Friday, July 31, 2015

Painful Admission

One might need to resort to negative numbers to count the times I've thought Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was correct about anything, but the following video offers an instance of one of those rare occasions.

MSNBC host Chris Matthews presses her, in his usual boorish fashion, to explain what distinguishes modern Democrats from socialists and Ms Wasserman Schultz is clearly uncomfortable with the question. Her unease doubtless has something to do with her realization that the answer to Matthews' question is "nothing."

Rather than admit on national television that there's not much difference at all between Democrats and socialists, an admission that would cripple the party in many parts of the country where people have seen the effects of socialism in places like, say, Detroit and Greece, the chairwoman tries to deflect the question. She adverts instead to the differences between Democrats and Republicans and, probably unintentionally, makes an amusing but true admission: There's a much greater gap between Democrats and Republicans than between Democrats and socialists.
This is not news, of course, to anyone who has been paying attention to what's been happening in the Democratic party since the days of George McGovern, but it's nice to see a prominent Democrat admit that her party rejects the economic ideals of small government and free markets that have brought so much prosperity to this country until relatively recently and embraces instead the high tax, high spending policies which have been proven to be disastrous in so many places both at home and abroad.

There is a reason why, in general, the states and cities in this country which are in the worst economic shape, tend to be dominated by Democrats and the states and cities in the best shape tend to be run by Republicans. Wasserman Schultz is correct in saying that there's a fundamental disagreement between the two parties over the best way to produce jobs, wealth, and well-being, and to the extent the socialist model is followed in a state or municipality to that extent one tends to find entities in dire economic condition. Most of the states graded "low" to "poor" on this map are "blue" states. Most of those rated "fair" to "high" are "red" states:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Huck and the Hornet's Nest

I had MSNBC's Morning Joe on the television yesterday morning and listened dumbfounded as the group around the table took turns flagellating Mike Huckabee in absentia for having stated the obvious about the Iran nuclear deal and, worse, refusing to perform penance by apologizing. What Huckabee said the other day that earned him the opprobrium of the Morning Joe crowd was this:
This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven. This is the most idiotic thing, this Iran deal. It should be rejected by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and by the American people. I read the whole deal. We gave away the whole store. It’s got to be stopped.
Almost everyone from President Obama on down has reacted to this statement as if Huckabee were the dentist who had just shot Cecil. Most of his critics jumped on the third sentence in the quote above which claimed that Obama was, in effect, preparing the ground for another Holocaust.

Granted the metaphor is unkind to Mr. Obama, and perhaps even unfair, but maybe not.

The issue in question is whether the practical effect of the president's deal is to enable Iran to make good on the threats and execrations it has been pronouncing on Israel ever since the Ayatollahs came to power in the 1970's. If it is, and many critics believe it is, then the comparison to the Holocaust is certainly apt.

As David French at National Review Online observes:
How many times do Iranian officials and Iranian allies have to express genocidal intentions before we believe them? While there’s long been argument as to whether former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad actually said Israel “must be wiped off the map,” there is an enormous amount of evidence that this sentiment has been repeated (even stated in English) and amplified by Iranian officials and allies on multiple occasions.

For example, the inscription below (on a missile, no less) has been translated as saying “Israel must be uprooted and wiped off [the pages of] history.”

And in the banner below, the Iranians helpfully provided their own translation:

You can see other images and translations in this excellent report from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Huckabee himself also tweeted other genocidal Iranian threats, including the Iranian Martyr Foundation’s threat “to replace Israel . . . with a big Holocaust.” Iran’s supreme leader has threatened to “raze” Israeli cities in the event of war, and Hezbollah’s leader has left no room for imagination, declaring “”If all the Jews gathered in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide. . . . It is an open war until the elimination of Israel and until the death of the last Jew on earth.”

And if you think Hezbollah isn’t relevant to Iran’s plan, no lesser light than the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said, “In the near future, we will witness the destruction of the cancerous microbe Israel by the strong and capable hands of the nation of Hezbollah.” The examples could go on and on.
In other words, Iran has threatened Israel with genocide for years. If they obtain a nuclear weapon they'll finally have the means to bring about a thermonuclear holocaust and fulfill their dream of killing millions of Jews. The Obama deal seems designed to at best delay by a mere few years the production of such a weapon. So how, exactly, is Huckabee either wrong or irresponsible in calling our attention to what a nuclear Iran portends? I don't see it, but Mika Brzezinski sure does:
In case you didn't get it all here's the transcript. It's one long non-sequitur:
If you’ve been to Auschwitz, if you’ve been to Birkenau, if you’ve been to any of these places where people were killed, and you see the piles of glasses, the piles of hair, the piles of shoes, and the piles of clothes and every bit of their humanity that had to be stripped away, handed over, as they went and then burned to their deaths, among other things, it’s really not a good comment to say. It’s a deal breaker! It should be over for him. You don’t say that. And, by the way, if you said it by mistake, that’s a sign of who you really are.
It's hard to parse, in a charitable way, exactly what Ms Brzezinski's trying to say here, but she seems to be insisting that if you've seen the places where Jews were exterminated then you're a disgusting human being if you say that Iran wants to repeat the whole horrible process.

How her conclusion could possibly follow from its antecedents is beyond me, and why she displays so much self-righteous revulsion over someone making the common-sense claim that this deal will enable the Iranians to perpetrate another Holocaust of the Jews is a complete mystery as well. I wonder if even she knows why.

Semi-unrelated exit question: Why is there so much media outrage (and here) over the death of a lion, as awful as it is, and almost none in the liberal media, at least, over the videos showing Planned Parenthood selling baby body parts for profit? Just wondering.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Minor Quibble

Timothy Jackson has an excellent column at The Federalist in which he argues cogently against the inhumanity and moral bankruptcy of the abortion regime in this country. I urge VP readers interested in a philosophical, rather than a theological, argument against abortion to check it out. Nevertheless, I want to nit-pick.

At one point in his piece Jackson says this:
In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I am a Christian and I believe that abortion, properly defined, is unjust. Even though I believe that coming to know God through Christ Jesus is the greatest good in life, I don’t believe affirming the Christian message, or any religious message, is required to see that abortion is wrong. All we need to see that abortion is unjust are our moral intuitions, the best scientific evidence, and logic.

Each of these criteria is summed up in the following syllogism:
  1. All innocent human beings should be afforded protections under the law.
  2. The unborn is an innocent human being.
  3. Therefore, the unborn should be afforded protections under the law.
Premise one is a moral intuition, premise two is application of the best scientific evidence, and the conclusion is what logically follows if premises one and two are true.

When I say “moral intuition,” I am speaking of a cognitive faculty that allows us to immediately recognize injustice when it is witnessed. Contemporary philosophers call this category of belief a “properly basic belief.” These are foundational beliefs concerning the nature of reality. They are not beliefs that we infer from evidences or arguments, but immediately recognize and take for granted. To say a belief is “properly basic” is to say that the given belief is reasonable to take for granted. A common example is the properly basic belief that the physical world is real and our physical senses are reliable.

Philosophers will tell you there is no way to prove that you are not in the Matrix right now. There is no way to get outside of your physical senses to show that your physical senses are reliable. You just assume the world is really there and it is reasonable to believe so. We could not give a successful argument to prove the world is not an illusion. Yet we would rightly call someone who claimed we were living in the Matrix crazy, short of them providing us with a red pill, of course.
I agree with everything Jackson says here, but I'd quibble with his application of properly basic beliefs. Proper basicality only provides warrant for one's own beliefs, it cannot compel belief in others. My strong conviction that premise 1. is true only justifies my believing it, and then only insofar as there are no compelling arguments (defeaters) against my belief.

Thus, Jackson, in order to persuade others that abortion is wrong, has to appeal to similar intuitions in them, and to the extent they agree with him about premise 1. his argument is successful (he defends premise 2. further along in the article), but here's my concern:

A pro-choicer could deny that premise 1. is properly basic for her, or that she has a defeater for it. She could argue, for example, that inherent rights are fictions based upon the additional fiction that humans are created in the image of God, and that no one has any inherent, God-given right to be protected under the law at all, since there is no God to grant such a right. Thus, if a politically powerful segment of the population decides not to grant the unborn such protection they're not transgressing some abstract obligation to protect innocent human beings because there are no such obligations.

So, I judge Jackson's argument to be sound, but only because I'm a theist and believe that all human beings do have a right, endowed by their Creator, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, I'm not convinced that Jackson is correct in saying that one can make the argument against abortion completely independently of one's theological worldview.

In any case, his argument should certainly make most pro-choicers squirm because most of them, even some who are atheists, would reflexively want to affirm premise 1., and though they'd probably like to deny premise 2. they'd be hard-pressed to do so. Read the rest of Jackson's essay at the link. It's good.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Embarrassingly Bad Arguments

Jeff Schweitzer, a former White House policy advisor and a Ph.D. in marine biology as well as in neurophysiology, must be a very bright guy, which makes a recent column by him in the Huffington Post all the more remarkable for the sophomoric silliness of its argumentation.

Schweitzer evidently wishes to persuade his readers that the recent discovery of an earth-like planet elsewhere in our galaxy threatens to discredit the Bible and perhaps mark the end of any warrant for belief in God, but the reasons he gives in support of this are unworthy of a man of such achievements.

He immediately gets off on the wrong foot:
[T]here are likely thousands or millions or even billions of such earth-like planets in the universe. The discovery of just one such world is good evidence for many more: after all, we know of 100 billion galaxies each with as many as 300 billion stars (big variation per galaxy). Astronomers estimate that there are about 70 billion trillion stars. Math wizardry is not necessary to conclude we did not by chance find the only other possibly habitable planet among that huge population of stars.

With this discovery, we come ever closer to the idea that life is common in the universe. Perhaps you are not convinced.
Well, no, I'm not convinced. The discovery of a planet roughly the size of the earth orbiting in the habitable zone of a star, is certainly a necessary condition for life to exist on it, but it's nowhere near a sufficient condition. So many other factors are necessary for the planet to sustain life, much less advanced life, that the odds against any planet in the galaxy, or in the hundred billion other galaxies, exhibiting them all are astronomical. Earth could well be the only planet which does exhibit all of the characteristics necessary for advanced life, and to believe otherwise is, at this point, little more than an act of faith.

Furthermore, to assert, as Schweitzer does, that this discovery brings us ever closer to the idea that life is common in the universe is like saying that the discovery in the 16th century that the earth revolves around the sun brought us ever closer to sending a man to the Andromeda galaxy. Even if our planet is not the only one in the universe that can sustain life it doesn't follow that any other similar planets there may be actually have life on them, and it certainly doesn't follow that life is common in the universe. Schweitzer seems to think that given a few appropriate conditions the emergence of life is inevitable, but this again is an act of faith.

In any case, these little exaggerations are as nothing compared to what Dr. Schweitzer has in store for us further on:
[L]et me speculate what would happen should we ever find evidence of life beyond earth even if you think such discovery unlikely. I would like here to preempt what will certainly be a re-write of history on the part of the world's major religions. I predict with great confidence that all will come out and say such a discovery is completely consistent with religious teachings. My goal here is to declare this as nonsense before it happens....

Let us be clear that the Bible is unambiguous about creation: the earth is the center of the universe, only humans were made in the image of god, and all life was created in six days. All life in all the heavens. In six days. So when we discover that life exists or existed elsewhere in our solar system or on a planet orbiting another star in the Milky Way, or in a planetary system in another galaxy, we will see a huge effort to square that circle with amazing twists of logic and contorted justifications. But do not buy the inevitable historical edits: life on another planet is completely incompatible with religious tradition. Any other conclusion is nothing but ex-post facto rationalization to preserve the myth.
This is so bad, so far wrong, that one is embarrassed for Dr. Schweitzer for having made such public display of his ignorance. He states that:
  1. the Bible is unambiguous about creation
  2. the Bible teaches that the earth is the center of the universe
  3. the Bible teaches that only humans were made in the image of God
  4. the Bible teaches that all life was created in six days.
The first three of these claims are patently false, and the last is the subject of intense disagreement among Christian scholars, but even if all four claims were true how are they inconsistent with life existing elsewhere in the cosmos? Nothing in those statements precludes the possibility that life on earth is not unique. Schweitzer assays to reinforce his asseverations by drawing on the Genesis record, though he misidentifies Genesis 1:26,27 by calling it Genesis 1:1. This is a small error perhaps, but it serves to cast doubt on Schweitzer's understanding of his topic. He writes:
From Genesis 1:1 [sic], we get:

God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of god he created him; male and female he created them.

Nothing in that mentions alien worlds, which of course the ancients knew nothing about. Man was told to rule over the fish on the earth, not on other planets. But god would have known of these alien worlds, so it is curious he did not instruct the authors to include the language.
In other words, 1) if the Genesis account is accurate then we would expect it to give us an accurate account of life on other planets. 2) Since it makes no mention of such life we are left to believe there is none. 3) So, if it should turn out that there is life on other planets we can only conclude that the Bible is wrong.

Set aside the fact that premise 1) is clearly false. Taken as a whole the argument is what is called in elementary logic an argument from silence. It's like arguing that if the Bible were really the true word of God it would mention Antarctica because God would have known about Antarctica. Since the Bible nowhere mentions Antarctica it cannot be the true word of God. Most people learn to recognize this fallacy by the time they reach puberty, but Dr. Schweitzer, in all his learning, has evidently never come across it before.

Later he gives us another textbook example of the same fallacy when he says:
None of the 66 books of the bible make any reference to life other than that created by god here on earth in that six-day period. If we discover life elsewhere, one must admit that is an oversight. So much so in fact that such a discovery must to all but the most closed minds call into question the entire story of creation, and anything that follows from that story. How could a convincing story of life's creation leave out life? Even if the story is meant to be allegorical, the omission of life elsewhere makes no sense.
It's only an oversight, of course, if the purpose of the Bible is to provide an exhaustive description of the universe, but that was surely not its purpose. Schweitzer may as well have complained that Genesis doesn't mention quasars, black holes, and the moons around Jupiter and that the omission of these celestial objects makes no sense since surely God would have known about them.

To be sure, if life is discovered elsewhere in the cosmos, it will raise some interesting questions, but it will have no bearing whatsoever on the basic claims of Christian theism.

Let's close with another example, among many that Schweitzer provides, of his philosophical/theological sloppiness. He writes:
There is also a problem with Genesis 1:3: And God said, "Let there be light" and there was light. Well, the earth is only 4.5 billion years old, yet the universe, and all the light generating stars in ancient galaxies, are more than 13 billion years old. So when god said, "Let there be light" there already had been light shining bright for at least 10 billion years.
Dr. Schweitzer here fails to acknowledge that most people believe Gen. 1:3 to be a reference to the initial creation event, the Big Bang. Why assume that it comes ten billion years later?

I don't have all the letters after my name that Dr. Schweitzer has after his but even so, I'd like to presume to give him a word of advice. Before venturing out of your field of expertise to make dogmatic pronouncements about what is and is not the case in other disciplines, please read up on what the brightest minds in that other field are saying about the issues you want to raise. In other words, do some homework. You'll save yourself a lot of embarrassment.

Monday, July 27, 2015

What's He Thinking?

This report is part of a perplexing juxtaposition of stories involving President Obama:
Just hours before a gunman claimed three lives inside a Louisiana movie theater, President Obama on Thursday said the inability to pass gun-control legislation has been the frustrating aspect of his presidency.

In an interview with the BBC recorded Thursday afternoon, the president vowed to continue trying but seemed resigned to the fact that this Congress is unlikely to approve any significant changes to gun laws.

“That is an area where if you ask me where has been the one area where I feel that I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied, it is the fact that the United States of America is the one advanced nation on earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense, gun-safety laws, even in the face of repeated mass killings,” Mr. Obama said.

“And you know, if you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands. And for us not to be able to resolve that issue has been something that is distressing. But it is not something that I intend to stop working on in the remaining 18 months,” he said.
The perplexing juxtaposition referred to above is that the president expressed his frustration at not being able to disarm the American people just days after having worked so hard to secure an agreement with the world's worst state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, that will free up $100 billion for them to supply weapons to terrorists around the globe and which they'll also be able to spend on developing a nuclear weapon with which to kill millions.

Weapons in the hands of the wrong people is indeed a problem in the U.S., but it's no less a problem elsewhere in the world. Why strive to take guns out of the hands of Americans, the vast majority of whom use them responsibly, while at the same time work just as hard for a deal that'll facilitate putting guns into the hands of people, the vast majority of whom will use them to kill innocents?

Either President Obama does not see the irony and inconsistency in this, or he sees it and doesn't care. If it's the former then he's obtuse, if it's the latter then he's malevolent. As bad as it may make him appear, let's hope it's the former.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Table Talk

At dinner with friends last night the conversation turned briefly to politics. One person announced that she supports Hillary, one came out for Sanders, and one hoped that Trump would prevail. My spirit sank within me. These are all intelligent people, what could they possibly see in any of these candidates? What was I missing?

Hillary Clinton is a corrupt, dishonest opportunist whose public life is wreathed in scandal and who, despite being given so many unmerited opportunities, has not a single accomplishment in her career except having married a man who carried her to national prominence. It's very difficult to say exactly what she stands for, other than her own personal aggrandizement, and what reason anyone could have to vote for her.

Bernie Sanders is an acknowledged socialist who believes Barack Obama has not gone far enough in dismantling the capitalist system that has brought a higher standard of living to more people than any other system at any other time in history. Socialism has proven unsustainable and thus an abject failure everywhere it has been practiced. It has only worked for a time in European countries which were able to shelter under the American military umbrella in the post WWII era and which were thus able to spend their dwindling resources on high pensions, health care, education, and housing rather than defense.

As Margaret Thatcher famously observed, however, the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money, and you wind up an economic basket-case like Greece. Why would anyone vote for a man whose policies, if implemented, would turn the United States into Greece?

Donald Trump is saying things that resonate with the American people, especially about immigration. He's saying things other politicians won't say, and best of all he's not afraid to stick his thumb in the eye of the media, which is always enjoyable to watch. The problem, however, is that much of what Trump is saying today is at odds with what he was saying a decade or so ago. He's touching a nerve but, given his past statements, one questions his sincerity, not to mention his egotism. In fact, Trump is in many ways a mirror image of Barack Obama, so why, with so many more tested and principled candidates in the GOP field, would someone throw their support to Trump?

Anyway, nobody at last night's dinner asked me for my opinion so, not wanting my friends to be offended by having their views questioned in front of others (people often get testy or embarrassed when asked to actually defend their opinions), I didn't say much, but inwardly I despaired. I can only hope that my friends do not represent a cross-section of the American electorate. After all, if intelligent people are prepared to vote for corrupt crony-capitalists, socialists, or unprincipled demagogues, what in the world are the masses of uninformed, disinterested 2016 voters going to do?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Liberalism's Heavy Price

The Obama administration has refused to enforce our borders and has released thousands of illegal aliens who are known to be felons onto our streets while sanctuary cities around the country have given these criminals a haven from prosecution and deportation. Why is the president doing this? I understand that he wants to flood the country with illegals who will one day become citizens and vote Democratic, but why is he turning so many vicious criminals loose on the American public?

It seems like an act of utter madness. It's what one would do if one were intent upon destroying the fabric of a society, and yet that's what's happening in this country, and the media has adopted the code of omertà. There's an almost total media blackout on this crisis except when a high profile case like that of the murder of Kathryn Steinle manages to interrupt the media's fascination with Donald Trump stories.

J. Christian Adams has a piece at PJ Media in which he presents some truly frightening statistics about what the president's administration is doing:
The murder of Kathryn Steinle on the Embarcadero in San Francisco by an illegal alien is the most familiar example of a crime committed by an alien. But an unreleased internal report by the Texas Department of Public Safety reveals that aliens have been involved in thousands of crimes in Texas alone, including nearly 3,000 homicides.

PJ Media obtained a never-before-released copy of a Texas DPS report on human smuggling containing the numbers of crimes committed by aliens in Texas. According to the analysis conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety, foreign aliens committed 611,234 unique crimes in Texas from 2008 to 2014, including thousands of homicides and sexual assaults.

The report describes an alien crime wave of staggering proportions exacerbated by federal officials unwilling to enforce immigration laws.
Not only are aliens committing crimes at this horrific rate, but the Obama administration is inexplicably freeing them from jail and sending them back into our communities:
Yesterday, Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) grilled Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldaña about the 104,000 criminals that ICE released in 2013, and the 68,000 criminals against whom ICE refused to start deportation proceedings.

Saldaña calls it “good news” that only 30,558 criminal aliens were released by ICE in 2014.
Add to this the policy of granting criminal aliens a safe haven in sanctuary cities which refuse to obey federal immigration law and you have a portrait of a country which seems determined to commit national suicide. Nobody in the administration from the president on down feels any obligation to obey immigration laws passed by Congress, yet if a family bakery refuses to cater a gay wedding they're fined $135,000 and all but put out of business for failing to obey the law. How can the nation's leader flout the law while demanding that everyone else hew to it? What kind of example is he setting?

Kathryn Steinle was shot in the back for no reason whatsoever by an illegal alien who had been deported numerous times but who had taken refuge in a sanctuary city. Her last words as she lay dying in her father's arms, were "Help me dad. Help me."

I don't see how President Obama, and every person who supports his immigration policy and/or supports sanctuary cities for illegal aliens, can escape personal responsibility for her death. Every one of those people should put themselves in the heartbreaking position of Kathryn's father and ask whether the policy they endorse is worth watching their daughter's life ebb away while she pleads with her remaining strength for her helpless father to save her.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Kirsten Powers on the Planned Parenthood Debacle

The videos of Planned Parenthood higher ups negotiating deals for baby body parts and, in the most recent example, joking about wanting the buyers to sweeten the deal so she can buy herself a Lamborghini, are pretty awful. In response, Planned Parenthood (PP) and it's media apologists have come to the defense of PP and its employees, but none of their responses have much of anything to do with the deplorable state of PP's ethics or concern for the law.

Kirsten Powers, a liberal, mind you, who worked in the Clinton administration, pillories some of the more egregious excuses that PP's defenders have employed in a column at USA Today. I'd like to add a couple of thoughts to what she writes.

She begins by noting that Cecile Richards, the CEO of PP, found nothing objectionable in the Dr. Deborah Nucatola videos other than the doctor's "tone":
Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards apologized last week for the uncompassionate tone her senior director of medical research, Deborah Nucatola, used to explain the process by which she harvests aborted body parts to be provided for medical research.

Nucatola had been caught on an undercover video talking to anti-abortion activists posing as representatives of a biological tissue procurement company. The abortion doctor said, “I’d say a lot of people want liver,” and “a lot of people want intact hearts these days.” Explaining how she could perform later-term abortions to aid the harvesting of such intact organs, she said, “We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”
People who can insouciently discuss killing a baby by crushing it in such a way as to leave internal organs salvageable for sale, and those who find nothing disgusting about this except, perhaps, the tone, have, I fear, lost at least some of their humanity.
A second undercover video released Tuesday shows another Planned Parenthood official talking about using a “less crunchy” way to perform abortions while preserving salable fetal tissue.

This is stomach-turning stuff. But the problem here is not one of tone. It’s the crushing. It’s the organ harvesting of fetuses that abortion-rights activists want us to believe have no more moral value than a fingernail. It’s the lie that these are not human beings worthy of protection. There is no nice way to talk about this. As my friend and former Obama White House staffer Michael Wear tweeted, “It should bother us as a society that we have use for aborted human organs, but not the baby that provides them.”
Indeed. If the baby has grown to the point where it has well-developed internal organs then we're not talking about a blob of undifferentiated tissue, we're talking about a living human being.
Richards worked to discredit the video by complaining it was “heavily edited.” But the nearly three-hour unedited video — a nauseating journey through the inner workings of the abortion industry — was posted at the same time as the edited video. Richards intoned menacingly that the video was “secretly recorded.” So what? When Mitt Romney was caught by “secret video” making his 47% remarks, the means of attaining the information was not the focus of the story.

Planned Parenthood’s public relations firm also portrayed the crushing and organ harvesting as a “ humanitarian undertaking,” and tried to tarnish the maker of the video with a white paper that deemed him unfit because he once wrote an article for the “opposition” outlet The Weekly Standard, a well-respected conservative magazine. Let’s talk about anything except the information disclosed by Nucatola.
Yes. Change the subject. Deflect attention away from the grisly butchery that PP is engaged in and complain instead about the nefarious tactics used by the imposters who surreptitiously recorded the conversation. It was so unfair, so sneaky, it was a form of entrapment. Never mind what the video reveals about what's really going on in abortatoriums around the country.
It’s a measure of how damning the video is that Planned Parenthood’s usual defenders were nowhere to be found. There was total silence from The New York Times editorial board and their 10 (out of 11) pro-abortion rights columnists. Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi — both recipients of Planned Parenthood’s highest honor, the Margaret Sanger Award — have been mum. But a few loyalists took up the cause, including Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak, whose column was headlined: “Planned Parenthood deserves to be supported, not attacked.” Actually, it's fetuses who are under attack. By Planned Parenthood.
On what grounds does PP deserve to be supported? Because they sometimes help troubled women? Even if that were true, it's a bit like saying Bill Cosby deserves to be supported, not attacked, because he sometimes helped young actresses.
Dvorak invoked a common defense against the barbarism of late-term abortion: “The details are gruesome, as are many medical procedures and how doctors and nurses tell stories about the operating room.” But nobody is morally repulsed by stories of heart transplants.
True enough, but then neither is the patient intentionally crushed to death when given a heart transplant.
Mississippi abortion doctor Willie Parker — who was lauded by Esquire for his “ abortion ministry” — ran with the trope that direct quotes from a Planned Parenthood doctor constitute a vicious attack, but went a step further: He compared Nucatola to Jesus. “It's no secret that my frame of reference for the work that I do and in terms of generating compassion is related to my religious understanding and, in particular, my Christian religious understanding,” Parker told Cosmopolitan magazine. “I'm thinking about a strong parallel between what's happening to my colleague (Nucatola) and the trial week of Jesus before he was crucified (as) he was marched from place to place, asked to answer allegations.”

When abortion doctors are elevated to gods who may not be questioned or held accountable, society has officially gone off the rails.
And when a Christian doctor can compare a colleague who callously destroys the lives of helpless infants and then seeks to profit from the sale of the child's organs to the One who said that it would be better for a person who harms a child to have a millstone tied around his neck and dropped into the sea than to face the judgment that awaits him, that doctor has a very peculiar understanding of the person of Christ and has forfeited whatever moral authority he may once have had.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Modern Slavery

Slavery was once practiced by the most advanced civilizations on earth, but in modern times is found only in retrograde, morally depauperate societies where slavery is still very much alive and apparently thriving.
In June 2015 ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) held a slave auction in eastern Syria. On sale where 42 Yazidi women, who were offered to ISIL men for between $500 and $2,000. Since the slaves were not Moslem they could not be married, so their owners would use them for sex, housekeeping or whatever.

ISIL was depending on Moslem scripture to justify this. Actually, ISIL is not alone as there is still a lot of slavery in the Islamic world. There is also a lot of hatred for non-Moslems especially those they consider pagans. ISIL considers the Yazidis pagans. It was with Yazidis that ISIL reintroduced slavery (of non-Moslems, especially “pagans” like Yazidis) into their new Islamic State. This may appall many in the West and to placate foreigners most Arab nations have outlawed slavery, despite the fact that it still exists and continues to exist with much local support.
Slavery is also found in Mauritania, Sudan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia and almost always involves the enslavement of black Africans to Islamic Arabs:
The divisions in Mauritania, with a population of less than four million, are between the Arab (about a third) and "former slaves" (black Africans from the south). Mauritania exists on the border between Arabs and Bantu (the ethnic group that predominates in Africa south of the Sahara). Blacks were the slaves, and slavery was formerly abolished only in 1981. But slavery still exists in Mauritania. In Sudan the pro-Arab government has used slavery to encourage Arab tribes to make war on darker skinned “African” tribes. The government allowed any captives taken to be enslaved.

It’s not just Mauritania and Sudan that have problems with slavery. In 2010 Yemeni anti-slavery groups forced their government to investigate families living in the countryside that were still keeping slaves. At least 500 Africans are believed to be enslaved, some of them recent migrants, others the descendants of slaves.

Slavery was outlawed in Arabia in the early 1960s, but that only eliminated the more obvious cases in urban areas. The practice continued in more remote areas. It's been going on for thousands of years, during which Arabs are believed to have enslaved up to 20 million Africans. As a result, up to twenty percent of the people in Arabia appear to have African ancestors and genetic studies have confirmed this.
Why is it that throughout history it has predominately been black Africans who wind up in shackles? Why is it that the Muslim practice of slavery, condoned by the Koran, is not more vociferously condemned by the leaders of the Western world? Could it be that the juxtaposition of the three facts contained in the foregoing two questions holds the answer?

Consider that the victims are mostly black Africans, the perpetrators are mostly Muslims, and the Western elites have largely embraced a moral and cultural relativism that saps them of any ability to make moral judgments and perhaps we have the germ of an answer as to why the world expresses so little outrage.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Black Lives Matter

Do all lives matter? Evidently not to liberal progressives, they don't. When former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley suggested such a heretical notion at a recent Netroots convention he was roundly booed by the attendees, forcing him to embarrass himself with an abject, ignominious apology for inadvertently uttering the outrageous notion that all people, not just blacks, have value.

Notwithstanding the remarkable stupidity of the reaction to O'Malley's "gaffe" and his grovelling clarification, black lives do, of course, matter, but those who insist on the slogan and shout down those who would like to be rather more inclusive, are generally focusing their energies in the wrong direction. The implication of "Black Lives Matter" is that whites don't place a sufficiently high value on black lives, that whites, especially white policemen, hold black people in low esteem. But those who truly believe that black lives matter need to take a harder look at the black community itself. Of course, to people who spout slogans facts are often irrelevant, but we need to consider them nevertheless.

Consider a few: In 2011 there were 6,309 black homicide victims in the United States. As a share of the population the murder rate of blacks is four times that for other racial groups, and over 90% of those victims were murdered by other blacks. Many of the remainder were murdered by Hispanics in gang-related activity.

Furthermore, despite the fact that blacks are only 13% of the population and whites comprise over 63%, blacks murdered whites twice as frequently as whites (including Hispanics) murdered blacks in 2013.

What about black deaths at the hands of white cops? Of all the people killed by cops in the decade ending in 2011, most of which were justified, 49% were white and 30% were black.

The 30% figure may seem disproportionately high since blacks constitute only 13% of the population, but given that blacks also constitute the largest cohort of perpetrators of violence against police it's not surprising that a disproportionate number would wind up being shot.

And blacks are indeed the worst perpetrators of violence against police, murdering cops at rates out of all proportion to their percentage of the population. They comprise 13% of the population but in 2013 they were responsible for 42% of the murders of police officers.

In other words, blacks suffer far more grievously at the hands of other blacks than they do from either whites in general or white cops in particular. Moreover, in cases of interracial murder, not counting other assaults from which injury results, blacks murder whites much more frequently than whites murder blacks. If it doesn't seem that way it's only because the media generally downplays or ignores black on white violence and goes wall-to-wall with stories of white on black violence on the rare occasions when it occurs.

In fact, to paint the picture more vividly, although the United States ranks third in the world for murder, according to this source, if Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans were deleted from the United States' homicide statistics, the U.S. would drop to fourth from the bottom for murders.

If black lives matter, and they do, then those who are concerned about the carnage, especially among young black males, should focus their attention not on white racism or white police who have probably saved far more black lives than they've taken, certainly more than they've taken without justification, but on the real source of the problem, the awful dysfunctionalities which exist in the black community - dysfunctionalities that only blacks themselves can cure.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Stem Cell Progress

Stem cell researchers originally used cells extracted from human embryos, a process which resulted in the death of the embryo. This, of course, was an intolerable situation for those who hold to a high view of human life, and it was a great relief a few years ago when technology advanced to the point where other types of cells, notably skin cells, could be made pluripotent without destroying embryonic human beings.

Now researchers working with skin cells are beginning to see their work bearing fruit as this article in the UK Independent notes:
Scientists have made tiny human hearts that can actually beat from nothing — and they’re so small that they can barely be seen with the naked eye.

The hearts have been grown using only stem cells, for the very first time, the New Scientist reports. As such, it mimics the processes that happen when humans hearts’ grow for the first time — except it happens in a lab, at the prompting of researchers.

The new hearts were created using stems cells that were made by reversing human skin cells, so that they turned back to something like an embryo. Once that was done, the scientists encouraged the cells to grow into the right formation, changing their shape and then eventually forming first into the cells that help hearts beat, then into those that connect the heart up and after that into tiny ventricles.

The techniques could eventually be used to create a full-sized heart, scientists suggest to the New Scientist. “Our model is the first step towards building a heart relying on self-organisation of cells, without any external three-dimensional supporting materials,” says Zhen Ma, from the University of California at Berkeley, told the magazine.

The same technique might also be used to create other parts of the human body. It has long been difficult to encourage lab-created organs to grow into the right thing — but the new research gives a new insight into how stem cells turn into the right cells.

But in the shorter term, the tiny hearts can be used to study how humans’ bigger ones work. The “highly defined human cardiac microchambers”, as the scientists call them, could also tell us more about how embryos and early hearts are formed, as well as how certain drugs affect babies before they are born.
Great prospects for creating other organs from skin cells in the future. No dead embryos. It's a development that only Deborah Nucatola, the current occupant of Planned Parenthood's Dr. Mengele chair, wouldn't appreciate.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Special Ops

An article at Strategy Page relates some interesting details about American and British commandos operating in Syria against ISIL. The article starts out talking about how British SAS forces are being beefed up in Syria as a response to the recent murders of dozens of British tourists on a Tunisian beach by an ISIL attacker and then goes on to discuss a bit about how American and British special operations forces are operating in ISIL controlled territory in Iraq and Syria.
Britain has had aircraft bombing ISIL since late 2014 but no ground troops fighting ISIL. The SAS and SBS operators join American SEALs and Delta Force in Syria and Iraq, along with commandos from several other nations (some of them Arab) who prefer to remain unidentified just now. The only reporting on the activities of these commandos is when they stage a raid and capture or kill someone.

In fact, most of their time is spent on reconnaissance and seeking out high-quality targets for the bombers and UAVs overhead. In some cases a commando team will find a target and immediately call in a missile or smart-bomb strike. Keeping quiet about these operations protects the operators (who do not want their tactics and methods known to the enemy) and increases the fear among the Islamic terrorists being sought.

Islamic terrorists would like nothing better than to capture or kill some of these commandos, but they rarely have the opportunity. The commandos are highly trained, experienced, thorough and careful. The commandos go in with plenty of backup, especially aircraft overhead and fellow commandos as well as dependable non-commando troops available to help out. The commandos practice what to do if spotted and pursued and this generally involves quickly calling in air strikes on all their pursuers. Some commandos consider such dangerous and desperate situations to have some benefits.

Such a pursuit creates a “target rich environment” as the Islamic terrorists call in all the reinforcements available in the area. This means many vehicles full of gunmen headed for the scene. For those the commandos cannot see, aircraft overhead have targeting pods to look at these vehicles up close, confirm who they are and use a missile or smart bomb to eliminate the threat. More experienced terrorist leaders try to halt this stampede which nearly always creates more targets for the bombers rather than making it more likely to capture or kill some commandos. This is especially true when the terrorists believe the myth that Western sensors cannot see through sand storms.

Despite all these advantages Western commandos prefer to remain undetected and find targets quietly rather than using themselves as bait. Since there are only a few hundred commandos in Syria at the moment the addition of the British contingent is a substantial increase and should show up in the news as more spectacular air strikes against ISIL, especially ISIL leaders.
The ISIL jihadis are caught in a Catch-22. Spotting the special ops guys is bad luck, but then not spotting them is also a misfortune. Perhaps that's one reason why they're showing up here. It's a lot easier to kill Americans on military bases and recruiting centers which for some peculiar reason the authorities have declared to be gun-free zones.

Now if these wise men and women could just find a way to convince the Islamic shooters to obey the signs.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Peace in Our Time

Jennifer Rubin at the WaPo compiles a list of seventeen ridiculous or factually incorrect things President Obama said at his press conference in defense of his Iran nuclear deal. Here are several of his statements (in quotes) with her response:
  • “With this deal, we cut off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear program, a nuclear weapons program.” Not true. After eight years, the precise restrictions end. Oops, he says it himself: “And Iran’s nuclear program will be under severe limits for many years.”
  • “With this deal, if Iran violates its commitments, there will be real consequences, nuclear-related sanctions that have helped to cripple the Iranian economy will snap back into place.” False again. The deal spells out laborious inspection procedures that include a 24-day notification period. Parchin, for example, is not even included. To snap back sanctions, a committee including Russia and China must agree by a majority.
Moreover, any contracts signed after sanctions are lifted are grandfathered in if sanctions are reimposed. No one in the world seriously believes that if Iran cheats, which they will, that this president will seek to reimpose sanctions. Indeed, nobody but the most credulous believes much of anything any more that this administration tells us.
  • “And my hope is that building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave. But we’re not counting on it.” This is the most bizarre comment of all. What basis is there for hope? And if we don’t count on it, we are giving an aggressive regime access to conventional arms, billions of dollars and an industrial-size nuclear infrastructure.
  • “And for all the objections of Prime Minister Netanyahu or, for that matter, some of the Republican leadership that’s already spoken, none of them have presented to me or the American people a better alternative.” This is categorically false. Others have suggested increased sanctions, a more credible threat of force and inflicting damage on Iran’s surrogates.
  • “If 99 percent of the world’s community and the majority of nuclear experts look at this thing and they say ‘this will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb,’ and you are arguing either that it does not or that even if it does, it’s temporary, or that because they’re going to get a windfall of their accounts being unfrozen that they’ll cause more problems, then you should have some alternative to present. And I haven’t heard that.” Actually, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and other allies in the region don’t believe this at all.
  • “As for the fact that it may take 24 days to finally get access to the site, the nature of nuclear programs and facilities is such — this is not something you hide in a closet.” This is part of a long and rambling answer on why we gave Iran 24 days notice. He concedes, “This is the most vigorous inspection and verification regime, by far, that has ever been negotiated.” But that was not what he promised — go anywhere and anytime was what he said would be obtained.
  • “The only argument you can make against the verification and inspection mechanism that we’ve put forward is that Iran is so intent on obtaining a nuclear weapon that no inspection regime and no verification mechanism would be sufficient because they’d find some way to get around it because they’re untrustworthy.” That is precisely correct which is why he blew it by letting them keep their nuclear infrastructure.
Read the rest of them at the link. The president is very misinformed or delusional if he thinks the only alternatives were complete capitulation or war. He's also extraordinarily naive if he thinks that Iran is not going to do everything they can to produce nuclear weapons or that the rest of the region will not do likewise.

It's hard to see how this deal cannot but guarantee that Iran's influence will grow, that terrorism will increase, and that the region will become a nuclear tinderbox. Mr. Obama's willingness to acquiesce to an Iranian nuclear infrastructure, to give them the ability to cheat on the agreement, to free up tens of billions of dollars that'll allow them to subsidize terrorism around the world, and to accept that the U.S. gets nothing out of it, not even the four Americans being held in Iranian prisons, looks from this vantage point like one of the worst deals in history. Even the Indians who sold Manhattan to the Dutch got $24 worth of trinkets for it.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

No Lives Matter

For much of the past year we've heard that "Black Lives Matter." Many have understandably wished to amend that slogan to proclaim that "All Lives Matter." Tragically, we're quickly learning that in a secularized nation the truth is that No Lives Matter.

A human life matters only to the extent it has value, but given the naturalistic materialism that reigns among our cultural elites today, any value assigned to a life is purely arbitrary. On naturalism, human beings have value only insofar as they're useful to someone else. Otherwise, they're little different from cattle - suitable for manipulating, herding and even slaughtering when it suits the purposes of those in power. The notion that an individual human being has an inherent right not to be harmed is a useful fiction, a Noble Lie we tell ourselves to enable us to live more securely with each other.

In fact, it only makes sense to speak of inherent rights if those rights are conferred by a transcendent, personal source. Indeed, what else could possibly ground them? On naturalism, however, there is no such transcendent source and thus human beings have, on this view, no intrinsic rights because they have no intrinsic worth and no intrinsic dignity.

It is this view of human beings that from time to time manifests itself in what Hannah Arendt once called, when describing the ordinariness of the perpetrators of the Holocaust, the banality of evil. To witness a contemporary illustration of the banality of evil watch Planned Parenthood's Dr. Deborah Nucatela work on her salad and sip wine while she casually describes how she butchers unborn children in order to procure their organs to sell to those who traffic in human tissue.
The left is outraged that Christian businesspersons for religious reasons would decline to participate in a gay wedding. They're outraged when animals are vivisected for medical studies. Are they outraged by what Dr. Nucatola does in her abattoir? How many liberal news outlets have had anything much to say about Dr. Nucatola's starring role in this surreptitiously filmed video?

David Harsanyi at The Federalist writes:
In America, it’s illegal to donate money to a candidate without first reporting it to the government. Even then, if you give more than is permissible you might end up in jail. In this country, you can’t add trans fats to your foods or smoke cigarettes in your own bar. Here, Little Sisters of the Poor can’t tell the state they’d rather not buy condoms and bakers can’t tell a couple they’d rather not participate in their wedding.

But it’s completely legal to kill an unborn baby for convenience and then sell its parts for cash.

Let’s forget the legality of the issue for a moment. And let’s forget religion and politics, if that’s possible. Let’s forget the disconcerting economic incentives inherent in these types of transactions and ask: what kind of person nonchalantly describes “crushing” the life from another living being—a being that might have already been named and loved; a loss that might have a tremendous negative impact on a person or family or community—over a glass of wine and some giggles?

Well, an executive at euphemistic Planned Parenthood, that’s who. We can tell ourselves that a life can simply be written off whenever we deem it inconvenient. We can celebrate the right to end life. But the depravity of Deborah Nucatola’s conversation betrays where it all leads—and also where it started.

If this was a video of some product researchers talking about the same process, but describing the vivisection of a monkey or a cat for organ harvesting instead, most Americans would be justly repulsed. Yet, because this is Planned Parenthood, an organization fulfilling its eugenicist founder’s goal of population control, it will be treated as just another dispute in the culture wars, completely devoid of scientific and moral context.

Because this is Planned Parenthood, most of the media will frame this as a political tug of war rather than explore the politics and ethics of allowing Americans to terminate a life and then harvest organs. Some in the media will probably have a difficult time even comprehending why anyone would deem this much of a story at all. You’ll recall how a number of politicians and reporters struggled to explain the distinction between a run-of-the-mill late-term abortionist and Kermit Gosnell. (Answer: one has a license.)
John Locke declared that human beings have a right to life because we are created in the image of God and are His property. Thomas Jefferson inserted that principle into the Declaration of Independence when he wrote that we are endowed by our Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Alas, those men lived long ago and they were white and patriarchal and therefore oppressors whose words are no longer relevant for the enlightened and humane 21st century.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Is Multiverse Theory Scientific

In their book The Grand Design Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow start off declaring that philosophy is dead and then for some reason proceed to spend much of the rest of the book doing philosophy. One chapter addresses the nature of reality and another discusses the multiverse, a prediction of what is called cosmic inflation. According to the theory, extremely early in the birth of the universe space expanded from the size of a marble to at least ten million times the size of the Milky Way galaxy in an infinitesimal fraction of a second.

The mathematics of this expansion leads to the prediction that at the edges of this inflation other universes would form completely isolated from ours, and that, indeed, there may be a near infinite number of such universes comprising what is called a multiverse.

The multiverse may exist or it may not, but the claim that it does, though informed and supported by science, is not itself a scientific claim. It's a metaphysical (philosophical) claim. A questioner at the science web site Ask Ethan inquires whether the multiverse idea is a scientific hypothesis or whether it's a metaphysical or philosophical theory and receives this answer:
Now there’s a whole lot we don’t know about those other universes, including:
  • Do they have the same physical laws, particles, and fundamental constants as our own?
  • Do they have similar densities, properties histories to our own?
  • Are we in some way entangled, quantum mechanically, with these other Universes?
The answer may be “no” or “yes” to any or all of these questions; the conservative assumption is that the answers are “yes” “yes” and “no” respectively, but this brings us to the main point of John’s question: is this a scientific theory?

The thing is, the Multiverse is not a scientific theory on its own. Rather, it’s a theoretical consequence of the laws of physics as they’re best understood today. It’s perhaps even an inevitable consequence of those laws: if you have an inflationary Universe governed by quantum physics, this is something you’re pretty much bound to wind up with.

But the Multiverse isn’t necessary to explain anything about the Universe we live in. It solves none of the outstanding problems that we presently have. (And if you say things like “landscape,” “vacuum energy,” “anthropic principle” and “cosmological constant,” you don’t understand what “solve” means.) And worst off, it makes no concrete predictions for something we can necessarily observe.

So what does that mean, when we put it all together? It means that the Multiverse — assuming that our current picture of the Universe and its history is valid — is probably real. There probably is much more Universe out there beyond what’s observable to us, and there probably are other Universes that began with other Big Bang that will never interact with our own.

But it also means it’s beyond the realm of testability, even in principle. The only way I could conceive of doing it is catastrophic: to restore the inflationary state, entangle multiple observers that get stretched into different inflating regions, and see if inflation ends and gives rise to different things at different times, presuming you can learn something when you break the quantum entanglement. (And I’m not sure you can.)

This necessitates surviving a hot Big Bang, mind you, so good luck with that. Unless you can, I’m with John on the skeptical front: the Multiverse may be interesting and a seemingly inevitable theoretical consequence of physics. But until we can test it scientifically — and it may be that we never can — it is not quite good enough to be science. It’s a theoretical conjecture, one that makes sense, but it isn’t a scientific theory, and thanks to the limitations of the Universe, it may never be.

What is it, then? It may be a new class of topics that we’re coming to understand: the first physically motivated “metaphysics” we’ve ever encountered. For the first time, we’re understanding the limits of our Universe, the information in it and what that means for what we can learn about it. Beyond that? After that? Perhaps that’s truly where metaphysics begins, and perhaps that’s where the Multiverse will forever reside.
But if the multiverse is a metaphysical idea it's in the same class of ideas as other scientifically informed and supported ideas which cannot be tested. Among these are, well, the existence of a personal, transcendent Creator of the universe. This hypothesis is certainly scientifically supported and informed, as the second premise in the following brief video makes clear, and it's a far simpler explanation of why our universe exists with the properties it has than the idea that there are an infinity of universes so one like ours just has to exist.

Exit question: If the claim that the universe is the product of a personal transcendent agent is considered religious because it's untestable and has to do with ultimate things and is therefore subject to restrictions in our public life, why is not the claim that there is a multiverse which is also untestable and has to do with ultimate things not also subject to similar restrictions in our public life?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Mini-Ice Age

Having scared the wits out of us for twenty years with dire predictions of global warming, rising sea levels, desertification, wildlife extinctions, large-scale starvation, and massive demographic dislocation, scientists are now telling us that, well, maybe not. We may instead be headed for a mini-ice age such as hasn't been seen in over three hundred years.

According to an article in the UK Daily Mail the sun appears to be on track to reach a minimum of solar activity by 2030 although the effects of the trend may be felt well before that. Here's the gist:
The new model of the Sun's solar cycle is producing unprecedentedly accurate predictions of irregularities within the Sun's 11-year heartbeat. It draws on dynamo effects in two layers of the Sun, one close to the surface and one deep within its convection zone.

Predictions from the model suggest that solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the 'mini ice age' that began in 1645, according to the results presented by Prof Valentina Zharkova at the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno.

The model predicts that the pair of waves become increasingly offset during Cycle 25, which peaks in 2022. During Cycle 26, which covers the decade from 2030-2040, the two waves will become exactly out of synch and this will cause a significant reduction in solar activity.
The last time the sun experienced this type of minimum was 1646 - 1715, a period which has been called a mini-ice age during which England's River Thames froze over for the only time in its recorded history.

If this global cooling actually does come to pass perhaps we'll be reading about how fortuitous it is that the atmosphere is laden with greenhouse gases keeping the planet insulated against the cold. We may even be treated to the spectacle of frantic environmentalists and politicians demanding increased production of atmospheric carbon dioxide to reverse the effects of the solar minimum before agricultural production around the globe is diminished by the lower temperatures and much of the northern latitudes become uninhabitable.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Petty Tyrants

You may recall the frightening - and sickening - abuse of power exercised by Wisconsin prosecutor John Chisolm against supporters of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. We discussed it here. You are also doubtless familiar with the frightening - and sickening - abuse of power exercised by the IRS' Lois Lerner against conservative advocacy groups. Both were attempts to use state power to silence and punish political opponents, attempts which are toxic to a free people but applauded by the progressive left.

Anyway, it turns out that there's a fascinating coincidence connecting these two outrages. Mr. Chisolm's "enabler," a fellow by the name of Kevin Kennedy who heads up something called the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB), and Ms Lerner, would you believe it, are long-time BFFs. Hot Air has the story of this remarkable happenstance here.

The left's aversion to freedom of opinion and conscience and the conviction that the way to prevail in a democracy is to squelch opposing voices, impose your views by force, and punish whomever has the temerity to disagree reminded me of the story of a friend who was a Resident Assistant (RA) during his undergrad days at the hyper-progressive University of Wisconsin. Here's his account of what happened:
I was an RA (or as they call it at UW-Madison, "House Fellow") from 2000-2002. I was also a member of the UW-Madison College Republicans and part of the Knights of Columbus. At first I was quite excited when I found out that I got the House Fellow position. The post paid for my university housing, provided a food stipend, and also provided a nice paycheck for an out-of-state undergrad.

One of our principal responsibilities as House Fellows, according to our training (or as I called it the second time around - indoctrination) and official handbook, was to "promote an inclusive community" among the students living in the residence halls. I witnessed the ugly reality of that phrase throughout much of my junior year in 2001.

It turns out an "inclusive community" is exclusively one that supports and promotes a homosexual lifestyle. One afternoon after class I checked my House Fellow mail. Upon walking into the office, I immediately noticed what appeared to be a campaign button in my mailbox. There were actually two buttons - one with a rainbow on it, the other black with a pink triangle on it - both promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) activities and lifestyle.

I was informed by an accompanying letter that I was supposed to display these buttons prominently, either on my person, on my hall door, or on my backpack. I noticed that my immediate supervisor (or "Residence Life Coordinator") was in her office, so I asked her simply "do we have to wear these, are we required to wear these?" She responded no, but that we would have to talk about why at a later time. In her plain view, I put the buttons back in the bag that had at least 25 others in it and walked out of the office.

To make a long story short, that decision quickly made the rest of my year a personal living hell. I eventually filed a discrimination complaint against a female co-worker (who happened to live directly above me in our dorm), citing her private and public displays of making me feel uncomfortable due to my race (Caucasian), gender (male), sexual orientation (heterosexual), religion (Roman Catholic), as well as political affiliation (conservative Republican).

Turns out that she was in the office with my supervisor when I asked about the buttons, and she took offense to my (in)action. Residence hall leaders surprisingly took my complaint seriously enough to hold a series of small, closed door meetings. The meetings got quite uncomfortable, as my co-worker submitted testimony that I later found out she gained by listening through the floor vents of her room. She found instances of my disciplining my own residents to be "disturbing displays of domineering, masculine power."

One incident occurred about 3:30am on a Thursday morning, a couple of my male residents were screaming drunk down the hall after returning from a night on the town. In response I just opened my door and stood there in my boxer shorts and muscle t-shirt. I said nothing, only stood there. They looked at my face and my bed hair, immediately apologized, and went to their room. We spoke the next morning on the incident when I returned from lecture, and they apologized again. I commented in my testimony that I thought it was a sign of "powerful mutual respect" that I had built with my residences. It seems all my co-worker caught was the "powerful" part and took it from there.

That whole year I prayed a lot, and thank God I got through it. There were moments, though, when I actually called home to Pennsylvania fearful that I would lose my job. I kept my mouth shut about the situation around my non-House Fellow friends because most of them lived in the dorms. I could not tell my girlfriend anything, because she, too, lived in the same dorms that I did. My House Fellows, friends I worked with, confided in me that I was right, but they did not feel comfortable sticking their necks out like they thought I was.

The co-worker was politely asked to leave at the end of the year. I got transferred to another building with increased responsibilities, meaning instead of 50 residents the following year I had over 100 and the second largest student/House Fellow ratio on campus. By luck my immediate supervisor was moving to another residence hall location on campus.

I found over the deliberations, however, I had "gained a name" for myself among the residence hall leadership. One administrator in particular later made it his mission to provoke me into a fire-able offense. After letting a trouble-making resident of mine off the hook for "only smoking marijuana," he admonished me for disciplining my residents according to "my conservative beliefs." He informed me that I "should have been doing better things like busting people for drinking" rather than "imposing my values" on my resident.

After informing him that marijuana possession is not just against housing regulations but also federal law, I asked him to explain to me what he meant by "conservative beliefs." Turns out that as an openly-gay activist, he considered conservatives hateful homophobes. I immediately informed him that my own beliefs did not reflect that characteristic, citing John Paul II "condemn the sin, not the sinner." I then went on for the next five minutes outlining my personal worldview, supporting it with the words of such notables as Ronald Reagan, C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, even G.K. Chesterton (although I doubted he ever heard of him).

I noticed that he increasingly blanched throughout, then turned very red in anger. He told me that the meeting was over. I ended the meeting by telling him that I guess I was not what he defined as his average "token conservative."
When I first read my friend's story it occurred to me that if conservatives choose to attend a school like the University of Wisconsin they better either keep their mouth shut or have a parent who's a lawyer. I thought at the time that it was deeply distressing that the very institutions which are supposed to be temples of free speech and independent thinking are actually training grounds for censorship and petty tyranny. I wondered what kind of nation our children will inherit if people like some of those with whom my friend had to deal were ever to ascend in large numbers to positions of political leadership?

Lo and behold, fourteen years later many of them have. You can read about some of the more odious examples at the links.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

All for Show

Jonah Goldberg is, in my opinion, one of the most entertaining political writers on the current scene. He's very bright and witty, has a phenomenal memory for cultural allusions, and is politically conservative. In his most recent column he explains in his inimitable way why Donald Trump supporters are making an understandable, but nevertheless grave, mistake.

He starts off the piece with a humorous riff on various issues that may at first glance seem tangential to why conservative support for Trump is misplaced:
There have been times in the past when I’ve gotten crosswise with certain segments of the conservative base and/or with the readership of National Review. And, because, like the Elephant Man, I am a not an animal but a human being, I have always had at least some self-doubt. That’s as it should be. People who share principles should not only hear each other out when they disagree; they should be able to see each other’s points and hold open the possibility that one’s opponents have the better argument.

This is not one of those times, at least not for me.

I truly, honestly, and with all my heart and mind think Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters are making a yuuuuuuge mistake. I think they are being conned and played. I feel like a guy whose brother is being taken advantage of by a grifter. I’m watching helplessly as the con artist congratulates him for taking out a third mortgage.

Anger Is Not an Argument

Now, before I go on, let me clarify a few things. I get it. The base of the party is angry. They’re angry about Obama’s lawless chicanery on immigration. They’re angry about the GOP’s patented inability to cross the street without stepping on its own d*ck and then having to apologize for it. They’re angry that the Left’s culture warriors are behaving like an invading army that shoots the survivors even after they’ve surrendered. They’re angry that Republicans have to bend over backward so as not to offend anyone, while Democrats have free rein (and at times free reign) to do and to say as they please.

Enter Trump, stage left. He makes no apologies. He’s brash. I can understand why some see him as a breath of fresh air. If you want to give him credit for starting a worthwhile debate about sanctuary cities and illegal immigration, fine. I think that argument is way overdone, but certainly reasonable enough.

Maybe you just like him. On that, we can respectfully disagree, as there is no accounting for taste. Perhaps you just like his musk and the way it assaults your nostrils, which is fitting, given his line of cologne. Fine.

I, on the other hand, find him tedious, tacky, and trite. He’s a bore who overcompensates for his insecurities by talking about how awesome he is, often in the third person. Jonah can’t stand that.

You see the next Teddy Roosevelt and all I see is someone who talks big and carries a small schtick.

‘Sup Britches?

In words George Will shall never write, this is a good moment to talk about my pants. Earlier this week, Donald Trump attacked Charles Krauthammer and me. By the way, I don’t blame Trump one bit for his hostility. I’d hate me too, if I were him. Still I do marvel at how this supposed Master of the Universe can be unnerved by such criticism. If it takes so little effort for me to set up shop in his head, by all means, let’s give him thermonuclear weapons.

Anyway, when asked about me, he said:
I’m worth a fortune….I went out, I made a fortune, a big fortune, a tremendous fortune… bigger than people even understand….Then I get called [a failure] by a guy that can’t buy a pair of pants, I get called names?
As the intern said to Bill Clinton, this puts me in a weird position. I don’t like to brag, but I’m actually quite adept at buying pants. I don’t enjoy it. But I can do it. It never occurred to me to put it in my bio or anything — “Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor of National Review, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a successful pants-buyer” — but maybe I should.

Now, I will say that I sometimes choose not to wear pants, and not just because I’m so fond of my spaghetti-strainer codpiece (which affords me the satisfaction of telling really attractive women, “Hey, my eyes are up here. Thank you very much.”) But these are my choices. If I want to identify as a pantless American, who are you to say otherwise?

More to the point, what I find so gaudy about Trump is his constant reference to the fact that he made a lot of money, and his expectation that it somehow makes him immune to criticism or means that he’s a better person than his GOP competitors, never mind yours truly.
Following this excursis Golberg lays out the reasons for thinking that Trump is in fact a progressive masquerading as a conservative. It's well-worth reading, especially if you're attracted to Trump because you find some of his rhetoric refreshingly un-PC. If Goldberg is right, the rhetoric is all for show. It's not what he truly believes. Read it and in between laughs decide for yourself.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Information Degradation

One reason for the growing persuasiveness of arguments for an intelligent architect behind the structure of the universe and of life is that modern technology affords some very helpful analogies to design arguments. For example, living organisms are coded for by information systems - including, but not limited to, the DNA/RNA complex - which in many respects are similar to computer software programs. This creates difficult conceptual problems for naturalists since the principle that like effects can be assumed to have like causes leads to the conclusion that information, which is always in our experience the product of intelligent agency, points to an intelligent provenance.

Another difficulty biological information poses for naturalism is the problem of information degradation. In an article at Evolution News and Views Dr. Kirk Durston, who holds advanced degrees in biophysics and philosophy explains how this phenomenon militates against any naturalistic view of life's origin. Here's the centerpiece of his argument:
In the neo-Darwinian scenario for the origin and diversity of life, the digital functional information for life would have had to begin at zero, increase over time to eventually encode the first simple life form, and continue to increase via natural processes to encode the digital information for the full diversity of life.

An essential, falsifiable prediction of Darwinian theory, therefore, is that functional information must, on average, increase over time.

Interestingly, a prediction of intelligent design science is quite the opposite. Since information always degrades over time for any storage media and replication system, intelligent design science postulates that the digital information of life was initially downloaded into the genomes of life. It predicts that, on average, genetic information is steadily being corrupted by natural processes. The beauty of these two mutually incompatible predictions in science is that the falsification of one entails verification of the other. So which prediction does science falsify, and which does science verify?

Ask computer programmers what effect ongoing random changes in the code would have on the integrity of a program, and they will universally agree that it degrades the software. This is the first problem for neo-Darwinian theory. Mutations produce random changes in the digital information of life. It is generally agreed that the rate of deleterious mutations is much greater than the rate of beneficial mutations. My own work with 35 protein families suggests that the rate of destruction is, at minimum, 8 times the rate of neutral or beneficial mutations.

Simply put, the digital information of life is being destroyed much faster than it can be repaired or improved. New functions may evolve, but the overall loss of functional information in other areas of the genome will, on average, be significantly greater. The net result is that the digital information of life is running down.
Durston goes on to cite research showing that the information for both bacteria and humans, so far from increasing as would be expected on Darwinian principles, is actually decreasing. He closes with this:
We continue to discover more examples of DNA loss, suggesting that the biological world is slowly running down. Microevolution is good at fine-tuning existing forms within their information limits and occasionally getting something right, but the steady accumulation of deleterious mutations on the larger scale suggests that mutation-driven evolution is actually destroying biological life, not creating it.

This is hardly a surprise, as every other area of science, except for evolutionary biology, grants that natural processes degrade information, regardless of the storage media and copying process. For neo-Darwinian macroevolution to work, it requires something that is in flat-out contradiction to the real world.
The naturalistic evolutionist may be able to come up with ad hoc answers to these apparent falsifications of their theory, of course, but the problem is that informational degradation is a direct prediction of almost any intelligent design theory, especially those that involve "front-loading," but is contrary to what one would expect on the basis of Darwinian naturalism.

This result is reminiscent of the finding that much of what's been labelled as "junk" DNA clogging up the nucleus actually turns out to have a function in the living cell as predicted by ID theorists and formerly scoffed at by Darwinians. It's fascinating that where the two theories generate opposite predictions which can then be tested ID's predictions keep being confirmed.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

So Is Trump Wrong?

Set aside for the moment your personal feelings about Donald Trump and/or the party whose nomination for the presidency he seeks. Set aside any squeamishness you might have at hearing something said that may sound even faintly un-PC. Set aside for a moment, too, Mr. Trump's inartful imprecision and, like Supreme Court Justices contemplating Obamacare, consider just what he meant to say and not what he actually did say. Then reflect objectively on this question: In what sense is the following Trump statement wrong:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
His comment and subsquent follow-ups have created a media feeding frenzy as well as difficulties for other GOP candidates who want to talk about almost anything other than Donald Trump and immigration. One of the problems Trump has created for the GOP is that voters who have yearned for someone in politics to say unapologetically, without deferential genuflections to political correctness, exactly what they mean are giving Trump a second look, and he's sucking all the media attention away from everyone else (Not that Hillary minds not having any media attention on her, though).

So, the question is in what extent, if any, was Trump right? Breitbart has done some homework and here's what they've turned up
While illegal immigrants account for about 3.5 percent of the U.S population, they represented 36.7 percent of federal sentences in FY 2014 following criminal convictions, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission data obtained by Breitbart News.

According to FY 2014 USSC data, of 74,911 sentencing cases, citizens accounted for 43,479 (or 58.0 percent), illegal immigrants accounted for 27,505 (or 36.7 percent), legal immigrants made up 3,017 (or 4.0 percent), and the remainder (about 1 percent) were cases in which the offender was either extradited or had an unknown status.

Broken down by some of the primary offenses, illegal immigrants represented 16.8 percent of drug trafficking cases, 20.0 percent of kidnapping/hostage taking, 74.1 percent of drug possession, 12.3 percent of money laundering, and 12.0 percent of murder convictions.

One GOP aide expressed shock at the numbers, emailing Breitbart News, “These statistics blew me away, and they blow a hole through the oft-repeated line that people only want to come to America to work. It’s tragic so few politicians are willing even to acknowledge the true extent of this problem, but until more do, more Americans will keep getting harmed.”

The USSC data only deals with federal offenders sentenced under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (SRA) and does not include other categories like state cases, death penalty cases, or “cases initiated but for which no convictions were obtained, offenders convicted for whom no sentences were yet issued, and offenders sentenced but for whom no sentencing documents were submitted to the Commission.”

The data does include immigration violations, of which illegal immigrants represented by far the greatest number of cases: 91.6 percent, or (20,333 cases), out of a total 22,204 cases.

Eliminating all immigration violations, illegal immigrants would account for 13.2 percent of all the offenders sentenced in FY14 following federal criminal convictions — still greater than the 3.5 percent of the population illegal immigrants are said to make up.
The Washington Post, citing data from 2010, protests that the vast majority of illegals are not felons, but I'm not sure how to interpret that. The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, but there are an awful lot who are.

In any case, every one of those crimes committed by an illegal alien, particularly those having been deported multiple times and harbored in "sanctuary cities," every one of the murders committed by an illegal alien and the heartbreak and grief suffered by the victim's families at the loss of their loved one, is on the hands of those politicians, including most prominently the President of the United States, who refuse to enforce our border and immigration laws.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why Greece Is in Trouble

Jim Geraghty explains at NRO one reason why Greece is in default and why so many in the Eurozone have very little sympathy for their plight. Greece is a vivid illustration of Margaret Thatcher's famous aphorism that the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money. Greece has tried to create a socialist paradise, but has instead shown that there probably is no such thing. Here's Geraghty:
This may seem harsh to the Greeks. But they willingly and knowingly tried to build a society where everyone was allowed to retire early – really early:

Early: “Trombone players and pastry chefs get to retire as early as 50 on grounds their work causes them late-career breathing problems. Hairdressers enjoy the same perk thanks to the dyes and other chemicals they rub into people's hair. Then there are masseurs at steam baths: They get an early out because prolonged exposure to all that heat and steam is deemed unhealthy.”

Really Early: “The Greek government has identified at least 580 job categories deemed to be hazardous enough to merit retiring early — at age 50 for women and 55 for men… The law includes dangerous jobs like coal mining and bomb disposal. But it also covers radio and television presenters, who are thought to be at risk from the bacteria on their microphones.”

Really, really early: “In the public sector, 7.91 percent of pensioners retire between the ages of 26 and 50, 23.64 percent between 51 and 55, and 43.53 percent between 56 and 61.”
Each of these assertions is linked to the original source in Geraghty's article. It's interesting that one of the reasons states like California and Illinois have experienced fiscal difficulties and may continue to do so is that their public employees have been given six figure pensions at tax-payer expense. After a while the number of retirees pulling down these benefits grows to the point where it's simply unsustainable.

Nevertheless, states managed by liberal Democrats refuse to halt the gravy train. As you read this, for example, the Pennsylvania legislature is trying to reform the state's pension system but the governor, a progressive Democrat and therefore beholden to the public employees unions, refuses to go along with any reforms. I hope he's watching the goings on in Greece.

This graphic shows the fiscal health of each state in the U.S.:

Why is it that most of the states in greatest difficulty are "blue" states, i.e. they consistently vote Democratic in presidential elections? Why is it that most of the nation's cities that are in the gravest condition, both economically and socially, are cities run by Democrats? Why is it that so many Americans don't seem to care much about these "coincidences"?