Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fundamental Reality

For most of the 19th and 20th centuries it was the consensus view among scientists and philosophers that reality, the universe, was fundamentally material. The belief was that everything was reducible to matter and energy and that if there was any immaterial substance, it was a property of matter. Thus, in this materialist view, there was no such thing as mind or soul that existed independently of matter. Mind, if it existed, emerged from matter.

All this began to change in the 20th century with the development of quantum physics and as that century came to a close and the new century began a number of experiments were done which led physicists to believe that, in fact, mind is fundamental and that the material world is an emergent property of mind.

Rather than seeing the universe as a machine, as thinkers had done ever since Isaac Newton in the 17th century, the universe was now being viewed, in the words of Sir James Jeans, more like a grand idea.

The following video gives a fairly good description of two experiments in physics which have led many (not all) scientists to agree with Jeans. The video moves quickly so you might wish to replay parts of it.

There's resistance to accepting the universe as a product of mind because such a view both refutes the materialism upon which atheism rests and fits nicely with a theistic view of the world (see the quote from physicist Alain Aspect below).

Nevertheless, this is the view accepted by a growing number of quantum physicists. Here are a few quotes to illustrate:

“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.” Max Planck (1944)

“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.” Erwin Schroedinger.

“It will remain remarkable, in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the scientific conclusion that the content of the consciousness is the ultimate universal reality” -Eugene Wigner 1961 – received Nobel Prize in 1963

"If materialism cannot accommodate consciousness and other mind-related aspects of reality, then we must abandon a purely materialist understanding of nature in general, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history." Philosopher Thomas Nagel

"What is more, recent experiments are bringing to light that the experimenter’s free will and consciousness should be considered axioms (founding principles) of standard quantum physics theory. So for instance, in experiments involving 'entanglement' (the phenomenon Einstein called 'spooky action at a distance'), to conclude that quantum correlations of two particles are nonlocal (i.e. cannot be explained by signals traveling at velocity less than or equal to the speed of light), it is crucial to assume that the experimenter can make free choices, and is not constrained in what orientation he/she sets the measuring devices...To understand these implications it is crucial to be aware that quantum physics is not only a description of the material and visible world around us, but also speaks about non-material influences coming from outside the space-time." Antoine Suarez, 2013

"Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the “illusion” of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case, since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism (solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist)." Alain Aspect, 2007

Friday, May 30, 2014

Progress in Cancer Treatment

Two recent developments in cancer treatment not only give hope to patients suffering formerly untreatable cancers, but also give some insight into the amazing genius of our technology and of the people who are working on these very difficult diseases.

The first story is about how measles virus is being used to kill tumors that have metastasized throughout the body. A woman who had failed to respond to any other treatment was declared cancer free at the Mayo Clinic after undergoing the procedure.

The second report is also about the use of a virus to kill cancer (these are called oncolytic viruses). In this case a herpes virus, used in conjunction with adult stem cells, was manipulated by researchers at Harvard to kill brain tumors.

This is fantastic news and gives hope that the diagnosis of cancer, which only a few decades ago was a death sentence, will continue to become much less frightening.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Keeping the Economy Afloat

Question: How bad would our economy be were it not for the boom in shale oil production? William C. Triplett II gives us a pretty good idea in a column in which he discusses some of the less obvious economic benefits of the fracking technology that has enabled us to tap into petroleum reserves heretofore inaccessible to drillers.

Triplett says this:
At the end of April, three things happened more or less simultaneously: First, the Obama administration announced that in the first quarter of 2014, growth of the overall U.S. gross domestic product had fallen to barely 0.1 percent, and more than 800,000 Americans left the workforce in the month of April alone. Second, The Associated Press reported that also during the first quarter of 2014, the Bakken Shale oil field in North Dakota and Montana had reached 1 billion barrels of oil production. Third, led by Brett Baier and the Fox News Channel, commentators are beginning to ask this important question: If you subtract the contribution that the shale revolution is making to the overall U.S. economy, what happens?
Triplett's answer is pretty simple: disaster. In other words, the only reason our economy hasn't fallen through the basement is the benefits accruing to the country from oil drilling, i.e. fracking.
Gene Lockard of reports that the nonfarm economy lost 3.25 million jobs from January 2008 to February 2014 while the oil and gas sector expanded employment by 26 percent. Second, he notes that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the oil and gas multiplier effect is 6.9. That means that every job in oil and gas supports 6.9 jobs throughout the rest of the economy. Likewise, a dollar spent in the oil patch turns over 6.9 times, sort of like a rock thrown into a pond as the ripples widen.

In order to build the rigs necessary to drill the petroleum steel pipe must be manufactured and transported to the site. The machines used must be manufactured and transported. All of these needs create jobs.

Caterpillar is a brand you see all over the oil patch, and last year Caterpillar sold $4.5 billion worth of equipment to the energy and transportation sector. General Electric is a major player in the shale revolution and getting bigger. Caterpillar and GE industrial products are sourced from plants all over the country.
There's more:
In the shale, you can’t avoid seeing an ocean of new white pickups. They may have been assembled in Kansas City (Ford) or Michigan (GM and Dodge) but the parts — tires, glass, brakes, steel, aluminum, plastics — come from all over North America. Everyone benefits — design, parts, assembly, transportation and sales.
And this doesn't count the restaurants, motels, clothing dealers, building contractors, and on and on who benefit from the influx of workers.

Triplett asks how this will all look in the future and says that there are two numbers to look at:
First,... the oil patch [industry} will have to spend $641 billion directly over the next 20 years on infrastructure to support the shale-drilling operation. That’s just the infrastructure to deal with the oil and gas once it is produced, not the tens of billions directly going into the drilling operation itself.

Second, $125 billion: That’s IHS Chemicals’ estimate of the shale-related chemical plants going in, and “more to come,” as it told The Wall Street Journal. A lot of this money will be spent along the I-10 corridor between Houston and Baton Rouge, but a new multibillion-dollar chemical plant is going in just below Parkersburg, W.Va., and Shell has an option on a site north of Pittsburgh that would be of comparable size.

All of this is the best news possible for American young people now in high school and college, worried about their future. Nearly all the traditional colleges with oil and gas departments are expanding their programs — the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M, Rice University, the University of Houston, LSU, Oklahoma, Tulsa and Penn State, to name a few.
Neither the Obama administration in particular, nor government in general, has anything whatever to do with the economic benefit of fracking trickling down to the American people. It's all being done by private enterprise. On the other hand, one can't help but think that if the current administration could they'd do to the fracking industry what they're doing to the Keystone pipeline and the coal industry, i.e. kill it altogether. This, however, would be a disaster for the country. As Triplett says in his last line the American shale revolution is keeping the entire U.S. economy from spinning into recession and despair.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Enthusing about the VA

TruthRevolt has dug up some very embarrassing encomiums delivered by prominent progressives praising the Veterans Administration and the example it affords us of government competence and the advantages of socialized medicine.

As TruthRevolt notes, herein lies the problem for the left: "The failures at the VA, including its bureaucratic incompetence, its waiting lists, and its deaths, all debunk the notion that a government-run healthcare system will work. It’s a fresh slap in the face to all those commentators who, in pushing Obamacare, endorsed the VA as a model."

Indeed. Here's Paul Krugman in 2011 writing about the VA as an exemplar of socialized medicine:
Multiple surveys have found the VHA providing better care than most Americans receive, even as the agency has held cost increases well below those facing Medicare and private insurers…the VHA is an integrated system, which provides health care as well as paying for it. So it’s free from the perverse incentives created when doctors and hospitals profit from expensive tests and procedures, whether or not those procedures actually make medical sense.
Krugman added, “Yes, this is ‘socialized medicine’…But it works, and suggests what it will take to solve the troubles of US health care more broadly.”

The Wall Street Journal has more such silliness from Krugman here, but before you check it out, read this from another NYT writer Nicholas Kristof in 2009:
Take the hospital system run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the largest integrated health system in the United States. It is fully government run, much more “socialized medicine” than is Canadian health care with its private doctors and hospitals. And the system for veterans is by all accounts one of the best-performing and most cost-effective elements in the American medical establishment.
And here's Princeton's Uwe Reinhardt writing in the Times last year:
Remarkably, Americans of all political stripes have long reserved for our veterans the purest form of socialized medicine, the vast health system operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (generally known as the V.A. health system). If socialized medicine is as bad as so many on this side of the Atlantic claim, why have both political parties ruling this land deemed socialized medicine the best health system for military veterans? Or do they just not care about them?
TruthRevolt has uncovered more praise for the VA and socialized medical care from the RAND Corporation, Ezra Klein in the Washington Post, and Jonathan Golob at The Seattle Stranger. You can read their embarrassing praise for socialized medicine and the VA at the link.

Little wonder that even the left is angry with the Obama administration over revelations of the VA's failures. Those revelations have made them laughingstocks, stripped them of one of their best arguments for socialized medicine, and given their opponents yet another compelling argument against turning our lives over to a government that professes omnicompetence while showing itself almost daily to be astonishingly incompetent.

Meanwhile, as if to rub salt in the progressives' wounds, the Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that it will be directing vets to private hospitals to get the care they've been denied at the government run VA hospitals. In other words, though it may come as a surprise to the columnists at the New York Times, the VA has recognized that private facilities are much better equipped to do the job than are government facilities.

It must be tough being liberal when so much of what you believe is at such stark variance with reality.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The World We've Created

Another heartbreaking spasm of violence and a dozen families are plunged into unimaginable grief by a horrid little punk who thought it would give his life some measure of significance to inflict pain on others.

The left, of course, is seizing on the Santa Barbara tragedy as another example of why we need to get rid of the 2nd amendment to the Constitution and ban firearms even though the creepy guy who perpetrated this atrocity stabbed three of his victims and killed others with his car.

The chief irony, though, is that the reason people feel the need to arm themselves in this country is to protect themselves from the dysfunctional human beings that liberalism itself has created.

How so? Liberalism has given us a society immersed in pornography which turns young men into misogynistic hedonists who see women as nothing more than objects of sexual gratification and creates completely unrealistic expectations as to what a relationship with a woman should be. It has created a society in which the traditional family is under assault by easy divorce and an acceptance of unwed, single motherhood as morally unproblematic. It's a society in which fathers are seen as desirable but optional. It's a society in which the value of human life is increasingly being eroded, especially at the beginning and end of existence. It's a society which immerses its young in a culture of violence in its music, films, and video games. And at the bottom of all this, liberalism is intent upon completely secularizing life so that the only solid ground for instilling in young people a sense of right and wrong, a transcendent moral authority, dare not be mentioned in public fora.

How many more such crimes must we expect before we start to realize that the society that liberalism has built is producing generations of moral monsters whose lives are void of meaning and filled with seething resentments and frustrations?

The liberal thinks it a good thing that we have liberated ourselves from the chains of tradition - moral, family, and religious. They think it a great social advance that we are no longer bound to the notion that every child needs a father and a mother nor to outmoded archaic moral strictures, and, most importantly of all, that we are no longer accountable to God. We have created a better, freer, society - a society based upon individual human flourishing, a society in which the self and one's own fulfillment is more important than anything or anyone else. It's a society, however, in which violence, pornography, single motherhood, and secularism are mass-producing sociopaths and psychopaths.

A grief-stricken father of one of the victims of the California murders was on television last night asking how long the madness will last. Perhaps it'll last until we stop deluding ourselves that we can build a healthy society in the absence of strong families, in the absence of strong fathers, in the absence of sexual restraint, and in the absence of God.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He and others used fire extinguishers to save their burning Stryker vehicle and killed at least eight enemy fighters. Throughout the fight, Kay refused medical attention despite being wounded in four places.
For men like these and the millions of others whose courage and sacrifice have for two hundred and fifty years enabled the rest of us to live in relative freedom and security, we should all thank God. And for those who never made it back we should ask God's richest blessing.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Environmental Whackos

Rush Limbaugh likes to use the pejorative in this post's title to describe left-wing environmental extremists whose agenda would prevent us from living at a level of subsistence lower even than that of 13th century Native Americans.

I don't like the word "whacko" but I have to say that I can't think of a more apt description of the folks in Boulder, Colorado who are pressing the local authorities to adopt an ordinance they call the Sustainable Rights of Nature Ordinance. Suzanne Webel sits on a commission to evaluate this proposal and writes about it at The Daily Camera. After enumerating all of the environmental safeguards and policies that Coloradans have already put in place she says this:
However, these multiple protections are not enough to satisfy a few environmental extremists who are quietly pushing for a "new paradigm:" the inclusion of a "Sustainable Rights of Nature Ordinance," which would, among other things:

  1. "Eliminate the authority of a property owner to destroy, or cause substantial harm to, natural communities and ecosystems"
  2. Accord "inherent, inalienable, and fundamental rights of Nature to all Natural Beings" including humans and "all living species of plants, animals, and algae"
  3. Include a Statement of Law that "All Natural beings, Natural Communities and Ecosystems possess the inalienable right to exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve"
  4. Declare that "The Precautionary Principle Is Needed To Protect These Rights"
  5. Find that "It shall be unlawful for any person, government entity, corporation (etc) to intentionally or recklessly violate the rights of Natural Beings, Natural Communities or Ecosystems"
  6. Enforce "Damages" measured by the cost of restoring the Natural Community or Ecosystem to its [original] state before the injury.
The proposed "Rights of Nature Ordinance" would have enormous detrimental implications for all public and private lands, agriculture, medicine, backyard gardens, animal ownership, public land access and trail use, property rights and many other existing rights of Boulder County residents. It would create unimaginable social and legal nightmares for all of us.

In fact, I believe that is exactly what its advocates intend: to deliberately paralyze almost all legitimate and necessary activities routinely undertaken by individuals, governments, and corporations countywide.

And it would place those very advocates in charge of determining who can do what, anywhere, by giving "any resident of this community" the standing to bring crippling litigation against any other member of the community for any infractions of their philosophy, whether real or imagined. Their manifesto is at once too broad, asserting new paradigms about the health of the world and other unrealistic expectations; and too specific, presuming, for example, to give members of the community the right to obtain locally grown food.

Finally, it is not up to a small group of zealots to presume to ascribe "rights" to anyone or anything. And to claim that there are "inherent, inalienable, and fundamental rights of Nature that emanate from the Earth's own functioning" is bizarre, to say the least.

I was one of four citizens recently appointed to a county task force to see if language could be worked out that all sides could live with. The "Rights of Nature" extremists claim that all they're asking for is a little innocuous-sounding phrase here and there about protecting native species. That is patently not true: they have never recanted on the demands outlined above. The task force ended in an impasse last week because the "Rights of Nature" people were unwilling to compromise one iota of their extreme ideology in the interest of reaching any agreement at all.
The conferral of such rights on "nature" would indeed make it almost impossible for human beings to exist. Principle #1 would essentially deprive humans of private property rights. Principle #3 would bring almost all human activity to a halt. You wouldn't be able to build a house without violating it. Principle #5 would enforce a "no-growth" policy on the entire country, and #6 would be impossible to abide by.

To call these people "environmental whackos" is actually to do them a kindness. It suggests that their problem is mere mental incompetence or zealotry when in fact, given the harm they would do to people, they are malevolent.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Infinitely Old

A post at Uncommon Descent has a graphic that illustrates quite nicely why many philosophers believe that the universe cannot be infinitely old:

If one were to start at the present moment and start counting to infinity one would never get there (Scenario A). Likewise, if we take the mirror image of A, and start counting from an infinite past we could never arrive at the present moment (Scenario B). Since we are in fact at the present moment, however, the universe must not be infinitely old. There must have been a first moment of time.

The major reason for thinking the earth is infinitely old is a metaphysical one, not a scientific one. It's the desire to avoid a beginning to the universe. And the reason why some wish to avoid a beginning to the universe is because a beginning implies a transcendent cause and that's starting to sound a lot like Genesis 1:1 and that's just unacceptable.

There's a principle most philosophers accept called the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). This principle states that every effect must have a cause adequate to account for the effect. If this is so then a universe that had a beginning must have had a cause adequate to account for the universe we see.

A cause of the universe would have to be extraordinarily powerful and intelligent. It would have to transcend space and time (which are part of the fabric of the cosmos), and, since the universe has generated personal beings like us it's reasonable to assume that the cause of this is itself personal.

Of course one could deny all this by denying the PSR, but that seems to me to be a pretty steep intellectual price to pay to avoid having to acknowledge that there is a Creator. It would, in effect, destroy science which is based upon the PSR.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Whatever Works Is Right

Science historian Joseph Martin agonizes like Hamlet over the question of whether it is proper to lie in order to persuade people to accept one's scientific views. The question arises because the recent Cosmos series with Neil de Grasse Tyson has been less than honest in presenting the role of religion in the history of science, and though Martin recognizes this, he wonders whether the lies may be justified in order to promote a "larger truth":
I've been watching with interest as the history of science community, particularly on Twitter, has reacted with consternation to the historical components of Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos reboot.

To a large extent I agree with these criticisms. It is troubling that the forums in which the public gets the most exposure to history of science also tend to be those in which it is the least responsibly represented.

But part of me also wants to play devil's advocate. First, Cosmos is a fantastic artifact of scientific myth making and as such provides a superb teaching tool when paired with more responsible historical presentations and perhaps some anthropological treatments of similar issues like Sharon Traweeks Beamtimes and Lifetimes.

Second, I don't know that we, as a community, have adequately made the case that the scholarly view of history we advance is, in fact, more useful for current cultural and political discourse than the naïve view scientists advance. One thing we often see in our research, and parallel work in philosophy of science, is that "right" is often not the same thing as "useful." I'm interested in generating some discussion in why and how, if at all, we can make the case that "useful" and "right" are and should be the same thing in this case for reasons other than internal professional ones.
In other words, if lying is useful in persuading people to believe the currently fashionable stories promoted by scientists then lying is right. By all means, then, let's not hesitate to mislead those benighted rubes watching our glitzy science shows if it'll convince them that we're right. He makes it clear in the comments that this is a live option for him:
If we [grant] Cosmos the artistic license to lie, the question is then whether doing so [is] in service of a greater truth and if so, what is it? And what does it mean for us if it turns out that Cosmos and the history community are simply going after different truths?

For the record, I myself am still very much on the fence about this issue, but if I were tasked with mounting a defense of Cosmos as it stands, one of the things I'd say is that the stakes of scientific authority are very high right now, especially in the United States. Perhaps the greater truth here is that we do need to promote greater public trust in science if we are going to tackle some of the frankly quite terrifying challenges ahead and maybe a touch of taradiddle in that direction isn't the worst thing.
If Martin thinks that a little "taradiddle" will actually promote public trust in what scientists tell us he should be working for the Obama administration where "taradiddle" is served to the public daily with the morning coffee. Has dissembling strengthened public trust in Mr. Obama's governance?

Would Martin agree that if global warming skeptics or creationists are convinced that they're correct then it'd be right for them to lie, too? Does he think it's okay for politicians to lie if they believe, like Plato, that a "noble lie" may be necessary to get the public to go along with a particular policy? Perhaps Martin also thinks it'd be acceptable for popes and prelates to lie about having witnessed miracles if it gets people into the church, which they would certainly see as a good thing.

Is it any mystery that so many people, to the chagrin of much of the scientific community, simply don't trust scientists when they tell us their stories about naturalistic human evolution and global warming. It was bad enough when people thought the scientists were probably just mistaken. Now, if they heed scholars like Mr. Martin, they have good reason to think that scientists are actually deliberately trying to deceive them about such things.

It's certainly an odd way to go about building public trust and confidence.

Casey Luskin at ENV has much more to say on this here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

He's So Mad

The President is routinely outraged at the shenanigans going on in his administration, but why do these things keep happening? Why is he not more on top of things? Why does the president learn about scandals in his administration through the media just like the rest of us?

Perhaps he's so detached from the nuts and bolts of governance that he just lets people do what they want and then when they embarrass him he professes to be "as angry as anyone", which anger eventually cools to "phony scandal", which ultimately dissipates to "Dude, that happened two years ago."

When you spend most of your tenure as CEO of the country on the golf course or global sightseeing you're probably going to miss a lot of what's actually happening in the government you're supposed to be running.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Veterans Administration Scandal

One of the fears expressed by opponents of Obamacare was that it would lead to rationing of care, long wait times, and even "death panels," i.e. bureaucrats deciding who should be treated and who left to die. The concern was that whenever the government undertakes to do something it's almost always done inefficiently and health care would be no exception.

Now with revelations emerging about the Veterans Administration hospitals creating secret wait lists for patients, essentially rationing care, and patients dying while waiting for doctor visits the public is seeing exactly why those who doubted government's ability to manage health care were skeptical.

John Fund has a good piece on this at NRO. He writes:
If our government has any obligation to fulfill its many promises on health care, it should be first and foremost to the men and women who served in our armed forces. But the scandal over hidden waiting lists at a growing number of veterans’ hospitals (seven so far) — wherein dozens of veterans died while waiting months for vital treatment, and the VA covered up the lengthy wait times — should make everyone wonder whether we can place our trust in a government-managed health-care system.

The Dayton Daily News reported on Sunday that its investigation of a database of claims paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that the words “delay in treatment” were used 167 times. The VA paid out a total of $36.4 million to settle the claims. There could well be many more cases of “death by delay” at the VA that never came to light.

Are there lessons in the VA scandal for the rest of us if Obamacare survives and even expands?

You betcha. The first lesson is that as government expands taxpayer subsidies for health care, the demand will always outstrip supply....

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute notes that more than 344,000 claims for veterans’ care are backed up and waiting to be processed. It takes an average of 160 days for a veteran to be approved for health benefits, and the VA itself estimates that is has an error rate of at least 9 percent in processing claims. According to VA figures for 2012, as reported by the Washington Post, “a veteran who takes an appeal through all available administrative steps faces an average wait of 1,598 days.” That’s more than four years of waiting.

Obamacare will dramatically expand access to the health-care system at the same time that many surveys show doctors are likely to retire or cut back their hours. It is almost inevitable that we’ll see more waiting-list scandals as the need to ration care grows.

This is the record of many single-payer health-care systems, and both Obama and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, have said that establishing a single-payer system is their long-term goal. In 2003, Obama, then an Illinois state senator, told an AFL-CIO conference: “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health-care program. . . . But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately.”
Fund goes on to discuss how single payer systems in other countries have resulted in appalling delays and rationing of care.

The VA debacle is only the most recent of a long string of scandals that have plagued this administration. From the enormous wastefulness of the stimulus - much of which was awarded to corporate cronies and big donors and none of which created any jobs - to the homicides resulting from Fast and Furious, the failure to protect our murdered embassy personnel in Benghazi, the NSA spying on American citizens, the use of the IRS to punish political opponents, the abuses at the Veterans Administration, and numerous lesser screw-ups (like the enormously expensive and incredibly bungled health care rollout) one is left questioning the integrity, competence, and intelligence of the people leading us in Washington. Either they are reprehensibly corrupt, unprecedentedly incompetent, unimaginably stupid, or they are none of those things but are instead malevolently vile because they're diminishing this country in ways great and small almost daily. Perhaps, from the President on down, they are some combination of all of these.

It should cause us all some trepidation that the experience of our veterans will probably be the experience of everyone once Obamacare is fully implemented. We will have VA quality health care largely overseen by a politically vindictive and corrupted IRS.

Tea-partiers better hope they don't ever need life-saving treatment because they're sure to find themselves on the extended wait list if liberals hold the executive branch of government.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Memory Prosthesis

Wouldn't this be amazing, provided the technology isn't used for nefarious purposes:
In the next few months, highly secretive US military researchers say they will unveil new advances toward developing a brain implant that could one day restore a wounded soldier's memory.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is forging ahead with a four-year plan to build a sophisticated memory stimulator, as part of President Barack Obama's $100 million initiative to better understand the human brain. The science has never been done before, and raises ethical questions about whether the human mind should be manipulated in the name of staving off war injuries or managing the aging brain.

Some say those who could benefit include the five million Americans with Alzheimer's disease and the nearly 300,000 US military men and women who have sustained traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If you have been injured in the line of duty and you can't remember your family, we want to be able to restore those kinds of functions," DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez said this week at a conference in the US capital convened by the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas.

"We think that we can develop neuroprosthetic devices that can directly interface with the hippocampus, and can restore the first type of memories we are looking at, the declarative memories," he said.

Declarative memories are recollections of people, events, facts and figures, and no research has ever shown they can be put back once they are lost.

What researchers have been able to do so far is help reduce tremors in people with Parkinson's disease, cut back on seizures among epileptics and even boost memory in some Alzheimer's patients through a process called deep brain stimulation.

Those devices were inspired by cardiac pacemakers, and pulse electricity into the brain much like a steady drum beat, but they don't work for everyone.

According to Hampson, to restore a human's specific memory, scientists would have to know the precise pattern for that memory. Instead, scientists in the field think they could improve a person's memory by simply helping the brain work more like it used to before the injury.

"The idea is to restore a function back to normal or near normal of the memory processing areas of the brain so that the person can access their formed memories, and so that they can form new memories as needed," Hampson said.
Even if this is successful, though, there are serious concerns about how the ability to manipulate the brain might be used. Some of those concerns are addressed in the article. The whole thing reminds me of the movie Total Recall, but if people who have suffered brain trauma or Alzheimers can get their mind back it's worth doing.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Melting the Ice

Some in the media were in semi-panic mode this past week over a study that found that the Antarctic ice sheet is melting. The predicted consequence of this awful phenomenon is that sea levels could rise as much as 4 meters (i.e. about 12 feet). This would be catastrophic, and, the assumption was, the culprit is human activity resulting in climate change which is warming the seas. Moreover, the melting is irreversible. There's nothing we can do now to stop it.

However, like so much reporting on climate change there's less here than meets the eye.

It turns out that the melting ice is a) more likely to be the result of an undersea volcano than human activity and b) is probably going to take centuries to melt to the point where sea levels will be a problem.

Long before the oceans reach levels that would threaten to inundate Philadelphia California will probably have slipped into the sea and an asteroid will probably have struck the earth with calamitous force. Rising sea level is probably not our biggest cause for worry for a while.

Besides, President Obama assured us that his election marked the day when sea levels will begin to subside, so why worry?

Well, here's something we should worry about. Climate scientists are resorting to very unscientific methods to insure that dissenting voices are not being heard by the public:
A study casting doubt on global warming fears was rejected by a prestigious journal on the grounds that it would be, as one reviewer wrote, “less than helpful” to the cause of climate change.

Professor Lennart Bengtsson, a research fellow at the University of Reading and one of the report’s five authors, told the Times of London his work was thrown out for political, not scientific, reasons.

The study challenged the prevailing consensus about the atmosphere’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases, meaning carbon dioxide and other pollutants might not cause global temperatures to rise as rapidly as organizations like the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have argued.

Bengtsson and his colleagues submitted their study to the journal Environmental Research Letters, but were told it had been rejected during the peer-review process. “(The study) is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of ‘errors’ and worse from the climate sceptics media side,” wrote one reviewer.
Climate science is at least sometimes more about leftist ideological agendas than about science, and like a lot of the stuff the left is dogmatic about the facts often don't support their claims.

Speaking of dogmatism aren't journalists a hoot? Few of them know anything about science. Most know nothing about climatology, biological evolution, or cosmology, but they're nevertheless happy to pounce upon anyone who expresses skepticism of the reigning dogmas in any of those fields. It inflates their egos, perhaps, to present themselves as smarter than the yokels who doubt the pronouncements of the most holy fathers of science, but their snide putdowns are often little more than an amusing display of pomposity.

James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal gives us some of the latest examples.
Florida's Sen. Marco Rubio came under attack this week for refusing to submit to scientific authority. "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it," he said in an interview with Jonathan Karl.

Nonscientist Ruth Marcus, writing for the Washington Post, declared that Rubio's words "undermine his other assertion," namely "that he is prepared to be president." Juliet Lapidos, also lacking in scientific expertise, went so far as to assert, in a New York Times blog post, that Rubio had "disqualified himself" from the presidency.

Of all the silly things written on the subject of global warming, Marcus's and Lapidos's offerings are surely among the most recent. Apart from that they're entirely typical of the genre of global-warmist opinion journalism, in which ignorant journalists taunt politicians for their ignorance but have no argument beyond an appeal to authority. Lapidos: "Does Mr. Rubio think scientists are lying? Or that they don't know what they're talking about? Either way, what leads him to believe that the 'portrait' of climate change offered by scientists is inaccurate?"
If scientists really were objective, dispassionate pursuers of truth, committed to following the evidence wherever it leads, then they would deserve our trust, but too many of them are just as ideological and self-interested as any other academic.

It's funny to read journalists on the left who a generation or so ago enjoined us to "Question Authority" now ridiculing those who do just that. I wonder if they would be so critical of dissenters from, say, the authority of the Vatican on questions of theology. Probably not. Consistency is not their strongest intellectual virtue, although sometimes it's difficult to discern what is.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Twilight of Liberal Education

My friend Jason passes along a fine piece by Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal on one of the ways the left is corrupting our culture. Specifically, Mr. Henninger has the American university in his sights. He begins by recounting a few of the more mindless examples of student leftism during this graduation season:
It's been a long time coming, but America's colleges and universities have finally descended into lunacy.

Last month, Brandeis University banned Somali-born feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali as its commencement speaker, purporting that "Ms. Hirsi Ali's record of anti-Islam statements" violates Brandeis's "core values."

This week higher education's ritualistic burning of college-commencement heretics spread to Smith College and Haverford College.

On Monday, Smith announced the withdrawal of Christine Lagarde, the French head of the International Monetary Fund. And what might the problem be with Madame Lagarde, considered one of the world's most accomplished women? An online petition signed by some 480 offended Smithies said the IMF is associated with "imperialistic and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide." With unmistakable French irony, Ms. Lagarde withdrew "to preserve the celebratory spirit" of Smith's commencement.

On Tuesday, Haverford College's graduating intellectuals forced commencement speaker Robert J. Birgeneau to withdraw. Get this: Mr. Birgeneau is the former chancellor of UC Berkeley, the big bang of political correctness. It gets better.

Berkeley's Mr. Birgeneau is famous as an ardent defender of minority students, the LGBT community and undocumented illegal immigrants. What could possibly be wrong with this guy speaking at Haverford??? Haverfordians were upset that in 2011 the Berkeley police used "force" against Occupy protesters in Sproul Plaza. They said Mr. Birgeneau could speak at Haverford if he agreed to nine conditions, including his support for reparations for the victims of Berkeley's violence.

In a letter, Mr. Birgeneau replied, "As a longtime civil rights activist and firm supporter of nonviolence, I do not respond to untruthful, violent verbal attacks."

Smith president Kathleen McCartney felt obliged to assert that she is "committed to leading a college where differing views can be heard and debated with respect." And Haverford's president, Daniel Weiss, wrote to the students that their demands "read more like a jury issuing a verdict than as an invitation to a discussion or a request for shared learning."
I'm a bit surprised that Henninger left out Condaleeza Rice's decision to withdraw from her speaking engagement at Rutgers after students there protested that she was guilty of "war crimes."

At any rate Henninger goes on to explain what he sees happening:
Years ago, when the academic left began to ostracize professors identified as "conservative," university administrators stood aside or were complicit. The academic left adopted a notion espoused back then by a "New Left" German philosopher—who taught at Brandeis, not coincidentally—that many conservative ideas were immoral and deserved to be suppressed. And so they were.

This shunning and isolation of "conservative" teachers by their left-wing colleagues (with many liberals silent in acquiescence) weakened the foundational ideas of American universities—freedom of inquiry and the speech rights in the First Amendment.

No matter. University presidents, deans, department heads and boards of trustees watched or approved the erosion of their original intellectual framework. The ability of aggrieved professors and their students to concoct behavior, ideas and words that violated political correctness got so loopy that the phrase itself became satirical—though not so funny to profs denied tenure on suspicion of incorrectness. Offensive books were banned and history texts rewritten to conform.

No one could possibly count the compromises of intellectual honesty made on American campuses to reach this point. It is fantastic that the liberal former head of Berkeley should have to sign a Maoist self-criticism to be able to speak at Haverford. Meet America's Red Guards.

These students at Brandeis, Smith, Haverford and hundreds of other U.S. colleges didn't discover illiberal intolerance on their own. It is fed to them three times a week by professors of mental conformity. After Brandeis banned Ms. Hirsi Ali, the Harvard Crimson's editors wrote a rationalizing editorial, "A Rightful Revocation." The legendary liberal Louis Brandeis (Harvard Law, First Amendment icon) must be spinning in his grave.

Years ago, today's middle-aged liberals embraced in good faith ideas such as that the Western canon in literature or history should be expanded to include Africa, Asia, Native Americans and such. Fair enough. The activist academic left then grabbed the liberals' good faith and wrecked it, allowing the nuttiest professors to dumb down courses and even whole disciplines into tendentious gibberish.

The slow disintegration of the humanities into what is virtually agitprop on many campuses is no secret. Professors of economics and the hard sciences roll their eyes in embarrassment at what has happened to once respectable liberal-arts departments at their institutions. Like some Gresham's Law for Ph.D.s, the bad professors drove out many good, untenured professors, and that includes smart young liberals. Most conservatives were wiped out long ago.
There are many brilliant people still teaching at our universities, but to get a sense of what Henninger has in mind when he talks about the activist academic left, spend a little time watching this video, made surreptitiously at a conference of left-wing "progressives." It illustrates why these people are referred to by some as the "looney left."

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Your assignment for today is to watch this three minute video and then come up with a plausible explanation for how such a mechanism could have evolved through blind, unguided processes:

The more scientists learn about life, consciousness, the earth, and the universe the harder it is to cling to the old Darwinian materialism so fashionable in the last century. Indeed, twentieth century materialism is beginning to look something like a philosophical version of alchemy. Alchemy seemed right during the medieval period but couldn't be sustained once our knowledge of chemistry began to grow in the 18th and 19th centuries. So it is with philosophical materialism today.

For more on the video and others like it go here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Do We Have Free Will?

Florida State University philosophy professor Alfred Mele has an interesting piece on the topic of free will at Big Questions Online.

He looks at the neuroscientific experiments, such as those by Benjamin Libet, which have been adduced in support of the view that free will is an illusion and finds the evidence inconclusive. One of the distinctions he draws in his piece is between what he calls the "modest conception" of free will and the "ambitious conception."

Here's an excerpt from his article:
Why do you care about free will? I doubt that the ability to make spontaneous, unreasoned choices in experiments of the kind I’ve been discussing has a prominent place in your answer. Whatever answer you give will tell me something about what you mean by “free will.”

In my own research and writing, I’ve worked with two different but overlapping ways of understanding what “free will” means. One is more modest than the other, and I keep them both on the table; I don’t choose between them. As I see it, both encompass the ability to learn from our successes and mistakes and the ability to improve our behavior in light of what we learn. These abilities are important not only for personal development but also for social cohesiveness. Success and failure often depend on how other people respond to our actions.

According to a modest conception of free will, as long as you’re able to make rational, informed, decisions when you’re not being subjected to undue force and also are capable of acting on the basis of some of those decisions, you have free will – at least at those times. (Being threatened with a loaded gun is a good example of undue force.) According to a more ambitious view, something crucial must be added to these abilities: If you have free will, then alternative decisions are open to you in a way requiring that the natural laws that govern your brain activity sometimes give you at most a probability of deciding one way and a probability of deciding another way.

Imagine someone who is seriously considering cheating on his taxes while filling out his 1040. The ambitious view says that he can’t make a free decision about this unless there is a real chance – left open by the combination of everything that has already happened and the laws of nature – that he will decide to cheat and a real chance that he will decide to be honest.

People tend to find ambitious free will more exciting than its modest counterpart. So I focus on it here. Most people assume that the future is open in a certain way. As they see it, not only don’t we know now exactly what we will do next week, but it also is not determined now exactly what we will do then. What will happen is partly up to us in a way that it could not be if all our actions were already in the cards, as it were.

The existence of ambitious free will depends on the truth of this assumption. Have neuroscientists shown that the assumption is false? Absolutely not.
Mele goes on to explain this assertion. It's an interesting piece, especially for the philosophically inclined.

One thing he doesn't really get around to giving a satisfactory answer to, however, is the question he poses at the outset of the passage quoted above. Why is free will important to us?

I think the answer is, at least partly, this: If there is no free will (in Mele's "ambitious" sense) then several very unpleasant consequences follow. First, if our choices are determined for us by forces outside our control then no one deserves to be praised or blamed, rewarded or punished. Desert only is warranted to the extent that we are responsible for what we do, and we can only be responsible if we are in some sense able to choose.

Secondly, there can be no moral duties or obligations if we do not freely choose our actions. Right and wrong become meaningless, at least as moral terms, in a deterministic world. To say that one ought to do X is to imply that one can do X, but unless we are in some sense free we can only do what we are determined by our environment or our genetics to do.

Thirdly, there's no ground for human dignity. Our dignity, as the existentialists insisted, is rooted in our ability to choose our destiny. Take that ability away and we have no more dignity than any other mammal.

This doesn't mean that there aren't problems with free will. There certainly are. Perhaps the biggest is trying to understand what a genuinely free choice is like. Surely a free choice is not uncaused, but what causes it, does that cause determine it, and is that cause itself determined?

Despite such vexing questions, if we wish to hold on to notions of personal responsibility, moral duty, and human dignity we have to believe that in some sense, at some moments, there really is more than one possible future. There's a lot at stake.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Closing of the Liberal Mind

When I was working my way through my undergraduate years universities were considered the one place you could go in our society where you could be sure debate was free and open and all ideas were appropriate topics for consideration. That, however, was then and this is now and now universities are rapidly earning a reputation as the most closed-minded citadels of bigotry in our culture.

Harvard professor Ruth Wisse elaborates in a column in the Wall Street Journal:
There was a time when people looking for intellectual debate turned away from politics to the university. Political backrooms bred slogans and bagmen; universities fostered educated discussion. But when students in the 1960s began occupying university property like the thugs of regimes America was fighting abroad, the venues gradually reversed. Open debate is now protected only in the polity: In universities, muggers prevail.

Assaults on intellectual and political freedom have been making headlines. Pressure from faculty egged on by Muslim groups induced Brandeis University last month not to grant Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the proponent of women's rights under Islam, an intended honorary degree at its convocation. This was a replay of 1994, when Brandeis faculty demanded that trustees rescind their decision to award an honorary degree to Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In each case, a faculty cabal joined by (let us charitably say) ignorant students promoted the value of repression over the values of America's liberal democracy.

Opponents of free speech have lately chalked up many such victories: New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly prevented from speaking at Brown University in November; a lecture by Charles Murray canceled by Azusa Pacific University in April; Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state and national-security adviser under the George W. Bush administration, harassed earlier this month into declining the invitation by Rutgers University to address this year's convocation.

Most painful to me was the Harvard scene several years ago when the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, celebrating its 50th anniversary, accepted a donation in honor of its former head tutor Martin Peretz, whose contributions to the university include the chair in Yiddish I have been privileged to hold. His enemies on campus generated a "party against Marty" that forced him to walk a gauntlet of jeering students for having allegedly offended Islam, while putting others on notice that they had best not be perceived guilty of association with him.

Universities have not only failed to stand up to those who limit debate, they have played a part in encouraging them. The modish commitment to so-called diversity replaces the ideal of guaranteed equal treatment of individuals with guaranteed group preferences in hiring and curricular offerings.
There's much more at the link. The left uses the American commitment to free speech and the first amendment like the Greeks used the wooden horse at Troy. Free speech is nothing more than a tool to be used as long as it's useful, but as soon as the left has acquired sufficient power they discard the tool and deny it to everyone else. It's a classically fascist tactic and it's rampant on the left.

It'll strike some as strange, perhaps, that one place you can go today and advance almost any idea, as long as it's done respectfully and tastefully, is almost any Christian church. Generally speaking churches are among the most open venues for the free exchange of ideas in our culture, and the reason is not hard to discern. When one believes that those with whom one disagrees are nevertheless people loved and created by God in his image, one is duty-bound to treat them and their ideas with respect.

Moreover, when one has been inculcated with the ideals of humility and kindness, when one believes that God expects this of them in their dealings with others, one is less likely to be arrogant and insulting.

As the modern university drifts further and further from these ideals we might expect that it will become more and more intolerant while, ironically enough, defending its intolerance in the name of tolerance.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Life After Life

Here's a question for you to mull over: Whatever your view of global ontology, i.e. the ultimate nature of reality, what would it do to that view if you encountered very persuasive evidence that many young children - as young as two years of age - show signs of remembering having had a past life? Suppose further that the persons they remember being were real individuals and that the child "remembered" details of the person's life that would have been impossible for the child to have heard or learned in any other way.

I was extremely skeptical of such a possibility until I started reading the book Return to Life:Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives by Dr. James Tucker. Tucker is a psychiatrist on the faculty of University of Virginia (see his CV here) and has researched thousands of such cases. He talks about some of them in this book in such sober, non-sensationalistic tones that the cumulative effect is to cause one to think that whatever the explanation of these cases is, it's not fraud and it's not childhood fantasy.

One case he investigated was of a four year-old boy who showed signs at the age of twenty two months of remembering being a pilot named James who was shot down at Iwo Jima in WWII. By the time the boy was four his parents had documented that their son had stated the pilot's name, the kind of aircraft he flew, where the plane was hit, the ship it flew from, and the name of other men on the ship. He had recurring nightmares about being trapped in the burning plane as it crashed into the sea.

When Tucker met the parents they admitted to being highly skeptical about all this. The father had deep Christian religious beliefs that were at odds with such phenomena and judged them at first to be spurious. By the time they met with Tucker they were no longer so sure.

As Tucker pursued the case he found that all of the details, and more, checked out or were very close to the historical facts. Reading Tucker's description of his investigation was uncanny.

I subsequently came across a piece in last November's Scientific American by a skeptical materialist named Jesse Bering who examined the work of Dr. Tucker's mentor in this field, a man named Ian Stevenson who died in 2007. Bering had to admit that the phenomenon Stevenson studied was so widespread and so startling that, although he's not yet convinced, he finds it very difficult to discount the possibility that somehow the mind of deceased persons can inhabit, at least for a time, the body of a child.

It should be noted that as impressive as Stevenson's work was Tucker's is apparently even moreso.

Even though I'm not a materialist I find myself in much the same position as Bering. I'm reluctant to believe in what amounts to a kind of limited reincarnation, but I'm too impressed by the evidence to rule it out. I'd welcome any thoughts from anyone who has read Tucker's book.

Here's the link to the Sci Am article.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Goldilocks Planet

Did you know that were there no moon, or if the moon we have were not the size it is, life would not exist on the earth?

Did you know that on a rocky planet with no plate tectonics life could not develop into an advanced form?

You probably knew that were there no water life would not exist, but do you know that water is necessary for life in a multitude of ways having nothing to do with hydrating our bodies?

Biochemist Michael Denton summarizes a few of the ways in which all of these factors are necessary for life and why at least some scientists think that planets that can support life might prove to be extremely rare in the cosmos in an article at Evolution News and Views. Life requires so many properties of a planet to be just right that the earth is sometimes referred to as a Goldilocks planet, because it meets all of these requirements.

The article is not long and it's very informative. Denton is the author of the book Nature's Destiny which goes into a lot more detail on the myriad ways the earth and the chemical properties of carbon, water, and oxygen are so ideally suited for life. Were the properties of these substances different from what they are in any number of very minor ways life simply could not exist.

The post at the link is good. The book is great.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Boko Haram

The president is responding to the atrocity committed by the Islamist Boko Haram in Nigeria in what is probably the most appropriate fashion. Boko Haram kidnapped and is selling into slavery almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, most of whom are Christian.

One would like to see a couple of teams of special ops sent there to hunt these savages down and rescue the girls, but Nigeria certainly isn't the only place in the world where atrocities are being committed against children. In Syria they're being gassed and murdered every day by their government, and yet I think it would be a grave mistake to get involved in Syria, so how would we justify getting militarily involved in Nigeria?

One difference, of course, is that we have a chance of succeeding in Nigeria in a way that we don't in Syria. In Syria whichever side wins we lose. There are other powers - Russia, Iran - supporting the government in Syria who would have to be confronted should we help the rebels. Moreover, the rebels are aligned with al Qaeda, so helping the rebels would be helping al Qaeda. It's a mess. In Nigeria it's much more clear-cut. No one supports Boko Haram except al Qaeda.

President Obama is sending forensics resources to assist the Nigerian military in tracking down the perpetrators of this and other horrors in Nigeria, but he's not sending troops (as far as we know) and at this point that seems about right, at least to me.

What's not right, and, in fact, is very unfortunate, is that several years ago the FBI, CIA and others in the intelligence community urged the State Department under Hillary Clinton to place Boko Haram on the list of terrorist organizations, but Ms Clinton refused to do it. Had she done so, more resources would have been brought to bear earlier to curtail the activities of this group.

Her failure to see the threat posed by this organization is not unlike her failure to see the threat posed to our embassy personnel in Benghazi.

Now Ms Clinton is going around calling for an international push to find these girls. One might ask, "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Poor Business Climate

The liberal Brookings Institute has come out with a study that shows that in the last six years, for the first time in history, more businesses have gone belly up than have started up.

From the link:
Business churning and new firm formations have been on a persistent decline during the last few decades, and the pace of net job creation has been subdued. This decline has been documented across a broad range of sectors in the U.S. economy, even in high-tech.

In short, we confirm that the previously documented declines in business dynamism in the U.S. overall are a pervasive force throughout the country geographically.

In fact, we show that dynamism has declined in all fifty states and in all but a handful of the more than three hundred and sixty U.S. metropolitan areas during the last three decades. Moreover, the performance of business dynamism across the states and metros has become increasingly similar over time. In other words, the national decline in business dynamism has been a widely shared experience.

While the reasons explaining this decline are still unknown, if it persists, it implies a continuation of slow growth for the indefinite future, unless for equally unknown reasons or by virtue of entrepreneurship-enhancing policies (such as liberalized entry of high-skilled immigrants), these trends are reversed.
Okay, far be it from me to tell economists that they're being slightly disingenuous when they say that the reasons for the poor business performance are unknown, but maybe the onerous regulations on business, high taxes, and high costs of health care might be at least part of the reason more businesses fail than start up. The government's regulatory regime sets so many hurdles, presents entrepreneurs with so many hoops to jump through, and imposes so many costs, that it's very difficult for many of them to make a go of it.

Even liberals like those who run New York state believe this. Recently the state has been running radio advertisements encouraging businesses to start up in New York by offering temporary low tax rates as an incentive. And, of course, businesses are flocking to Texas because the tax climate there is so favorable to businesses and indivduals. Texas has no corporate income tax and no individual income tax, and it's thriving.

There should be a lesson in this for our politicians in Washington and elsewhere, but for some reason not enough of them seem to be able to grasp it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Left and the Poor

Caleb Rossiter is a bona fide leftist and, his ideology notwithstanding, an adamant global-warming skeptic. He's also perplexed at his fellow lefties' claims to care about the poor while at the same time opposing fossil fuel development. He makes a good case. Here's part of it:
I've spent my life on the foreign-policy left. I opposed the Vietnam War, U.S. intervention in Central America in the 1980s and our invasion of Iraq. I have headed a group trying to block U.S. arms and training for "friendly" dictators, and I have written books about how U.S. policy in the developing world is neocolonial.

But I oppose my allies' well-meaning campaign for "climate justice." More than 230 organizations, including Africa Action and Oxfam, want industrialized countries to pay "reparations" to African governments for droughts, rising sea levels and other alleged results of what Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni calls "climate aggression." And I oppose the campaign even more for trying to deny to Africans the reliable electricity—and thus the economic development and extended years of life—that fossil fuels can bring.

The left wants to stop industrialization—even if the hypothesis of catastrophic, man-made global warming is false. John Feffer, my colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote in the Dec. 8, 2009, Huffington Post that "even if the mercury weren't rising" we should bring "the developing world into the postindustrial age in a sustainable manner." He sees the "climate crisis [as] precisely the giant lever with which we can, following Archimedes, move the world in a greener, more equitable direction."

I started to suspect that the climate-change data were dubious a decade ago while teaching statistics. Computer models used by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to determine the cause of the six-tenths of one degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperature from 1980 to 2000 could not statistically separate fossil-fueled and natural trends.

Then, as now, the computer models simply built in the assumption that fossil fuels are the culprit when temperatures rise, even though a similar warming took place from 1900 to 1940, before fossil fuels could have caused it. The IPCC also claims that the warming, whatever its cause, has slightly increased the length of droughts, the frequency of floods, the intensity of storms, and the rising of sea levels, projecting that these impacts will accelerate disastrously. Yet even the IPCC acknowledges that the average global temperature today remains unchanged since 2000, and did not rise one degree as the models predicted.

But it is as an Africanist, rather than a statistician, that I object most strongly to "climate justice." Where is the justice for Africans when universities divest from energy companies and thus weaken their ability to explore for resources in Africa? Where is the justice when the U.S. discourages World Bank funding for electricity-generation projects in Africa that involve fossil fuels, and when the European Union places a "global warming" tax on cargo flights importing perishable African goods? Even if the wildest claims about the current impact of fossil fuels on the environment and the models predicting the future impact all prove true and accurate, Africa should be exempted from global restraints as it seeks to modernize.

Mindful of the benefits, the Obama administration's Power Africa proposal and the World Bank are trying to double African access to electricity. But they have been hamstrung by the opposition of their political base to fossil fuels—even though off-grid and renewable power from the sun, tides and wind is still too unreliable, too hard to transmit, and way too expensive for Africa to build and maintain as its primary source of power.
Rossiter closes with this:
In 2010 the left tried to block a World Bank loan for a new coal-fired plant in South Africa. Fortunately, the loan was approved (with the U.S. abstaining). The drive to provide electricity for the poor has been perhaps the greatest achievement of South Africa's post-apartheid governments....How terrible to think that so many people in the West would rather block such success stories in the name of unproved science.
One can try to help the poor or one can oppose fossil fuels, but one cannot do both, at least not effectively.

One need not even think about the effect leftists' energy policies have on African poor. Consider how the less well-off in America would fare if the left had their way and limited fossil fuel production even more than they have already by refusing to grant drilling permits on federal lands and offshore.

When fossil fuels are limited their cost goes up. That raises the price of everything that relies on gasoline either in its production or its delivery, which is just about everything. When the price of fuel goes up everything becomes more expensive - food, heating, transportation, rent - and those who live on the margin with very little financial cushion are hurt the most by any increase in prices. The best way to help the poor is to bring down energy costs and the best way to do that is to increase supply.

Not only would this be a boon the world's poor, it would remove our dependence on foreign (Arab) oil, it would enable us to supply Europe's need in the event Russia cuts them off, and it would go a long way to paying down our national debt.

The left maintains that green energy can supply the needs of the poor in Africa and elsewhere, but green energy is even more expensive than fossil fuels. Either the left is so short-sighted that they haven't taken into account the effect of their policies on the poor, or their professed concern for the poor is a sham, or both.

Monday, May 5, 2014

When Putin Looks at the U.S.

Some wonder why Vladimir Putin is emboldened now, at this point in history, to seize Crimea from Ukraine and to threaten to seize the entire country of Ukraine, to be followed, perhaps, by Moldova and who knows what else.

The answer is, I think, that he's doing it because he can. He looks about him and sees nothing to stop him. Europe was never much of a factor in deterring Soviet and Russian ambitions, but a United States of enormous economic and military power once was. Unfortunately, under the current administration, the U.S. is fading as a power in both respects, and Putin is well-aware of the fact.

He sees us threaten Iran, and do nothing. He sees us threaten Syria, and do nothing. He sees us threaten the perpetrators of the Benghazi attack, and do nothing. He sees us cutting our military and incurring crushing debt, and he rightly calculates that we lack both the clout and certainly the will to contest his moves in Eastern Europe.

In other words, when Putin looked at America under Mr. Bush he, perhaps, saw this:

Now, it seems, Putin looks at America under Mr. Obama and sees this:

If I were Ukrainian I don't think I'd feel much confidence in Pajama Boy's desire or ability to dissuade Mr. Putin from carrying out his designs on my country.

It's remarkable that the lesson seems so hard to learn, but perhaps Mr. Obama is finally learning it. Weakness invites conflict. The best way to deter people from depredating their neighbors is to send the message that such behavior will be costly, and to be economically and militarily powerful enough to make the threat credible. The best way to prevent war is to be prepared for it.

When muggers know that their potential adversary looks like the top photo they behave circumspectly. When they know that their adversary looks like the bottom photo they hold him in derision.

It is because the U.S. leadership is being held in derision by Mr. Putin that Mr. Obama has had to abandon the golf course to take a tour of Asian nations whose leaders are alarmed that we've lost the will to keep our commitments to them. After watching the President renege on one threat after another in the Middle East, the Taiwanese, South Koreans and Japanese must be very concerned that this is a man who makes improvident promises which he shouldn't have made in the first place, but which, once made, he doesn't keep and who therefore can hardly be counted on to keep promises made by previous administrations.

Who can blame them?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Accounting for Fine-Tuning

A physicist at MIT named Alan Lightman, in the course of reviewing a book on science, religion and atheism, discusses the significance of cosmic fine-tuning. He writes:
There is one scientific conundrum that practically screams out the limitations of both science and religion. And that is the “fine tuning” problem. For the past 50 years or so, physicists have become more and more aware that various fundamental parameters of our universe appear to be fine-tuned to allow the emergence of life — not only life as we know it but life of any kind.

For example, if the nuclear force were slightly stronger than it is, then all of the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than it is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together.

In another, even more striking example, if the cosmic “dark energy” discovered 15 years ago were a little denser than it actually is, our universe would have expanded so rapidly that matter could never have pulled itself together to form stars. And if the dark energy were a little smaller, the universe would have collapsed long before stars had time to form. Atoms are made in stars. Without stars there would be no atoms and no life.

So, the question is: Why? Why do these parameters lie in the narrow range that allows life? There are three possibilities: First, there might be some as-yet-unknown physics that requires these parameters to be what they are. But this explanation is highly questionable — why should the laws of physics care about the emergence of life? Second possibility: God created the universe, God wanted life (for whatever reasons), so God designed the universe so that it would allow life. Third possibility, and the one favored by many physicists today: Our universe is one of zillions of different universes with a huge range of parameters, including many different values for the strength of the nuclear force and the density of dark energy.

Some universes have stars and planets, some do not. Some harbor life, some do not. In this scenario, our universe is simply an accident. If our particular universe did not have the right parameters to allow the emergence of life, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it....Unfortunately, it is almost certain that we cannot prove the existence of these other universes. We must accept their existence as a matter of faith.

And here we come to the fascinating irony of the fine-tuning problem. Both the theological explanation and the scientific explanation require faith. To be sure, there are huge differences between science and religion. Religion knows about the transcendent experience. Science knows about the structure of DNA and the orbits of planets. Religion gathers its knowledge largely by personal testament. Science gathers its knowledge by repeated experiments and mathematical calculations, and has been enormously successful in explaining much of the physical universe. But, in the manner I have described, faith enters into both enterprises.
This is true and also ironic because the greater degree of faith must be possessed by the side that claims that it doesn't rely on faith - the naturalist who embraces the multiverse hypothesis (Lightman's third option above). In order to escape the conclusion that the universe is astonishingly calibrated to be life-permitting and thus the product of an intelligent agent, the naturalist latches onto a theory for which there's no empirical evidence. Moreover, it's hard to imagine how evidence of other universes could even be possible.

In science it's always preferable to favor the explanation which is simplest and for which there is the most evidence. The multiverse hypothesis which posits a near infinite ensemble of other universes is neither simpler nor supported by more evidence than the hypothesis that a single intelligent agent designed the universe in which we live.

The skeptic philosopher David Hume taught us that we should always base our beliefs on our experience. We have a uniform experience of fine-tuning being the work of minds. We have no experience of other universes. Thus, reason indicates that belief in a multiverse is irrational given an alternative hypothesis based on experience.

Nor do we have any idea what would be generating these other worlds and where the laws came from that govern their production. In other words, what explains the multiverse?

I doubt very much, though of course I can't prove it, that any scientist or philosopher would promote the idea of a multiverse were it not for the need to avoid the conclusion that a transcendent designer of the cosmos exists. The theory has about it a whiff of ad hocness and the strong scent of desperation.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Judging People by Their Skin Color

Perhaps no group of people in our society is quicker to judge people on the basis of their skin color and ethnicity than liberal academics. In some institutions of higher learning you're discredited and discounted simply by virtue of your race. It's grossly unjust, and you might think that in this day and age we'd know better, but liberals, evidently, are slow learners.

One Princeton freshman named Tal Fortgang has had enough of the stupidity of liberal assumptions about race. He's tired of being admonished by the self-righteous racists on campus to "Check his privilege," and he has chosen to express his contempt for this phrase and those who invoke it in a letter to The Princeton Tory.

It's so good I've copied it here:
There is a phrase that floats around college campuses, Princeton being no exception, that threatens to strike down opinions without regard for their merits, but rather solely on the basis of the person that voiced them. “Check your privilege,” the saying goes, and I have been reprimanded by it several times this year.

The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung. “Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.

I do not accuse those who “check” me and my perspective of overt racism, although the phrase, which assumes that simply because I belong to a certain ethnic group I should be judged collectively with it, toes that line. But I do condemn them for diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive.

Furthermore, I condemn them for casting the equal protection clause, indeed the very idea of a meritocracy, as a myth, and for declaring that we are all governed by invisible forces (some would call them “stigmas” or “societal norms”), that our nation runs on racist and sexist conspiracies. Forget “you didn’t build that;” check your privilege and realize that nothing you have accomplished is real.

But they can’t be telling me that everything I’ve done with my life can be credited to the racist patriarchy holding my hand throughout my years of education and eventually guiding me into Princeton. Even that is too extreme. So to find out what they are saying, I decided to take their advice. I actually went and checked the origins of my privileged existence, to empathize with those whose underdog stories I can’t possibly comprehend. I have unearthed some examples of the privilege with which my family was blessed, and now I think I better understand those who assure me that skin color allowed my family and I to flourish today.

Perhaps it’s the privilege my grandfather and his brother had to flee their home as teenagers when the Nazis invaded Poland, leaving their mother and five younger siblings behind, running and running until they reached a Displaced Persons camp in Siberia, where they would do years of hard labor in the bitter cold until World War II ended. Maybe it was the privilege my grandfather had of taking on the local Rabbi’s work in that DP camp, telling him that the spiritual leader shouldn’t do hard work, but should save his energy to pass Jewish tradition along to those who might survive. Perhaps it was the privilege my great-grandmother and those five great-aunts and uncles I never knew had of being shot into an open grave outside their hometown. Maybe that’s my privilege.

Or maybe it’s the privilege my grandmother had of spending weeks upon weeks on a death march through Polish forests in subzero temperatures, one of just a handful to survive, only to be put in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she would have died but for the Allied forces who liberated her and helped her regain her health when her weight dwindled to barely 80 pounds.

Perhaps my privilege is that those two resilient individuals came to America with no money and no English, obtained citizenship, learned the language and met each other; that my grandfather started a humble wicker basket business with nothing but long hours, an idea, and an iron will—to paraphrase the man I never met: “I escaped Hitler. Some business troubles are going to ruin me?” Maybe my privilege is that they worked hard enough to raise four children, and to send them to Jewish day school and eventually City College.

Perhaps it was my privilege that my own father worked hard enough in City College to earn a spot at a top graduate school, got a good job, and for 25 years got up well before the crack of dawn, sacrificing precious time he wanted to spend with those he valued most—his wife and kids—to earn that living. I can say with certainty there was no legacy involved in any of his accomplishments. The wicker business just isn’t that influential. Now would you say that we’ve been really privileged? That our success has been gift-wrapped?

That’s the problem with calling someone out for the “privilege” which you assume has defined their narrative. You don’t know what their struggles have been, what they may have gone through to be where they are. Assuming they’ve benefited from “power systems” or other conspiratorial imaginary institutions denies them credit for all they’ve done, things of which you may not even conceive. You don’t know whose father died defending your freedom. You don’t know whose mother escaped oppression. You don’t know who conquered their demons, or may still be conquering them now.

The truth is, though, that I have been exceptionally privileged in my life, albeit not in the way any detractors would have it.

It has been my distinct privilege that my grandparents came to America. First, that there was a place at all that would take them from the ruins of Europe. And second, that such a place was one where they could legally enter, learn the language, and acclimate to a society that ultimately allowed them to flourish.

It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.

It was my privilege that my grandfather was blessed with resolve and an entrepreneurial spirit, and that he was lucky enough to come to the place where he could realize the dream of giving his children a better life than he had.

But far more important for me than his attributes was the legacy he sought to pass along, which forms the basis of what detractors call my “privilege,” but which actually should be praised as one of altruism and self-sacrifice. Those who came before us suffered for the sake of giving us a better life. When we similarly sacrifice for our descendents by caring for the planet, it’s called “environmentalism,” and is applauded. But when we do it by passing along property and a set of values, it’s called “privilege.” (And when we do it by raising questions about our crippling national debt, we’re called Tea Party radicals.) Such sacrifice of any form shouldn’t be scorned, but admired.

My exploration did yield some results. I recognize that it was my parents’ privilege and now my own that there is such a thing as an American dream which is attainable even for a penniless Jewish immigrant.

I am privileged that values like faith and education were passed along to me. My grandparents played an active role in my parents’ education, and some of my earliest memories included learning the Hebrew alphabet with my Dad. It’s been made clear to me that education begins in the home, and the importance of parents’ involvement with their kids’ education—from mathematics to morality—cannot be overstated. It’s not a matter of white or black, male or female or any other division which we seek, but a matter of the values we pass along, the legacy we leave, that perpetuates “privilege.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Behind every success, large or small, there is a story, and it isn’t always told by sex or skin color. My appearance certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, and to assume that it does and that I should apologize for it is insulting. While I haven’t done everything for myself up to this point in my life, someone sacrificed themselves so that I can lead a better life. But that is a legacy I am proud of.

I have checked my privilege. And I apologize for nothing.
If more people had Fortgang's moxie political correctness would be a much less insidious feature of our culture. I imagine that the man who dreamed of the day when we'd all be judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin is very disappointed in the way things have turned out.