Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Joe Klein?!

Joe Klein is a very liberal reporter from Time Magazine and even he is frustrated by the state of journalism at liberal television outlets like CNN and MSNBC:
The audience squirmed when Klein stated that Fox is the only place you can go at 6:00 to get straight news, but the audience reaction simply reflects the fact that so many people have never actually watched Fox. It really is the only one of the cable networks that presents the news as it should be presented.

It's true that the shows that come after 6:00 slant conservative either somewhat or a lot, and that some of the hosts are pretty hard to watch, even if the viewer is conservative (I'm thinking of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity in particular), but Fox's news shows are pretty much straight down the middle. Besides, as bad as Hannity and O'Reilly are they're certainly no worse than Chris Matthews, Ed Shultz, and the execrable Al Sharpton at MSNBC.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Racism, Real and Imagined

The nation is all aflutter over Cliven Bundy, Donald Sterling, and American racism. I'd like to throw in my two cents:

First, it's amazing to me that some people are concluding that the United States is still a racist country. How they can say this when the condemnation of Sterling has been virtually universal is beyond me. If the United States was a racist country then a lot of people would have just yawned. The outrage suggests that racism, at least public racism, is no longer tolerated in this society.

The lefty media, nevertheless, seems so desperate to find racism in American culture that they seized on the perfectly innocent but awkward sentiments of an elderly rancher named Cliven Bundy as an example of it. This was an exercise in absurdity. Bundy's only offense was social maladroitness. He's labelled a racist because he used the word "Negro" and "Mexicans," and wondered, clumsily to be sure, whether poor blacks were better off under slavery than they are if they're being subsidized by the government.

This was certainly an inept way to frame the question, but the essence of the query itself is legitimate: Are poor blacks as a whole better off today after sixty years of a war on poverty than they were before so many of them became wards of the state? In many ways the answer is surely no, and that's what Bundy was trying to say. The media, however, tried to burn him at the stake of political correctness for the sin of being terminologically unfashionable.

To criticize him for calling blacks "negroes" or calling Mexicans "Mexicans" is asinine. Martin Luther King called his co-racialists "negroes" and Mexicans are, well, Mexicans. People who made a big deal out of this, including some on the right like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, need to grow up.

As racists go, Donald Sterling, on the other hand, is the real deal, at least if the tape of his tirade with his girlfriend is genuine. If it is, Sterling's views are as bizarre as they are outrageous, but all they really demonstrate is that there are still among us a few octogenarian white racists with a lot of money, just as there are octogenarian black racists with a lot of money.

The fascinating thing about the Sterling brouhaha is that his racial views have been an open secret for years, but the media never said much about it. Indeed, he was to be awarded an NAACP lifetime achievement award in May even though he was a known bigot.

Why was he allowed to get away with his bigotry for so long? One reasonable guess is that he once supported Democrat candidates and causes. As anyone can attest who has observed the relatively forbearing media reaction to the fatuous remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - and the explicitly racist remarks by then Senator Joe Biden - about candidate Obama, as well as Bill Clinton's one man war on women, being on the right team earns one a lot of grace among liberals.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Media Finally Faces Reality

Michael Goodwin at The New York Post recounts the media's role in creating and propping up a failed presidency. After citing a few examples of critical stories in a formerly fawning media, Goodwin says this:
These accounts and others like them amount to an autopsy of a failed presidency, but the process won’t be complete unless it is completely honest. To meet that test, the Times, other liberal news organizations and leading Democrats, in and out of office, must come to grips with their own failures, as well.

Obama had a free hand to make a mess because they gave it to him. They cheered him on, supporting him with unprecedented gobs of money and near-unanimous votes. They said “aye” to any cockamamie concept he came up with, echoed his demonization of critics and helped steamroll unpopular and unworkable ideas into reality.

Some of his backers knew better, and said so privately, but publicly they were all in. Whether it was ObamaCare, his anti-Israel position or the soft-shoe shuffle around the Iranian nuke crisis, they lacked the courage to object.

They said nothing as Obama went on foreign apology tours and stood silent as our allies warned of disastrous consequences. Even now, despite protests from a succession of Pentagon leaders, former Democratic defense hawks are helping Obama hollow out our military as Russia and China expand theirs and al Qaeda extends its footprint.

A king is no king without a court, and Obama has not lacked for lackeys. The system of checks and balances is written into the Constitution, but it is the everyday behavior of Americans of good will that makes the system work.

That system broke down under Obama, and the blame starts with the media. By giving the president the benefit of the doubt at every turn, by making excuses to explain away fiascos, by ignoring corruption, by buying the White House line that his critics were motivated by pure politics or racism, the Times and other organizations played the role of bartender to a man on a bender.

Even worse, they joined the party, forgetting the lessons of history as well as their own responsibilities to put a check on power. A purpose of a free press is to hold government accountable, but there is no fallback when the watchdog voluntarily chooses to be a lapdog.

The sycophancy was not lost on other politicians and private citizens. Taking their cue from the media, they, too, bit their tongues and went along as the president led the nation astray and misread foreign threats.

From the start, support for Obama often had a cult-like atmosphere. He sensed it, began to believe it and became comfortable demanding total agreement as the price for the favor of his leadership.

That he is now the imperial president he used to bemoan is no long­er in dispute. The milking of perks, from golf trips to Florida to European vacations for the first lady, is shockingly vulgar, but not a peep of protest comes from his supporters.

The IRS becomes a political enforcer, but that, too, is accepted because nobody will risk their access by telling Obama no. You are either with him or you are his enemy.

Out of fear and favor, they abdicated their duty to the nation, and they must share the burden of history’s verdict. After all, America’s decline happened on their watch, too.
Mr. Obama, we were assured by a starstruck media, would be the political equivalent of Jackie Robinson, but Robinson earned his way into baseball history through his talent. Mr. Obama is not Jackie Robinson. He's more like Chauncey Gardner in the movie Being There. This is not so much a criticism of Barack Obama as it is of a media that elevated him to a role for which he was singularly unprepared.

The media was instrumental in getting a man elected to our nation's highest office who had no qualifications for the job and whose resumé, what he was willing to reveal of it, showed no genuine accomplishments. He had never been in a leadership position, never run anything, lacked any real experience in government or foreign policy, and never even had a serious job in the private sector. It was almost inevitable that he would founder and make a mess of both our relationships abroad and our economic and social life at home. The media by promoting him as a political messiah set him up for failure.

Now they seem to be giving up on Mr. Obama and preparing to do the same thing all over again with Hillary Clinton. What a country.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Punish the Rich

The new tome by Thomas Picketty, a French economist, has created a flurry of excitement on the Left because, inter alia, Picketty endorses a confiscatory tax on wealth in order to meliorate the huge disparity in income between the rich and everyone else.

I haven't read Picketty's book - it's 600 pages long - but apparently the 80% tax rate he endorses is not designed to bring in new revenue to the treasury since he acknowledges that it won't. Its intent, he admits, is to insure that there aren't any rich people.

Daniel Shuchman reviews Piketty's book at The Wall Street Journal. He writes:
So what is to be done? Mr. Piketty urges an 80% tax rate on incomes starting at "$500,000 or $1 million." This is not to raise money for education or to increase unemployment benefits. Quite the contrary, he does not expect such a tax to bring in much revenue, because its purpose is simply "to put an end to such incomes." It will also be necessary to impose a 50%-60% tax rate on incomes as low as $200,000 to develop "the meager US social state." There must be an annual wealth tax as high as 10% on the largest fortunes and a one-time assessment as high as 20% on much lower levels of existing wealth.
I'm no economist but you don't have to be one to predict what such thievery by the government would do. Every one of those wealthy targets would take their money offshore. There would be an enormous flight of capital which would mean less money for capital improvements and paying employees. Unemployment would rise and the nation's economic infrastructure would deteriorate. All this not to help anyone, but just to punish people. Seizing the wealth of the rich has been the Left's dream ever since Marx, and they'll keep bringing it up, just like they have done with socialized medicine, until they someday achieve the political power to implement it. Achieving what's best for the country is not their goal. Their goal is to destroy the rich for no reason other than they're rich.

Picketty's candid admission quoted above is shared almost universally among leftists. For them it's a moral crusade although why people who are mostly secularists think there's anything "wrong" with being rich is an interesting question in itself.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman, a southpaw economist who writes for the New York Times, who decries income disparity, who praises Picketty's book, and who himself dreams of "redistributing the wealth," has taken a sinecure at CUNY for a hefty $225,000 a year.

These folks on the Left must be tone deaf to both hypocrisy and irony. The role for which Krugman will be paid such a princely sum, a stipend the average New Yorker would have to work years to accumulate, is ostensibly to study, of all things, income inequality.

He'll certainly be well-situated to research it, and he can be depended upon to declare what a terrible thing it is while happily perpetuating it.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Craig-Carroll Debate

A couple of weeks ago Christian philosopher William Lane Craig debated naturalist cosmologist Sean Carroll on the question whether theism or atheism is the best explanation for the existence and nature of our universe. It was a fascinating exchange, sometimes a bit too technical, but often accessible enough to laypersons to make it edifying.

If you're not inclined to watch the whole thing I recommend Craig's initial presentation of the kalam cosmological and the teleological arguments. His presentation is succinct and lucid.
Craig usually makes short work of his debate opponents but Carroll was much more formidable than anyone I've seen Craig debate in the past. Even so, I don't think Carroll, for all his brilliance and eloquence, really came to grips with Craig's arguments, but others will certainly have a different take on it.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

White Privilege, White Guilt

Dennis Prager opens a recent column at NRO with a provocative image:
When Americans over the age of, let us say, 45 look at any of the iconic paintings of America’s Founders — the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the signing of the Constitution, George Washington crossing the Delaware, any of the individual portraits of the Founders — what do they see?

They see great men founding a great country.

If you ask many recent college graduates what they see when they look at these paintings, the chances are that it is something entirely different.

They are apt to see rich, white males who are not great and who did not found a great country. And for many, it is worse than that. These men are not only not great; they are morally quite flawed in that they were slaveholders, or at least founded a country based on slavery. Moreover, they were not only all racists — they were all sexists, who restricted the vote to males. And they were rich men who were primarily concerned with protecting their wealth, which is why they restricted the vote to landowners.

In the past, Americans overwhelmingly saw the images of our Founders as pictures of greatness. Increasingly, only conservatives do. More and more Americans — the entire Left and many of those who attended universities and were indoctrinated by left-wing professors — now see rich, white, self-interested males.

The left-wing trinity of race, gender, class has prevailed. The new dividing lines are no longer good and bad or excellent and mediocre but white and non-white, male and female, and rich and poor. Instead of seeing great human beings in those paintings of the Founders, Americans have been taught to see rich, white (meaning by definition selfish, bigoted, racist, sexist) males.

In colleges throughout America students are taught to have disdain for the white race. I know this sounds incredible, or at least exaggerated. It is neither.
Prager supports this claim with several examples. Here's one:
Regarding white privilege, last year, three academics at the University of Rhode Island wrote in a letter to the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The American Psychological Association’s educational goals for the psychology major include sociocultural and international awareness, with learning outcomes regarding mastery of concepts related to power and privilege. Other professional organizations, including the American Sociological Association, have developed similar learning goals for teaching in higher education. Instructors have been charged with teaching their white students to understand their own privileged positions in society relative to those of marginalized groups.
The key point here is that the word “values” never appears. Instead of asking what values made America’s Founders great, the Left asks what race, gender, and class privileges enabled them to found America. Instead of asking what values does the white majority (or, for that matter, on some campuses, the Asian majority) live by in order to succeed, and how can we help inculcate those values in more less-successful people of all racial and ethnic groups, the Left asks what privileges whites have that enable them to get into colleges and graduate at a higher rate than blacks and Latinos.
Prager is correct to point to the indifference toward values which are, in any case, considered to be merely an atavism of white male patriarchy, but I think there's something else just as insidious at play in all this. It's the attempt to make white students feel guilty for being white. Make a man feel guilty and you can dominate him, and that's the goal of the Left. Make whiteness a mortal sin for which the bearer must seek repeated absolution from the politico-cultural priesthood, which is invariably leftist, and he'll be putty in your hands.

Moreover, it's an attempt to somehow rationalize the inadequacies of those who cannot compete in an academic setting. By focusing on race, gender, and privilege the message is sent to those who find themselves languishing in academic purgatory that it's not their fault, they're victims of a racist, sexist, classist society. This is a toxic message to send to young people, but it's the message the Left reinforces in a multitude of ways every day.

Prager goes on to give a particularly disturbing example of the rejection of values and rules rooted in "white ways of doing things." This rejection, it seems to me, is a tacit admission of inadequacy and incompetence. When people can't compete by playing by the rules they'll mask their failure any way they can. Unfortunately, some on the Left think this is as it should be. You can read about the farce to which I refer at the link.

Some years ago I wrote a response to a student who displayed precisely this sense of guilt at what she thought was her privileged status. The response is here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Saletan's Modest Proposal

A friend once asked why I opposed disclosing and publicizing political donations. I replied that such disclosures make targets of people for those who would destroy them because of their political convictions. The recent resignation of Brendan Eich at Mozilla is a fine example of how this works. The LA Times published a list of people who donated money to groups fighting to keep the definition of marriage what it has always been and Eich's name turned up on the list. The employees of Mozilla and the board of directors felt that such a man could not lead their company despite his many other virtues, and they forced his resignation.

Will Saletan at Slate is evidently not satisfied. In a column he later said was supposed to be a satire he calls for similar measures against everyone who opposes gay marriage. The column may be a satire, but if so, it's a very poorly written example. Satire is obviously satirical, and Saletan's column is not at all obvious. Here's some of what he said. You decide:
Some of my colleagues are celebrating. They call Eich a bigot who got what he deserved. I agree. But let’s not stop here. If we’re serious about enforcing the new standard, thousands of other employees who donated to the same anti-gay ballot measure must be punished.

More than 35,000 people gave money to the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that declared, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” You can download the entire list, via the Los Angeles Times, as a compressed spreadsheet. Each row lists the donor’s employer. If you organize the data by company, you can add up the total number of donors and dollars that came from people associated with that company.

The first thing you’ll notice, if you search for Eich, is that he’s the only Mozilla employee who gave to the campaign for Prop 8. His $1,000 was more than canceled out by three Mozilla employees who donated to the other side.

The next thing you’ll notice is that other companies, including other tech firms, substantially outscored Mozilla in pro-Prop 8 contributions attributed to their employees. That includes Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo, as well as Disney, DreamWorks, Gap, and Warner Bros.

Thirty-seven companies in the database are linked to more than 1,300 employees who gave nearly $1 million in combined contributions to the campaign for Prop 8. Twenty-five tech companies are linked to 435 employees who gave more than $300,000. Many of these employees gave $1,000 apiece, if not more. Some, like Eich, are probably senior executives.

Why do these bigots still have jobs? Let’s go get them.

To organize the next stage of the purge, I’ve compiled the financial data into three tables.
Saletan follows with charts which show the donations of employees of various organizations which donated to pro-prop 8 organizations. He closes with this:
If we’re serious about taking down corporate officers who supported Proposition 8, and boycotting employers who promote them, we'd better get cracking on the rest of the list. Otherwise, perhaps we should put down the pitchforks.
Whether he was serious or not, not a few of his commenters took him seriously. It reflects an inquisitorial mindset that refuses to tolerate opinions which differ from one's own. If the dissenter can be punished, he must be. That's why I think political donations should be just as secret as one's ballot. There is in our society, particularly on the left, a broad streak of fascism, people who agree with Saletan's "modest proposal" and who would seek vengeance on those who think otherwise. We need to be protected from them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"You Can't Keep Your Crappy Plan"

Jay Cost at The Weekly Standard lays out five reasons why so many people oppose Obamacare. Each of these is explained in detail at the link.
#1: Obamacare has no legitimate funding mechanism.
#2: Obamacare has created a socially perverse array of winners and losers.
#3: Obamacare restricts choices and increases costs.
#4: Obamacare hurts businesses.
#5: Obamacare is probably unsustainable ... in the long run.
Cost concludes his piece with this comment:
[A]ny one of these objections would merit virtually uniform opposition from conservatives to Obamacare. But take them all together, and most American conservatives have arrived at the same conclusion: this law is fatally flawed, must be repealed entirely, and replaced with something that is sustainable and not overly burdensome to taxpayers, middle class families, or businesses. After all, fixing each of these problems would result in a new law that bears only the faintest resemblance to Obamacare as it is today.

Moreover, a lot of conservatives believe that liberals have the exact same opinion. While publicly applauding the expansion of coverage, some of them must understand the grave problems inherent to this law. This helps explain the sense on the right that, for liberals, this is simply a stalking horse for single payer: first, sign up new people under a federal entitlement that cannot practically be taken away, then deal with the various harms to middle class voters, burdens on businesses, and extreme cost overruns … by proposing “Medicare for all.”
Cost's argument is impressive for its depth and rigor, so how do supporters of the Affordable Care Act answer it? Well, in some liberal enclaves, like MSNBC, the response looks like this.

"You can't keep your crappy plan so just deal with it." You go girl. That'll get a lot of people on your side come November.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Not Born That Way

Are gays and lesbians born that way? Surprisingly, at least to me, many LGBT scholars are answering with a resounding "No." David Benkoff, who is himself a gay writer, has an interesting piece on this featured at The Daily Caller. Here's his lede:
Virtually no serious person disputes that in our society, people generally experience their gay or straight orientations as unchosen and unchangeable. But the LGBT community goes further, portraying itself as a naturally arising subset of every human population, with homosexuality being etched into some people’s DNA.

Are gays indeed born that way? The question has immense political, social, and cultural repercussions. For example, some of the debate over applying the Constitution’s equal protection clause to gays and lesbians focuses on whether gayness is an inborn characteristic. And the major argument gays and lesbians have made for religious affirmation has been, “God made me this way.”

Thus, if it’s proven sexual orientations are not innate, much of the scaffolding upon which today’s LGBT movement has been built would begin to crumble. Given the stakes, most gays and lesbians are dismissive or hostile toward anyone who doesn’t think being gay is an essential, natural characteristic of some members of the human race. But a surprising group of people doesn’t think that – namely, scholars of gay history and anthropology. They’re almost all LGBT themselves, and they have decisively shown that gayness is a product of Western society originating about 150 years ago.
In what follows Benkoff reviews much of what these scholars are saying about whether homosexuality is innate or socially constructed and concludes that overwhelming evidence supports the latter.

He writes:
Journalists trumpet every biological study that even hints that gayness and straightness might be hard-wired, but they show little interest in the abundant social-science research showing that sexual orientation cannot be innate. The scholars I interviewed for this essay were variously dismayed or appalled by this trend.

For example, historian Dr. Martin Duberman, founder of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, said “no good scientific work establishes that people are born gay or straight.” And cultural anthropologist Dr. Esther Newton (University of Michigan) called one study linking sexual orientation to biological traits ludicrous: “Any anthropologist who has looked cross-culturally (knows) it’s impossible that that’s true, because sexuality is structured in such different ways in different cultures.”

While biology certainly plays a role in sexual behavior, no “gay gene” has been found, and whatever natural-science data exists for inborn sexual orientations is preliminary and disputed. So to date, the totality of the scholarly research on homosexuality indicates gayness is much more socio-cultural than biological.
Homosexuals, both male and female, as well as their sympathizers, are likely to resist arguments like Benkoff's. If homosexual behavior is not genetically determined but is freely chosen then it has a moral dimension and this is problematic for a lot of gays. Indeed, one reason why some gays are hostile to the Catholic church (and some protestant denominations) is because they insist on holding gays morally accountable for their behavior, and they persist in viewing that behavior as sinful.

Benkoff thinks there's nothing wrong with being gay, of course, but if he's correct that homosexual behavior is chosen and not genetically determined then those who wish to say that there's something morally deficient in it have been handed a victory in at least that aspect of the overall controversy.

Read the rest of his article at the link.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Miracle

As we approach Easter and the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus many moderns voice serious doubts or even scoff at the notion that a miracle such as a dead man returning to life is credible. Miracles, many believe, are impossible. This would be true, perhaps, if we knew a priori that there is no God, but if it's possible that God exists then it's certainly the case that miracles are possible.

One objection to miracles is raised by the scientifically-minded who argue that a miracle would require either an input of energy to, or a subtraction of energy from, the universe. This, it's argued, would violate the law of conservation of energy and, since the laws of physics are inviolable, miracles are impossible.

There are at least three things wrong with this argument, however. First, it's not at all clear that the laws of nature are "inviolable." It may be that we can't violate them, but that doesn't mean that the Being which created them can't suspend them or override them should he so choose.

Second, it's not clear that a miracle actually is a violation of a law of nature. Physical laws are simply statements about the way nature operates so far as we have observed it. Suppose there is a law of nature that says that once a person has been truly dead for three days they do not return to life unless God wills it. If that were the proper formulation of the law then instances of resurrection would be exceedingly rare, so rare as to never be noticed by those who codify the laws of physics. Yet it would certainly be possible that on some few occasions, particularly in the case of Jesus, God wills a revivification, and, if so, a revivification would not be a violation of the law at all.

Thirdly, it turns out that the claim that a miracle violates the law of conservation of energy is false. On cosmic scales energy isn't conserved. Cosmologist Luke Barnes calls this "the dirty secret of cosmology."

Perhaps objections to miracles are really rooted in nothing more substantive than an argument from personal incredulity on the part of skeptics. They simply can't imagine the world being the kind of place where miracles are possible. Or, perhaps they don't want the world to be that kind of place. Miracles, being acts initiated by a supernatural agent, are incompatible with their naturalistic worldview and therefore, they reason, miracles must be ruled out.

In any case, the most consequential miracle in the history of the human race, if it indeed happened, will be celebrated tomorrow. It is The Miracle. For a relatively brief summary of the reasons for believing it did, in fact, happen and a consideration of popular alternative explanations see this post.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Radical Altruism

Damon Linker argues at The Week that self-sacrifice is inexplicable on naturalism. Naturalism rests heavily upon evolutionary explanations of behavior, but cases like that of Thomas Vander Woude simply don't fit the narrative:
[C]onsider Thomas S. Vander Woude, the subject of an unforgettable 2011 article by the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. One day in September 2008, Vander Woude's 20-year-old son Josie, who has Down syndrome, fell through a broken septic tank cover in their yard. The tank was eight feet deep and filled with sewage. After trying and failing to rescue his son by pulling on his arm from above, Vander Woude jumped into the tank, held his breath, dove under the surface of the waste, and hoisted his son onto his shoulders. Josie was rescued a few minutes later. By then his 66-year-old father was dead.

This is something that any father, atheist or believer, might do for his son. But only the believer can make sense of the deed.

Pick your favorite non-theistic theory: Rational choice and other economically based accounts hold that people act to benefit themselves in everything they do. From that standpoint, Vander Woude — like the self-sacrificing soldier or firefighter — was a fool who incomprehensibly placed the good of another ahead of his own.

Other atheistic theories similarly deny the possibility of genuine altruism, reject the possibility of free will, or else, like some forms of evolutionary psychology, posit that when people sacrifice themselves for others (especially, as in the Vander Woude case, for their offspring) they do so in order to strengthen kinship ties, and in so doing maximize the spread of their genes throughout the gene pool.

But of course, as someone with Down syndrome, Vander Woude's son is probably sterile and possesses defective genes that, judged from a purely evolutionary standpoint, deserve to die off anyway. So Vander Woude's sacrifice of himself seems to make him, once again, a fool.

Things are no better in less extreme cases. If Josie were a genius, his father's sacrifice might be partially explicable in evolutionary terms — as an act designed to ensure that his own and his son's genes survive and live on beyond them both. But the egoistic explanation would drain the act of its nobility, which is precisely what needs to be explained.

We feel moved by Vander Woude's sacrifice precisely because it seems selfless — the antithesis of evolutionary self-interestedness.

But why is that? What is it about the story of a man who willingly embraces a revolting, horrifying death in order to save his son that moves us to tears? Why does it seem somehow, like a beautiful painting or piece of music, a fleeting glimpse of perfection in an imperfect world?
Linker's answer is that such acts of radical altruism give us a fleeting glimpse of the nature of God. Read the rest of his argument at the link. It's a fitting meditation for the Easter season.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Significance of Good Friday

The following is a meditation I've posted on several Good Fridays over the years:

I sit at my computer on this Good Friday listening to Bach's St. Matthew's Passion and Henryk Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, looking forward to this evening when I have a "date" with my daughter to watch Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, and I wonder. I wonder if I, or anyone, can possibly understand the significance of Good Friday. Can I ever comprehend what it means that God, the creator of worlds, would care enough about me to endure what He did, so that I could have the hope that death does not have the final word about human life.

My existence, the existence of each of us, is astonishing enough. That mere matter could be so arranged as to generate a consciousness, a self-awareness, a rational mind, is, when one thinks about it, a truly amazing thing. That this consciousness might survive death in another reality, another world, is even more astounding. For some it's too astounding to be credible.

And yet if it's true...if it's in fact true that our eternal survival is a gift from God, purchased by Jesus Christ at a cost we may never be able to fully appreciate, it is a breath-taking, ineffable truth.

Some people think the Christian narrative is simply the apotheosis of an ancient myth, that a truly sophisticated, omniscient God would have found some way other than a primitive blood sacrifice to usher us into eternal joy. I don't know if there were other means at God's disposal or not, but it seems to me that the way the Bible tells us He chose is perfect for what He wanted to accomplish.

In the Christian account, God made us as an object of His love. He desires to live in a love relationship with us, but for whatever reason we often want no part of such a relationship. It's too confining, it involves too much self-abnegation, it entails too much of a constraint on our Dionysian appetites, it's too much of an affront to our pride, reason and dignity. Confident in our independence, we don't need God. In our autonomy we distort God's purposes and design plan for human life in order to suit and pursue our own selfish ends.

Nevertheless, God would not be dissuaded or put off. He persists in His relentless attempts to show us that all of our rationalizations for demanding our Promethean emancipation are just so many childish and foolish masks we put on to conceal the fact that we just don't want Him in our lives. He chooses to woo us to Himself not with threats or fear but with love. He chooses to demonstrate in an extraordinarily vivid way that His love for us is deeper than we could ever imagine.

To this end he does something totally unexpected and supererogatory. He becomes a man like one of us, shares in our humanity, our sufferings and joys, and ultimately endures the pain and horror of crucifixion. His life and death is the price that He is willing to pay, for reasons that we cannot understand this side of eternity, to secure eternal life and to make it available to everyone. He didn't have to do it, He could have left us alone to destroy ourselves and our planet, to fade into the cosmic oblivion that rejection of our Creator would have warranted. But because He did do it, He shows us not only that He is not simply some abstract deity, too transcendent to matter, but that He is personal and immanent, and that His love is not just a theoretical exercise, but has consequences which can change a life now and forever.

Charles Dickens captures something of the Divine love in the climax of his Tale of Two Cities when he has Sydney Carton, moved by his deep love for Lucie, smuggle himself into prison to take the place of Charles Darnay, the man Lucie really loves, knowing full well that his love is ultimately going to bring him to the guillotine. Carton substitutes himself for Charles and goes to the death to which Charles was sentenced in an expression of almost superhuman love.

Out of the depths of His love, God substituted Himself for us, submitting to torture and humiliation at the hands of His own creation, and enduring a horrific death so that we could live. He asks of us in return only our love.

We are in the position of a man clinging by his fingers to the edge of a cliff and slowly, inexorably losing his grip. The abyss of nihilism, of meaninglessness, emptiness and death, lies far below, but because of the cross there's a chance to be rescued. God stands above the struggling man, kneels and holds out His hand, urging the man to seize it. It's up to the man about to die, it's up to us, to accept the rescue that God offers. God has done all He can to persuade us, but He won't force us to grasp His hand. He won't override our will. He allows us to make the final decision whether to live or die.

That, at any rate, is the best I can do to explain my own wholly inadequate understanding of the Christian story and the meaning of Good Friday.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Flat Tax

Yesterday was tax deadline day and Bill Whittle, the "virtual president," observed the occasion by making a succinct case for a flat tax. God bless him:
One of the key points in this video, in my opinion, was the statistic on how much of the tax burden is born by the top 1%, top 5%, and everyone else. When half the country pays no income tax they really have no investment in the country. That's not a good situation - for them or for the country.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Other Shoe Is About to Drop

Betsy McCaughey is an expert on health care issues who has been highly critical of Obamacare. In a column in the New York Post she warns that the worst is yet to come. Insurance companies will be rolling out their new policies in June and McCaughey predicts that it will not be pretty. She highlights four big problems that will emerge over the coming year: Premium defaults, premium increases, loss of on-the-job coverage, and loss of cancer care coverage. Here's a summary of each of her points:

Premium Defaults: Twenty percent of the alleged 7.5 million people who have signed up in the exchanges have not paid their first premium and aren't covered, but that's not the worst of it:
The bigger question is how many will keep paying premiums. That’s got the American Medical Association, a chief ObamaCare booster, so worried that it’s sending warnings to its members.

Why the concern? First-time insurance purchasers, especially those living paycheck to paycheck, will be shocked by ObamaCare’s high deductibles, about $3,000 for the silver plan (the most commonly selected) and $5,000 for the bronze plan (the most affordable).

Basically, you’ll have to pay thousands out of pocket for appointments, tests and prescriptions until you reach your deductible.

Rather than pay thousands out of pocket for care while also paying premiums, some will quit paying premiums.

That’s why the AMA is worried. Section 1412 of the health law gives consumers a 90-day “grace period” before their subsidized plan is canceled for nonpayment. But insurers only have to keep paying doctors and hospitals for 30 days. The next 60 days of care are on the care provider. The AMA says “it could pose a significant financial risk for medical practices.”
Not only will the deductibles be a shock to consumers, so will the premium hikes which come out in June:
Overall, consumers had to pay far more for individual plans this year. In some states (Delaware and New Hampshire), rates went up 90 percent or even 100 percent, according to a newly released Morgan Stanley analysis.

And insurance executives already are warning about double- or triple-digit hikes for next year. “I do think it’s likely premium-rate shocks are coming,” said Chet Burrell, CEO of Care First BlueCross BlueShield. Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, one of the first to raise the alarm, said increases “could go as high as 100 percent.”
Meanwhile, 25 million to 30 million Americans could lose coverage in the coming months:
For the same reasons that millions of policies in the individual market were canceled last year, employers who buy plans in the small-group market will have a hard time renewing their old plans this year. Many will have to choose between providing the more costly ObamaCare benefit package or dropping coverage altogether.

Count on employers with low-wage work forces (such as retailers, hoteliers and restaurateurs) to push employees and their families into the exchanges.
And if you have cancer your access to good treatment will be restricted:
Cancer is the leading cause of death in America and our No. 1 health fear. But access to the nation’s top cancer centers is becoming a hot-button issue, as ObamaCare enrollees are finding how few choices of hospitals and doctors they have.

Many plans exclude all specialty cancer hospitals, even though research shows that women with ovarian cancer, for example, live a year longer when they are treated at high-volume cancer hospitals instead of local facilities. But insurers say they’d have to raise premiums for exchange plans even higher if this growing outrage over access to cancer centers forces them to broaden their networks.
If McCaughey's analysis turns out to be correct, it's hard to see how Mr. Obama's signature achievement, Obamacare, will not go down in history as a national calamity.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Academic Justice

A recent column by New York Times columnist Russ Douthat calls our attention to an article written last February by a Harvard senior for the university paper The Crimson. The student's name is Sandra Korn and she illustrates perfectly the left-wing progressive mindset.

Ms Korn thinks academic freedom is a bad thing and should be replaced in academia by what she calls "academic justice," which, given her description of it, is the exact opposite of both "academic" and "justice." In Ms Korn's view "justice" pretty much means "agreeing with her." Here's her introduction:
In July 1971, Harvard psychology professor Richard J. Herrnstein penned an article for Atlantic Monthly titled “I.Q.” in which he endorsed the theories of UC Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen, who had claimed that intelligence is almost entirely hereditary and varies by race. Herrnstein further argued that because intelligence was hereditary, social programs intended to establish a more egalitarian society were futile—he wrote that “social standing [is] based to some extent on inherited differences among people.”

When he returned to campus for fall semester 1971, Herrnstein was met by angry student activists. Harvard-Radcliffe Students for a Democratic Society protested his introductory psychology class with a bullhorn and leaflets. They tied up Herrnstein’s lectures with pointed questions about scientific racism. SDS even called for Harvard to fire Herrnstein, along with another of his colleagues, sociologist Christopher Jencks.

Did SDS activists at Harvard infringe on Herrnstein’s academic freedom? The answer might be that yes, they did—but that’s not the most important question to ask. Student and faculty obsession with the doctrine of “academic freedom” often seems to bump against something I think much more important: academic justice.
We might pause at this point to ask this question: What if an unpopular view like Herrnstein's happens to be true? Truth seems not to matter to academic brownshirts like Ms Korn. Nor does it seem to occur to her that she might not be in possession of the truth herself and might have something to learn from someone who has actually been around a few decades longer than she has. This is all obfuscation, however, to progressives like Ms Korn. Herrnstein and those like him shouldn't be allowed to promote their views in the university because left-wing progressives find those views deplorable. She states:
If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.
Has it occurred to Ms Korn that preventing people from pursuing the truth is also a form of oppression? Isn't it oppressive to deprive people of the freedom to voice their opinions? Is not Ms Korn herself "justifying oppression" of a different sort? All of which raises a further question. What if, per impossible, the university were to consider the views of Ms Korn to be insidiously harmful to the values Americans cherish? Would the university be warranted in shutting her up? Would silencing her be an act of academic justice?
The power to enforce academic justice comes from students, faculty, and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to do....Only those who care about justice can take the moral upper hand.

It is tempting to decry frustrating restrictions on academic research as violations of academic freedom. Yet I would encourage student and worker organizers to instead use a framework of justice. After all, if we give up our obsessive reliance on the doctrine of academic freedom, we can consider more thoughtfully what is just.
Well, since Ms Korn is concerned about the "moral upper hand" let's ask this question: At a secular institution like Harvard, run, no doubt, by secular progressives like Ms Korn, what exactly is the "moral upper hand"? Indeed, what is her conception of justice? Secularists like to throw around words like "morality" and "justice" while simultaneously dismissing the idea that these terms actually mean anything.

When we peel away progressive rhetoric what we find is that "moral" is whatever the left thinks is just, and "justice" is whatever leftist cause happens to be in fashion on any given day. Beyond this the words mean nothing. They have no objective significance because they have no objective ground.

Only a justice rooted in a transcendent, perfectly good, moral authority - the God of Christian theism, for example - can carry any obligation to observe its strictures. If God is disregarded, as the left generally insists he be, then justice is reduced to nothing more than a term that packs a rhetorical wallop, but actually refers to nothing more than one's subjective preferences.

A well-known twentieth century progressive, the Russian dictator and mass murderer Vladimir Lenin, put it this way: "We repudiate all morality (i.e. concepts of justice) that proceeds from supernatural ideas....[Justice] is entirely subordinate to the interests of class war. Everything is [just] that is necessary to the annihilation of the old exploiting social order and for uniting the proletariat."

To which Ms Korn presumably lends her enthusiastic assent.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

All Cultures Are Not Equal

I was away most of the last couple of days so I thought I'd run a piece from the archives that dovetails with a couple of recent posts. This one's from December 27, 2010:

Paul Marshall is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. He studies the persecution of Christians and has a very sobering piece at National Review Online on the atrocities many Christian believers are forced to suffer around the globe. One wonders why there's not an international outcry against the sort of brutal oppression he recounts. It certainly doesn't seem to have triggered the same sort of response that, say, the deaths of a half dozen terrorists at the hands of Israelis attempting to enforce an embargo would trigger.

I copy Marshall's full essay here because it just seems too important to interrupt by having the reader go to the link. I hope he and NRO don't mind. Please read it all:
Herod has his current imitators. In 1991, China’s state-run press noted the role of the churches in undercutting Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, adding that if China did “not want such a scene to be repeated in its land, it must strangle the baby while it is still in the manger.” Al-Qaeda has declared that all Middle Eastern Christians should be killed, and many Christians in Iraq have canceled their Christmas celebrations lest they be targeted.

Others, while less explicit, have similar ends. Iran has passed a death sentence on Yousef Nadarkhani, pastor of the Full Gospel Church of Iran congregation in the northern city of Rasht. Nadarkhani became a Christian 16 years ago and was arrested on October 12, 2009, after protesting a government decision that his son must study the Koran. On Sept. 21 and 22, 2010, the Eleventh Chamber of the Assizes Court of Gilan Province said that he was guilty of apostasy and sentenced him to death for leaving Islam. (Apostasy is not a crime under any Iranian statute — the judges simply referred to the opinions of Iranian legal scholars).

Another Iranian Christian pastor, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, may face a similar fate. He was arrested on June 6, 2010, and is still being held even though his detention order expired in October.

In Afghanistan, after a TV program showed video of indigenous Christians worshiping last May, many Christians were forced to flee, and as many as 25 were arrested. One of those arrested was Said Musa, a father of six young children, who had converted to Christianity eight years previous. He had stepped on a landmine while serving in the Afghan Army and now has a prosthetic leg. Musa had worked for the Red Cross/Red Crescent for 15 years, fitting patients for prosthetic limbs — it was after going to their office in Kabul on May 31 to request leave that he was arrested.

The prosecutor, Din Mohammad Quraishi, said Musa was accused of conversion to another religion. In early June, the deputy secretary of the Afghan parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, said that “those Afghans that appeared on this video film should be executed in public.” The authorities forced Musa to renounce Christianity on television, but he has continued to say he is a Christian. In the first months of his detention, he suffered sexual abuse, beatings, mockery, and sleep deprivation because of his faith. He appeared, shackled, before a judge on November 27. No Afghan lawyer will defend him and, in early December, authorities denied him access to a foreign lawyer.

Another Afghan Christian, Shoib Assadullah, was arrested on October 21, 2010, for giving a copy of the New Testament to a man, and is being held in Mazar-e-Sharif. As with Musa, no Afghan lawyer has agreed to defend him, and both will probably face charges of apostasy, a crime that is punishable by death under the government’s version of sharia. As the State Department’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report notes, religious freedom in Afghanistan has diminished “particularly for Christian groups and individuals.”

One of the most ignored stories of 2010 has been the campaign by the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab militia in Somalia to kill all Somali Christians on the grounds that they are apostates. They have even beheaded Christians’ children. In one of the latest incidents, 17-year-old girl Nurta Mohamed Farah fled her village of Bardher in the Gedo Region after her parents shackled her to a tree and tortured her for leaving Islam. She went to the Galgadud Region to live with relatives, but shortly after, she was shot in the head and the chest and died.

Not content with killing people, on December 16, al-Shabab destroyed a Christian library they found in a derelict farm in the Luuq district — Christians often bury their Bibles and other books to escape detection. International Christian Concern reports that al-Shabab brought Bibles, Christian books, and audio/video materials to the city center and burned them after noon prayers.

At Christmas, we should remember these churches, each of which continues to grow, and remember these prisoners and others like them. Assadullah emphasizes that he “wants others to know that he is not frightened, and that his faith is strong.” Musa writes that “because the Holy Spirit always with me my situation is not bad until now. I see after what the plan of God is with me.”
It's a symptom of intellectual insecurity, I suppose, that people are so threatened by another belief system, one that does them no harm and has certainly done them much good, that they'll seek to kill those who adhere to it. It's a symptom not only of stupidity but also of savagery and barbarism.

Perhaps the best reason for pulling our troops and aid out of Afghanistan, indeed the toughest question that I've seen posed by advocates of getting out now, is Why should American soldiers be fighting and dying for people like these? That's a hard one to answer.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hirsi Ali and Liberal Core Values

By now you've probably heard about the contretemps surrounding Brandeis University's decision, under President Frederick Lawrence, to rescind its offer of an honorary doctorate degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. For those who may not know, Ali was a Somali girl who suffered a clitorectomy when she was young and was later married off against her will to a cousin living in Canada. En route to Canada via Germany, she took a train to the Netherlands and stayed. Eventually she ran for parliament and won.

She and another member of parliament, Theo van Gogh, great grandson of the famous artist, spoke out strongly against Islamic hatred and violence. Van Gogh was murdered in the street by a Muslim man who stuck a note in van Gogh's chest with a knife threatening Ali with the same fate. Here's Mark Steyn writing about her a number of years ago:
She lives under armed guard and was forced to abandon the Netherlands because quite a lot of people want to kill her. And not in the desultory behead-the-enemies-of-Islam you-will-die-infidel pro forma death-threats-R-us way that many of us have perforce gotten used to in recent years: her great friend and professional collaborator was murdered in the streets of Amsterdam by a man who shot him eight times, attempted to decapitate him, and then drove into his chest two knives, pinning to what was left of him a five-page note pledging to do the same to her.

What would you do in those circumstances? Would you be [going out in public] with a price on your head? Or would you duck out of sight, lie low, change your name, move to New Zealand, and hope one day to get your life back? After the threats against the Comedy Central show South Park the other week, Ms. Hirsi Ali turned up on CNN to say that the best defence against Islamic intimidation is for us all to stand together and thereby "share the risk." But, around the world, every single translator of her books has insisted on total anonymity. When push comes to shove, very few are willing to share the risk.
Ali resigned from parliament when it was discovered that she had made false statements when she originally entered the country. Under constant threat of death for her outspoken criticisms of Islam and her apostasy (she became an atheist) she fled to the U.S. where she's accompanied by bodyguards twenty four hours a day. Still, despite the threats, she speaks out. She's a woman of incredible courage, a courage that dwarfs the pusillanimous administration of Brandeis University which sniffs that she doesn't reflect their "core values" because she once called Islam a “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”

Here's an example of the sort of thing Ali has been inveighing against. It's an illustration of what's happening to Christians throughout the Muslim world. This young Saudi girl, according to the source, had her eye and lips sewn shut because she had the impertinence to declare out loud in the presence of her Muslim employer, that Jesus was her savior.
Because Ali has had the courage to publicly condemn atrocities like this, and the beliefs which motivate them, Brandeis has decided that she is at odds with their "core values." One wonders what sort of values these might be with which Ali is in conflict.

You can find more commentary on Brandeis' decision to withdraw its offer to award Ali an honorary degree here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The 77% Factoid

On Tuesday of this week President Obama delivered himself of a claim that he's made several times in the past. He asserted that,
Today, the average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns…in 2014, that’s an embarrassment. It is wrong.
He obviously intended to give the impression that there's a fundamental injustice in how men and women are compensated in the American workplace, but surely he knows better.

The Washington Post's fact checker Glenn Kessler explains. Here are a few excerpts:
June O’Neill, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who has been a critic of the 77-cent statistic, has noted that the wage gap is affected by a number of factors, including that the average woman has less work experience than the average man and that more of the weeks worked by women are part-time rather than full-time. Women also tend to leave the work force for periods in order to raise children, seek jobs that may have more flexible hours but lower pay and choose careers that tend to have lower pay.

When such differences are accounted for, much of the hourly wage gap dwindled, to about 5 cents on the dollar.

Indeed, BLS data show that women who do not get married have virtually no wage gap; they earn 96 cents for every dollar a man makes.
One study, for example, found that nine of the ten most remunerative college majors were dominated by men while nine of the ten least remunerative majors were dominated by women.

Not only does wittingly citing bogus statistics do nothing to engender confidence in the President's integrity it also made him look derisible when it was discovered that the wage disparity between men and women working in the White House is greater than it is in Washington as a whole:
McClatchy newspapers did the math and reported that when the same standards that generated the 77-cent figure were applied to White House salaries, women overall at the White House make 91 cents for every dollar men make. White House spokesman Jay Carney protested that the review “looked at the aggregate of everyone on staff, and that includes from the most junior levels to the most senior.” But that’s exactly what the Census Department does.
Kessler concludes that,
Unless women stop getting married and having children, and start abandoning careers in childhood education for naval architecture, this huge gap in wages will almost certainly persist. Democrats thus can keep bringing it up every two years.
There's a gap, but it's hardly the embarrassment the President claims it is. Indeed, the embarrassment is that despite having been repeatedly corrected on this factoid he persists in trotting it out. One might be forgiven for thinking that the dissimulation is a deliberate attempt to mislead the American people in order to give the Democrats an issue upon which they can hang their hat in November.

It's just a shame that Mr. Obama can't find an issue about which he can tell the truth and have it work to his political advantage. Apparently there aren't many of those out there.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mozilla Offers a Glimpse of the Future

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary has written a fine piece highlighting the hypocrisy of the left concerning the Brandon Eich firing at Mozilla. Here are some highlights:
Though some are a bit shame-faced to do so, some liberals have decided that punishing individuals for their personal politics is OK because those who hold opinions contrary to their own are not only wrong but so hateful that their mere presence undermines the efforts of those associated with them.

That this is rank hypocrisy is so obvious that it barely needs to be said. If, say, a liberal business executive were to be ousted from a similar position at a Fortune 500 company because a lot of the shareholders or executives at the business didn’t like the fact that he or she was a supporter of gay marriage or had donated to prominent liberal candidates for office, you can bet your stock portfolio and your mortgage payment that the mainstream media and every left-wing pundit in creation would be anointing such a person for sainthood rather than twisting themselves into pretzels in order to justify Eich’s defenestration, as so many have already done.

That Mozilla’s employees and board members actually think it is consistent with American values or even “freedom of speech” (in the words of the company’s disingenuous announcement of Eich’s departure) to hound out of their midst someone who, though a supporter of gay rights in other respects, may disagree with them about marriage or support conservative candidates says something awful about such a group.

But if that’s how they feel, then it’s their right to do so even as many on the outside of their cozy left-wing bubble enclave jeer at a version of “inclusiveness” that demands ideological conformity.
Elsewhere in his piece Tobin notes that the argument has been advanced that Mozilla is a "special case," that it has a special culture, and that the employees at Mozilla are not acting thuggishly by burning at the stake, so to speak, a man whose political and religious views are not consonant with their own.

But then what of Hobby Lobby which is being coerced by the government to pay for insurance coverage for abortifacients against the convictions of those who own the company? Why are liberals not willing to grant Hobby Lobby the same exemptions they're willing to grant to Mozilla?
By claiming, as they now do, that the special culture of Mozilla requires it to root out all unbelievers in gay marriage or supporters of conservatives, but deny that Hobby Lobby has the right to protect its particular culture or the beliefs of its owners, liberals are ... engaging in hypocrisy. It would be nice if liberals were sufficiently self-aware of their inconsistency to cause them to “recant” and grant Hobby Lobby—which has an individual business culture just as special as the one at Mozilla—the same respect it demands for the Torquemadas who rule the roost in the high-tech sector. But I’m not expecting that to happen. The real problem here isn’t hypocrisy but a liberal mindset that views conservatives as not merely wrong, but evil.
A friend sent me a couple of quotes that he thought, and I agree, to be apropos this current controversy. The first is from Rene Girard who says that it is in Christianity that the drive for human sacrifice — endemic in all the paganisms, and reborn in modern ideologies — is extinguished. For it is in Christianity that God sacrifices Himself for men, instead of men sacrificing each other for their gods.

There certainly is a yearning for human sacrifice to the gods of political correctness in the modern secular left. Just ask Phil Robertson, Dan Cathy, or Brandon Eich.

The second quote is from the novelist Flannery O'Connor: “In the absence of faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chambers.”

Indeed, one gets the uncomfortable feeling, reading some of the commentary surrounding the Eich case, that it's not the left's moral scruples which constrain them from putting dissenters into reeducation camps and gas chambers but merely their lack, at least for the moment, of sufficient political power to do what they wish they could do.

I think both Girard and O'Connor are right. Society is like an island built out of the raw materials of a Christian worldview in the midst of a sea of barbarism, cruelty, and intolerance. When the dikes are torn down, and the sea rushes in then civilized behavior, including compassion and respect for others, will be swept away. George Orwell famously described what that future will be like in his novel 1984:
There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Liberal Fascism

In George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 words were used to mean precisely the opposite of what they do mean. "Peace is war, love is hate, freedom is slavery" the totalitarian masters of Oceania repeated over and over. Orwell, a man of the left, came to view the left as a great threat to freedom and illustrated that threat in his novel Animal Farm.

Sixty four years after Orwell's death the left is still the greatest threat to freedom, at least in this country, and still uses words to mean the opposite of what they do mean.

"Intolerance is Tolerant, Uniformity is Diversity, Bullying is Compassionate" is the modern expression of Orwell's famous triad.

At Mozilla the CEO, Brandon Eich, has been forced out because six years ago he made a relatively small donation to a group which was campaigning to keep the definition of marriage what it had been for 2000 years, what Barack Obama said at the time it should be, and what most Americans agreed it should be. Nevertheless, the left saw an opportunity to bully and intimidate by punishing a man for his views and they mounted a campaign to have him fired. This time they succeeded.

They had tried the same ugly tactic on previous occasions with Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-a, and Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, only to be resoundingly rebuked by the public. In Eich's case it's harder for those who support him to demonstrate their support in any significant way.

The message is clear: Anyone who takes a stand for traditional marriage can expect the same thuggish treatment from the left.

But it's not just around the issue of gay marriage where such tactics are employed by the left.

At many universities and other institutions any scientist who deviates from the party line on naturalistic evolution will be denied tenure or other professional advantages. If the hapless victims are biology grad students they'll often find their life made difficult, and they may even be forced out of their program. More than one grad student or untenured professor has been advised to keep his unDarwinian opinions to him or herself until the PhD or tenure has been granted.

Many Christian students in public schools have been insulted and denied basic free speech rights, not by other students but by school personnel simply for praying over meals or writing an essay that incorporates Christian themes.

If one is participating in a silent pro-life vigil one can expect verbal and even physical abuse.

To oppose the president's policies, no matter how respectfully, is to incur the epithets of racist, bigot, and hater.

Many conservative speakers are either prevented from appearing on university campuses or their presentations are disrupted by left-wing students.

The left cannot win any of their arguments in a fair contest in the public square so they feel compelled to resort to bullying, name-calling, and intimidation. They fear, rightly, that they cannot afford to have people hear an alternative point of view so they have to prevent that competing point of view from being aired.

This is completely contrary to the spirit of our founding as a nation and is, in fact, the very essence of fascism. Many people have the misconception that fascism is a right-wing ideology, but this is false. Fascism, like communism, is a totalitarian system that imposes its will by force and compulsion and as such it's a phenomenon of the left.

When a man like Eich has his career ruined because he holds a view of which gay fascists disapprove, when scientists have their careers ruined because the academic fascists disapprove of their opinions, when people are suspended from school or fail a writing assignment because they express a worldview which the faculty brown-shirts disdain, then we no longer live in the land of the free and are in serious danger of collapsing into a sordid atheistic totalitarianism.

We must guard our freedoms, especially the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion, jealously or surely one day we'll realize we no longer have it. We should also reproach the tactics of those on the left, like the people who forced Brenden Eich out at Mozilla, who wish to strip us of our basic freedoms while imposing their own values of politically correct groupthink and social and moral conformity on the rest of us.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Yesterday I reran a post on moral relativism that describes the horrific treatment of an Afghan girl named Bibi Aisha. The post first ran in 2011. The post below is a follow-up to the post on Bibi that I wrote a few days after:

Stanford journalism professor Joel Brinkley takes us on a quick tour of the underside of what passes for civilization in much of the world and concludes that relativism, both cultural and moral, seems simply foolish when confronted with the barbaric cruelties imposed on women and children in some foreign climes.

The relativist wants to say that what's wrong for us is not necessarily wrong for others. We're not perfect, the relativist avers, nor are we in the position of God that we can pass judgment on other societies, but as I argued last week in the case of Bibi Aisha, to refuse to condemn cruelty and injustice is to dehumanize both ourselves and those who suffer. Injustice is wrong wherever it occurs. Cruelty is evil wherever it occurs. Anyone who can read the following excerpt from Brinkley's column and not agree with those claims is morally underdeveloped:
On her final full day in office, President Roza Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan became the first senior Kyrgyz official to forcefully denounce “bride kidnapping,” an entrenched custom in her Central Asian state.

“Bride kidnapping is a tradition of the Kyrgyz people,” she acknowledged as she was preparing to leave the presidential palace on Nov. 29. “But these crimes often force women to commit suicide.”

Young men kidnap about 15,000 girls each year, Otunbayeva said. They simply grab a girl walking down the street, stuff her in the car, kicking and screaming, and take her home. He may rape her – or not. Either way, after she’s locked up overnight in an unrelated man’s house, the girl is unfit to wed anyone else. Her family won’t permit her to come home. So she’s forced to marry her kidnapper.

No one keeps precise statistics, but estimates suggest that half of Kyrgyz wives are married in this way. The outgoing president urged her people to stop romanticizing bride kidnapping and inaugurated a month-long campaign to fight the practice.

Around the world, numerous nations cling to longstanding traditions that, to Western eyes, seem barbarous – or worse. Most of them victimize girls.

In Northwestern Thailand, I interviewed a woman, one of many, preparing to sell her 12-year-old daughter to traffickers who would force her into prostitution. The mother intended to use the trafficker’s payment for her daughter to buy a new refrigerator. “It’s our tradition,” she explained.

In Saudi Arabia, centuries-old religious convention allows middle-aged men to marry prepubescent girls – some as young as 7 or 8 years old.

Pakistani officials use gang rape as a government-sanctioned punishment.

In Cameroon “breast ironing” remains an honored custom. After their daughters reach puberty, mothers heat a flat rock in the fire and then press it forcefully onto each of her daughter’s breasts – burning away breast tissue, leaving them flat-chested so avaricious young men will leave them alone.

“Breast ironing has existed as long as Cameroon has existed,” gynecologist Sinou Tchana told the Inter Press news service. Women “told us that it was normal for them.”

If it’s “normal for them,” how should Western societies regard practices like these? Anthropology’s “cultural relativism” rule suggests that we should not judge other countries by the standards of our own society. But some acts are just too vile, and cultural courtesies don’t stop human-rights groups from wagging their fingers at these states.
Brinkley is right. We avoid passing a judgment on these behaviors because we've bought into the paralyzing fallacy that moral right and wrong are matters of personal taste, and just as we should not criticize those who choose to eat roast dog meat so, too, should we refrain from criticizing those who press hot rocks to little girls' chests, or perform clitorectomies on young women, or practice "honor" killings, or shake crying babies until they suffer brain damage, or hold babies in scalding hot water, or sell children into slavery.

When we can no longer say that these things are wrong no matter where they're practiced we're no longer a sophisticated, civilized people. We're barbarians.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Moral Paralysis

In 2011 (12/5) I ran the following post under the title of The Fatuousness of Relativism. Having just talked about that topic recently in my classes I thought it'd be appropriate to run it again: Denyse O'Leary passes on a story told by a Canadian high school philosophy teacher named Stephen Anderson. Anderson recounts what happened when he tried to show students what can happen to women in a culture with no tradition of treating women as human beings:
I was teaching my senior Philosophy class. We had just finished a unit on Metaphysics and were about to get into Ethics, the philosophy of how we make moral judgments. The school had also just had several social-justice-type assemblies—multiculturalism, women’s rights, anti-violence and gay acceptance. So there was no shortage of reference points from which to begin.

I decided to open by simply displaying, without comment, the photo of Bibi Aisha (see below). Aisha was the Afghani teenager who was forced into an abusive marriage with a Taliban fighter, who abused her and kept her with his animals. When she attempted to flee, her family caught her, hacked off her nose and ears, and left her for dead in the mountains. After crawling to her grandfather’s house, she was saved by a nearby American hospital. I felt quite sure that my students, seeing the suffering of this poor girl of their own age, would have a clear ethical reaction, from which we could build toward more difficult cases.

The picture is horrific. Aisha’s beautiful eyes stare hauntingly back at you above the mangled hole that was once her nose. Some of my students could not even raise their eyes to look at it. I could see that many were experiencing deep emotions, but I was not prepared for their reaction.

I had expected strong aversion; but that’s not what I got. Instead, they became confused. They seemed not to know what to think. They spoke timorously, afraid to make any moral judgment at all. They were unwilling to criticize any situation originating in a different culture.

They said, “Well, we might not like it, but maybe over there it’s okay.” One student said, “I don’t feel anything at all; I see lots of this kind of stuff.” Another said (with no consciousness of self-contradiction), “It’s just wrong to judge other cultures.”

While we may hope some are capable of bridging the gap between principled morality and this ethically vacuous relativism, it is evident that a good many are not. For them, the overriding message is “never judge, never criticize, never take a position.”
This is a picture of Bibi Aisha. She was deliberately mutilated by her family because she did not want to stay in a marriage to which she did not consent and in which she was treated like livestock. Anyone who would do this to another human being is evil. Any culture which condones it is degenerate, and any person who cannot bring themselves to acknowledge this, or to sympathize with her suffering, is a moral dwarf.

The shocking prevalence of moral dwarfism in our culture should not surprise us, however. Once a society jettisons its Judeo-Christian heritage it no longer has any non-subjective basis for making moral judgments. Its moral sense is stunted, warped, and diminished because it's based on nothing more than one's own subjective feelings. Since no one can say that their feelings are superior to the feelings of the people who did this to Bibi Aisha we hear fatuous insipidities like, "If it's right for them then it's right," or "It's wrong to judge other cultures."

This is moral paralysis, and it's the legacy of modernity and the secular Enlightenment.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Communicating a Love of Learning

Elizabeth Corey has a wonderful essay in First Things that every teacher and aspiring teacher should read. She describes the crucial importance of an inspiring mentor who's passionate about her discipline. Her essay is ostensibly about how to spark a love for the humanities in the hearts of students, but what she says applies to other disciplines as well. Here's an excerpt:
[I]n theory at least, any field, any book, any course of study, presented in the right way, can provide an entry point for the awakening of a desire for liberal learning.

For me it was a course in northern baroque art that focused on a study of Rubens. Most of us probably think of Rubens as a painter of women whose body shapes are now decidedly out of fashion. Like the rest of the class, I grudgingly began to look at the paintings, certain that I would always be repelled by their lack of accord with what I already knew, quite definitively, to be beautiful.

But as the days went by I underwent a remarkable transformation. The teacher explained the paintings in the context of both Flemish history and Rubens’s personal story. He showed us that the women in the paintings were not just bodies but Rubens’s wives, whom he had loved deeply; the children were his children, with names and histories of their own. He showed us the development over time of Rubens’s style, the debt he owed to the classical tradition, and the ways in which other painters subsequently built on his contribution.

As time went on, I grew to love the art—but more than this, the field of art history itself, and the professor too. It was not for his personality (austere and somewhat distant) or his looks (short and balding). It was for the vision and desire he had given me, perhaps partially without knowing it.

There have been others like this too, as there are for many of us once we’ve awakened to the joys of this kind of study. And there is no one model for it. Sometimes we develop a relationship with a particular person as a mentor, with whom we meet and talk regularly. These relationships may last for years, or a lifetime. In other cases, like any ordinary friendship, they die away after a period of time.

It is not even always the case that the person must take an intense interest in us, or we in them. At times we may simply perceive in a particular classroom a sense of “sacredness” that says to us: Here is what we should be doing.
Note that for Corey, and many others, too, I'd bet, the teacher who made such a difference in her life, who bequeathed to her a love for art and for whom she came to have such affection, wasn't particularly striking in the physical sense. What made the difference was his passion for his subject and his desire to communicate that passion to his students.

If you're hoping to be a teacher some day, or if you are one now, I think you'll find Corey's essay a very worthwhile read.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April Fools

The President was ebullient in the White House Rose Garden yesterday, April 1st, as he announced that 7.1 million people have signed up for Obamacare.

That number may or may not be meaningful. The purpose of the Affordable Care Act was to insure some 30 million people who previously lacked insurance. The country has been turned inside out in order to achieve this. Trillions of dollars will be spent over the next decade to accomplish it. So how many people who had been uninsured are among the 7.1 million? The administration won't say, but a Rand Corporation study which the administration has been sitting on but which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, found that the number of uninsured who have now signed up for insurance and paid their premium is considerably less than a million.

The UK Daily Mail has the story here.
Numbers from a RAND Corporation study that has been kept under wraps suggest that barely 858,000 previously uninsured Americans – nowhere near 7.1 million – have paid for new policies and joined the ranks of the insured by Monday night.

Others were already insured, including millions who lost coverage when their existing policies were suddenly cancelled because they didn't meet Obamacare's strict minimum requirements.

Still, [the President] claimed that 'millions of people who have health insurance would not have it' without his insurance law.'

[Press Secretary Jay Carney] dodged tough questions about other statistics that reporters thought he should have had at the ready. Those numbers included how many Americans have paid for their insurance policies, and are actually insured. Also, he had no answer to the thorny question of how few signups represented people who had no insurance before the Affordable Care Act took effect.

The Affordable Care Act carried with it the promise of covering 'every American,' and it appears to have fallen tremendously short.
There's more at the link.

When the President tells us that the administration met its goal for sign-ups in the first enrollment period we might keep in mind that he also assured us, repeatedly, that if we liked our doctors and our healthcare plan we could keep them. He also told us that our policies would be on average $2500 cheaper under the AFA. So, maybe it'd be prudent to take whatever he tells us with a truckload of salt.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Explanatory Gap

The question often arises in discussions of the philosophy of mind how a materialist philosopher might respond to the problems posed to materialism by the phenomena of conscious experience. One way materialists respond is to simply admit that on our present knowledge materialism can't account for the gap between the physical elements of the brain and, say, the sensation of sound or color, but that some day we'll be able to explain these things in purely material terms.

Philosopher Russell Blackford at New Philosopher gives us an example of this response. When he speaks below of the "explanatory gap" he's talking about the vast gulf that lies between physical phenomena like the firing of neurons and mental phenomena like the experience of the color red. At the present there's simply no explanation for how we get from one to the other.

Some contemporary philosophers who make much of the explanatory gap, including Levine, Galen Strawson, and, perhaps most famously, David Chalmers, are broadly sympathetic to ideas of philosophical naturalism.

Indeed, Levine puts forward a strong argument for a strictly materialist approach to mind in which conscious experiences somehow just are physical processes. His argument assumes that the physical causal order is closed and that our conscious experiences are causally efficacious, not mere by-products of our physical functioning like smoke from a fire. If we accept both of these apparently plausible assumptions, it follows that our conscious experiences are themselves physical phenomena.
Of course there's no reason to accept Levine's hypothesis other than an apriori metaphysical commitment to materialism. Blackford goes on to discuss the problem with Levine's view:
It is hard to define a sense in which conscious experiences are identical to physical phenomena such as neurological processes, but without any further twists that in itself might be a solvable conceptual problem. But there’s a further twist. As Levine also brings out in his discussion, physics as we currently understand it ultimately does no more than describe physical entities, structures, etc., and their dynamics. Understood in this way, a complete and ideal physics could account for all the motions and transformations of matter and energy that take place.

Indeed, it would account all the way up from the base level for the emergence and evolution of life, neurophysiological structures and processes, our bodily movements, and even for the things that we say to each other. The emergence of all these would ultimately be predicted by descriptions of physical structures together with the laws that describe their motions and transformations.

However, nothing in an ideal physics, so conceived, would enable us to deduce that human beings have inner experiences such as when I have an appearance of redness in my visual field, or a feeling of warmth and softness to my touch when I stroke my cat’s fur.

The emergence of such qualitative features of the world, or “qualia”, could not be predicted by a physical theory that merely specified physical structures and the laws governing their dynamics. When it comes to our conscious inner experiences, there seems to be a gap between the ultimate – or “lowest level” – physical description of reality and features of the world involving consciousness.
Is there a solution to the problem posed by qualia (and several other phenomena such as intentionality, restricted access, et al.)? Well, no, but maybe there will be in the future:
If we accept that this is a genuine problem, how do we solve it? Presumably we will need to enrich our fundamental world picture in some way. This could be done if our basic laws of physics were supplemented by psychophysical bridge principles that physical structures and processes generate the phenomena of consciousness.

Such bridge principles might be very difficult for limited beings like us to discover, but I don’t see why they couldn’t exist.
This is a bit odd. Blackford places his hope in difficult to discover bridge principles which could exist but for which there's no evidence. Yet as a materialist he's loath to consider that minds could exist - though they'd be difficult to discover - even though there's lots of evidence for them. Couldn't one say with Blackford, "I don't see why they couldn't exist"?
If we knew what [these bridge principles] were, we could give an explanation as to why some highly complex structures – such as the human brain – are conscious, while other structures are not. There might still be problems, however, in avoiding epiphenomenalism (the view that mind arises from the brain but cannot affect the brain). Would the new, enriched theory allow consciousness, in its turn, to act upon the physical world, as certainly seems to happen?

Or might we bite the bullet of epiphenomenalism once and for all, treating the apparent causal efficacy of consciousness as an illusion?
The problem seems intractable given materialism. Of course, dualists of one stripe or another, though not without difficulties of their own, nevertheless argue that the reality of consciousness implies that materialism is inadequate. The existence of consciousness suggests that in addition to our physical brains there's also something else about us, an immaterial substance (mind), that mediates conscious experience. Some philosophers have sought to solve the problem by simply denying that consciousness is a genuine reality, but Blackford will not have any of that nonsense:
Nonetheless, our own conscious experience cannot simply be waved away; in fact nothing is more real to us. Furthermore, it does seem difficult to understand its place in the order of the physical universe without some breakthrough in our understanding of physics itself. The explanatory gap identified by philosophers has to be explained, or explained away, if we want a satisfying account of the relationship between the physical world and our own inner lives.
Perhaps what he meant by that last sentence is "if we want a satisfying materialistic account...," but why should we insist that any account of reality be materialistic?