Saturday, August 31, 2013

Cause for Optimism

Joel Kotkin at New Geography writes that despite what he considers to be sub-mediocre leadership provided by the last two administrations in Washington the U.S. is doing much better than its rivals and has a much brighter future than do they. He writes:
To paraphrase the great polemicist Thomas Paine, these are times that try the souls of optimists. The country is shuffling through a very weak recovery, and public opinion remains distinctly negative, with nearly half of Americans saying China has already leapfrogged us and nearly 60 percent convinced the country is headed in the wrong direction. Belief in the political leadership of both parties stands at record lows, not surprisingly, since we are experiencing what may be remembered as the worst period of presidential leadership, under both parties, since the pre-Civil War days of Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.

Yet, despite the many challenges facing the United States, this country remains, by far, the best-favored part of the world, and is likely to become more so in the decade ahead. The reasons lie in the fundamentals: natural resources, technological excellence, a budding manufacturing recovery and, most important, healthier demographics. The rest of the world is not likely to cheer us on, since they now have a generally lower opinion of us than in 2009; apparently the "bounce" we got from electing our articulate, handsome, biracial Nobel laureate president is clearly, as Pew suggests, "a thing of the past."
Nevertheless, Kotkin assures us, there's reason for optimism and he proceeds to elaborate upon those reasons in the rest of his essay. Not only is the future of the United States looking rosy but the future of our competitors around the world is, by comparison, looking bleak.

He concludes with a couple of parting shots at Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama:
So, if things are so good, why do they seem so bad? Sixteen years of lackluster leadership has not helped – a succession of two spendthrift presidents, one a too-happy warrior with a weak sense of the limits of even an imperial power, and the other, a posturing and arrogant academic oddly disconnected from the fundamental grass-roots drive that moves his country's economy. Yet I prefer to see it in a more positive light: If we can do better than our major competitors under such leadership, how great a country is this?
Read his analysis of the advantages the U.S. enjoys vis a vis Europe and Asia at the link.

Friday, August 30, 2013


President Obama recently awarded our nation's highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, to Staff Sergeant Ty Carter for his heroism in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2009.
Here's the Army's official report of Sgt. Carter's actions in that battle. It's a little long but once you start reading you won't want to stop:
On Oct. 3, at 5:53 a.m., an interpreter approached the troop command post and notified Pfc. Jordan Wong, who had pulled duty that night, that the Urmol Police Chief had personally relayed a warning that 50 to 100 enemy fighters were presently staged in Urmol to attack COP Keating. Wong astutely logged the warning and notified the Sergeant of the Guard. At 5:59 a.m., six minutes after the warning had been received, the hills erupted.

The enemy engaged COP Keating and OP Fritsche with a coordinated, complex attack the magnitude and intensity of which had not been seen in the Kamdesh since Coalition Forces toppled the Taliban eight years earlier. At COP Keating, attackers fired from the creviced and overgrown high ground above all four sides of the combat outpost, initiating contact with rifles and Degtyaryov-Shpagin Large-Calibre, or DShK, heavy machine guns. The ANA guard positions suffered immediate casualties and collapsed. Ten to 15 Afghan Soldiers fled through the wire. The remainder abandoned their positions to U.S. occupied buildings in the western portion of the combat outpost, leaving the northeast corner undefended.

At the gun bursts, B Troop Soldiers jumped to reinforce guard posts throughout the compound. Staff Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos, Sgt. Bradley Larson, and Spc. Stephan L. Mace, raced to fortified High-Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles, or Humvees, at the southern side that served as a Battalion Position. The Battle Position overlooked Urmol and a series of wide, roughly graded “switchbacks” that climbed a steep ridgeline to the south, providing enemy forces a convenient infiltration route.

Larson and Gallegos immediately engaged the enemy in the hills with the Humvee’s .50 Caliber Machine Gun and ground-mounted, belt-fed M240 Machine Guns, while Mace engaged the east with him M4 carbine.

Across the compound, Carter had just emerged from his barracks and sprinted 100 meters across open ground, under concentrated fire, to join the others at the southern Battle Position. Upon arriving at the battle position, Carter gave two bags of M240 ammo to Gallegos, and most of his M4 magazines to Mace.

Above the din of the assault, Gallegos alerted Carter that they needed lubricant for the .50 Caliber and additional ammunition. With complete dedication to the task, and at great risk to his life, Carter ran the gauntlet a second time as enemy fire blossomed around him. Carter received two cans of lubricant from his platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan G. Hill, and then ran to the Ammunition Supply Point, or ASP, to collect ammunition. The doors were locked. Without hesitation, Carter shot off the hasps, secured additional M240 belts, and weaved his way back to the Humvee Battle Position.

The enemy attack was unrelenting, the cacophony of gunfire deafening, and the crew at the southern Battle Position quickly expended the additional M240 rounds. With suppression fire waning, the enemy fired a series of RPGs at the position, which had forced Gallegos, Mace and Carter to take cover in the Humvee. A PKM bullet struck Larson in his Kevlar helmet and he too ducked into the vehicle. At this point, Sgt. Vernon W. Martin joined the team as well.

Moments later, three to four rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs, struck the vehicle carriage. One rocket detonated on the turret and destroyed the .50 Caliber, spraying the interior with shrapnel. Larson, Martin and Carter were wounded.

Approximately a half hour into the fight, at 6:30 a.m., with both crew-served weapons disabled, and the Humvee under heavy small-arms fire from an estimated 20 to 30 fighters on the high ground to the south, and another 30 to 40 fighters attacking from Urmol, Gallegos decided to break contact and move north, employing bounding over-watch to link up with the remaining Soldiers of B Troop, near the Tactical Operations Center, or TOC. Carter volunteered to stay with Larson and provide covering fire for the others as they attempted to bound back.

Carter and Larson left the vehicle and provided suppressing fire with their M4 carbines, while their three colleagues began displacing. As he maneuvered his team, Gallegos was hit by machine gun fire from the direction of Urmol, killing him instantly. Martin was hit in the leg and scrambled beneath a nearby laundry trailer. RPG shrapnel wounded Mace, who managed to crawl to low ground 30 meters from the Humvee.

Amidst a punishing hail of gunfire, Larson and Carter returned to the shredded Humvee. Lurching across the compound in a second Humvee, Sgt. Joshua M. Hardt, Spc. Christopher T. Griffin, and Pvt. Edward W. Faulkner Jr. reinforced the Battle Position. The new vehicle immediately encountered concentrated RPG fire from the southern high ground, and a squad of enemy fighters that breached the combat outpost through the Entry Control Point, or ECP. Eight successive RPGs hit the Humvee, including a direct strike on the right passenger door that severely wounded Hardt and sprayed Griffin and Faulkner with shrapnel. Hardt evacuated the Humvee, but was instantly cut down by PKM fire.

Recognizing the imminent threat from the enemy squad inside the wire, Carter and Larson engaged and swiftly killed two enemy combatants and wounded one. Their accurate fire under intense pressure, force the enemy into a hasty retreat and prevented them from overrunning several Soldiers pinned down in the nearby mortar pit. Griffin and Faulkner darted north toward the command post across the same open ground Carter had already traversed three times.

Faulkner made it to safety, but Griffin was struck and killed instantly. Enemy fire set ablaze a number of buildings, and acrid black and grey plumes of smoke curled from the valley against the sky.

With their M4 ammunition nearly exhausted, Carter again stepped from the Humvee to secure additional ammunition and check on whomever might be in the second Humvee. Crawling through the dust and gravel as intense volleys of enemy fire rained around him, Carter found the Humvee empty, but grabbed an M249 light machine gun with a partial drum of ammunition, and an M203 grenade launcher, and crawled back to Larson. Realizing the drum had only 50 rounds left, Carter suggested they delink the ammunition and employ it in the M4s, so both men could continue to fight.

Though each had less than a full magazine, Carter and Larson engaged the enemy with precision fire. Carter killed a two-man enemy RPG team and two additional fighters in the Urmol station. Wounded, outmanned and outgunned, Carter and Larson still suppressed the enemy’s assault teams. Their accurate fire under extreme duress, with no margin for error, prevented the breach of COP Keating’s vulnerable southern flank. Overhead, close air support and attack weapons teams hunted the hills, but the rocky overgrown slopes provided ample cover to the myriad enemy fighters.

Nearly two hours into the fight, at approximately 7:30 a.m., Carter observed from the passenger seat in the Humvee, Mace moving exposed toward low ground 30 meters off. Carter turned to Larson and said he wanted to attempt a rescue. Larson initially sought to deter Carter, stressing that “you’re no good to Mace if you’re dead.” When Mace was struck with a new volley of gunfire and pleaded for help, Carter decided he had no choice but to try to reach his fellow Soldier.

Knowing that he would almost certainly be killed, and with no regard for his personal safety, Carter jumped from the truck and sprinted forward to Mace. With small arms fire riddling the Humvee and the ground around him, Carter staunched Mace’s bleeding and placed a tourniquet on his shattered leg. With enemy fire intensifying around him, Carter summoned the strength to lift Mace and carried him through the hail of bullets up to the rise and to the Humvee. Carter placed his fellow Soldier in the back seat of the damaged carriage and returned to the fight.

As their ammunition dwindled, Carter and Larson engaged the enemy with single, well-aimed shots. With inoperative radios and no contact with other B Troop Soldiers, the pair grew concerned that the rest of COP Keating had been overrun.

Recognizing that Mace needed immediate medical attention, and the vital need for reconnaissance, Carter, with Larson’s concurrence, headed toward the TOC along the same path on which Gallegos had been felled. Moving under Larson’s covering fire, Carter ran down the declining grade and maneuvered back toward the command post. En route, Carter came across Gallegos and checked his vital signs, grimly determining his fellow trooper had been killed.

Carter found the sergeant’s squad radio. Hearing traffic from others in B Troop, he turned around and made his way back to Larson. They called the command post and let them know they were alive, but still pinned down. Fires now burned in most structure on the eastern side of the compound, and it became apparent that enemy forces had penetrated the wire in at least two places. In response, the rest of B Troop had consolidated in a tight perimeter around the command post and surviving barracks.

While Carter and Larson had warded off a third breach, Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha and Hill had led a counterattack to retake a meeting hall and close the ECP. Romesha and Hill killed several enemy fighters that had penetrated the combat outpost and opened an evacuation route that was still exposed to RPG and machine gun fire. When Carter and Larson called and confirmed they had been isolated and a litter-urgent casualty, Hill’s element established a base of fire to cover their withdrawal.

Carter climbed from the Humvee and dug through the debris of the two shattered vehicles to uncover a litter. Carter and Larson then carried Mace across 100 meters of open ground still being swept with sniper and machine gun fire. With Mace at the aid station, Carter reported to Hill and joined the fight with the platoon for the rest of the day. He served as a sniper providing accurate cover fire for the teams of Soldiers who were recovering the bodies of the fallen Soldiers.

Mace reached the aid station at approximately noon, nearly six hours after initial contact, and approximately five hours after he was first wounded. Capt. Chris Cordova administered extraordinary trauma care, including a series of intravenous drips, and six blood transfusions taken from the veins of the Soldiers in the troop, including his own.

The heavy firefights in the enclosed valley prevented a medical evacuation helicopter from touching down in the narrow landing zone, until the cover of darkness. When the helicopter was able to land, Mace was immediately flown to Forward Operating Base Bostick, and then on to Bagram Airfield. He succumbed to his wounds in the hospital, despite the heroic efforts of his fellow Soldiers.

About 12 hours after the initial attack, reinforcements finally arrived at the besieged combat outpost. A Quick Reaction Force, or QRF, that had set down at OP Fritsche had hiked down the interminable switchbacks, killing two retreating enemies en route, and linked up with the defenders of COP Keating. The command outpost had held, despite the unprecedented onslaught.

In operations over the next several days, Coalition Forces killed one of the top regional sub-commanders affiliated with the Taliban, turning a potential defeat into a decisive victory for Coalition Forces in the contested Kamdesh.

However, the outcome might have been very different without the valor of Carter and Larson, who held the southern flank and prevented a platoon-sized enemy element from penetrating the wire, linking up with the others, and attacking the TOC at close quarters. Carter’s and Larson’s heroism bought the necessary time for multiple air assets to come on station and blunt the massive enemy attack.
We should be thankful that our nation continues to produce young men like these.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Moral Monsters

Dennis Prager recounts the crimes of Ariel Castro and has no difficulty describing this man as an evil monster:
In August 2002, a homo sapien known as Ariel Castro abducted 21-year-old Michelle Knight, the mother of a two-year-old boy. In April 2003, he abducted Amanda Berry, a day before her 17th birthday. And in April 2004, he abducted 14-year-old Gina DeJesus.

For the next ten years, these girls were regularly raped, kept in chains, beaten, humiliated and almost never allowed to see the light of day. When Michelle Knight became pregnant, Castro starved her for two weeks and kicked and punched her in the stomach to induce an abortion. He repeated this method of pregnancy termination on Knight four additional times.

It is important to try to understand the magnitude of the sadism and other forms of cruelty and suffering inflicted by this creature.

First, there is the horror and suffering of being kidnapped; of being taken away from everyone you love. Even if no torture, rape, solitary confinement, etc., were involved, that would be enough to weep for these girls. And in Michelle's case, she was taken from her baby boy, whom she never got to see grow up, and had every reason to fear she would never see again.

Second, there is the nightmare inflicted on the families. One day, their daughter, sister, and in one case, mother, disappears -- seemingly forever. Was she murdered? Had she suffered? Is she suffering now? Day after day, year after year, those questions haunted the families.

Third, now add the torture, beatings, grotesque humiliations, rapes, permanent state of terror and confinement much of the time to a basement -- for 10 years.

Mercifully for us, we humans cannot completely assimilate the totality of the suffering of victims such as these three girls. But we can at least intellectually perceive the monstrous behavior that went on in that Cleveland house.

Now, what about Castro? What is he? The answer is that he is a monster.
Most of us, perhaps, would agree, but not our sophisticated elites who scoff at the word "evil." Evil, you understand, is a moral category, and according to many who set intellectual fashion, objective morality doesn't exist. Our behavior is caused by forces beyond our control, we're told. Our childhood experiences and our genetic predispositions establish who we will be and how we will behave. Ariel Castro himself declared that he wasn't a monster but rather that he was "sick" and needed therapy. A lot of academics agree with him.

Recall that George W. Bush was roundly ridiculed for referring to North Korea, Iran, and Iraq as the "axis of evil" in the post-9/11 years. Bush was right, of course, but the notion that governments are evil, even though they manifestly are, was risible to his liberal detractors.

Jeffrey Dahmer was another monster who killed young men and then cannibalized them. He told an A&E interviewer shortly before his own murder in prison that,
If a person doesn't believe that there's a God to be accountable to then what's the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within "acceptable" ranges? That's how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution was true, that we all came from the slime. When we died that was it. There's nothing.
For Dahmer there was no moral good or evil because there was no moral authority beyond himself. Our culture largely accepts Dahmer's thinking on evil, even if it doesn't yet take that thinking, as Dahmer did, to its logical conclusion.

When a culture finds itself reluctant to make imputations of good and evil, when it laughs at such judgments, when good and evil are seen as archaic categories employed by those who still "cling to their guns and bibles," as Mr. Obama infelicitously described such folk, then we'll simply get many more Ariel Castros and Jeffrey Dahmers. We'll get many more young men like the three who just a couple of weeks ago shot dead the Australian baseball player jogging home from his girlfriend's house because the killers were bored.

When nothing, no matter how heinous, is thought to be genuinely evil, when no one is believed to be really responsible for their actions, evil behavior will proliferate throughout the culture. We can't eliminate it simply by redefining evil as something else. We need to call it by it's name and hold responsible those who do it. Otherwise, how different are we from the dystopia described in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games?

Read the rest of Prager's column at the link, and ask yourself if "evil" isn't precisely the word to describe the Nazi with the shovel.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

King's Dream

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It's ironic that so much of what his dream was about has come to pass, but the hope expressed in his most famous phrase, the most memorable part of the speech, seem more distant than ever. King's dream consisted of the following:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
Happily, all of this has either come to pass or we've made great strides toward achieving it, but then King spoke these lapidary words:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
It's a sad fact of our modern age that we seem to be moving further and further from this ideal. Nowadays, character doesn't matter, or so we were often reminded during the Clinton years. What does matter, the only thing that matters as regards race, is one's skin color. Color trumps character almost always. Indeed, in a postmodern world the very idea of character, like the idea of morality in which it's rooted, is under suspicion.

King went on to say this:
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
Despite the efforts of the race hustlers like Al Sharpton and the divisive, ill-conceived comments of our president in the wake of the Louis Gates and Trayvon Martin episodes, and of liberals who want to keep us divided so as to keep African-Americans from wandering off the Democratic plantation, America has almost realized King's dream.

Except, that is, for the part about judging each other on the basis of their character and not their color. When we learn to do that, when we learn to stop seeing race in every interaction, when we learn to stop picking at the scabs of historical injustice, when we learn to look more to the future than to the past, when we once again prize virtue and character, then we'll have joined King on the mountaintop.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stay Away from the Parties

What with millions of kids going back to colleges all across the country this week Glenn Reynolds at USA Today throws a bit of cold water on the excitement by reminding us that college isn't for everybody. Here are some excerpts:
Is college for everyone? That's pretty much the conventional wisdom today, but I don't think so. And, in fact, for some people, it may be actively damaging. In deciding whether to take on debt -- and give up years of their lives -- in exchange for a college degree, applicants need to think more about potential downsides. And alternatives.

While some college students make friends, and memories, for a lifetime, others are lonely, depressed and uncertain, drifting from major to major until eventually they graduate with whatever degree is easiest, and a lot of debt. Or, sometimes, they don't graduate at all, but still have a lot of debt. For some, college is the beginning of problems with drugs, or drinking, or sex that will cloud their adulthood for years, or even a lifetime.

College can even make income inequality worse, despite its being touted as the great equalizer. In a multiyear study of female college students, Paying For The Party, sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton found that students who looked similar in terms of "predictors" -- grades and test scores -- came out of college on very different trajectories. The biggest danger was when smart women from less-well-off backgrounds got onto what Armstrong and Hamilton call the "party pathway."

The richer girls who did this usually emerged OK, with family connections and parental subsidies allowing them to snag good jobs and internships in spite of any partying-related stumbles. The poorer girls with similar credentials ("strivers") who got on the party track tended to emerge with low GPAs, unimpressive post-college jobs (frequently jobs that they could have gotten without a college degree) and burdened with debt.

They actually often wound up with downward mobility, rather than the upward mobility that colleges sell. (Interestingly, the "strivers" who did best were the ones who transferred to less-prestigious regional state universities, which were also often cheaper. These schools -- the Northern Kentucky Universities of the world -- focus more on teaching, and are often more oriented toward student success, frequently in a less party-oriented atmosphere).

In their recent book, Academically Adrift, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa note that many students show little actual learning in college. Some students -- especially those from poor and minority households -- actually come out of college doing worse on assessment tests than when they went in. (Perhaps that's the impact of the "party pathway" again.)
College is a huge investment of time and money. It's a shame that so many young people squander the opportunity they have to prepare themselves for a rewarding career by spending that investment on what they consider to be a good time. College should be a kind of intellectual boot camp, not a four year long party binge, but many students don't see it that way. Neither do many colleges, for that matter.

It's sad enough when students whose families have the wherewithal to compensate for their kids bad decisions, but it's tragic when students who have only this one shot to give themselves the preparation they need to rise beyond the socioeconomic circumstances of their parents think this way. They're like a rocket straining to lift off the launch pad only to sputter and fall, crashing back under the gravitational pull of the party culture to the very circumstances they, and their parents, hoped they would escape.

Monday, August 26, 2013

It's Not Impossible

Rabbi Moshe Averick has a fine piece at the Times of Israel recounting the history of attempts to explain the origin of life (OOL) in a naturalistic, materialistic framework. The problem has proven to be intractable despite decades of intensive research and theorizing because, as Averick points out, the simplest living thing, a bacterium, is orders of magnitude more complex than, say, an i-phone. If we can't imagine how an i-phone could have arisen apart from intelligent input and direction, it's vastly more difficult to imagine how a living cell could have emerged purely through the laws of chemistry and physics. Indeed, workers in the field often refer to the OOL as almost a miracle.

Averick covers a lot of ground in his essay, but the most interesting part to me was his skewering of the standard fall-back position among naturalists, the multiverse hypothesis. This is the idea that there are an infinity of worlds and that, given an infinity of possibilities, every possible event must at some time occur. No matter how improbable an event might be in a finite universe, if there are infinite universes, every possibility will sometime, somewhere be actualized. In other words, even if something is astronomically improbable, it's still possible and if possible, then, the thinking goes, it's inevitable. Here's Averick:

It is obvious that life was created by an intelligent designer outside of the natural world and the reason why the origin of life “seems almost like a miracle,” is because it is a miracle.

However, atheist/materialist scientists refuse to give up so easily. Dr. Koonin himself has proposed a possible solution and escape hatch from having to accept a Creator of life: “The Many Worlds in One version of the cosmological model of eternal inflation might suggest a way out of the origin of life conundrum because, in an infinite multiverse with a finite number of macroscopic histories (each repeated an infinite number of times), the emergence of even highly complex systems by chance is not just possible, but inevitable."

Translation: The odds of rolling a six a thousand times in a row with a single die is 1 in 6 to the 1000th power, or 1 chance in 6 x 10 to the 999th power. The size of this number is beyond our comprehension but to provide some kind of baseline keep in mind that the number of atoms in the entire universe is roughly 10 to the 80th power.

Despite this, as Koonin points out, if I am able to roll the die an infinite number of times, it is not only possible, but inevitable that it will happen. Although reason and scientific investigation have informed us of the virtual impossibility of life having formed on our planet by an undirected naturalistic process, the “way out of the origin of life conundrum” – that is to say, the way to avoid the obvious answer that life was created – is to propose a multiverse. With an infinite number of trials and errors available, it is not only possible but inevitable that life will form no matter how fantastic the odds against.

He is right of course. With an infinite number of trials and errors not only is the formation of life inevitable but it is just as inevitable that at least one of each of the following has formed by pure chance and can be found on our planet today: iPhone 5, Toshiba Satellite Laptop Computer, Schwinn Discover Men’s Hybrid Bike, full color poster of Jimmy Hendrix playing at Woodstock, Martin D-35 Acoustic Guitar, Mylec Eclipse Jet-Flow Hockey Stick, Revell 1:48 scale P-51D Mustang model airplane, and last but not least, a 2013 Rolls Royce Phantom Sedan (retail price- $465,000). I don’t believe it, no one reading this article believes it, Eugene Koonin does not believe it, and even Richard Dawkins doesn’t believe it.

Just as it is beyond absurd to propose that the iPhone 5 I am holding in my hand could be the product of chance it is exponentially beyond absurd to propose that a bacterium could have formed by chance. There is either a flaw in Koonin’s logic (which of course there is) or the multiverse theory is false and/or irrelevant to our question (which of course it is).
As Averick observes, researchers in the field seem to be reduced to arguing that because no one can prove that a naturalistic origin can't happen therefore it must have happened.
Dr. Frank Sonleitner, a Professor of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma has written a lengthy essay on the origin of life which appears on the NCSE website. He writes as follows: “Modern ideas about the [emergence] of living things from non-living components...may not have yet come anywhere near answering all our questions about the process, but...none of this research has indicated that abiogenesis [origin of life from non-life]is impossible.”

Dr. Paul Davies: “Just because scientists are uncertain how life began does not mean that life cannot have had a natural origin.” (i.e. it’s not impossible)

Even Dr. Francis Crick, undoubtedly one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century, is not immune. From his book Life Itself: “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. But this should not be taken to imply that…it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions.” (In other words, it’s not impossible.)

Imagine winning 200 hands of black-jack in a row at a Las Vegas casino. As the pit-boss and his crew are summarily throwing you out of the casino onto the sidewalk, you offer the following brilliant pleading, “I know it seems like a miracle that I could win 200 hands in a row by pure luck, but it’s not impossible!”

Atheist author Mark Isaak, from his book The Counter-Creationism Handbook: “Nobody denies that the origin of life is an extremely difficult problem, that is has not been solved though, does not mean that it is impossible.”
When intelligent people find themselves arguing that as long as something can't be disproven it's acceptable to believe it, they're no longer doing science. What they're doing is taking enormous leaps of blind faith. A religious person who reasoned this way would be mercilessly derided by skeptics who nevertheless seem unaware that their unbelief is predicated on the very same sort of reasoning they poke fun of in others.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Have We Learned Nothing?

In the wake of reports that pro-government Syrian forces have unleashed chemical weapons against both rebel fighters and civilians calls have intensified for a U.N. response, and pressure is being brought to bear on President Obama to make good on his foolish "red line" commitment.

I understand very well the desire to "do something." What I don't understand is how doing something changes anything. How does launching a few cruise missiles do anything other than killing a few Syrians and causing even more widespread scorn for the United States?

Surely we learned after supporting the overthrow of Hosni Mubarek in Egypt that things rarely work out the way we think they will. We support Mubarek's overthrow and we wind up with Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. We assist in the overthrow of Moammar Qaddafi in Libya and we wind up with chaos and the Benghazi debacle. Even when our national interest is arguably at stake and military action is justified, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's devilishly difficult to control the forces that are unleashed.

If we assist the Syrian rebels against Bashir Assad and Assad falls all we will succeed in doing is paving the way for al Qaeda to gain control in Damascus. Assad is heinous, to be sure, but "heinous" is written on the DNA in that part of the world. As bad as he is, many of the alternatives are worse.

Nor is it clear to me why Assad's use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a "red line" for President Obama. Death by chemical weapons is horrible, but no more so than being buried alive under the rubble from an artillery barrage. Why do we think that once chemical weapons are introduced against his people that we then should punish him, but as long as he's just blowing them to bits with bombs, rockets, and artillery fire we should stay our hand?

I'm not one who believes that we should never intervene to help innocent people being killed by cruel neighbors and leaders, but intervention should be predicated upon national interest and/or a reasonable prospect of success. Moreover, the good we can reasonably expect to achieve should much outweigh the cost in blood and treasure that we expect to incur.

It's not clear that intervention in Syria would meet any of those criteria.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fateful Turning Point

I recently came a cross a passage from former Princeton philosopher W.T. Stace writing in The Atlantic Monthly back in 1948. It summarizes so well a theme I've frequently written about on Viewpoint that I thought I'd do a post on it. The theme to which I refer is the idea that if there is no God, life is ultimately meaningless and moral discourse is simply an expression of our personal tastes, nothing more.

Stace, who was himself a non-theist, put it this way:
The real turning point between the medieval age of faith and the modern age of unfaith came when scientists of the seventeenth century turned their backs upon what used to be called "final causes"... [belief in which] was not the invention of Christianity [but] was basic to the whole of Western civilization, whether in the ancient pagan world or in Christendom, from the time of Socrates to the rise of science in the seventeenth century.... They did this on the ground that inquiry into purposes is useless for what science aims at: namely, the prediction and control of events.

...The conception of purpose in the world was ignored and frowned upon. This, though silent and almost unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated around the world....

The world, according to this new picture, is purposeless, senseless, meaningless. Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed, not by any purpose, but by blind forces and laws....[But] if the scheme of things is purposeless and meaningless, then the life of man is purposeless and meaningless too. Everything is futile, all effort is in the end worthless.

A man may, of course, still pursue disconnected ends, money, fame, art, science, and may gain pleasure from them. But his life is hollow at the center. Hence, the dissatisfied, disillusioned, restless spirit of modern man....Along with the ruin of the religious vision there went the ruin of moral principles and indeed of all values....

If our moral rules do not proceed from something outside us in the nature of the universe - whether we say it is God or simply the universe itself - then they must be our own inventions. Thus it came to be believed that moral rules must be merely an expression of our own likes and dislikes. But likes and dislikes are notoriously variable. What pleases one man, people, or culture, displeases another. Therefore, morals are wholly relative.
Stace is correct. If there is no God then life is a pointless absurdity and good and evil have no objective referent. An atheist, to be consistent, should embrace existential nihilism and give up lecturing the rest of us about right and wrong. Or, if he wishes to retain his belief that life is purposeful and that cruelty, slavery, ecological destruction, indifference to the plight of the poor, etc. are objectively wrong, he should repudiate his atheism. Atheism simply offers no grounds whatsoever for making any moral judgment.

To the extent that the non-theist seeks to have it both ways - which, of course, most of them do - he's acting irrationally.

Who's Most Racist?

The Wall Street journal reported recently on a Rasmussen Poll of racial attitudes among whites and blacks in the U.S. which came up with some interesting findings. Before discussing these I should note that I have concerns about the wording in the poll. The word "racism" isn't defined which I think is a major flaw, and I don't like that respondents were asked what "most whites/blacks" think since no one can really know what most people in a large group think, but having said that, let's look at what the WSJ reports:
There is a huge ideological difference on this topic. Among conservative Americans, 49% consider most blacks racist, and only 12% see most whites that way. Among liberal voters, 27% see most white Americans as racist, and 21% say the same about black Americans.

Among white adults generally, 10% think most white Americans are racist; 38% believe most blacks are racist, and 17% say most Hispanics are racist.
I wasn't surprised by this result, although I don't think it's fair to say that "most" blacks are racist. I do think it's fair, however, to say that most of the serious racism in this country today resides in the black community, which is a different claim. What did surprise me, however, as it did the writers at the WSJ, was this stat:
Among black Americans, 31% think most blacks are racist, while 24% consider most whites racist and 15% view most Hispanics that way.
In other words, it's the majority view in the black community that there's more racism there than there is in the white community. Here's what the WSJ said about this:
But the results for blacks are a big surprise. Blacks are more likely (by 7 percentage points) to think most blacks are racist than to think most whites are. Moreover, they are 11 points likelier than liberals (regardless of race) to think most blacks are racist, and 9 points likelier than Democrats. And blacks are 3 points less likely than liberals to think most whites are racist.
Their conclusion is, in my opinion, exactly right:
All of which suggests that the people likeliest to believe most whites are racist and most blacks are not are those who are both liberal and white. Which reinforces a point we've made often in this column: that a lot of what drives the futile debate over race in America is white liberals' psychological need to feel morally superior to other whites.
I'm not a psychologist and am only offering my hunch on this, but I think there's truth in what the WSJ concludes. Much (certainly not all) of the moral posturing, whether about race, immigration, education, environment, war, or whatever, that we find among those on the left is animated not by logic, reason, or experience but rather by a deep-seated need to reinforce their feeling of moral superiority over other whites. It's the same need that causes some liberals, particularly in the academy, to affirm their intellectual superiority by haughtily deriding the "superstitions," religious or political, of other whites.

On the other hand, the patronizing, condescending manner in which they often treat blacks is evidence that they already feel superior to them, of course, although they'd never admit it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Just Sayin'

Yesterday In the Absence of God was ranked at #200,000 out of 8,000,000 books sold on Amazon. That puts us in the top 2.5% of all the books they're selling. If you haven't ordered your copy yet, what are you waiting for?

No Accountability

One of the reasons the Tea Party was birthed is that more and more Americans have less and less trust in their government and in the politicians who run it. The Obama administration seems to be doing everything it can to further erode what little faith is left. Not only have they stonewalled every congressional investigation into every administrative debacle (Fast and Furious, the IRS abuses, and the Benghazi attacks most prominently), but they've refused to hold anyone accountable for them which just gives the impression that the underlings were doing the bidding of the president himself.

Take, for example, this report on the fate of the four state department employees who were suspended for various derelictions related to the Benghazi affair:
When no one is held accountable, when no one can even be persuaded to honestly and forthrightly testify to what happened in these various scandals, citizens can't help but conclude that the administration is simply hiding what they know to be their own malfeasance and culpability.

Mr. Nixon and Mr. Obama

Washington Post columnist George Will fillets politicians with the deftness and virtuousity of a benihana chef. His latest subject is President Obama whose lawlessness and disregard for constitutional restraints Will subjects to a slicing and dicing which almost forces the reader to the conclusion that the extra-legality of Barack Obama is in fact worse and more brazen than that of Richard Nixon. Here's part of it:
President Obama’s increasingly grandiose claims for presidential power are inversely proportional to his shriveling presidency. Desperation fuels arrogance as, barely 200 days into the 1,462 days of his second term, his pantry of excuses for failure is bare, his domestic agenda is nonexistent and his foreign policy of empty rhetorical deadlines and red lines is floundering. And at last week’s news conference he offered inconvenience as a justification for illegality.

Explaining his decision to unilaterally rewrite the Affordable Care Act (ACA), he said: “I didn’t simply choose to” ignore the statutory requirement for beginning in 2014 the employer mandate to provide employees with health care. No, “this was in consultation with businesses.”

He continued: “In a normal political environment, it would have been easier for me to simply call up the speaker and say, you know what, this is a tweak that doesn’t go to the essence of the law. . . . It looks like there may be some better ways to do this, let’s make a technical change to the law. That would be the normal thing that I would prefer to do. But we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to Obamacare. We did have the executive authority to do so, and we did so.”

Serving as props in the scripted charade of White House news conferences, journalists did not ask the pertinent question: “Where does the Constitution confer upon presidents the ‘executive authority’ to ignore the separation of powers by revising laws?” The question could have elicited an Obama rarity: brevity. Because there is no such authority.

Obama’s explanation began with an irrelevancy. He consulted with businesses before disregarding his constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” That duty does not lapse when a president decides Washington’s “political environment” is not “normal.”

When was it “normal”? The 1850s? The 1950s? Washington has been the nation’s capital for 213 years; Obama has been here less than nine. Even if he understood “normal” political environments here, the Constitution is not suspended when a president decides the “environment” is abnormal.

Neither does the Constitution confer on presidents the power to rewrite laws if they decide the change is a “tweak” not involving the law’s “essence.” Anyway, the employer mandate is essential to the ACA.
Will vents much more of his displeasure with the manner in which Mr. Obama has conducted himself in office at the link. It causes me to wonder were Mr. Obama not the first black president, or were he a white Republican, whether he'd have been impeached by now. Is it unfair and/or unreasonable to think that his administration has been at least as incompetent and feckless as Jimmy Carter's, and at least as arrogant and corrupt as Richard Nixon's? Am I wrong in thinking that no president, absent a major war, has polarized the nation as much as has Mr. Obama, especially racially but also ideologically, and that no president since FDR has presided over such a weak economy with such high unemployment for so long a period of time? Am I wrong in asserting that no modern president been beset by so many scandals of so much magnitude, nor spent so much of the taxpayer's money on his own personal recreation and that of his family, a fact which is especially galling given the unprecedented number of people struggling to make ends meet?

Perhaps I'm being unfair. Perhaps if I knew more of the facts I wouldn't have arrived at these judgments, but until those facts are forthcoming I don't see how anyone who tries to look objectively at the current state of things can draw any other conclusion. Given that the Democrats hailed Mr. Obama's ascendency to the Oval Office as almost a secular second coming it's all very disappointing.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Defining the Class of 2017

The Beloit College Mindset List describes the class of 2017 as the "sharing generation." Here's why:
They share information: it's a generation that has grown up with the electronic cut and paste and forward.

They share themselves: it’s a generation that is constantly “chatting,” which doesn’t mean that they are necessarily talking, even on the phone, much less face to face. They text all day; they text all night. They wake up and text before their feet hit the floor.

They share transportation: they tend to flock to big cities for employment, where it’s more expensive to keep a car, but in fact they seem less interested in owning their own autos than previous generations have been, and they take public transport.

They share our national identity: it’s a generation that is not sold on the idea that there is a single national identity. They’ve grown up in a multi-ethnic society. One survey suggested that in the future they wouldn’t follow a political party that could only attract whites, even if they are themselves white.

They share knowledge: it’s a generation that has not grown up with the lecturer (in educational terms, “the sage on the stage”) but with the facilitator (“guide on the side”). They’ve absorbed educational methods that involve small-group collaborative learning rather than more passive listen-and-take-notes.

Finally, they share spiritual values: it’s a generation that is interested in spiritual ideas—such as meditation and service—but it’s not a sectarian generation. It has a more ecumenical approach. It’s spiritual but not religious in the sectarian sense.
I'm not sure what it all means or even how accurate it all is, but there you have it. Do you think it's a correct description of young people today? If it is, how significant is it?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why Should He Care?

Atheist blogger P.Z. Myers says he's been handed a hand grenade with a pulled pin. A major figure in the atheist community has been accused of repeated sexual misconduct and Myers debates with himself the right way to handle the information:
So I’ve been given this rather…explosive…information. It’s a direct report of unethical behavior by a big name in the skeptical community (yeah, like that hasn’t been happening a lot lately), and it’s straight from the victim’s mouth. And it’s bad. Really bad.

She’s torn up about it. It’s been a few years, so no law agency is going to do anything about it now; she reported it to an organization at the time, and it was dismissed. Swept under the rug. Ignored. I can imagine her sense of futility. She’s also afraid that the person who assaulted her before could try to hurt her again.

But at the same time, she doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else, so she’d like to get the word out there. So she hands the information to me. Oh, thanks.

Now I’ve been sitting here trying to resolve my dilemma — to reveal it or not — and ... what’s dominating my head isn’t the consequences, but the question of what is the right thing to do. Do I stand up for the one who has no recourse, no way out, no other option to help others, or do I shelter the powerful big name guy from an accusation I can’t personally vouch for, except to say that I know the author, and that she’s not trying to acquire notoriety (she wants her name kept out of it)?
You'll have to go to the link to learn the identity of the alleged cad, and no it's not someone named Filner, Spitzer, Weiner, Clinton, Kennedy, Gore, or Menendez (Quick quiz: What do the aforementioned all have in common?). It is, however, someone who's very well known for his advocacy of atheism.

What interests me about this, though, is Myers' moral wrestling match with his conscience. If the allegations of sexual misconduct are true, and they're certainly well-corroborated, what's the problem? Why should atheists be in a moral swivet about what the gentleman did, or, for that matter, whether to make it public. Given atheism, there's no morally right or wrong action, only actions that people don't like. Morally speaking what this prominent atheist did has no more moral significance than might be assigned to bad manners and neither does Myers' decision to publicize the behavior.

To assert that X is morally wrong is to assume that there's some standard of moral behavior that we have a duty to obey, but where does that standard come from and what imposes the duty to obey it? On atheism, there's no moral authority qualified to impose such a standard and no authority which can impose such a duty. Only a personal, transcendent moral authority could establish a non-subjective standard and obligate us to adhere to it. Since atheists deny the existence of such a being, the last thing an atheist can do is make a moral judgment of someone else's behavior.

This is a serious problem with atheism, of course. Most atheists simply can't live consistently with their conviction that there's nothing more to reality than atoms and energy. They know that atoms and energy can't confer moral value, but they insist on living as if they can.

Put another way, when a Christian behaves as this prominent atheist author is accused of behaving the Christian has betrayed his calling, violated an objective moral standard, and deeply disappointed his God. When an atheist behaves like this he has betrayed nothing, violated nothing more than society's arbitrary norms, and disappointed no one except other human beings.

Why should he care about any of that?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back from Panama

I've just returned from a week spent trekking through the forests and meadows of Panama in pursuit of tropical species of birds. Panama has a rich avifauna and some of the birds there are almost unimaginably beautiful. Here are a couple of photos culled from the internet of just a few of the species I was able to see:
The bird above is a Golden-hooded tanager. It's found in garden type environments and along forest edges.
It's hard to capture in a photo the beauty of the Blue dachnis. The blue is electric. It's an amazing fact about birds that there's no blue pigment in their feathers. The color is structural. That is, it results from the way light is reflected and refracted off the feathers.
This was my favorite bird of the trip. It's a very large member of the vulture group called the King vulture. This was my eighth trip to Central America, and I had futilely searched the skies for this bird on every previous trip. Finally, on this one I saw it. In fact, I managed to see three of them, all of which were soaring at just about the height of the bird in the photo.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Dick Cleary is out of the country for the week of August 12 and may not have access to the internet. If that's the case, there won't be new posts to Viewpoint until next week.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why He Uses a Teleprompter

The Blaze has a link to a video of some of the President's more memorable moments where his mind, or his education, simply failed him.
Anyone can make such mistakes, of course, but the media absolutely killed Dan Quayle for misspelling potato, ridiculed George H.W. Bush for remarking on supermarket laser scanners, crucified George W. Bush almost every time he opened his mouth, and yukked it up over an apocryphal story about Sarah Palin having claimed to be able to see Russia from her home. Yet Mr. Obama repeatedly makes statements one might associate with an uneducated dolt and the media scarcely blinks.

Consider just a few of the bloopers the President, whom we're told possesses a towering intellect, has produced over the last few years:
  • At a military service he pronounced corpsman as corpse man.
  • When speaking in Hawaii he referred to the island state in which he spent much of his youth as being in Asia.
  • When trying to make the case for government-run health care he said that UPS and FedEx, two private enterprises, are doing just fine, but the Post Office, which is subject to government oversight, is "always having problems" thus undercutting his own argument.
  • In a Memorial Day speech he said, "as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes -- and I see many of them in the audience here today -- our sense of patriotism is particularly strong."
  • He also once claimed that a Kansas tornado which took twelve lives had actually killed ten thousand people: "In case you missed it, this week, there was a tragedy in Kansas. Ten thousand people died -- an entire town destroyed."
  • Most recently he declared Charleston, Norfolk and Savannah to be Gulf Coast ports.
There are many more examples. The point is not to make fun of Mr. Obama, he is the president after all, but rather to poke a little fun at those of his worshipers who have apotheosized him and especially at the liberal media who would have collapsed in spasms of hilarity had a Republican president committed just one of these blunders, but which politely averts its eyes from the accumulating pile of howlers delivered by this Democratic president.

Rush Limbaugh, from whose site the video was borrowed, put it this way:
“[President Obama] has committed far more gaffes than George Bush and Sarah Palin combined....Folks, you let that be George W. Bush, you let that be Ronald Reagan, and the stories today are, ‘Is Alzheimer’s setting in? Do we have dementia?’ I’m not kidding. They would have psychiatrists and psychologists on TV, and they would be analyzing this, and they’d be looking for any indication that a declining mental capacity is taking place.”
Anyway, I'm looking forward to a similar montage of the wit and wisdom of our Vice-President. It should be even more entertaining.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Politicians Say the Darnedest Things

Kirstin Powers at the Daily Beast illustrates for us the fact that so many pro-choicers base their advocacy for the right to terminate the life of an unborn child not upon any rational argument but rather upon simple emotion. Some of them apparently have a very tenuous grasp of the facts surrounding the issue of abortion, particularly late-term abortion.

Powers cites as exhibit A of her indictment the Texas state senator, Wendy Davis, who fought to prevent the Texas legislature from effectively banning Kermit Gosnell-type abortion clinics from operating in Texas:
The Democratic star du jour [Davis] was asked this week to explain the difference between the late-term abortions she fought to keep legal in Texas and the illegal killings by Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. “I don’t know what happened in the Gosnell case,” she told the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack, who cornered her after her National Press Club speech on Monday.

This is incredible. After all, Davis is the state senator who held an 11-hour filibuster to fight legislation drafted in response to the abuses at Gosnell’s clinic. A passing knowledge of the case seems like basic due diligence.

She went on: “But I do know that [Gosnell] happened in an ambulatory surgical center. And in Texas changing our clinics to that standard obviously isn’t going to make a difference.” It takes real skill to pack so many falsehoods into so few words.
As Powers explains, Gosnell's crimes were conducted in a clinic that Pennsylvania's Department of Health failed to hold to the standards of an ambulatory surgical facility. Since then, the state has passed a law, over the objections of Democrats and Planned Parenthood, that would require that any facility performing abortions be held to the same standards of hygiene as are these facilities.
At one point in his interview, McCormack asked Davis what she made of the fact a majority of women support late-term abortion bans. Davis told him, “I…think that a lot of people don’t really understand the landscape of what’s happening in that arena today and what an incredibly small percentage of procedures take place there.”
The small percentage, Powers notes dryly, translates to 18,000 late term abortions a year.

Perhaps the most remarkable example of ignorance and sheer stupidity in Powers' article came, unsurprisingly, from the lips of Nancy Pelosi:
In June, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi convened a press conference to condemn a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks. McCormack asked her essentially the same question he asked Davis: “What is the moral difference between what Dr. Gosnell did to a baby born alive at 23 weeks and aborting her moments before birth? Pelosi answered, “You’re probably enjoying that question a lot, I can see you savoring it.” This insulting nonsense inexplicably elicited laughter from some of the assembled reporters.

Pelosi then told an outright lie: “[The 20-week ban] would make it a federal law that there would be no abortion in our country.” No reporter questioned this absurdity, even though they’ve heard pro-abortion rights leaders assert a thousand times that “only” 1.5 percent of abortions occur after 20 weeks. (For those who care, that’s “only” 18,000 late-term abortions each year.)

Pelosi then expressed outrage at the line of questioning, raised the fact she had five children in six years, and snapped, “As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this.” When you are pulling the Catholic card to defend your support of unrestricted late-term abortion, you’ve officially gone off the rails.
And, Powers might have added, achieved escape velocity from the inconvenient constraints of logic. Only someone with an IQ low enough to freeze nitrogen would utter such an embarrassing non sequitur. Ms Pelosi's reply is a tacit acknowledgement that she had no rational response to give.

For those who might be wondering why people get upset over late-term abortion I recommend Powers' (who, by the way, is a liberal Democrat) last paragraph:
In May this year, former abortion doctor Dr. Anthony Levantino described late-term abortion in congressional testimony before a House subcommittee debating the 20-week abortion ban Pelosi and most Democrats opposed. It is similar to the one Davis opposed in Texas. Levantino told the committee: “The toughest extracting the baby’s head. [Y]ou will know you have it right when you crush down on the clamp and see white gelatinous material coming through the cervix. That was the baby’s brains. You can then extract the skull pieces. Many times a little face will come out and stare back at you.”
A culture, a political party, and politicians who defend such a practice are either ignorant of the facts and/or morally destitute. Either way we have proceeded very far along the road to total cultural degeneration if we allow the thinking of such people as Ms Davis and Ms Pelosi to determine our posture on abortion.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Geographically Challenged

Perhaps Mr. Obama went AWOL from his high school geography classes to go "chooming" with his fellow stoners, but, whatever the reason, our president certainly lacks a basic grasp of the geography of the country over which he presides.

First he informed us that he has campaigned in "all 57 states," a pronouncement that startled the half of the population that realized the implications of the claim, and now he has located three east coast cities on the Gulf coast (relevant part starts at 2:55).
Sure, maybe he actually meant to insert the conjunction "and" in there between "the Gulf" and "places like" (as AP so helpfully did), and maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt on this, just like AP and the rest of the fair-minded liberal media would have given to George W. Bush or Sarah Palin. Or maybe Mr. Obama actually doesn't know how many states there are or the difference between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

That last possibility would at least explain a lot.


I walk for exercise and over the last couple of weeks my peregrinations have taken me through neighborhoods other than my own. In some of them houses are sparse and isolated. Others are standard residential communities, but over the previous month or so I've had several interesting experiences.

People have always turned and looked, of course. A strange man walking in a neighborhood in which he's not known draws special attention, but in one case a week ago a fellow drove his pickup truck slowly past me on a country road and gave me a thorough look-over as if trying to assess whether he recognized me. On another occasion a gentleman stopped his car to ask me if I was visiting someone in the neighborhood. On yet another evening a policeman stopped his cruiser and talked briefly with me, ostensibly to ask why I was out walking in the rain (it started raining about ten minutes before).

What should I think about these encounters? Should I be offended that these people were obviously checking to make sure I wasn't up to no good. Perhaps I should have felt uncomfortable with all this scrutiny, but I didn't. I was a strange man in a neighborhood where no one knew me, people were simply being alert, I was being "profiled," and I didn't blame them (except the guy in the pickup was a little weird). I might've done the same thing.

The neighborhoods were mostly white and so am I, so race had nothing to do with how the residents and the police acted, but suppose I had been black. What might I have thought? Obviously, if I were like many blacks who complain about racial profiling I would assume that the attention I was receiving was because I was black. I would relate to my friends how uncomfortable it was to be targeted because of my race, that I was committing the crime of WWB (Walking While Black) and what a terribly offensive thing racial profiling is. I would have assumed that the residents of the neighborhood were red-necked racists, that they had no business giving me the eye, that it was yet another insulting example of whites' irrational fear of blacks, and so on.

My point is that often blacks assume that any insult, any slight, any criticism they receive from a white person is because they're black when in fact that's simply not the case. A stranger walking through a neighborhood is going to elicit attention regardless of his color. It may be that a black man would draw more attention in an all-white neighborhood because he's more obviously a stranger, but to assume he draws the stares because he's black should be the last assumption in the string of possibilities.

We'll never heal our racial divisions in this country as long as we keep viewing everything that happens to us through the lens of race and as long as blacks continue to react to interracial encounters as though it's still 1940.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Who Can They Blame?

The unemployment numbers for July recently came out and - good news! - unemployment dropped to 7.4%, lower than expected (at least until it's quietly revised upward in a few weeks). Unfortunately, the news is not so good after all. Unemployment is down because the number of people looking for work is down. If the labor participation rate were what it was in January of 2009 unemployment would be at 10.7%.

Just as bad is that the vast majority of jobs created were part-time jobs. Erika Johnson has the numbers and analysis at Hot Air.

After five years of progressive governance the economy is still virtually stagnant at 1.7% growth. I guess this doesn't matter much if you're already employed full-time and have some income security, but I feel very sorry for those young people who are graduating from college burdened with a ton of debt and unable to find a job in their field, or any decent job at all.

I suppose someone might say that these students are a core constituency of the folks responsible for our economic malaise, and I guess they are. It could be argued, too, that many other students were too apathetic or too busy to invest in educating themselves about what was at stake in the last two elections and didn't vote. All true. Young people, as a whole, have themselves to blame for their predicament just as much as the derelictions and incompetence of our political leadership.

Even so, I feel very sorry for them. For many of these kids the future, at least until we stop electing liberal progressives to office, is very bleak. Maybe by 2014 and 2016 they'll care about more than who's most "cool" and which candidate has the most charisma. Perhaps they'll be sophisticated enough not to be taken in by silly rhetoric about "green jobs" and "wars on women," and vote instead for the candidate who'll institute policies that'll restore the nation's economic virility. Heaven help us, and especially them, if they don't.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Innis v. Rangel

Congressman Charlie Rangel has no qualms about concocting libelous falsehoods about people he knows nothing about. He recently undertook to smear the Tea Party and anyone else associated with political conservatives. If anyone wants to know why our politics is so fractious and polarized all one need do is read the sorts of things people like Rangel say about those with whom he disagrees:
[The Tea Party] is the same group we faced in the South with those white crackers and the dogs and the police. They didn’t care about how they looked. It was just fierce indifference to human life that caused America to say enough is enough. ‘I don’t want to see it and I am not a part of it.’ What the hell! If you have to bomb little kids and send dogs out against human beings, give me a break.
If a white congressman said something comparable about a black organization he'd be roundly condemned and censured, but Rangel has already been censured by the House for corruption so, perhaps that, plus the fact that he's black and 83 years old and perhaps a little dottery, disinclines people from judging him too harshly.

It may be unkind to suggest that Charlie is non compos mentis, but it's probably the kindest explanation for not only what he said above but also for this:
[House Republicans] have done more damage to American competitiveness than al Qaeda ever could. What is happening is sabotage. Terrorists couldn’t do a better job than the Republicans are doing.
Anyone who would make such a claim before a public audience is either suffering from dementia, incredibly ignorant, or dishonest.

Anyway, a Tea Party strategist and national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality named Niger Innis delivered a deft riposte to the addlepated Mr. Rangel. The Daily Caller reports:
"It is not surprising that lazy, shiftless politicians who have an abysmal record for their community would want to diffuse the issue of what they are doing for their communities by dropping the race card,” Innis, an African American and the chief strategist for, told The Daily Caller in an interview.

According to Innis, Rangel comparing the tea party to segregationists represents the same strategy white Southern Democrats in the South used prior to the civil rights era — back then obscuring the issues by playing what he called the “nigger card.” Rangel is part of a “long tradition of Democrat, racist demagogues” who run to race when they are not able to deliver for their constituents.

“What Charlie Rangel should be talking about is the level of performance of kids in the public schools in his district, what he should be talking about are the lack of jobs and the record high unemployment rate in his district and among black Americans all across his country,” Innis explained.

“What he should be talking about is the black-on-black genocide that is taking place in the urban center,” he added. “But unfortunately leaders like Charlie Rangel and the leaders that have run Detroit for the last 50 years have nothing but a record of failure and want to change the issue.”
It amazes me how much vitriol is directed by the left at the folks who loosely make up what's called the Tea Party. These people stand primarily for smaller, constitutional government, less spending, and more growth. Despite these modest aspirations, the left, including people like Mr. Rangel, disparage them as if they were neo-Nazis.

Their insulting, uncivil rhetoric does nothing to bring people together. All it does is erect walls between groups, divide them along ideological lines, and guarantee that political gridlock will persist.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Nature of the Threat

Debkafile claims to have information on the nature of the threat that has caused the U.S. to close its embassies throughout the Middle East. If they're correct it truly is frightening. Here's the crucial information:
US officials are beginning to release nuggets of information about the nature of the threat.

According to one high placed US official, concern focuses on the possibility of terrorists carrying explosive devices implanted inside their bodies. debkafile’s counterterrorism sources add that plastic explosives in the body of a would-be suicide bomber without metal components are undetectable by standard screening devices such as those used at most international airports.

It has been suspected for some years that doctors and surgeons in Yemen in the service of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were experimenting with implanting of plastic explosive devices inside the bodies of suicide bombers or even animals. According to Western counterterrorism sources, the surgeon would open the abdominal cavity and implant the explosive device amongst the bomber’s internal organs.

Some US sources are calling the current threat the most serious since 9/11. They are alarmed by the degree of confidence AQIM leaders show in openly using electronic communications to boast about the unstoppable attack they are plotting.

A senior US official described the terrorists as saying the planned attack is “going to be big” and “strategically significant.”
A couple dozen suicide bombers with explosive implants boarding aircraft around the globe is a terrifying prospect. Let's hope TSA is profiling young Middle Eastern males and asking them to raise their shirts to see if they have scars. Let's also hope that they're not wasting their time asking octogenarian ladies to do the same.

IRS Says "No Thanks" to Obamacare

IRS chief Danny Werfel last week testified to congress that IRS employees would rather not switch to Obamacare, thank you. The IRS, mind you, is the organization designated to oversee the implementation of Obamacare for the rest of us. Here's a video of his testimony remixed with some music from LFAO's Rock Party album along with some additional relevant video:
First it was the labor unions that wanted outof the "train wreck," then it was congress itself and their staffs who pleaded that they just couldn't afford it, now it's the very organization that will enforce Obamacare's provisions that they rest of us will have to live by. None of them want it for themselves because they know that, as insurance, it's a much worse deal than what they have.

Congress doesn't want it, even though they've foisted it on the rest of us, because under Obamacare their staff members will have to pay more of the premium which is currently paid by you and me. Congresspersons fear that Obamacare will drive their staffs into the private sector where they can make more money. Well, let them get a real job, say I. Why do we need them?

I remember Democrat proponents of the law piously intoning before it passed as to how they wished for all Americans to have the same quality insurance that they have. Well, now they still have good insurance plans and they've stuck us with with a system that none of them want.

Students of history are welcome to compare and contrast the current situation with the outrages perpetrated on the colonists by the England of King George III and to explain, if they can, how his government was more oppressive than the bunch currently residing in Washington.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Lenin with a Charming Smile

This story from Breitbart should come as no surprise. When the administration in Washington does everything it can to discourage employers from hiring: from raising taxes, to burdensome regulations, to onerous health care benefit requirements, to time-consuming paperwork it's no wonder that there are no jobs available.
Friday's jobs report was disappointing, but it also contained a truly heartbreaking statistic. Black teen unemployment is a shocking 41.6%. In July last year, the unemployment was considerably lower, at 36%. That almost half of black teens who want to work can't find jobs is a stain on Obama's economic policies.

This isn't a numbers trick. This isn't a rate based on the whole black teen population in the country. This is the proportion of the black teen population that is looking for work but can't find a job. Just in March, the number was eight points lower at 33%. The white teen unemployment rate is half the black rate, although still high at 20%.
Nor is it any wonder that black kids are especially hurt since in areas of high black population density there are relatively few businesses in the first place.

If Mr. Obama truly wants to improve the employment prospects of black teens, and everyone else, he simply has to reverse his lethal policies on business and carbon. He has to allow companies to unleash their economic energy without having to fear the next EPA regulation, or the next new tax, or the absurd disincentives under Obamacare to hire the marginal worker.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama appears to be waging economic jihad against the capitalist goose that has laid the golden eggs. He's not going to give up his struggle to cripple the most productive economy in the history of the world, even if it means that almost half of black kids are denied an opportunity to develop skills and a work ethic needed to succeed in the workplace. To paraphrase Lenin, if you want to make a socialist omelet some eggs have to be sacrificed.

Mr. Obama sometimes seems to be Lenin with a charming smile. It's dismaying that so few in the black community are able to see it, or care enough to oppose what he's doing.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Third Way

A friend has on occasion stated wistfully that he wishes there were a tertium quid or third way between liberalism and conservatism. I understand his desire, I suppose, but I think the two poles he'd like to mediate between are not the two that a third way should mediate between.

In our contemporary situation we're faced with two stark alternatives. On one side beckons a radical individualism, a libertarianism that gives the individual complete moral autonomy and which eliminates, to the extent possible, government interference in one's life.

On the other are those, like our president and his epigones, who seduce us with the allure of cradle-to-grave security courtesy of an ever-expanding collectivist state which intrudes upon, or even controls, almost every aspect of our lives.

If these are the Scylla and Charybdis between which we must thread our way which of the political ideologies on offer is most likely to give us safe passage?

Philosopher Ed Feser, author of The Last Superstition, offers insight into this question in a chapter on ancient Greek philosophy. While discussing the errors of the pre-Socratics Feser delivers this aside:
Liberalism purports to offer a middle ground between radical individualism and collectivism, what it really gives is a diabolical synthesis of the two, a bureaucratically managed libertinism. Conservatism, which sees the family rather than the individual or society as a whole as the fundamental social unit, is the true "third way."
Precisely so. Liberalism is a false hope because so far from navigating between Scylla and Charybdis it actually blends the worst aspects of the two. Conservatism, by holding the family up as the focus of our political allegiance, dampens the allures of individualism while at the same time strengthening the individual to resist the coercions of the statists. As such it is the third way between radical individualism and totalitarian statism.

Readers not familiar with what I mean by the "coercions of the statists" might pick up Mark Levin's book Liberty and Tyranny (just after they finish In the Absence of God) and give it a read. It's a very helpful explanation of exactly what's at stake in the political and ideological struggles in which we are enmeshed, whether we wish to be or not.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Conversation on the Conversation

We see that the Democrats are calling, again, for a national conversation on race. That's understandable given that a conversation on almost any other topic would be an embarrassment for Democrats, but such a call is also futile.

It's futile because there are certain ground rules to these conversations that often cause them to devolve into lectures on what's wrong with white people. The rules require that whites sit by passively while being hectored by their liberal (black or white) mentors. This is as demeaning as it is unhelpful.

If a white interlocutor should have the temerity to violate the protocol and voice an opinion critical of blacks, as did Bill O'Reilly recently, he can expect to be informed at some point in the conversation either that he's a racist or that he has no business voicing such an opinion because he's not black. O'Reilly has had the pleasure, since committing his act of defiance, of being repeatedly indicted on both charges. Here are O'Reilly's comments which, dare I say it, sound completely sensible to me:
To seek to silence this sort of criticism by calling O'Reilly a racist or by invoking the rule that white men haven't the standing to complain about black problems is fatuous and certainly a conversation stopper, but that's the way these conversations on race always seem to go. It's as if white folks' role in such "discussions" is to just shut up and listen to what black folks tell them.

Here's Sherri Shepherd on The View giving us her version of this rule:
Ms. Shepherd's remark is absurd, of course, because it only applies to whites who criticize some aspect of the "black experience." It doesn't apply, apparently, to blacks who talk volubly enough about what's wrong with whites. Blacks evince little discernable hesitation, even though they're not white, to point out the shortcomings of white society. Would Ms Shepherd extend her rule to make such critiques illegitimate? Would she disallow the complaints of black shoppers who resent being carefully scrutinized by white storeowners even though the black shopper has never been a white storeowner? Would she insist that poor people who pay no income tax have no business commenting on government tax policies because they're not taxpayers? Would she maintain that unless one is a combatant in a war an individual has no right to complain about the conduct of the war? Where does Ms Shepherd draw the line? One suspects she draws it in a very tight circle around white criticism of blacks.

Anyway, any conversation on race in this country needs to focus on the fundamental question why it is that in black communities across the country, the needle is in the red on every measure of social dysfunction. Why is it that so few blacks form stable families? Why are black kids much more likely than kids in other groups to be fatherless, to drop out of school, to be in trouble with the law, to be unemployed, to be a burden on society?

Or, since those questions will almost certainly be aborted by howls of racism, as they were when O'Reilly asked them, or by application of what we might call the Shepherd rule which disqualifies any white from asking them because whites aren't black, let me suggest two other questions which should be explored in our "national conversation," but which almost assuredly won't be: What exactly is racism and why, exactly, is racial profiling, which is usually little more than mildly insulting or inconvenient (unless abused by police), so abhorrent?

An airing of these topics won't happen, though, because too many of those calling for a national conversation on race don't really want a conversation at all. If they did they wouldn't have any objection to O'Reilly's disquisition. What they want, actually, is to lecture the rest of us on race, to demand that we defer to their moral authority on the subject, to flagellate submissive whites with the lash of guilt, and they don't want to have to take questions.

Well, if those are the rules, I'm not playing.