway through western Mosul, Iraq.

“It crossed my mind that that might be what they were going to try to do,” recalled Staff Sgt. Robert Bernsten, one of 40 soldiers at the outpost that day. “But I wasn’t going to let that happen, and looking around I could tell nobody else in 2nd platoon was going to let that happen, either.”

He and 10 other soldiers from the same unit – the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment – would later be decorated for their valor on this day of reckoning, Dec. 29, 2004. Three were awarded the Silver Star, the Army’s third-highest award for heroism in combat. When you combine those medals with two other Silver Star recipients involved in different engagements, the battalion known as “Deuce Four” stands in elite company. The Army doesn’t track the number of medals per unit, but officials said there could be few, if any, other battalions in the Iraq war to have so many soldiers awarded the Silver Star.

“I think this is a great representation of our organization,” said the 1-24’s top enlisted soldier, Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Prosser, after a battalion award ceremony late last month at Fort Lewis. “There are so many that need to be recognized. … There were so many acts of heroism and valor.”

The fight for COP Tampa came as Deuce Four was just two months into its yearlong mission in west Mosul. The battalion is part of Fort Lewis’ second Stryker brigade. In the preceding weeks, insurgents had grown bolder in their attacks in the city of 2 million. Just eight days earlier, a suicide bomber made his way into a U.S. chow hall and killed 22 people, including two from Deuce Four.

The battalion took over the four-story building overlooking the busy highway and set up COP Tampa after coming under fire from insurgents holed up there. The troops hoped to stem the daily roadside bombings of U.S. forces along the highway, called route Tampa. Looking back, the Dec. 29 battle was a turning point in the weeks leading up to Iraq’s historic first democratic election.

The enemy “threw everything they had into this,” Bernsten said. “And you know in the end, they lost quite a few guys compared to the damage they could do to us. “They didn’t quit after that, but they definitely might have realized they were up against something a little bit tougher than they originally thought.”

The battle for COP Tampa was actually two fights – one at the outpost, and the other on the highway about a half-mile south.

About 3:20 p.m., a large cargo truck packed with 50 South African artillery rounds and propane tanks barreled down the highway toward the outpost, according to battalion accounts.

Pfc. Oscar Sanchez, on guard duty in the building, opened fire on the truck, killing the driver and causing the explosives to detonate about 75 feet short of the building. Sanchez, 19, was fatally wounded in the blast. Commanders last month presented his family with a Bronze Star for valor and said he surely saved lives. The enormous truck bomb might have destroyed the building had the driver been able to reach the ground-floor garages.

As it was, the enormous explosion damaged three Strykers parked at the outpost and wounded 17 of the 40 or so soldiers there, two of them critically.

Bernsten was in a room upstairs. “It threw me. It physically threw me. I opened my eyes and I’m laying on the floor a good 6 feet from where I was standing a split second ago,” he said. “There was nothing but black smoke filling the building.” People were yelling for each other, trying to find out if everyone was OK.

“It seemed like it was about a minute, and then all of a sudden it just opened up from everywhere. Them shooting at us. Us shooting at them,” Bernsten said. The fight would rage for the next two hours. Battalion leaders said videotape and documents recovered later showed it was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq fighters. They were firing from rooftops, from street corners, from cars, Bernsten said.

Eventually, Deuce Four soldiers started to run low on ammunition. Bernsten, a squad leader, led a team of soldiers out into the open, through heavy fire, to retrieve more from the damaged Strykers. “We went to the closest vehicle first and grabbed as much ammo as we could, and got it upstairs and started to distribute it,” he said. “When you hand a guy a magazine and they’re putting the one you just handed them into their weapon, you realize they’re getting pretty low. So we knew we had to go back out there for more.”

He didn’t necessarily notice there were rounds zipping past as he and the others ran the 100 feet or so to the Strykers. “All you could see was the back of the Stryker you were trying to get to.”

Another fight raged down route Tampa, where a convoy of six Strykers, including the battalion commander’s, had rolled right into a field of hastily set roadside bombs. The bombs hadn’t been there just five minutes earlier, when the convoy had passed by going the other way after a visit to the combat outpost. It was an ambush set up to attack whatever units would come to the aid of COP Tampa.

Just as soldiers in the lead vehicle radioed the others that there were bombs in the road, the second Stryker was hit by a suicide car bomber. Staff Sgt. Eddieboy Mesa, who was inside, said the blast tore off the slat armor cage and equipment from the right side of the vehicle, and destroyed its tires and axles and the grenade launcher mounted on top. But no soldiers were seriously injured.

Insurgents opened fire from the west and north of the highway. Stryker crewmen used their .50-caliber machine guns and grenade launchers to destroy a second car bomb and two of the bombs rigged in the roadway. Three of the six Strykers pressed on to COP Tampa to join the fight.

One, led by battalion operations officer Maj. Mark Bieger, loaded up the critically wounded and raced back onto the highway through the patch of still-unstable roadside bombs. It traveled unescorted the four miles or so to a combat support hospital. Bieger and his men are credited with saving the lives of two soldiers.

Then he and his men turned around and rejoined the fight on the highway. Bieger was one of those later awarded the Silver Star. Meantime, it was left to the soldiers still on the road to defend the heavily damaged Stryker and clear the route of the remaining five bombs.

Staff Sgt. Wesley Holt and Sgt. Joseph Martin rigged up some explosives and went, under fire, from bomb to bomb to prepare them for demolition. They had no idea whether an insurgent was watching nearby, waiting to detonate the bombs. Typically, this was the kind of situation where infantry soldiers would call in the ordnance experts. But there was no time, Holt said.

“You could see the IEDs right out in the road. I knew it was going to be up to us to do it,” Holt said. “Other units couldn’t push through. The colonel didn’t want to send any more vehicles through the kill zone until we could clear the route.” And so they prepared their charges under the cover of the Strykers, then ran out to the bombs, maybe 50 yards apart. The two men needed about 30 seconds to rig each one as incoming fire struck around them.

“You could hear it [enemy fire] going, but where they were landing I don’t know,” Holt said. “You concentrate on the main thing that’s in front of you.” He and Martin later received Silver Stars.

The route clear, three other Deuce Four platoons moved out into the neighborhoods and F/A-18 fighter jets made more than a dozen runs to attack enemy positions with missiles and cannon fire. “It was loud, but it was a pretty joyous sound,” Bernsten said. “You know that once that’s happened, you have the upper hand in such a big way. It’s like the cavalry just arrived, like in the movies.”

Other soldiers eventually received Bronze Stars for their actions that day, too.

Sgt. Christopher Manikowski and Sgt. Brandon Huff pulled wounded comrades from their damaged Strykers and carried them over open ground, under fire, to the relative safety of the building.

Sgt. Nicholas Furfari and Spc. Dennis Burke crawled out onto the building’s rubbled balcony under heavy fire to retrieve weapons and ammunition left there after the truck blast.

Also decorated with Bronze Stars for their valor on Dec. 29 were Lt. Jeremy Rockwell and Spc. Steven Sosa. U.S. commanders say they killed at least 25 insurgents. Deuce Four left the outpost unmanned for about three hours that night, long enough for engineers to determine whether it was safe to re-enter. Troops were back on duty by morning, said battalion commander Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla.

In the next 10 months, insurgents would continue to attack Deuce Four troops in west Mosul with snipers, roadside bombs and suicide car bombs. But never again would they mass and attempt such a complex attack.

Heroics on two other days earned Silver Stars for Deuce Four.

It was Aug. 19, and Sgt. Major Robert Prosser’s commander, Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla, had been shot down in front of him. Bullets hit the ground and walls around him. Prosser charged under fire into a shop, not knowing how many enemy fighters were inside. There was one, and Prosser shot him four times in the chest, then threw down his empty rifle and fought hand-to-hand with the man.

The insurgent pulled Prosser’s helmet over his eyes. Prosser got his hands onto the insurgent’s throat, but couldn’t get a firm grip because it was slick with blood.

Unable to reach his sidearm or his knife, and without the support of any other American soldiers Prosser nonetheless disarmed and subdued the insurgent by delivering a series of powerful blows to the insurgent’s head, rendering the man unconscious.

Another Silver Star recipient, Staff Sgt. Shannon Kay, received the award for his actions on Dec. 11, 2004. He helped save the lives of seven members of his squad after they were attacked by a suicide bomber and insurgents with rockets and mortars at a traffic checkpoint.

He and others used fire extinguishers to save their burning Stryker vehicle and killed at least eight enemy fighters. Throughout the fight, Kay refused medical attention despite being wounded in four places.
For men like these and the millions of others whose courage and sacrifice have for two hundred and fifty years enabled the rest of us to live in relative freedom and security, we should all thank God.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sowing and Reaping

It's beginning to look a lot like Eric Holder is guilty of lying to Congress under oath, which is perjury, and/or lying to a federal judge in order to get a warrant to search the personal communications of Fox News reporter James Rosen. Whatever the nature of Mr. Holder's prevarications, if such they be, his future as Attorney General looks bleak. Ed Morrissey at Hot Air has the details:
Last week, under relatively friendly questioning from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) about the Department of Justice seizure of Associated Press phone records, [Mr. Holder was] asked about the potential to prosecute reporters under the Espionage Act of 1917. ”You’ve got a long way to go to try to prosecute the press for publication of material,” Holder responded.

Later, though, he returned to the topic unbidden, emphasis mine:
In regard to potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material. This is not something I’ve ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy.
As it turns out, Holder not only heard of it, he personally approved it. The warrant in the Rosen case specified that he was considered a potential suspect in the leak of classified material, [which is why] the DoJ didn’t bother to follow the existing Watergate-era statute in coordinating the records request with Fox News.

And note that Holder’s testimony in this case wasn’t produced by some sophisticated perjury trap sprung by a Republican, but as a freely-offered representation to no particular question during the question period of a Democrat.

There is no other way to view this except as a lie.
In fact, Mr. Holder was under oath which makes his lie perjury. Moreover, as Morrissey explains later, Holder may also have lied to a judge to obtain the warrant for seizing Rosen's records.

In an update, Morrissey notes that there's a bipartisan consensus emerging for Holder's resignation. The Huffington Post and Esquire have both had enough. Pressure to resign would seem, though, to be the least of Holder's worries. He may also be looking at disbarment and a few years in prison.

Exit questions: Does anyone seriously think that Holder would have signed off on the Rosen matter without someone high up in the White House knowing about it? How high does this go? How many more scandals must attach themselves to this administration before the media starts talking about it being the most corrupt administration in American history?

War of Attrition

Mark Steyn is a brilliant satirist, but I don't think I've ever read anything by him quite as good as his piece on the fatuousness of the liberal European political figures and media in the wake of the grisly murder of officer Lee Rigby on the streets of London last week.

I thought as I read it that at some point in the not-too-distant future Europeans and Americans are going to arrive at the realization that our refusal to see that a substantial portion of the Islamic world is at war with the West has been a form of self-delusion. Our authorities keep telling us, despite repeated and ample evidence to the contrary, that acts of savagery and murder being carried out against non-Muslims are the random acts of a few extremists:
  • Heavily influenced by a Muslim cleric, Nidal Hasan murdered thirteen soldiers and wounded thirty more at Fort Hood, Texas, shouting that "God is Great," and the Obama administration refuses to call it Islamic terrorism, preferring instead to label it an instance of "workplace violence."
  • Two young Muslims kill and maim hundreds at the Boston Marathon and we're told that we must not blame Islam which does not countenance such barbarity.
  • Stockholm, Sweden is in the fifth night of rioting and the news reports refuse to mention that it is Muslim youths who are burning their communities.
  • Two British Muslims behead a British soldier and the British authorities rush to see who can utter the most asinine banality as to the irrelevance of the religion of peace to the atrocity.
How many acts committed in the name of Allah by devout Muslims citing Koranic warrant and perceived offenses against Islam must we suffer before our valiant public servants recognize that maybe there's a connection?

One of the most risible excuses for the Stockholm riots is the assertion that Muslim violence is a result of penurious social conditions. What were the social conditions these immigrants came from in Somalia, Sudan, and Chad? As one Swedish commentator put it,
"In Sweden you’ve got welfare, access to the educational system – up to university level, you got access to public transport, libraries, healthcare – to everything. And still they feel that they [immigrants] need to riot, throw stones and Molotov cocktails. It’s ridiculous and a bad excuse."
Another adds,
"The problem is not from the Swedish government or from the Swedish people. The last 20 years or so, we have seen so many immigrants coming to Sweden that really don’t like Sweden. They do not want to integrate, they do not want to live in [Swedish] society: Working, paying taxes and so on.

"The people come here now because they know that Sweden will give them money for nothing. They don’t have to work, they don’t have to pay taxes – they can just stay here and get a lot of money. That is really a problem."
The world is changing. Anyone in the next generation who can afford it will likely be living in gated communities with armed security guards. Armed guards will patrol shopping malls, businesses, schools and school busses. As in Europe today there'll be entire neighborhoods into which police and fire personnel simply will not venture.

We are, whether we wish to recognize it or not, deeply embroiled in a generational war of attrition waged against us by people who see themselves as agents of Allah, a deity who desires his votaries to kill any and all of those who disparage Islam or refuse to embrace it. The Obama administration, in a state of purblind denial, responds by treating the threat as a law enforcement problem, and strives to strip Americans of the right and the means of protecting themselves against just the sort of horror that befell that young soldier in London.

Europe seems to be realizing, though probably too late, the folly of allowing so many who have no intention of ever assimilating into Western culture to immigrate to their cities. Perhaps we in America will realize it, too, but as of yet our somnambulant cultural elites are too intoxicated on political correctness and multicultural moonshine to offer much ground for optimism.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Atheists Can Be Good

Pope Francis created a minor kerfuffle when in a homily the other day he told the story of a priest who was asked if even atheists had been redeemed by Jesus:
"Even them, everyone," the pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. "We all have the duty to do good," he said. "Just do good and we'll find a meeting point," the pope said in a hypothetical conversation in which someone told a priest: "But I don't believe. I'm an atheist."
Matt Lewis at The Daily Caller asks:
Who can oppose that?

His [the pope's] comments may also speak to the long-held notion among some Christians that, having no eternal life to worry about, atheists lack an incentive for good behavior. Doing good, thus becomes an irrational example of cognitive dissonance.

But there is an earthly incentive to living a good life. There are consequences to bad behavior in the here and now. And whether this is because a virtuous life coincides with God’s plan, or whether it’s merely the product of nature’s arbitrary laws, it is observably true.
All of this is true. In fact, I agree with everything both Lewis and the pope said. One can do good things whether one believes in God or not, but I think a larger point is being missed in some of the commentary on Francis' homily. When the pope says that an atheist can do good what he means, I assume, is that the behavior is good, i.e. has objective moral worth, in light of a theistic worldview. In an atheistic worldview there can be no objective moral value to anything.

In other words, to say that an act is good is to say that it's the right thing to do, but if atheism is true then the only criterion for whether our behavior is right or wrong is whether it produces desirable consequences for me. If atheism is true there really is no behavior that's good except for how it affects me, and to say that something is wrong is simply to point out that I don't like it. On atheism moral worth can only be subjective, it can't be objective.

On atheism, there's no axiological distinction between selfishness and generosity, kindness and cruelty, other than in the consequences these things produce for oneself. Their consequences for others are of no moral moment unless I care about those others. Thus atheism, taken to it's full conclusion, leads to an egoistic might-makes-right ethic wherein whatever I have the power to do is right as long as I benefit from it. Or, it leads to nihilism.

I made this point, in a general way, in the comment section of Lewis' column. A fellow by the name of Winston Blake replied:
Nature is pure war with every man against another...Fear of death is the only way to keep the peace, so man is civilized by the threat of violence against him for transgressions upon his neighbor. The only thing that makes man civilized is the ability for the weakest to kill the strongest. This happens either by learned machination or by confederacy. "Morality" is just another esoteric hobgoblin.
Winston is saying that morality is simply a convention we adopt to allow people to live in relative security. It has no objective reality. Given his atheism, he's right. His reply is essentially an admission that apart from a divine moral authority there are no objective moral values or duties and thus all behavioral decisions reduce to the question "what's in it for me?"

Winston is a real-life avatar of the ideas of a fictional character in my novel (see the link to In the Absence of God at the top of this page) named Brian Davik. Davik, like Winston, sees clearly that, as Dostoyevsky put it, if God is dead then everything is permitted. I hope you'll read Absence if you haven't already.

Throughout the story I argue that the only escape for the atheist who wishes to avoid nihilism and who rejects egoism, who believes that there really is an objective right and wrong, who really believes that kindness is better than cruelty and that selflessness is better than selfishness, is to renounce his atheism.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


The congressional hearings into the deplorable conduct of the IRS in targeting over 500 politically or religiously conservative organizations for special scrutiny and onerous tax exemption requirements took an odd turn yesterday when the head of the relevant IRS section, Lois Lerner, refused to testify.

Perhaps because I'm not a lawyer I don't understand how the fifth amendment, which she invoked, can be used to extricate one from testifying. It seems to me that the law's intention is to protect someone from being compelled to answer questions which would incriminate herself, but that it's an abuse of the amendment to employ it to refuse to answer any questions at all.

If Lerner's application of the amendment is legitimate then what's to keep everyone in the entire agency from invoking the fifth, refusing to say anything, and shutting down the investigation altogether? How can any government agency be held accountable to the people if those under suspicion can simply refuse to speak during any investigation into their possible malfeasance?

It seems to me that if Lerner refuses to testify she should be held in contempt of Congress. She should be required to either answer specific questions or to plead the fifth to each one and let the public, to the extent it cares, make up their own minds as to her guilt or innocence.

As I was preparing to put this post up on VP I came across an article in which the renowned lawyer Alan Dershowitz says essentially the same thing I did. Since he's far more qualified to comment on these matters I urge you to read his comments at the link.

By the way, I implied above that the public might not care much about this scandal. I said that while still reeling from watching the video here. It's disheartening but sadly unsurprising.

And speaking of videos, I can't bring myself to watch the recording of the two British Muslims who hacked the soldier to death, beheading him on the streets of London, but I can't help wonder whether that young man who died such a horrific death might be alive today if someone in the crowd of onlookers had been carrying a firearm.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Political Correctness

This post could have been titled, had I had enough space, How Liberal "Political Correctness" Destroys Lives, Tramples the Pursuit of Truth, and Stifles Free Speech.

Jason Richwine was a doctoral student at Harvard whose dissertation incorporated the following rather indisputable facts:

IQ tests fairly measure mental ability. The average IQ of immigrants is well below that of white Americans. This difference in IQ is likely to persist through several generations with the result that we can expect, as he puts it, “A lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market.”

This thesis brought down the wrath of the Guardians of Proper Thought for whom any deviation from the dogma that claims there are no distinctions between ethnic groups as to intelligence is considered heresy warranting literal social banishment and figurative execution.

What these elites will not do, however, what they apparently cannot do, is show why Richwine's argument, an argument good enough to pass muster at Harvard, is not sound.

Pat Buchanan writes about this sad episode and tells us this:
Consider Richwine’s contention that differences in mental ability exist and seem to persist among racial and ethnic groups.

In The Wall Street Journal last month, Warren Kozak noted that 28,000 students in America’s citadel of diversity, New York City, took the eighth-grade exam to enter Stuyvesant, the Bronx School of Science and Brooklyn Tech, the city’s most elite high schools. Students are admitted solely on their entrance test scores. Of the 830 students who will be entering Stuyvesant as freshmen this fall, 1 percent are black, 3 percent are Hispanic, 21 percent are white — and 75 percent are Asian.

Now, blacks and Hispanics far outnumber Asians in New York. But at Stuyvesant, Asians will outnumber blacks and Hispanics together 19-to-1.

Is this the result of racially biased tests at Stuyvesant?

At Berkeley, crown jewel of the California university system, Hispanics, 40 percent of California’s population and an even larger share of California’s young, are 12 percent of the freshman class. Asians, outnumbered almost 3-to-1 by Hispanics in California, have almost four times as many slots as Hispanics in the freshman class. Another example of racial bias?

The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA, which measures the academic ability of 15-year-olds worldwide, found the U.S.A. falling to 17th in reading, 23rd in science, 31st in math. Yet, Spain aside, not one Hispanic nation, from which a plurality of our immigrants come, was among the top 40 in reading, science or math.

But these folks are going to come here and make us No. 1 again?
Buchanan goes on to examine the evidential basis for Richwine's other claims and finds them equally compelling, but facts don't matter when the "true faith" of progressive egalitarianism has been transgressed. Our politically correct elites instead conduct themselves like the parade spectators exclaiming how admirably attired is the emperor whose actual nakedness is plain to see. It's as silly to pretend that there are no differences in intellectual ability among ethnic groups as it is to pretend that there are no differences in physical abilities - as if African-Americans and Asians are equally adept in the athletic skills it takes to be a good basketball or football player.

But, alas, these are uncomfortable topics. The conclusions to which the evidence about intelligence leads doesn't fit the egalitarian worldview. Thus, since the elites have no counterargument or refutation to offer, they deem it expedient to silence and suppress those who investigate such inconvenient truths rather than allow them to freely go about persuading the public with their convincing arguments.

Buchanan has more at the link. Richwine himself offers his take on his recent encounter with our Orwellian thought police at National Review Online. It's worth the time to read both. If you do read them ask yourself whether you prefer to live in a society in which people are punished for advancing heterodox ideas, or if you would rather live in a society where each idea is evaluated on the basis of the evidence that can be mustered in its support.

The first type of society is what our liberal progressives envision, the second type is what our Founding Fathers envisioned.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The President Is Conservatism's Best Argument

John Dickerson at writes a column similar to (but much better than) the VP post titled What's Wrong with Big Government?

Dickerson explains how the recent ethical and policy debacles of the Obama administration are inadvertently making the case for the conservative (as distinct from the Republican) political philosophy. His essay is very good. Here are a few excerpts:
The Obama administration is doing a far better job making the case for conservatism than Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, or John Boehner ever did. Showing is always better than telling, and when the government overreaches in so many ways it gives support to the conservative argument about the inherently rapacious nature of government.

First let's get our terms straight. Conservatives are not the same as Republicans. The former believe in a philosophy which stays roughly fixed and the latter belong to a party that occasionally embraces the philosophy but deviates when necessary to win elections, pass legislation, and follow the selfish aims of those who are in office and want to remain there. Conservatives argue against the expansion of government, whereas Republicans sometimes enlarge it to please their constituents or themselves.

[E]conomist James Buchanan, who won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his work studying economic incentives in government [argued] that politicians are not benevolent agents of the common good but humans acting in their own self-interest or for a special interest. "If there is value to be gained through politics," Buchanan wrote, "persons will invest resources in efforts to capture this value." Since Democrats and Republicans alike are sinful, each side will find ways to work that is self-interested, rapacious, and boundary breaking. Keep the government small to limit the damage.

Whether these [recent] scandals are the result of base motives or a desire to act for the greater good, the eventual result is the destruction of individual liberties. Your IRS comes down on you because you have the wrong ideology or, in the name of protecting the citizenry, the Justice Department starts listening to your phone calls.
What effect does a general distrust of government have on policy? In order to capture public support for gun control, immigration reform, measures to mitigate global warming, etc. the government has to have the trust of the people but this administration has squandered that trust. Only the true believers still think that Mr. Obama is the sainted messiah he was portrayed to be by the media and his campaign in 2008. His administration is run by people, from the chief on down, who are either incompetent, corrupt, or who list toward tyranny. Or perhaps they are all three, but no administration so constituted is going to have the trust of the people, nor should it.

As Dickerson states in his concluding sentence, it looks like conservatives understand something (about government) that liberals do not. Indeed, what they understand that liberals do not is not so much about government as it is about human nature. They understand that human beings are corrupt, deceitful, and power-hungry. When this flawed condition is combined with a lack of relevant experience, personal narcissism, and left-wing ideological zealotry, the blend is very dangerous. When such people are placed in positions of power, whether in the Oval Office, the Department of Justice, the EPA, the SEC, or the IRS, then our freedoms are in serious jeopardy and our childrens' future is put at grave risk.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Questions and Evasions

Why won't Mr. Obama or his underlings tell us where the President was during the attack on the American ambassador to Libya? If the President was doing what he's supposed to do, as these people insist he was, why won't they tell us where he was, whom he was speaking to, and what he was doing?

The attempts to dodge these questions are not only laughable they make it impossible not to believe that the President was not on the job during this crisis and that his staff fears that if the public knew what he was doing they'd blow their stack.

Here's white House staffer Dan Pfeiffer making a complete buffoon of himself on Fox News Sunday yesterday twisting himself into rhetorical pretzels to avoid having to answer these questions:
Media apologists as well as administration spokespersons like Pfeiffer repeatedly insist that 1) We'll get to the bottom of this unprecedented skein of scandals as long as the Republicans don't "play politics" with them, and 2) The important thing now is to put all these impertinent questions aside and focus on making sure these kinds of scandals don't happen again.

But this is arrant nonsense. Any criticism the Republicans make of the administration's conduct in these scandals will inevitably be interpreted by the Democrats as "playing politics," and they know it. The call to refrain from political game-playing is simply a ploy to intimidate the Republicans into shutting up about the scandals so that they'll be allowed to die down and fade away. We can be very sure that if the Republicans were to keep quiet the Democrats certainly wouldn't do anything to "get to the bottom" of them and the media wouldn't demand that they do.

The second assertion is equally nonsensical. The only way we can intelligently undertake to insure that such things don't happen in the future (other than refusing to elect liberal progressive Democrats) is to ascertain what happened this time. If we don't know what and why things went wrong in Benghazi, in the Department of Justice, and in the IRS, how can we know what to do to fix them?

The congressional Republicans owe it to the country to find out what happened in Benghazi, to find out why the Department of Justice was surreptitiously purloining journalists' phone records, and why the IRS targeted over 500 conservative and religious organizations for onerous, intrusive, political delays and harassment. The GOP also owes it to the country to continue to investigate Fast and Furious, and the EPA's and SEC's practice of discriminatory treatment of conservative and religious groups.

This is an administration riddled with corruption. It has reduced itself to the level of Putin's Russia or Chavez's Venezuela. Mr. Obama and his progressive soulmates are turning the U.S. into a third-world nation in terms of the way the government exercises power, and the only people who can stop him are the Republicans in the House of Representatives. They better not shut up.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gun Crime

The impression so many of us have as we read of the of the daily carnage in our cities and of the horrible mass murders in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut is that gun crime in the United States is more frequent than ever. In a recently released Pew Research Center study of 900 Americans it was found that only 12% said gun crime had declined over the last couple of decades, 26% said it had stayed the same, and 56% thought it had increased.

The facts, however, are otherwise. It may be surprising to learn, but homicides with guns are actually substantially lower today than they were during the 1990s. The LA Times, reporting on the Pew Study, said that:
In less than two decades, the gun murder rate has been nearly cut in half. Other gun crimes fell even more sharply, paralleling a broader drop in violent crimes committed with or without guns. Violent crime dropped steeply during the 1990s and has fallen less dramatically since the turn of the millennium.

The number of gun killings dropped 39% between 1993 and 2011, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in a separate report released Tuesday. Gun crimes that weren’t fatal fell by 69%.
The Times mentions a couple of reasons for the disparity between the statistical facts and the common misperception of the facts by the American people. The suspicion is that the media's intensive reporting on gun crimes, particularly those which horrify the public, leads to the notion that homicides committed with a firearm are more likely to occur today than ever before. The public debate over gun control and the claims by advocates of gun control may also have fed the notion that the problem of gun violence is worse today than ever.

The U.S. still has one of the highest murder rates in the world, driven largely by urban killings. The victims of gun killings are overwhelmingly male and disproportionately black, which may indirectly explain why overall violent crime has fallen.

The two factors many experts believe responsible for the decline are both factors which largely impact this demographic: the withering of the crack cocaine market and surging incarceration rates. A third possibility is reduced lead in gasoline. Some researchers believe that lead can cause increased aggression and impulsive behavior in exposed children and that the reduction of environmental lead has concomitantly reduced those behaviors.

The Times doesn't mention this, but a fourth factor has also been cited as contributing to the decline in violent crime among black males. Over the last forty years some 60 million children, most of them black children, were aborted. It has been suggested that since many of these children would have grown up in conditions conducive to a life of violence and crime, the reduction in their numbers has led to a relative diminution - beginning in the 90s, twenty years after Roe v. Wade - of the amount of social trauma their communities experience.

Without getting into a discussion of whether the drop in violent crime is a moral justification of abortion perhaps the truth is that all of the above factors have played a role in reducing gun crime. The salient point, though, is that contrary to the impression created by the media and politicians seeking to limit gun ownership, homicide by gun is down almost 40% from what it was twenty years ago.

Friday, May 17, 2013

DNA Replication

Watch this animation of DNA replication in E. coli and ask yourself whether - if you had no prior commitments to either a materialist or theistic explanation of the origin of life - you would conclude that this process happened by blind, purposeless chance or was intelligently engineered:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Is Free Will an Illusion?

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne is inadvertently hoist on his own petard as he seeks to persuade us that there really is no such thing as free will and that we shouldn't believe that we have it. This is a very strange argument for a determinist to make, but first let's look at Coyne's lede:
Perhaps you've chosen to read this essay after scanning other articles on this website. Or, if you're in a hotel, maybe you've decided what to order for breakfast, or what clothes you'll wear today.

You haven't. You may feel like you've made choices, but in reality your decision to read this piece, and whether to have eggs or pancakes, was determined long before you were aware of it — perhaps even before you woke up today. And your "will" had no part in that decision. So it is with all of our other choices: not one of them results from a free and conscious decision on our part. There is no freedom of choice, no free will. And those New Year's resolutions you made? You had no choice about making them, and you'll have no choice about whether you keep them.

The debate about free will, long the purview of philosophers alone, has been given new life by scientists, especially neuroscientists studying how the brain works. And what they're finding supports the idea that free will is a complete illusion.

The issue of whether we have free will is not an arcane academic debate about philosophy, but a critical question whose answer affects us in many ways: how we assign moral responsibility, how we punish criminals, how we feel about our religion, and, most important, how we see ourselves — as autonomous or automatons.
Coyne goes on to define free will and to explain why he thinks it's all an illusion. He then discusses the consequences for religion and morality if, in fact, we do not make free choices. As you might expect the consequences are not good:
But there are two important ways that we must face the absence of free will. One is in religion. Many faiths make claims that depend on free choice: Evangelical Christians, for instance, believe that those who don't freely choose Jesus as their savior will go to hell. If we have no free choice, then such religious tenets — and the existence of a disembodied "soul" — are undermined, and any post-mortem fates of the faithful are determined, Calvinistically, by circumstances over which they have no control.

But the most important issue is that of moral responsibility. If we can't really choose how we behave, how can we judge people as moral or immoral? Why punish criminals or reward do-gooders? Why hold anyone responsible for their actions if those actions aren't freely chosen?
We should use reward and punishment, Coyne argues, but not because anyone deserves them. We should use them as environmental factors that assist in determining behavior - promoting what we want and discouraging what we don't.

He then closes with what he believes to be the upsides of accepting determinism:
The first is realizing the great wonder and mystery of our evolved brains, and contemplating the notion that things like consciousness, free choice, and even the idea of "me" are but convincing illusions fashioned by natural selection.
So far from prompting wonder, this sounds positively dehumanizing, but his second upside is amusingly ironic:
Further, by losing free will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, are victims of circumstance — of the genes we're bequeathed and the environments we encounter. With that under our belts, we can go about building a kinder world.
The irony is in this: Coyne is a very nasty man, particularly toward Christian theists and more particularly still toward anyone who doubts Darwinism. But if all he has said in this essay is true why should he be? People who believe in God and don't believe in molecules to man evolution are not responsible for those beliefs anymore than Coyne is responsible for his. Our beliefs are not something we freely choose, Coyne has taught us, rather, they're the inevitable product of forces that have been in play since the beginning of the cosmos. We're no more responsible, and thus no more blameworthy or praiseworthy, for holding the beliefs we do than we are for being the height we are.

Coyne's treatment of those with whom he disagrees causes his talk of empathy and kindness to ring hollow. His behavior toward his intellectual opponents reveals that at bottom he really does believe people are culpable for making wrong choices which in turn means that he believes, perhaps without realizing it, that we can indeed make free choices.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What's Wrong with Big Government

Liberals tend to think that men are by nature good and that a government of men would be naturally inclined toward benevolence. Conservatives believe that men are inherently flawed, even corrupt, and that it's very dangerous to put power into their hands. Men are as likely, or more likely, to use that power for nefarious purposes as not.

The recent shenanigans in Washington are causing distress among many liberals because it's confirming what conservatives have been saying for decades about the dangers of big government, and, even more maddening for some liberals, it's the behavior of liberals that's proving conservatives right. Because men are corrupt, a government of men is not to be trusted, and the bigger, more expansive the government the greater the threat and the stronger the grounds for mistrust.

The President in his recent commencement address at Ohio State advised graduates to reject the voices that warn of government tyranny, but creeping tyranny permeates his tenure in office.

The President and his supporters scoff at concerns about the IRS policing Obamacare, but in light of revelations about how the IRS has been punishing opponents of the Obama administration those concerns seem particularly well-founded.

The President and his supporters scoff at concerns that background checks for gun buyers will be used to create a national registry of gun owners, but a Department of Justice that treats the First Amendment with contempt by secretly seizing phone records of journalists will suffer little compunction from meting out equally contemptuous treatment to the Second Amendment.

The legitimacy of a government is based on trust. Barack Obama himself said so in a speech as Senator in 2006. He correctly observed that, "if the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists—to protect them and to promote their common welfare—all else is lost."

The reason he told the OSU grads to reject the voices that warn of government tyranny is "Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can't be trusted."

Yet how can a citizenry trust a government that patently lies to them in the wake of the Benghazi tragedy, which secretly monitors reporters' phone calls, and which uses the IRS to harass, intimidate, and put out of business individuals and organizations which oppose the policies of this administration? It now appears that the IRS actually targeted over 500 conservative organizations and individuals, illegally releasing confidential information about them to Obama allies in the government and media, and it's not just the IRS that was engaged in this third-world type behavior. The EPA is now coming under scrutiny for making it more difficult for conservatives to obtain information under the Freedom of Information Act than it is for liberal groups. How can anyone trust such people?

The bigger the government the harder it is to monitor the bureaucrats who might abuse their power. Indeed, this was David Axelrod's argument exculpating the President in these scandals: The government is just too big for him to know what was going on, Axelrod averred. Even accepting the veracity of Axelrod's claim that Mr. Obama didn't know what was going on he inadvertently put his finger on exactly why government should be kept small, and why most power should devolve to the states, close to where the people live, not to unaccountable, anonymous, Kafkaesque characters in opaque bureaucracies in far-away Washington.


This will make your day:
Internal cost estimates from 17 of the nation's largest insurance companies indicate that health insurance premiums will grow an average of 100 percent under Obamacare, and that some will soar more than 400 percent, crushing the administration's goal of affordability.
Weren't we assured that the Affordable Care Act (whoever came up with that name has a very perverse sense of humor) would lower insurance costs? Is there no promise made in the last eight years that this administration can be counted upon to keep?
New regulations, policies, taxes, fees and mandates are the reason for the unexpected "rate shock," according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which released a report Monday based on internal documents provided by the insurance companies. The 17 companies include Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Kaiser Foundation.
I don't know why the article calls this "rate shock" unexpected. People have been predicting this ever since before the act was rammed through Congress by the you-know-which party in 2009.
The report found that individuals will face "premium increases of nearly 100 percent on average, with potential highs eclipsing 400 percent. Meanwhile, small businesses can expect average premium increases in the small group market of up to 50 percent, with potential highs over 100 percent."

One company said that new participants in the individual market could see a premium increase of 413 percent when new requirements on age rating and required benefits are taken into account, said the report. "The average yearly cost for a new customer in the individual market grows from $1,896 to $3,708 -- a $1,812 cost increase," it added.(emphasis mine)
Who are these wretched people in the individual market? They're mostly young or self-employed folks, many of who live paycheck to paycheck as it is. Now they're going to see their monthly insurance premiums almost double. No wonder one of the architects of the law, Senator Max Baucus, has declared the legislation a "train-wreck" and has decided not to run for re-election.
The key reasons for the surge in premiums include providing wider services than people are now paying for and adding less healthy people to the roles of insured, said the report.

It concluded: "Despite promises that the law will lower costs, [Obamacare] will in fact cause the premiums of many Americans to spike substantially. The broken promises are numerous, and the empirical data reveal that many Americans, from recent college graduates to older adults, will not be able to afford the law's higher costs."
When the high costs hit and your insurance premiums double please have the courtesy and good sense not to complain out loud if in either of the last two elections your good sense abandoned you and you voted for Mr. Obama.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gosnell Gets Life

Kermit Gosnell, the 72 year-old Philadelphia abortionist who was charged with the murders of several babies and one woman was convicted on three counts of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Here's a question that might be asked of Mr. Obama at the President's next press conference: "Mr. President in light of the sentencing of Kermit Gosnell to life in prison for killing babies born alive after a late term abortion, do you think the sentence is appropriate?"

It would be interesting to listen to the President's answer. He is, after all, the man who, as an Illinois state senator, voted twice in committee to kill legislation that would have ensured that babies born alive after a failed abortion be given medical care and efforts be made to keep them alive. In other words, Mr. Obama doesn't really have a problem with allowing babies to die, although he might blanch at the thought of snipping their spines with scissors and cutting off their feet to preserve them as trophies as did the Mengelean Dr. Gosnell.

At any rate, although I favor the sentence - in fact, I think Gosnell should have gotten the death penalty - I think it illuminates a perversity in our culture. Gosnell was given life in prison for doing to a baby what would have been perfectly legal to do just a few minutes sooner. If severing an infant's spine is worthy of life imprisonment when done a few minutes after birth, why is it okay to perform similarly brutal acts on the child just a few minutes before it's born?

It makes no sense, at least not to me, but I guess the policies imposed by our liberal political leadership have never been about what makes sense.

Yet More Scandals

The number of people remaining who still believe that President Obama meant it when he promised us as a candidate that he'd run the most ethical administration in history has shrunk asymptotically close to zero, at least among those who are paying attention. No doubt the bulk of the reason is that the Obama administration seems to be stacking up scandals like airliners holding over an airport in the midst of a thunderstorm. You might say that the administration has the scandals coming at us fast and furious. The strategy seems to be to overwhelm us with crimes and misdemeanors and other legal dubieties to the point where we're no longer shocked by any of it.

It's a little like listening to the Vice-President's goofy Bidenisms. After a while the stupidity is no longer outrageous, and the offensiveness no longer offends. It just fades into the Washington background noise. So it is with scandal in this administration.

Stimulus money awarded to political supporters in unions or corporate execs who ran poorly performing green energy businesses; the refusal to prosecute Black Panthers who were almost certainly engaged in voter intimidation; the Fast and Furious operation which illegally put thousands of guns in the hands of Mexican killers who used them to kill hundreds, if not thousands, of Mexicans as well as two American border agents; the refusal to provide requested security to our diplomats in Libya who paid for this egregious incompetence with their lives; the deliberate fabrication of a story to deflect blame from the administration in the wake of these murders. The list goes on.

And now three new scandals have emerged just this week which surely must set some sort of record for vigorous government malfeasance.

It turns out that by all appearances the IRS was using its power to punish political enemies of the administration. Conservative groups who applied for tax exempt status were made to fill out a battery of forms that were impossible to complete or to answer fully. Groups that had the words "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in their name or organizations established to educate people on the Constitution (of all things), Obamacare, and the workings of government all were targeted.

Moreover, the IRS was apparently imposing similar burdens on Jewish groups that supported Israel.

This is an extremely serious abuse of power, the very sort of abuse that causes many to loathe big government, and although there's no evidence that the IRS was taking orders directly from the President, it's nevertheless the case that they were acting in concert with his penchant for rewarding friends and punishing enemies. Indeed, Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said today that what the IRS was doing was a good thing, presumably because it was directed at groups he doesn't like.

Then the Department of Justice was caught in flagrante seizing the phone records of Associated Press journalists. If this had happened during the Bush administration the din emanating from newsrooms across the country would pain the ears, and truth to tell the Washington press corps does seem to be a bit disturbed by this gross infringement of the First Amendment and, even more, perhaps, by what they see as a betrayal by an administration to which they have so happily given up their virtue.

Finally, it turns out that Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, has been shaking down health service corporations for big donations to fund Obamacare. Since these corporations are pretty much at the mercy of HHS for their economic livelihood, when the Secretary suggests that it'd be nice if they'd pony up some cash to help get Obamacare off the ground, what these execs hear her saying is that if you want to do business with the federal government you better dig deep and fork over.

You can get the details of these stories at the links. There's a lot more to each of them. The impression one gets while reading the accounts is of an administration out of control - unfettered by morality, law, Constitution, or competence - seeking to arrogate to itself as much power as it can amass before the 2014 midterm elections perchance sweep the Democrats out of the House and the Senate.

I used to think that Mr. Obama wanted to emulate Robert Mugabe and turn the U.S. into an economic Zimbabwe. Now it's beginning to look as though economics is only one facet of Mr. Mugabe's government that this administration envies.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Can Ethics Be Taught?

Ray Penning at Cardus Blog asks the question, "Can ethics be taught?" The answer, of course, is yes and no. Ethics as the study of the rules that philosophers have prescribed to govern our moral behavior can certainly be taught, but, although thousands of books have been written about this, I doubt that any of them have changed anyone's actual behavior. Part of the reason is, as Penning observes:
Ethics courses that leave students with a bunch of “you shoulds” or “you should nots” are not effective. There are deeper questions that proceed from our understanding of what human nature is about and what we see as the purpose of our life together.
This is true as far as it goes, but the reason teaching such rules is not effective is that focusing on the rules fails to address the metaethical question of why we should follow any of those rules in the first place. What answer can be given to the question why one should not just be selfish, or adopt a might makes right ethic? At bottom secular philosophy has no convincing answer. Philosophers simply utter platitudes like "we wouldn't want others to treat us selfishly, so we shouldn't treat them selfishly," which, of course, is completely unhelpful unless one is talking to children.

The reply is unhelpful because students will discern that it simply asserts that we shouldn't be selfish because it's selfish to be selfish. The question, though, is why, exactly, is it wrong to do to others something we wouldn't done to us? What makes selfishness wrong?

Moreover, this sort of answer simply glosses over the problem of what it means to say that something is in fact "wrong" in the first place. Does "wrong" merely mean something one shouldn't do? If so, we might ask why one shouldn't do it, which likely elicits the reply that one shouldn't do it because it's wrong. The circularity of this is obvious.

The only way to break out of the circle, the only way we can make sense of propositions like "X is wrong," is to posit the existence of a transcendent moral authority, a God, who serves as the objective foundation for all our moral judgments. If there is no such being then neither are there any objective moral values or duties to which we must, or even should, adhere. This lack of any real meaning to the word "wrong" is a major consequence of the secularization of our culture, and it's one of the major themes of my novel In the Absence of God (see link at the top of this page) which I heartily recommend to readers of Viewpoint.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Cost of Legalization

Congress is currently mulling the question whether to put illegal immigrants on a track to citizenship. One of the aspects of this debate that hasn't received too much attention, perhaps because it's an inconvenient subject, is what amnesty of illegals will cost the taxpayer. The Heritage Foundation has done the math and their sums are not encouraging:
The comprehensive immigration overhaul being taken up in the Senate this week could cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion if 11 million illegal immigrants are granted legal status, according to a long-awaited estimate by the conservative Heritage Foundation.
This $6.3 trillion figure is based on the assumption that there are 11 million illegals in the country. Some estimates are almost twice that.
The cost would arise from illegal immigrants tapping into the government's vast network of benefits and services, many of which are currently unavailable to them. This includes everything from standard benefits like Social Security and Medicare to dozens of welfare programs ranging from housing assistance to food stamps.
The report has it's critics:
The study is already coming under criticism from some groups and economists who challenge its assumptions, claiming the legalization would help fuel economic growth. Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, though, defended the study ahead of its release Monday morning.

"There's no way you can look at this and say that it's good for the American taxpayer," he told Fox News.
Perhaps the most startling calculation in the Heritage study is an estimate that over the course of their lifetimes illegal immigrant households would receive an average of $592,000 in government benefits.

I've several times over the last few years expressed my opinion on Viewpoint (Go here and scroll down for a couple of past posts on illegal immigration) that illegal aliens should be granted a kind of amnesty, once it is determined beyond reasonable doubt that the border is secure, but it should be an amnesty that grants only the opportunity to live and work here (as long as they obey the law). No one who broke our laws to cross our borders should be rewarded with citizenship and the consequent benefits to which that citizenship would entitle them.

These folks often risked much to come here, but they came here for the opportunity to work, not to be made citizens. Trying to deport them at this point would be a moral and logistical nightmare which a compassionate people should surely balk at attempting. On the other hand, a just people should have a high regard for the law and be loath to set it aside for political convenience.

The kind of amnesty that allows these people to stay in the U.S. without being harassed by the immigration authorities, but which does not make them eligible for citizenship strikes the proper balance, I think, between compassion and justice.

Friday, May 10, 2013

What We Can Now Say We Know

It's a commonplace to observe that it's not the political "crime" that does politicians in when they're caught in a scandal, it's the attempt to cover it up that usually proves their undoing. Well, in the case of the Benghazi debacle it seems to be both the actions (or inactions) themselves and the attempt to cover them up that are proving to be a major embarrassment for the Obama administration.

Until now a supine media has been loath to dig into exactly what happened on September 11th in Benghazi, Libya, but now that hearings have been held and whistleblowers have come forward to testify, the media seems to be rousing itself from its slumbers. They can hardly do otherwise, though some will try, since there are a few things we can now say we know about this sordid episode, and none of them reflect at all well on the Obama administration:

We know, for instance, that:
  • repeated requests by our diplomats in Libya for increased security were not only denied but their security was actually reduced on orders by officials in the State Department.
  • during the attack on the consulate troops were requested to be sent but were twice denied permission, by whom is unknown, to go to the aid of the besieged diplomats.
  • during the attack President Obama was inexplicably unavailable. Where he was and what he was doing is also unknown, but while our people were being murdered the Commander in Chief was indisposed and uninvolved.
  • the administration knew immediately that it was an organized terrorist attack, but despite this knowledge and despite the testimony of the President of Libya that it was a terror attack, they repeatedly put out the false claim, at whose order is still unknown, that the attack was perpetrated by an unruly mob angered by an insulting video. This was not only a lie, it was a diplomatic calamity since it in essence meant that the Libyan President was either himself lying or was uninformed.
  • State Dept. whistleblowers have been "punished" for declaring the truth about the attack.
  • to this day eight months later none of the attackers have been brought to justice.
In other words, this administration - the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of State - are guilty of grossly incompetent judgment that cost four Americans their lives, of dereliction of their duty to protect American personnel, of lying to the American people about the facts of the incident, and probably of obstruction of justice. They've also shown no inclination to hold the murderers responsible.

That Democrats and their media allies have heretofore shown so little interest in all this - a posture which is especially remarkable since they expended so much outrage during the Valerie Plame affair - certainly opens them to the charge of hypocrisy. That they've seemed unconcerned with getting to the bottom of why four Americans died and others were severely wounded, that they've seemed unconcerned with the lies told to the American people, that they've seemed unconcerned that whistleblowers are suffering professionally for having demonstrated personal integrity and courage, is reprehensible and disgraceful.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why the Left Hates Families

Melanie Phillips was a born and bred liberal who had the scales fall from her eyes. She writes about the reproach and vilification she has suffered from people she thought were friends in an article for the UK Daily Mail. The piece is titled Why the Left Hates Families but probably should be titled How the Left Hates Apostates.

For some people ideology is religion, it's the key to salvation, and infidels, particularly those who were once firmly in the fold but who subsequently fell away, are to be treated with contempt, or worse. Here's Phillips:
For the Left, I am the target of deepest hatred.

For my trenchant views, expressed in this newspaper, they call me ‘insane’, ‘reactionary’, ‘racist’, a ‘Nazi’, a ‘shroudwaver’, a ‘witch’ and a ‘warmonger’.

I have been accused of ‘unmatched depths of ignorance and bigotry’ and being the ‘queen of mean’. It was even suggested (in a particularly extreme spasm of hyperbole) that I eat broken bottles and kill rats with my teeth.

This resort to crude insult against anyone who dares to challenge their shibboleths is typical of the Left. It doesn’t argue its case. It simply tries to shut down debate by bullying its targets and labeling them as extremists and enemies of humanity in order to frighten people away from listening to them.

But they reserve a special loathing for me. This is not just because I refuse to be cowed.

It’s because I was once one of them, one of the elect, a believer.
Phillips operated under the delusion that she could convince her former friends through reasonable argument why she could no longer share their views and why her present convictions are much more sensible.

Unfortunately, reason and argument are considered superfluous, even treacherous, by those who just know that what they believe has to be true. When one's dogmas are based on emotion rather than facts and evidence, reason will be unavailing against them. When one's experience of life eventually leads one to reject those dogmas those who still cling to them will regard the conversion as a personal betrayal and indictment. Thus the bitterness.

Read the rest of the piece at the link. It's not only a compelling indictment of the left from a former devotee, it's also a fascinating if sad glimpse into the mindset of those who can't abide anyone who disagrees with them, especially those who were once ideological comrades.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

History Repeats

An MSNBC host named Toure delivered himself of the opinion recently that what the world needs now is open borders. According to Mr. Toure, if we opened our borders to let anyone in who wishes to come in there'd be, for one thing, a lot less Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Without wishing to sound snarky I think that's the sort of idea one comes up with when one realizes one's about to go on the air and has forgot to prepare.
At any rate, that's MSNBC. Meanwhile, in the real world, as a Fox News report by Raymond Ibrahim explains, millions of Christians are being displaced from one end of the Islamic world to the other and thousands are being murdered, raped, and sold into sex slavery by Muslims who apparently believe that this delights Allah who wants the infidel Christians to suffer. Why Toure thinks these pious Muslims would feel any differently toward Christians were they here living on welfare, like the Tsarnaevs, rather than abroad living on welfare, I'm not sure. Here's Ibrahim:
We are reliving the true history of how the Islamic world, much of which prior to the Islamic conquests was almost entirely Christian, came into being.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently said: “The flight of Christians out of the region is unprecedented and it’s increasing year by year.” In our lifetime alone “Christians might disappear altogether from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt.”

Ongoing reports from the Islamic world certainly support this conclusion: Iraq was the earliest indicator of the fate awaiting Christians once Islamic forces are liberated from the grip of dictators.

In 2003, Iraq’s Christian population was at least one million. Today fewer than 400,000 remain the result of an anti-Christian campaign that began with the U.S. occupation of Iraq, when countless Christian churches were bombed and countless Christians killed, including by crucifixion and beheading.

The 2010 Baghdad church attack, which saw nearly 60 Christian worshippers slaughtered, is the tip of a decade-long iceberg.

Now, as the U.S. supports the jihad on Syria’s secular president Assad, the same pattern has come to Syria: entire regions and towns where Christians lived for centuries before Islam came into being have now been emptied, as the opposition targets Christians for kidnapping, plundering, and beheadings, all in compliance with mosque [leaders] telling the populace that it’s a “sacred duty” to drive Christians away.

In October 2012 the last Christian in the city of Homs—which had a Christian population of some 80,000 before jihadis came—was murdered. One teenage Syrian girl said: “We left because they were trying to kill us… because we were Christians…. Those who were our neighbors turned against us. At the end, when we ran away, we went through balconies. We did not even dare go out on the street in front of our house.”
Ibrahim goes on to tell us that the situation is no better in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood, so favored by the Obama administration, gives tacit approval to the murders and property seizures of Christian Copts. The situation is also terrifying in much of the rest of Africa:
In Mali, after a 2012 Islamic coup, as many as 200,000 Christians fled. According to reports, “the church in Mali faces being eradicated,” especially in the north “where rebels want to establish an independent Islamist state and drive Christians out… there have been house to house searches for Christians who might be in hiding, churches and other Christian property have been looted or destroyed, and people tortured into revealing any Christian relatives.” At least one pastor was beheaded.

In Ethiopia, after a Christian was accused of desecrating a Koran, thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes when “Muslim extremists set fire to roughly 50 churches and dozens of Christian homes.”

In the Ivory Coast—where Christians have literally been crucified—Islamic rebels “massacred hundreds and displaced tens of thousands” of Christians.

In Libya, Islamic rebels forced several Christian religious orders, serving the sick and needy in the country since 1921, to flee.
This, of course, is how Islam originally spread throughout the Middle East, across North Africa, and into Europe. Muslims simply exterminated anyone who refused to adopt the Islamic faith. Toure might try reading a little bit about how Muslims think before he opines on what a wonderful world it would be if we'd just make these folks feel more welcome.

By the way, you probably haven't heard too much about all this if you find out what's going on in the world by watching the evening news, but I'll bet if Christians were extirpating Muslims it'd be all you'd be hearing about on our news outlets. Evidently, however, the murders of tens of thousands of Christians at the hands of Muslims and their forced eviction from the homes and country in which they've lived for hundreds, if not thousands of years, is a big yawner.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What Conservatives Believe

The recent post titled "Why I'm Not a Liberal" motivated a couple of readers to comment that, having been given reasons for eschewing liberalism, it might be helpful to read what conservatives stand for. One reader asked who the seminal thinkers in conservative thought might be and two readers suggested it might be interesting to clarify the connection between classical liberalism and modern conservatism.

I thought these were excellent suggestions so here's my response:

A partial list of the historical progenitors of conservatism would include Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, John Locke, the American Founders, Alexis de Tocqueville, and perhaps John Stuart Mill. Many readers will be able to think of others, I'm sure.

In our own age, starting in the 1950s, intellectual conservatism was shaped mostly by the people at William Buckley's National Review (Buckley, Russell Kirk, James Burnham, William Rusher). Their thought nourished generations of conservative politicians, most notably Ronald Reagan, and paved the way for numerous popularizers like Rush Limbaugh and myriad other media talkers and columnists. Nevertheless, despite the fecundity of contemporary conservative thought, it was the thinkers at NR who pretty much established its intellectual lineaments. There were others, of course (Robert Tyrrell at the American Spectator and Ayn Rand come to mind), but the NR crowd was really the heart of it.

Conservatives today generally agree on the following seven elements, although they'd differ on which should be given priority in the event that two or more come into conflict:
  1. Limited government - Freedom and prosperity are inversely related to the size of government. Big government not only tends to be oppressive, it also tends to be inefficient, wasteful, unresponsive, and easily corrupted.
  2. Free markets - As a rule, when people are left to engage in a free exchange of goods and money with minimal government interference and regulation, everyone benefits.
  3. Individual liberty - Conservatives believe that citizens should be free from government interference to pursue their own dreams and desires consistent with the rights of others.
  4. Private Property - Conservatives believe that the right to personal ownership of life's material goods is an essential element of freedom and that states in which government is the property owner are perforce oppressive.
  5. Strict constructionism - This is the view that the Constitution is not indefinitely malleable and that no law should go further than what a reasonable interpretation of the words of the Constitution permit. As an example, most conservatives would agree that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was an extra-constitutional abuse of power by the Supreme Court which fabricated a constitutional right to abortion whose existence in that document most conservatives deny.
  6. Strong national defense - Conservatives believe that the best deterrent to war is the ability to decisively project force and defend the homeland and that weakness is an invitation to national insult. Conservatives believe that a great nation should behave as historian Edward Gibbon described Rome under the emperor Hadrian: It was as little willing to suffer insult as it was to give it.
  7. Traditional values - Conservatives believe that a people which holds itself to high standards of sexual morality, which places a high value on traditional family and religion, and which loves their country, its heritage and principles, will form a strong and vibrant society, and that failure to hold these values results in societal dissolution.
It's true that sometimes these elements need to be balanced one against another, and individual conservatives will, in such cases, elevate the importance of one above the other. Those who are primarily social conservatives tend to give preeminence to #5, 6, and 7, whereas those who are primarily economic conservatives tend to emphasize the first four. Despite such differences conservatives generally agree that all seven are crucial to a maximally healthy polity.

Moreover, the first four elements reflect the genealogical connection of modern conservatism to classical liberalism. Eighteenth and nineteenth century liberals (classical liberals) all embraced #1, 2, 3, and 4. Modern liberalism as it is incarnated in today's Democratic party, however, pretty much rejects all seven. This rejection severs modern liberalism from classical liberalism and places it instead in the descendency of early 20th century progressivism which itself was the intellectual offspring of 19th century Marxism and 18th century French Jacobinism.

Anyway, if you agree with these seven points, or at least most of them, you're a conservative. You may not have realized that you are, you may even have voted in the last election for liberal Democrats, but if you embrace these seven elements, you weren't being very consistent if you did.

Monday, May 6, 2013


On April 25th a poorly constructed garment factory building in Bangladesh collapsed killing over five hundred workers. This sort of tragedy, not to mention the sometimes deplorable conditions workers must endure in such sweatshops, inspire many Americans to boycott products made in such factories. Protestors believe that they're acting in solidarity with the impoverished workers whose misery is compounded by their grueling, unsafe working conditions.

It's an understandable response, but it's also shortsighted and counterproductive. Benjamin Powell explains why in an article in Forbes.

He observes that there are in Bangladesh some 4,500 garment factories employing approximately 4 million workers. In the grand scheme of things, he states, the workers are better off with the factories than they would be without them; the benefits outweigh the risks. He writes:
In fact, compared to other opportunities in Bangladesh, the garment industry pays reasonably well. As I discuss in my forthcoming book, Sweatshops: Improving Lives and Economic Growth, while 77 percent of Bangladeshis live on less than $2 a day – the international poverty standard – and 43 percent live on less than $1.25 a day, workers at the much-demonized Bangladeshi “sweatshops” average more than $2 a day. Granted, that’s not a lot. But it’s more than they would earn elsewhere.
If United States companies stopped buying from these factories what would happen to these workers? According to Powell, and common sense, if the factory loses U.S. customers the workers will lose their jobs. That's hundreds of thousands of workers who would, as a result of our good intentions, have no income with which to support their families. I daresay that 100% of these wretched people would prefer their current deplorable working conditions to no work at all.

Some activists argue that rather than abandoning the factories American clients should demand upgraded safety standards, but this is a solution that fails to take into account what the workers themselves want. Here's Powell:
[W]e need to recognize that safety is not free, and some workers – as well as consumers, ultimately – will pay a price.

As an economic matter, employers are largely indifferent as to how their labor costs are balanced – that is, whether the compensation consists of wages, the administration of safety standards, health care benefits, or vacation time. A cost is a cost.

Workers, on the other hand, do care about the mix of compensation. When workers are poor, they want most of their compensation paid in wages, because they are trying to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves and their families. When activists insist that companies invest more in safety, what they are doing, in effect, is overriding the preferences of low-income workers.

As part of the research for my book, I surveyed Guatemalan workers in firms where the National Labor Committee had raised red flags and called for improved safety standards. More than 95 percent of the workers we surveyed were unwilling to give up any pay for increased safety.
One's heart goes out to people living and working in such conditions, but the temptation to "do something" to force reform is, as it is in most cases, fraught with unintended consequences. As hard as it is to accept, as much as some might want to do something to alleviate these terrible working conditions, the workers themselves would doubtless prefer we just mind our own business and continue to buy their products.