Saturday, January 30, 2016

Premoderns, Moderns, and Postmoderns (Pt. I)

Having discussed in my classes this week some philosophical distinctions between premodern, modern, and postmodern metanarratives I thought it might be useful to rerun some posts on the subject from last year. This one is the first in a three-part series:

There are in the West three basic ways to look at the world, three worldviews which serve as lenses through which we interpret the experiences of our lives. Those three worldviews are essentially distinguished by their view of God, truth, and the era in which they were dominant among the cultural elite. We may, with some license, label these the premodern, modern, and postmodern. The premodern, dominating the culture from ancient times until the Enlightenment (17th century), was essentially Christian. The modern, which prevailed at least until the 1970s and is still very influential today, is essentially naturalistic and secular, and the postmodern, which has been with us now for a couple of generations, is hostile to the Enlightenment emphasis on Reason and objective truth.

I recently came across a wonderful treatment of the tension between these three "metanarratives" in an essay written by medieval scholar Joseph Bottum for First Things back in 1994. FT reprinted his article in an anniversary issue, and I thought it would be useful to touch on some of the highlights.

Bear in mind that although the terms premodern, modern and postmodern refer to historical eras there are people who exemplify the qualities of each of these in every era, including our own. Thus, though we today may live in a largely postmodern age due to the dominance of postmodern assumptions among the shapers of contemporary thought, especially in the academy, there are lots of premoderns and moderns around. Indeed, outside our university humanities departments, I suspect most people are either premodern or modern in their outlook.

About a quarter of the way into his essay Bottum, writing on behalf of the Christian (premodern) worldview, says this:

We cannot revert to the premodern, we cannot return to the age of faith, for we were all of us raised as moderns.

And yet, though we cannot revert, we nonetheless have resources that may help us to advance beyond these late times. The modern project that attacked the Middle Ages has itself been under attack for some time. For some time, hyper-modern writers have brought to bear against their modern past the same sort of scarifying analysis that earlier modern writers brought against the premodern past. These later writers, supposing the modern destruction of God to be complete, have turned their postmodern attacks upon the modern project of Enlightenment rationality.

The postmodern project is, as Francois Lyotard put it, a suspicion of all metanarratives based on reason. It rejects the Enlightenment confidence that human reason can lead us to objective truth about the world, particularly truth about the important matters of meaning, religion and morality. Indeed, postmodern thinkers are skeptical of any claims to a "truth" beyond simple empirical facts.

Bottum continues:

In some sense, of course, these words premodern, modern, and postmodern are too slippery to mean much. Taken to refer to the history of ideas, they seem to name the periods before, during, and after the Enlightenment, but taken to refer to the history of events, they seem to name the period from creation to the rise of science, the period from the rise of science until World War II, and the period since the war. It is tempting to define the categories philosophically, rather than historically, around the recognition that knowledge depends upon the existence of God. But the better modern philosophers (e.g., Descartes and Kant, as opposed to, say, Voltaire) recognize that dependence in some way or another.

Perhaps, though definitions based on intent are always weak, the best definition nonetheless involves intent: it is premodern to seek beyond rational knowledge for God; it is modern to desire to hold knowledge in the structures of human rationality (with or without God); it is postmodern to see the impossibility of such knowledge.

In other words, premoderns believe we can have knowledge of God through direct experience apart from reason. As Pascal put it, "The heart has reasons that reason can never know." Moderns, on the other hand, believe that knowledge can only come through the exercise of our reason. Postmoderns hold that moderns are deluding themselves. None of us can separate our reason from our biases, prejudices, experiences and so on, all of which shape our perspective and color the lenses through which we view the world. For the postmodern there is no such thing as objective reason or truth.

Bottum again:

The premoderns said that without God, there would be no knowledge, and the postmoderns say we have no God and have no knowledge. The premoderns said that without the purposefulness of final causation, all things would be equally valueless, and the postmoderns say there is no purpose and no value. The premoderns said that without an identity of reality and the Good, there would be no right and wrong, and the postmoderns say there is neither Good nor right and wrong. Though they disagree on whether God exists, premoderns and postmoderns share the major premise that knowing requires His existence. Only for a brief period in the history of the West-the period of modern times-did anyone seriously suppose that human beings could hold knowledge without God.

Here is an interesting insight. Christians hold in common with at least some modern atheists that there is objective truth, that there is meaning to life, and that there is objective moral right and wrong. At the same time they hold in common with postmodern atheists (not all postmoderns are atheists, it should be stressed) that none of those beliefs can be sustained unless there is a God. Does this, as Bottum alleges, put Christians closer to postmoderns than to moderns?

More on this next time.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Biologically Superfluous Phenomena

One of the perplexities of modern evolutionary theory is how structures, systems, and abilities evolved that are completely superfluous to an organism's survival. Natural selection, according to the theory, acts upon genetic variations, favoring those that suit the organism for its environment and culling from the population those which don't. But nothing in the theory explains, or at least explains well, biological extravagance, notwithstanding that we see such extravagance all around us.

Evolution News and Views, in observance of a new book that addresses this topic (Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis) by biologist Michael Denton, has an essay up that discusses three examples of biological phenomena that far exceed anything that would have been necessary for fitness. The three are the Venus Flytrap, the stripes on a zebra, and the prodigious memory capability of the human brain. Here's what ENV says about the Venus Flytrap:
New work by researchers in Germany, published in Current Biology, shows that this plant can count! The team's video, posted on Live Science (see below), shows how the trigger hairs inside the leaves generate action potentials that can be measured by electrical equipment.

Experiments show that the number of action potentials generates different responses. Two action potentials are required to close the trap. When closed, the plant starts producing jasmonic acid. The third spike activates "touch hormones" that flood the trap with digestive juices. The fifth spike triggers uptake of nutrients. The struggling insect will trigger some 50 action potentials. The more they come, the more the trap squeezes tighter and tighter, as if knowing it has a stronger prey. The squeezing presses the animal against the digestive juices, also allowing more efficient uptake of nutrients.

"It's not quite plant arithmetic, but it's impressive nonetheless," says Liz Van Volken­burgh of the University of Washington in Seattle. "The Venus flytrap is hardwired to respond in the way that's now being described," she says.

Wayne Fagerberg at the University of New Hampshire in Durham agrees. "Obviously it doesn't have a brain to go 'one, two, three, four'," he says. "Effectively, it's counting. It's just not thinking about it."

In our experience, "hardwired" things that can count and activate responses are designed. This elaborate mechanism, involving multiple responses that activate machines on cue, seems superfluous for survival. The Venus flytrap has photosynthesis; it can make its own food. The argument that it needs animal food because it lives in nutrient-poor soil is questionable; other plants, including trees, do fine without animal traps.
Here's the video mentioned above. It's better to watch it at the link since the video is larger there:
How did such an astonishing ability, not just the ability to capture prey but also the ability to count, ever evolve through blind, purposeless processes in a plant?

Regarding the capabilities of the brain, a topic also discussed in the ENV article, I'm reminded of a quip by philosopher Alvin Plantinga who was discussing the brain's extraordinary ability to do higher math and reflecting on the implausibility of such an ability being adequately explained by a process that merely shaped human brains for reproductive dominance. Plantinga observed dryly that, after all, it's only the rare graduate student whose prospects for reproductive success are enhanced by his ability to solve differential equations.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tearing Down the Safety Net

Democratic candidate for president Senator Bernie Sanders did a town hall event last Monday morning in Iowa Falls, Iowa at which he asked the crowd for testimonials about the difficulties of sustaining a life off of $12,000 a year, and a woman stood to tell her story. It was heartbreaking, but it was doubtless the story of many people, especially women, living in the 21st century.
One of the ironies of this sad video is that for the last one hundred years liberal progressives, like Sen. Sanders, have been pushing the government (i.e. the taxpayer) to create and maintain a social safety net for people like this woman, while at the same time promoting a culture which is guaranteed to produce many more like her. As their policies create millions of tragic lives progressives demand that the taxpayer give ever more of their own income to support their victims.

For two thousand years we have had a social safety net for women. It wasn't perfect, but it worked for millions of otherwise vulnerable women and children. They were protected from ruin and destitution by three institutions: marriage, family, and church.

Married women are far less likely to be poor than are single women, especially if they have children. Moreover, a woman with an extended family usually benefits from the security relatives provide and from the care available to her from her children as she gets older. And a woman who belongs to a thriving church has a community to support and sustain her in numerous ways as she suffers the vicissitudes of life.

The left, however, has always made it their mission to destroy the nuclear family (read Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto or any of the radical feminist tracts). Progressives like Irina Dunn and Gloria Steinem once argued that men were superfluous to women ("A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle"). A decadent entertainment culture, augmented by the legitimization of abortion-on-demand, degraded the significance of sex and marriage. Cohabitation and transient sexual "hook-ups" quickly morphed from scandalous to normal, and no-fault divorce became the law of the land, making a woman's position even more tenuous. Gay marriage broadened the definition of marriage and opened wide the gate to polyamory and other arrangements that will further erode the security of women.

Having embraced single motherhood and given it our stamp of approval, more and more children are now being raised in families which, instead of having two parents (and incomes) and four grandparents (often with substantial savings and inheritances to bestow upon their grandchildren), these children have only one frequently stressed-out parent like the mother in the video, and one grandmother who is herself often resource-poor. Little wonder that that poor mother was in tears.

Churches, too, traditionally afforded help to distressed families and were thus an essential element in the safety net for women, but the left is hostile to organized religion, and as this hostility has pervaded both academic and popular culture, especially since WWII, there has been a mass migration of young people from the church. This not only isolates women for whom religious community is no longer a live option from a major source of relief, but it also has left many churches bereft of the resources and manpower required to serve those who still remain within its ambit.

By rejecting the traditional values of marriage, family and church we've made life far more difficult for women like the lady in the Sanders video. That's tragic enough, but the tragedy is compounded by the fact that in her desperation she finds herself pleading for help from people - left-liberal-progressives like Senator Sanders - whose ideas, policies, and influence in the culture over the last three generations are largely, even if inadvertently, responsible for her plight.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hard to Believe He Meant This

I recently received in my inbox an ad for a new book by Sojourners' founder Jim Wallis titled, America's Original Sin which, presumably, is a book about America's racist past. Racism is indeed an ugly fact of American life. The toxin can be found among whites, blacks, and probably every other racial group in the nation. It's an unfortunate part of human nature and a manifestation of our disordered humanity.

Even so, the ad for the book made a startling claim. It uses a pull quote from the book in which Wallis writes: “If white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less to fear for their children.”

Maybe this good man (I mean that sincerely. Wallis has devoted his life to helping the poor) didn't intend this quote to be interpreted as meaning what it patently means, but if he does it's very disturbing that he would say this. Surely no one who thinks clearly thinks that black parents fear for their children because white Christians are not Christian enough. Black parents' fears for their children stem from the fact that too many other black children are raised in families which have failed to instill basic moral values. A black child is far, far more likely to be harmed by another black than by anyone who is white, Christian or otherwise. Surely, Wallis knows this.

In fact, white parents have a great deal more to fear for their children if they live in or near a black neighborhood than black parents have to fear for their children in white neighborhoods. Thousands of black kids are murdered and maimed every year in cities like Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Detroit and they're not being killed by nominally Christian white kids.

Wallis should ask why it is that many black parents want to get their kids into predominately white schools and neighborhoods where they'll be surrounded by white kids, but white parents whose children attend predominately black schools often live in daily trepidation of their children being beaten, intimidated and extorted by black teens.

To blame white Christians for the fears and problems confronting African American parents in our society is ridiculous, irresponsible and reprehensible.

It's ridiculous because it's so manifestly false. It's irresponsible because it shifts the blame onto people who have little to do with the problem, thus impeding any prospect of solution to the very serious problems facing black Americans, and it's reprehensible because it seeks to make people feel guilty for a problem not of their doing and engendering and reinforcing suspicion and hostility among blacks for whites.

I guess to be fair to Wallis I should read his book and get the context, but this is the pull quote he uses to promote it, and it's mystifying why he'd use it unless he meant what it says. What's needed in this country is to bring people together, to unify us as a people, to stop pointing fingers, to stop the "us vs. them" rhetoric so that we can solve the problems that residual racism causes. If this book is anything like the pull quote it'll only have the opposite effect.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Too Big to Jail?

It appears that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is up to her wig in felonies due to her cavalier treatment of classified material which she put on her personal, unprotected email server. Yet her campaign insists, despite an ongoing FBI investigation, that the former first lady is not the "subject" of an investigation.

Andrew McCarthy at National Review Online explains the technical use of the term and exactly what's going on with the FBI perusal of Ms. Clinton's derelictions. His essay is very informative.

McCarthy begins by adumbrating the current state of public knowledge of Ms. Clinton's recklessness and mendacity:
The latest shoe in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s scandalous mishandling of classified information dropped heavily this week. It had already been reported that, contrary to her denials, hundreds of secret intelligence communications were transmitted over the private, unsecured e-mail system on which the former secretary of state recklessly conducted government business. It is now clear that some of these contained “top secret/SAP” information. (SAP is “special access programs.”) This indicates defense secrets of the highest order, the compromise of which can destroy vital intelligence programs, get covert agents killed, and imperil national security.
In other words, there was material on her server, which was accessible to every reasonably tech savvy intelligence agency in the world, which exposed secret operations and operatives. It's not known yet whether Ms Clinton's arrogant defiance of security protocols has cost anyone his or her life but it may well have.

McCarthy then explains that a "subject" of an investigation is a person
whose conduct is being scrutinized and who, depending on what evidence turns up, may or may not be charged. This distinguishes them from targets, who are suspects virtually certain to be indicted for an obvious crime; and from mere witnesses, whose interaction with a suspect suggests no criminality on their part (e.g., the teller in a bank hold-up, or the neighbor awakened by a fatal gunshot next door).

If someone’s conduct is being investigated for potential wrongdoing, it is safe to assume that person is a subject of that investigation. Thus understood, Mrs. Clinton is not only a subject; she is the main subject. After all, the investigation centers on her mishandling of classified information via a private e-mail system that she improperly set up for all her government business and over which she well knew it was illegal to disseminate classified information. And if recent reporting is accurate, the investigation is now delving into potential corruption: the favorable treatment donors to her private foundation were given by the State Department she was running. Given that the investigation appears to be tracking her unique activities, how could she possibly not be a subject? What would otherwise be the point of investigating?
Yet the Clinton campaign and various media outlets insist she's not a "subject" of an investigation, so what's the explanation for this?
As a technical matter, no matter how extensively the FBI pokes around on its own, no one can be a subject of a real investigation — i.e., one that can lead to criminal charges — unless and until there is a grand jury. That does not happen until the Justice Department hops on board. Alas, regular criminal-justice procedures have been suspended by the explosive politics of the Clinton investigation. The FBI is doing its professional, apolitical best to investigate the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States.

The high stakes rattle not only the Clinton campaign but also the Democratic administration in which Mrs. Clinton worked when she engaged in the work-related conduct being investigated. On the one hand, the Obama administration does not want to be seen by the public as obstructing the FBI; on the other hand, President Obama does not want to be seen by his base as tanking the Democrats’ best shot at retaining the White House — the likely fallout if the Obama Justice Department signals that a formal, very serious criminal investigation is underway.

So Obama is hedging his bets. He is letting the FBI investigate, but on its own, without Justice Department prosecutors and the grand jury. This frees the administration and the Clinton campaign to be, by turns, ambiguous and disingenuous about whether there really is a formal investigation going on... I don’t think it’s going to work.

Of course, making the case would not mean the FBI could force attorney general Loretta Lynch — and the president to whom she answers — to pursue the case. The FBI cannot convene a grand jury and present an indictment. But you’d best believe the FBI can make the Obama administration look very bad if it shrinks from doing so. Then it will be a matter of how far Barack Obama is willing to stick his neck out for Hillary Clinton. I’m betting not that far.
A number of commenters familiar with the FBI personnel involved have said that should Attorney General Loretta Lynch refuse to empanel a Grand Jury and issue an indictment there'll be significant resignations in the FBI, as well there should be. The speculation is, too, that all the information that the FBI has accumulated against Ms. Clinton would be leaked into the public domain, which would not only stain Ms. Clinton's image in the midst of a presidential campaign but also, potentially, sully both Ms. Lynch and Mr. Obama. Why would they want to risk that for a woman like Hillary Clinton? I'm betting they won't.

Monday, January 25, 2016


Kinesin is a protein which transports vacuoles along microtubules to different regions of the cell. Watch this three minute video and then see if you can think of 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 becoming 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 anachronism, a contemporary version of alchemy. Alchemy seemed right during the medieval period but couldn't be sustained once our knowledge of chemistry began to blossom in the 18th and 19th centuries. So it is with philosophical materialism today.

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

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Contra Trump

National Review has come out with an article in which they lay out the case for declining Mr. Trump's seductions. This has irritated Rush Limbaugh and a few others who claim to be conservatives but who, like a girl yielding her virtue to a charming rake, throw their principles to the wind as soon as someone comes along who can put the media in its place, who is not part of the political establishment, and who doesn't give a hiccup about political correctness. Evidently, some people have yearned for so long to hear a politician speak as Trump does that they don't much care what he says or what his past political opinions have been, he's their guy. It's been sad to watch.

Anyway, the list of conservatives who participated in the accompanying symposium at NR is impressive. It includes the following names:
Economist Thomas Sowell, Media Research Center president L. Brent Bozell III, TheBlaze founder Glenn Beck, former U.S. attorneys general Edwin Meese III and Michael B. Mukasey, syndicated radio hosts Dana Loesch and Michael Medved, syndicated columnists Cal Thomas and Mona Charen,The Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, First Things editor R. R. Reno,Commentary editor John Podhoretz, National Affairs editor Yuval Levin, novelist Mark Helprin, National Review contributing editor Andrew C. McCarthy, The Resurgent founder Erick Erickson, Club for Growth president David M. McIntosh, author and presidential scholar Steven F. Hayward, The Federalist publisher Ben Domenech, Cato Institute executive vice president David Boaz, editor Katie Pavlich, and Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Each of them makes a contribution to the symposium and their reasons for resisting the Trump temptation are very much worth reading. Here's the lede from the National Review article:
Donald Trump leads the polls nationally and in most states in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. There are understandable reasons for his eminence, and he has shown impressive gut-level skill as a campaigner. But he is not deserving of conservative support in the caucuses and primaries.

Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones. Trump’s political opinions have wobbled all over the lot. The real-estate mogul and reality-TV star has supported abortion, gun control, single-payer health care à la Canada, and punitive taxes on the wealthy. (He and Bernie Sanders have shared more than funky outer-borough accents.)

Since declaring his candidacy he has taken a more conservative line, yet there are great gaping holes in it. His signature issue is concern over immigration — from Latin America but also, after Paris and San Bernardino, from the Middle East. He has exploited the yawning gap between elite opinion in both parties and the public on the issue, and feasted on the discontent over a government that can’t be bothered to enforce its own laws no matter how many times it says it will (President Obama has dispensed even with the pretense).

But even on immigration, Trump often makes no sense and can’t be relied upon. A few short years ago, he was criticizing Mitt Romney for having the temerity to propose “self-deportation,” or the entirely reasonable policy of reducing the illegal population through attrition while enforcing the nation’s laws. Now, Trump is a hawk’s hawk.
Do read the rest, especially if you're a Trump supporter who considers him or herself to be a conservative.

Meanwhile MSNBC host Chris Matthews whose boorishness makes talk radio host Sean Hannity seem the essence of courtesy, was in such a state of distemper at this piece that he embarrassed himself even more than usual the other night, inviting a National Review editor to respond to his questions and then refusing to let her get a word in edge-wise:
This, I suppose, is what passes for civil, enlightened discourse at MSNBC. Nothing in the National Review piece or in the symposium cites Trump's alleged opposition to the war, other than perhaps his inconsistency on the matter, as the reason for opposing him. But this doesn't matter to Matthews who sees a chance to take some wild shots at a few of his least favorite people and in the process bully a woman, a sport in which he often indulges on his show.

In any case, I wonder how much impact the National Review anti-endorsement will have on the race. The people who contribute to the symposium and who read the magazine are conservative intellectuals, but I don't think Trump's supporters are intellectually inclined or support him for intellectual reasons. Their support for Trump, like the support for Obama in 2008 and 2010, is more visceral than rational, and, given the precedent, that should concern us all.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Warming Bad, Ice Age Good

Husna Haq at Christian Science Monitor writes about how carbon emissions since the industrial revolution have actually averted a real geological/climatological catastrophe - another global ice age. If this is true then atmospheric greenhouse gasses have been a genuine blessing, but Ms. Haq doesn't see it that way:
[A] new study suggests climate change may have delayed the next ice age by 50,000 to 100,000 years.

Human interference in the form of burning fossil fuels has irrevocably changed Earth's cycles, significantly delaying the next glacial cycle, according to a study published in the journal Nature....

Were it not for high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Earth would be due for an ice age, a period of extreme cooling of the climate during which ice sheets cover large swatches of the land.
This sounds like it should be cause for rejoicing, but then Ms. Haq delivers herself of a real head-scratcher:
While it may appear to be good news that humans have successfully delayed the next ice age, it's actually not.(emphasis mine)

Ice ages play a significant role in shaping the landscape and leaving behind fertile soil for Earth's civilizations. They carve channels in Earth, leaving behind rivers and lakes. If the period between ice ages becomes too long, the planet may become relatively dry and barren, explains Gizmodo.
Gizmodo is a tech blog so I don't know what particular expertise they have in climatology or geology, but never mind that. What seems to concern Ms. Haq is that since the earth is not now undergoing glaciation, new rivers and lakes are not being formed.

Think about that for a moment. If an ice age did recur most of North America and Europe would be covered with an ice sheet about one mile high. Whole cities would be crushed and leveled as the ice advanced southward from the arctic. Much of the world's population would be pushed into a considerably reduced habitable region which would create enormous chaos and conflict as migrants struggled with indigenous people for land and resources. Agriculture would be disrupted and mass starvation would ensue, as would mass extinctions of wildlife, but Ms. Haq would apparently prefer all these calamities befall the world than have global warming raise sea levels a few inches. What else could she mean when she says that averting an ice age via global warming is not good news?

One can only stand in jaw-dropping astonishment at how some people think.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Does Maher Know Whereof He Speaks?

Bill Maher seems like a very bright guy and is one of the better-known and more outspoken representatives of contemporary atheism, which is why I was surprised to see his response to a question in an interview he did recently.

The interviewer asked him a question about Republican candidate for president Ted Cruz: "Why do you find him [Cruz] scarier than Trump? He is certainly more cunning than him and a far more educated guy with Princeton, Harvard Law, and his constitutional law background."

Maher's reply was this:
It’s high intelligence in the service of evil. It’s one thing to have evil people who aren’t that bright! There’s a reason why everyone hates Ted Cruz. There’s a reason why the big question about Ted Cruz is always, “When he shaves in the morning, how does he avoid spitting in the mirror?” To think of this guy being the president of the United States, this ambition and love of power combined with being on the wrong side of every issue, it’s a very scary prospect. (emphasis mine)
Set aside whatever feelings you may have about Ted Cruz and focus on Maher's use of the term "evil." Evil is a moral category. It denotes an act or a person who does horribly wrong acts, so my question is, how does an atheist like Maher explain his use of a moral term? If atheism is true then there are no wrong acts, we are, as Nietzsche put it, beyond good and evil. What's morally wrong, as Hemmingway says, is simply whatever one feels bad after doing.

In other words, on atheism, to call something or someone evil is simply to express one's own disapprobation, one's own dislike or aversion to the act or person, but it tells us no more than that. Moral evil, like moral good, can only exist in any meaningful way if there's an objective standard of behavior to which we are held accountable and that standard can only exist if there is a personal, transcendent, perfectly good source of it, i.e. God or something very much like God.

If one wishes to hold onto moral value and the ability to make moral judgments one must forego atheism. If one insists on atheism then one should face up to the fact that to be consistent he/she should be a moral nihilist and forever renounce the right to say of anyone or anything that it is morally wrong. What one cannot reasonably do is embrace atheism and also make moral judgments of other people's behavior.

For Maher to call Ted Cruz evil, then, is misleading, inappropriate, and silly. It's like calling a grizzly bear evil because it attacks hikers. It's what philosophers call a category mistake - imputing to something a property which does not belong to that thing. Maher should know better, and maybe he does in which case he's damaging his credibility. On the other hand, maybe he doesn't.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Cure for MS?

There's an amazing story out of the UK this week. It appears that doctors have developed a technique for arresting the progression of multiple sclerosis and reversing the deterioration in function that it causes. Some of the details are discussed in a report in the UK Telegraph:
A pioneering new stem cell treatment is reversing and then halting the potentially crippling effects of multiple sclerosis.

Patients embarking on a ground-breaking trial of the new treatment have found they can walk again and that the disease even appears to be stopped in its tracks.

The treatment is being carried out at Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield and Kings College Hospital, London and involves use a high dose of chemotherapy to knock out the immune system before rebuilding it with stem cells taken from the patient’s own blood.

Holly Drewry, 25, from Sheffield, was wheelchair bound after the birth of her daughter Isla, now two. But Miss Drewry claims the new treatment has transformed her life.

She told the BBC’s Panorama programme: “I couldn’t walk steadily. I couldn’t trust myself holding her (Isla) in case I fell. Being a new mum I wanted to do it all properly but my MS was stopping me from doing it.

“It is scary because you think, when is it going to end?”

Miss Drewry had the treatment in Sheffield. She said: “I started seeing changes within days of the stem cells being put in.

“I walked out of the hospital. I walked into my house and hugged Isla. I cried and cried. It was a bit overwhelming. It was a miracle.”

Her treatment has now been reviewed and her condition found to have been dramatically halted. She will need to be monitored for years but the hope is that her transplant will be a permanent fix.

For other patients, the results have been equally dramatic. Steven Storey was a marathon runner and triathlete before he was struck down with the disease and left completely paralysed: “I couldn’t flicker a muscle,” he said. But within nine days of the treatment he could move his toe and after 10 months managed a mile-long swim in the Lake District. He has also managed to ride a bike and walk again.

“It was great. I felt I was back,” he said.
Doctors believe MS is caused by a person's own immune system turning on the person and attacking the brain and spinal cord, leading to loss of function and even death.

The procedure involves harvesting and storing the patient's stem cells and then killing the immune system with drugs usually used in cancer treatment. Once the immune system is destroyed the stem cells are reinserted into the patient where they form red and white blood cells and within a month the immune system is reestablished, evidently in a more benign form.
Professor Basil Sharrack, a consultant neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Since we started treating patients three years ago, some of the results we have seen have been miraculous.

"This is not a word I would use lightly, but we have seen profound neurological improvements."
There are more details in the article. It didn't say when the treatment will be made more widely available, but if it's shown to work consistently I'm sure there'll be hundreds of thousands of MS sufferers in the US who will be eager to try it out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Microaggressors and Micromanagers

When we were small children we probably all had the experience of running in tears to our mother or father because a sibling had said or done something we thought terribly hurtful or mean and then pleading with our parent for redress. At some point in our development, of course, we outgrew this behavior and realized that being a crybaby was infantile.

If and when we became parents ourselves we encouraged our children to ignore slights or to handle them in a more mature fashion than demanding sympathy and succor from us. That's what grown-ups try to teach the young - unless, that is, the grown-ups are administrators at Penn State University. There the administrators have apparently chosen to assume the aspect of a parent who actually encourages little Suzy to tattle on her brother:
At Pennsylvania State University, no hurt feeling is too small, no slight too inconsequential, no unintentionally biased statement too unimportant. Administrators want to know it all.

The public university is in the midst of a massive campaign that encourages students not only to watch what they say, lest they offend someone, but also to report any and all biased statements to campus officials.

“There is no place for hate, overt or subtle, at Penn State – such actions do not represent our mutually held values,” Eric Barron, president of Penn State, stated in a recent message to the campus community.

More than 1,000 images of a stop sign in the form of posters and magnets have been distributed at Penn State. They tell students to “be the difference” and “take a stand for a positive campus climate.” The posters classify a wide array of situations as a “bias incident” including cases of discrimination, bigotry, inequity, sexual assault, injustice, and much more.

Barron, in his message to the campus, stated that students should report acts of “hate or intolerance.”

Lisa Powers, director of Penn State’s strategic communications office, said in an email to The College Fix that an act of intolerance includes microaggressions. “An act of intolerance can be identified as any forms of microaggressions, verbal assaults, and/or racial subjugation,” Powers said.
And what constitutes "racial subjugation"? Does expressing strong disagreement with an opinion expressed by a person of another race in a classroom discussion count? What constitutes a "verbal assault"? Does calling President Barron a dimwit count?

Weirdly, Ms Powers averred that this policy is actually not a threat to students' First Amendment rights: Powers said the bias reporting acts as a catharsis of sorts for students, acknowledging the public university has no right to hinder students’ First Amendment rights.

“Penn State stands firmly behind free speech and free expression, even in those instances when the views being expressed are disturbing or insulting, or the actions hurtful,” Powers told The College Fix. “The First Amendment doesn’t just apply to those who express ideas with which we agree. It also applies to those whose ideas we may find challenging, repugnant or even appalling. By providing an outlet for individuals to report bias they have seen or experienced, we are giving them an equal right to express their thoughts and feelings on the matter.” Sure, but if she really believes this what's the point of the Speech Police at PSU spending a lot of money to get students to report speech which hurts their feelings? Is the next step to somehow sanction the transgressors?

Like the child who wails for parental justice because her brother is "looking at her," it won't be long before "microaggressions" are deemed weighty enough by the students who suffer the pain of being "looked at" to demand the full weight of the University disciplinary apparatus be brought down on some unfortunate student's head.

There are two fascinating characteristics of modern-day Progressivism on display here: The first is the manifestation of the totalitarian impulse which has always tempted the ideological left. The second is the infantilizing of our young men and women which, of course, makes them easier to control and manipulate. A university that treats its students as if they're attending a day-care prepares them for the sort of governmental regimentation the left has always wished to impose.

This is the perhaps inevitable consequence of placing authority and power in the hands of Progressives, for these are people who feel it their mission in life to micromanage other people's lives.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King

Today is the day we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday and it would be well to focus on why we do. King was a man of great courage who was resolutely committed, not just to racial equality under the law, but to harmony among all the racial factions in America. His commitment to achieving justice under the law for every American was rooted in his Christian faith as his Letter From a Birmingham Jail makes clear, and it was that faith which made him a transformational figure in the history of our nation.

It's sad that though his dream of racial equality has been largely realized - the law no longer permits distinctions between the races in our public life - his dream of racial harmony has not.

One reason it has not is that his dream that his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character has been inverted so that the color of one's skin is often the only thing that matters, at least in those precincts of our society still in thrall to liberalism.

For example, students are still accepted into colleges and given scholarships on the basis of their race without having to meet the same standards as those with a different skin color. The same is true of civil servants like police and firemen who are often hired and promoted on the basis of test performance, but who sometimes receive preferential treatment based on race. Our Justice Department is reluctant to prosecute blacks who deny others their civil rights, and any criticism of our president is interpreted by some as a racist reaction to his skin color rather than reasoned opposition to his policies.

Sadly, people are judged by the color of their skin rather than by the content of their character as much today, perhaps, as at any time in our history, but that's precisely contrary to Martin Luther King's dream.

Nor do I think he would have been happy that we celebrate black history month as if it were somehow separate from American history rather than, as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby argues, an integral part of American history. The civil rights movement was not merely a black movement, it was an American movement in which the American people realized that we were not living up to the ideals of equality and liberty upon which America was founded. It was a time when the nation realized that we were not living consistently with the deepest convictions we held as Christians, namely that we are all brothers and sisters, children of the same God.

Martin Luther King persistently and bravely held these ideals and convictions before the American people, he refused to allow us to avoid their implications, and repeatedly urged us to live up to what we believed deep in our souls to be true. And the American people, many of whom had never really thought about the chasm between what we professed and what we practiced, responded.

It was an American achievement that involved the efforts and blood of people not just of one race but of all races. Thinking of the great sacrifices and advances of the civil rights era as only a success story of one race is divisive. It carves out one group of people from the rest of the nation for special notice and tends to exclude so many others without whom the story would never have been told.

On Martin Luther King day it would be good for us to try to put behind us the invidious distinctions we continue to make between white and black. It would be good to stop seeing others in terms of their skin color, to give each other the benefit of the doubt that our disagreements are about ideas and policies and are not motivated by hatred, bigotry, or moral shortcomings. It would be good to declare a moratorium on the use of the word "racist," unless the evidence for it is overwhelming, and, in any case, to stop thinking of racism as a sin committed by the majority race only.

Let's resolve to judge each other on the content of our character and of our minds and not on the color of our skin. As long as we continue to see each other through the lens of race we'll never achieve the unity that King yearned for and gave his life for.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Moderate Islam

Andrew McCarthy at National Review argues that the reason so many Muslims are violent terrorists is not because they've been radicalized but because they take their Koran seriously. McCarthy offers a critique in his column of an essay by Cheryl Bernard in which she makes the claim that the best way to win over Muslim radicals is by the influence of moderate Muslims. McCarthy has a lot of experience as a prosecutor of Muslim terrorists and his entire article is recommended, but here's the key excerpt:
[Bernard's] error is implicit from the very start of her essay (my italics):
Over the past decade, the prevailing thinking has been that radical Islam is most effectively countered by moderate Islam. The goal was to find religious leaders and scholars and community ‘influencers’ — to use the lingo of the counter-radicalization specialists — who could explain to their followers and to any misguided young people that Islam is a religion of peace, that the term jihad refers mainly to the individual’s personal struggle against temptation and for moral betterment, and that tolerance and interfaith cooperation should prevail.
Plainly, the “prevailing thinking” casually assumes “facts” not only unproven but highly dubious. Bernard takes it as a given not only that there is an easily identifiable “moderate Islam,” but also that this . . . what? . . . doctrine? . . . attitude? . . . is the most effective counter to “radical Islam.”

But what is moderate Islam? She doesn’t say. She maintains that there are countless moderate Muslims who, by her telling, embrace “Western values, modern life and integration.” In fact, she assumes there are so many such Muslims that they constitute the “mainstream” of Islam. Yet, that proposition is not necessarily true even in the West, where Muslims are a minority who might be expected to assimilate into the dominant, non-Muslim culture; and it most certainly is not true in the Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East.

Even worse is Bernard’s assertion — uncritical, and without a hint that there may be a counter-case — “that Islam is a religion of peace, [and] that the term jihad refers mainly to the individual’s personal struggle against temptation and for moral betterment.”

As is the wont of Islam’s Western apologists, Bernard is attempting to shield from examination what most needs examining. Her reliance on the potential of “moderate Islam” to quell “radical Islam” is entirely premised on the conceit that Islam is, in fact, moderate and peaceful. Her assumption that the vast majority of Muslims can be won over (indeed, have already been won over, she seems to say) to Western values is premised on the conceit that those values are universal and, hence, locatable in the core of Islam — such that “tolerance and interfaith cooperation should prevail” because Islam is all for them.

Islam, however, is not a religion of peace. It is a religion of conquest that was spread by the sword. Moreover, it is not only untrue that jihad refers “mainly” to the individual’s internal struggle to live morally; it is also untrue that the Islamic ideal of the moral life is indistinguishable from the Western conception.

To be clear, this is not to say that Islam could not conceivably become peaceful. Nor is it to say that jihad could not be reinterpreted such that a decisive majority of Muslims would accept that its actual primary meaning — namely, holy war to establish Islam’s dominance — has been superseded by the quest for personal betterment. To pull that off, though, will require a huge fight. It cannot be done by inhabiting an alternative universe where it has already been done.

That fight would be over doctrine, the stark omission in Bernard’s analysis. I do not think the omission is an oversight. Note her labeling of faux moderates as “aggressive traditionalists.” Citing “tradition” implies that the backwardness and anti-Western hostility she detects, to her great dismay, is a function of cultural inhibitions. But what she never tells you, and hopes you’ll never ask, is where Islamic culture and traditions come from.

Alas, they are direct consequences of Islamic scripture and sharia, the law derived from scripture. She can’t go there. She wants Islam to be moderate, but its scriptures won’t cooperate. She must rely on tradition and culture because traditions and cultures can and do evolve. Scripture, by contrast, does not — not in Islam as taught by over a millennium’s worth of scholars and accepted by untold millions of Muslims. Mainstream Islam holds that scripture is immutable. The Koran, the center of Islamic life, is deemed the “uncreated word of Allah,” eternal...

Bernard must blame aggressive traditionalism because if the problem is aggressive doctrine rooted in aggressive scripture, then it’s not changing any time soon — or maybe ever. Moreover, she is not in a position to challenge doctrine and scripture without deeply offending the believers to whom she is appealing. They are taught that any departure from centuries-old scholarly consensus is blasphemy.
A Muslim student once told me that there is no such thing as moderate Islam or radical Islam. There is just Islam as it is taught in the holy Koran. Unfortunately, the Koran is not a moderate book which is why those who follow every jot and tittle of the Prophet's teaching chafe at being told by such as the mayor of the city of Philadelphia that they're not true Muslims.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Cruel Logic

A professor has given a lecture this evening in which he claims that our behavior is the product of our genetic make-up. We don't really have free will. There is no God and we're pretty much at the mercy of our genes which means that we're not really responsible for what we do.

A psychopath has managed to kidnap the professor and challenges him to defend this thesis in the real world. The video, titled Cruel Logic, is pretty grim but as you watch it ask yourself, given the assumptions of the professor, what answer could he make to the psychopath's challenge.
If you were in the professor's position what could you say to save your life? Does the psychopath's behavior make sense if the professor is correct? If man truly is morally autonomous what's actually wrong with the psychopath's behavior, beyond the fact that we just don't like it?

The only way to resist the conclusion that there's really nothing wrong with what he's doing is to deny the premise that our behavior is genetically determined and that morality is a completely subjective phenomenon. But, in the absence of an objective, transcendent ground for moral behavior, a God, there is no way out.

As atheist philosopher Richard Rorty once admitted, the secular man, such as himself, has no answer to the question, why not be cruel. Atheist biologist Richard Dawkins puts it this way: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference."

In other words, according to Dawkins the psychopath in the video conforms perfectly to the way things are in a Godless universe. Ideas do indeed have consequences.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Why So Many Don't Learn

It may be hard for those who themselves went to good schools but who haven't recently been inside a school building while classes were in session to understand why so many kids, especially kids in our urban schools, can't seem to get a good education despite the fact that taxpayers spend tens of thousands of dollars each year on each of them.

Indeed, the government of my state of Pennsylvania is at a budget impasse right now because the Governor wants to raise taxes to spend even more on public schools, thinking that that will improve our students' education, while the legislature refuses on the grounds that lack of funding is not why kids are not receiving the education they need.

Well, then, if it's not a matter of money, what is the reason so many of our young people seem to pass through our high schools with their minds only minimally improved by the experience? Some people, typically conservatives, blame teachers, while others, typically liberals, blame the lack of spending, but neither of these answers, in my opinion, gets to the heart of the problem. The reason that so many students come out of our public schools as ignorant as when they entered is because so many of these kids live in dysfunctional families, reside in dysfunctional communities, and carry the consequences of those dysfunctions, as well as their own dysfunctional behavior, into the school with them.

In the environment created by these students - and their parents - teachers can't teach and those students who do want to learn are seriously short-changed by chaotic classrooms. School authorities are either complicit in this or, if they really want to change it, find themselves hamstrung by laws and regulations that thwart them from removing surly, foul-mouthed, and disruptive students from halls and classrooms.

To get a sense of that to which I refer read this article at The Federalist by a high school English teacher in Baltimore named Dana Casey who describes a typical day. I urge anyone reading this who is planning a career in education to read Casey's article in its entirety.

Her article is summed up nicely, I think, by her concluding paragraphs:
On my way out of the building, I see a group of fellow teachers chatting, and I join in. We have little time with each other and are mostly isolated in our classrooms. The group is talking about yet another teacher who has quit—walked out in the middle of the school day.

That is the sixth teacher this year to quit, from a staff of around 60 teachers. Half of all new teachers don’t make it past the first year; more leave before year five. This particular teacher already had 12 years of service in, but just couldn’t take it anymore.

Chaos can do that to a teacher. Every day this week, some teacher was crying. Even I cried one day, and I am not usually a crier. Exhausted, I climb into my car and wave at a few students as I pull out of the lot. Tomorrow, I will do it all over again, as I have for the past 23 years. Maybe.
Young people have to be taught to value education at home. They have to be taught proper behavior and respect at home. If a substantial number of students come to school without having been taught such things, even if they're not the majority, they will turn their school into an ineffectual bedlam in which few will learn much of anything. The reason our schools are failing is because too many families, fragmented and indifferent to the values their children need to do better in life than their parents, have already failed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Why Take Philosophy

In the course of my teaching I often encourage students to consider taking as much philosophy as they can schedule because I believe that a study of the questions philosophers address affords the most important background a thoughtful and intelligent student could acquire. I don't necessarily encourage students to major in philosophy, but even so, occasionally some will express an interest in pursuing a philosophy degree. These students love thinking about ideas and want to continue pursuing that love by taking additional courses, but they're rightly concerned about what they can do with a philosophy degree once they graduate.

My reply is that most philosophy majors actually don't do anything professionally with their degree but rather they find themselves with an excellent preparation for the sorts of careers they do choose to pursue. Employers in most occupations prefer to train their employees themselves in the skills they'll need anyway, and, moreover, most professions require graduate level work in their specific field. Philosophy prepares a student well for either path.

A friend sent along a link to a post by Dr. Roy Clouser - author of the outstanding book The Myth of Religious Neutrality, and professor of philosophy at Trenton State College - in which he addresses these same concerns. His post is entitled Why Major in Philosophy? and it contains a lot of good advice for a young high schoolers or undecided undergrads who think they might enjoy philosophy but who aren't sure if it will prepare them for making a living. Clouser writes:

For most students arriving at college, philosophy is the one subject they've never had before so it's natural that it's one of the last they consider majoring in. It's also natural to wonder what the major is good for--after all, few people ever plan to be professional philosophers! Yet, year after year, students switch their major to philosophy, and others tell us they wish they'd discovered it sooner so they could have done so.

What these students discovered - surprising as it sounds - is that philosophy is the single most useful major in the entire undergraduate curriculum! (Yes, useful!)

It's true, of course, that not many people become professional philosophers. But neither do most history majors become historians or English majors go on to become novelists. The fact is that most students don't pick a major because they plan to make their living in that field. They choose a major based on their interests and on how well it will prepare them for the widest possible number of occupations after college. If you are deciding that way too, we can say this for certain: If you have the interest, philosophy is the best possible major - hands down.

Let me explain.

Philosophy deals with theories about the most basic beliefs and values that people have. These include topics like the nature of reality and human nature, the nature and sources of knowledge and morality, the proper structure for society and government, and the nature of religious belief. It also studies theories about the nature of science, art, language, and law. In this way, every philosophy major is exposed to the most influential interpretations of the most important issues people face across the entire spectrum of human experience.

But more than simply learning about these issues, philosophy includes a keen training in logic and critical thinking - in the ability to argue and debate the truth of the various theories and viewpoints that are studied. It sharpens one's ability to spot difficulties, pose questions, and to weigh the evidence for and against the reasons given for any view on any topic. (A bank V.P. once told me that his logical training was the most valuable thing he got in his entire undergraduate education - even more valuable than his business courses.)

Even from this short description you may be able to see why a philosophy major is the best possible background for anyone who wants to deal with the public or who wants to write - whether as a novelist, or news reporter. It is also the very best major for those thinking of pursuing any sort of career in religion. And it should come as no surprise that law schools consider it the best background for the Law SAT and a career in law. (Speaking of standardized tests, the highest GRE scores consistently come from three majors: math, physics, and philosophy.)

But there's more. It seems that a solid background in the influential viewpoints over a wide range of issues, and an ability to think logically about them, is also splendid training for a career in business according to several top business schools. But what may be most surprising of all is that the records of some of the best medical schools show philosophy as the undergraduate major of some of their most outstanding alumni!

So, if you have doubts about the major that's best for you - especially if you are presently an undeclared major - why not make an appointment at the philosophy department to talk over your interests with one of our faculty? Philosophy might, at least, be the ideal minor subject for you even if you decide not to major in it.

I offer only one caveat. Philosophy departments, like departments in any of the humanities, often are loaded with instructors who favor a particular school or style of philosophy. Some of these styles may be deadly dull to students who expect their philosophy experience to be an exciting intellectual excursion into the best that's been thought and written about life's most important questions. The student who wants to major in philosophy would do well to check out what approach the department is inclined toward before committing him or herself to majoring in it.

Even if your school doesn't offer a philosophy major or minor it probably offers a few philosophy courses. Do yourself a favor and take as many of them as you can.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Nothing to Do with Islam

Notwithstanding the admission of Edward Archer - the Muslim who recently ambushed a Philadelphia police officer, shooting him three times - that he committed his deed in the name of Islam because American police enforce laws which are at variance with sharia, the mayor of the City of Brotherly Love, Jim Kenney, proclaimed that,
[I]n no way, in no way, shape or form does anyone in this room believe that Islam or the teaching of Islam has anything to do with what you have see on that screen [video of the shooting]. That is abhorrent. It’s terrible and it does not represent the religion in any way, shape or form or any of its teachings. And this is a criminal with a stolen gun who tried to kill one of our officers, has nothing to do with being a Muslim or following the Islamic faith. That is abhorrent.
Here's the video:
The mayor is embarrassing himself. Imagine that a white shooter tried to shoot a black cop and gave as his reason that he was a member of a white supremacist group that believes that blacks are cursed by God. Would the mayor say that that man's actions do not represent white supremacists in any way, shape, or form? I doubt it.

I suspect everyone in that room, including His Honor, actually does believe that Islam had everything to do with the attempted murder. Liberal progressives, it seems, simply cannot bring themselves to admit that that their decades long infatuation with multiculturalism and diversity is not working out well. Indeed, like the crowd watching the emperor parading buck naked down the street, they seem perfectly willing to flatly deny what's plainly obvious in order to evade having to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that what Archer did is perfectly justified by both the Koran and the example of Mohammad himself.

To say, as the mayor does, that Archer's actions do not "represent the religion in any way, shape or form or any of its teachings" reveals a signal ignorance of both Islamic theology and history. Consider, for example, these passages from the Koran:
8:39. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism: i.e. worshiping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone [in the whole of the world]. But if they cease (worshiping others besides Allah), then certainly, Allah is All-Seer of what they do.

9:5. ... kill the Mushrikun {unbelievers} wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. But if they repent and perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat {the Islamic ritual prayers}), and give Zakat {alms}, then leave their way free. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

9:29. Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
I think it safe to say that a devout Muslim like Archer has a better grasp of what constitutes Islam than does Mr. Kenney who evidently either thinks these surahs don't mean what they say or doesn't have a clue about what Muslims believe.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Juanita Broaddrick Affair

Those under age 35 might be a little unclear as to why there's been such a brouhaha over Hillary Clinton's criticism of Donald Trump's alleged sexism and, more to the point, Trump's rejoinder that Hillary would do well, if she wishes to use her husband as a surrogate in the campaign and if she wishes to stand by her assertion that women who claim to have been sexually abused deserve to be believed, to forego attacks on other men's attitudes toward women. What, it may be wondered by the younger set, does Bill Clinton have to do with Hillary throwing feminist rocks at Donald?

Well, thereon hangs a tale, and Dylan Matthews at the very liberal website Vox gives a fair telling of it here. I recommend that Matthews' entire article be read, but the following excerpts will serve to illustrate why Hillary's claim that women deserve to be believed when they allege that they've been assaulted is, at the least, very awkward:
There really are multiple accusations of sexual assault against Bill Clinton, accusations that have too often been conflated with his much better-established and much less morally concerning history of adultery. Are the women making these accusations survivors who deserve to be believed, to borrow Hillary Clinton's language? Or, as she later insisted, have their accusations all been found to be baseless?

The basic answer is that some of the claims appear more credible than others. There are three main accusers, of whom it seems by far the most credible — based on the publicly available evidence — is [Juanita] Broaddrick. Broaddrick's allegation, while hardly proven, has not been definitively refuted. Only Broaddrick and Bill Clinton know what the truth of the matter in the case is. But if one generally believes it's important to believe the victim, it's hard to argue that this case should be an exception.

In 1978, Broaddrick was volunteering for Clinton's gubernatorial campaign, and claims she met him when he visited his campaign office in her hometown of Van Buren, Arkansas, that April. She says he then invited her to visit his office in Little Rock, which Broaddrick agreed to do a week later, when she was in the state capitol for a conference of nursing home administrators. Once she was at a hotel in Little Rock, she claims Clinton told her that he wasn't going to the campaign headquarters and offered to meet her in her hotel lobby coffee shop instead. Once he arrived, she says he called her room and suggested that they have coffee there, since the lobby had too many reporters. Broaddrick says she agreed. Then, per the Post story:
As she tells the story, they spent only a few minutes chatting by the window -- Clinton pointed to an old jail he wanted to renovate if he became governor -- before he began kissing her. She resisted his advances, she said, but soon he pulled her back onto the bed and forcibly had sex with her. She said she did not scream because everything happened so quickly. Her upper lip was bruised and swollen after the encounter because, she said, he had grabbed onto it with his mouth.

"The last thing he said to me was, 'You better get some ice for that.' And he put on his sunglasses and walked out the door," she recalled.
Several friends of Broaddrick's backed up the story. Norma Rogers, who was the director of nursing at Broaddrick's nursing home at the time, told reporters that she entered the hotel room shortly after the assault allegedly took place and "found Mrs. Broaddrick crying and in 'a state of shock.' Her upper lip was puffed out and blue, and appeared to have been hit." Kelsey elaborated to the New York Times, "She told me he forced himself on her, forced her to have intercourse."
Broaddrick and other women have testified, too, that when they came forward Hillary led a campaign to discredit and suppress their stories. Broaddrick gave a lengthy account of the incident in a 1999 Dateline NBC interview
As Dylan Matthews says, "if ... it's important to believe the victim, it's hard to argue that this case should be an exception." If so, what's the difference between Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby, or Jerry Sandusky? Why is Clinton a hero among Democrats while the others are pariahs?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Trump Appeals to Dems, Too

At dinner on New Year's Eve a friend and I got into a modest political discussion while waiting for our table. My friend is conservative in the way he lives his life and in many of his social attitudes - second amendment rights, for example. Nevertheless, he plans to vote for Bernie Sanders, a revelation I had difficulty processing, creating as it did, a befuddling blur of cognitive dissonance in my mind.

In any case, he expressed both surprise and disparagement when I speculated that Donald Trump, were he to be the GOP nominee, would appeal to a lot of Democrats and could quite possibly frustrate Hillary Clinton's accession to the throne she has coveted since she was sliming women who accused her husband of various unseemly doings back in their days in Arkansas.

My friend flashed an amused sneer as if to say I had no idea what I was talking about, which was a safe assumption on his part since I often don't, but now comes vindication of my speculations in the form of a US News article. The article states that:
Nearly 20 percent of likely Democratic voters say they'd cross sides and vote for Trump, while a small number, or 14 percent, of Republicans claim they'd vote for Clinton. When those groups were further broken down, a far higher percentage of the crossover Democrats contend they are "100 percent sure" of switching than the Republicans.
Twenty percent! I wish I had that stat on New Year's Eve.

Anyway, I suppose that the very things that make Trump attractive to a lot of Republicans also make him attractive to a significant minority of Democrats. If the choice is between a superannuated liberal progressive of the sort we've had in the White House for the last eight years, a woman who evidently put the State Department up for sale during her tenure as Secretary of State, versus someone who has actually accomplished something in his life and who defies all the liberal shibboleths and the wearisome PC folly of the left, a lot of Democrats, apparently, will cross the line and vote for the latter.

Will they worry about what kind of president Trump would be? Probably most voters would, but many of them will also console themselves by asking how much worse he can be than what we've had over the last decade.

Parenthetically, it's regrettable that Jim Webb (Democrat) and Scott Walker (Republican) dropped out of the race early. Both are men of substantial accomplishment and integrity and both were highly qualified for the nation's highest office. Unfortunately, neither exuded the charisma that so captivates a superficial media eager to wade in the shallow waters of scandal, controversy and personal conflict, so neither was able to get traction with a larger public more concerned with the Kardashians' love life than with the the future of the nation. Maybe it's true that we deserve what we get.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Suicidal Compassion

The news media is exploding with stories about Muslims attacking women in European cities. On New Year's Eve there were dozens of assaults by thousands of Muslim men on women in public spaces in cities all across Europe. In most of these cases women were surrounded by gangs of Arab or North African men who forcibly groped and kissed them.

In Cologne, Germany the mayor, in a classic case of blaming the victim, advised women to follow prudent rules of conduct as if it were imprudent to go to a fireworks display in the town square with one's friends. It would not be surprising if this mayor next recommended to the women of her city to don the burka to discourage Muslim men who are otherwise unable to control themselves:
Finns were shocked at the assaults in Helsinki where such crimes were heretofore unheard of.

In many European cities pepper spray is flying off the shelves. Some authorities are planning to instruct refugee men that assaulting and raping women is a no-no in Europe.

In England, 1400 young girls and boys were sexually abused, sodomized, tortured and threatened by gangs of Pakistani men over a period of several years, and that was in just one city, the city of Rotherham. The terror was allowed to go on for years because the victims were generally poor and the authorities feared being branded as bigots if they intervened:
Meanwhile, closer to home, two Iraqi refugees arrested in Texas for plotting terrorism, and a Philadelphia police officer was shot thirteen times just today by a man who claimed to have acted on behalf of Islam. The officer, you see, enforces laws which are antithetical to sharia and Islam decrees therefore that he must die.

The West is committing suicide by believing that somehow it can absorb millions of people who think this way and that social stability and harmony can be maintained nevertheless.

How many of those who advocate that we should open our doors to all who want to come in would invite into their homes men who believe in a religion that teaches that those who don't believe as they do should be killed, who believe that the daughters of their host are there to be fondled and raped, who need to be taught, for heaven's sake, that rape is wrong?

The answer, doubtless, is very few, and that serves to illustrate both the foolishness and the hypocrisy of what the Europeans are doing and what President Obama proposes to do. On New Year's Eve 2015 it was Cologne and other European cities where women were treated like livestock. If Mr. Obama has his way, on New Year's Eve 2020 it could well be your city.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Ecological Eschaton Is Imminent

It's an odd thing that no one, not even liberal environmentalists, seem too concerned about the imminent arrival of January 27th. That's the day in 2006 when Al Gore warned us that the world had ten years to severely reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses or else we will have passed the point of no return when nothing we do to save the planet will matter.

Well, January 27th is soon upon us, but there seems to be no alarm, no urgency, no real concern. What's wrong with people? Do they think the Nobel prize winning author of An Inconvenient Truth was prevaricating, for heaven's sake?

Maybe people have just grown weary of apocalyptic predictions. In 1988 Ted Danson, who played Sam Malone on the sitcom Cheers, switched roles and played a marine biologist cautioning us that we had only ten years to save the oceans. Since the middle of the last century we've been told by all sorts of folks that peak oil was just around the corner and that by the year 2000 we'd have exhausted the world's supply. In 1968 a Stanford biologist named Paul Ehrlich terrified us with the assurance - in his book The Population Bomb - that by the mid-1980s the world would be awash with mass starvation, war, disease, and chaos. A piece in the New York Times quotes him:
Dr. Ehrlich’s opening statement [of the book] was the verbal equivalent of a punch to the gut: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.” He later went on to forecast that hundreds of millions would starve to death in the 1970s, that 65 million of them would be Americans, that crowded India was essentially doomed, that odds were fair “England will not exist in the year 2000.” Dr. Ehrlich was so sure of himself that he warned in 1970 that “sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come.” By “the end,” he meant “an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity.”
It's true, as Yogi Berra is alleged to have claimed, that predictions are very hard to make, especially when they're about the future, but even so none of those dire prophecies has come to pass and evidently no one, not even Gore's biggest fans, think his prognostication is going to be proven correct either. But then we still have a couple of weeks left, so who knows?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Racial Fabrications

Actual cases of white racism are nowadays so rare and/or so trivial that those anxious to prove that it exists have taken to fabricating stories which the gullible and credulous accept as proof that the problem persists. These examples are usually proven to be not at all what they purport to be, but no matter. The impression created is that racism is ubiquitous and if this or that allegation is shown to be spurious the true believers are nevertheless undeterred. Indeed, it's even claimed that the actual rarity of instances of overt racism only shows that racism is more insidiously covert today than it used to be. This take on things would be amusing were it not so widely accepted and so frequently alleged.

In any case, The Daily Caller offers us a list of a dozen or so of the most egregious examples of hoaxes and just absurd interpretations of perfectly innocent actions that were widely cited as proof of white racism and homophobia in 2015. Here are a couple of the DC's selections:
A Columbia University student pitched a fit and cried racism because she couldn’t get into a Yale frat party. A Halloween party thrown by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chapter at Yale University caused a huge fracas after a Columbia student visiting campus claimed she was denied entry because it was “white girls only.” The Columbia student, Sofia Petros-Gouin, said an SAE member repeatedly declared “White girls only” and only permitted white women — specifically blonde white women — to enter. “I was shocked,” Petros-Gouin told gullible Washington Post reporter Susan Svrluga. “I was disgusted.” Later, the fraternity’s president said another Yale student hocked a loogie on him. Also, Yale students insulted black SAE members by calling them “Uncle Toms.” Yale officials opened an official investigation. They conducted scores of interviews. About a month later, school officials concluded that exactly no racism had actually occurred at the frat’s Halloween party. “Before the party became crowded, all students — including men and women of color — were admitted on a first-come, first-served basis,” a Yale dean wrote. Later, when the party was hopping and people started queueing outside to get in, frat members began turning people away with “harsh language” — but no racism.

Students at the University of Delaware freaked out because they thought the remains of lanterns hanging from a tree were nooses. Pandemonium struck students and administrators alike at the University of Delaware in November after students claimed they discovered at least three nooses hanging from trees after a Black Lives Matter rally. The alleged nooses were found dangling from a tree on the quad. A police investigation was rapidly launched. Once police officers actually took a close look at the “nooses,” they “determined that the three noose-like items found outside Mitchell Hall were not instruments of a hate crime, but the remnants of paper lanterns from an event previously held on The Green,” as the president of the public school duly explained. After the “hate crime” was exposed as a total non-event, school officials doubled on the necessity of fighting hate on campus.

A black graduate of Kean University used a school computer to threaten to “shoot every black woman and male” on campus. The 24-year-old graduate, Kayla-Simone McKelvey, was charged with creating a false public alarm after reportedly making death threats and bomb threats against black students and professors. The arrest occurred in December. Police say McKelvey, who is black and a self-described race activist, used Twitter and a computer at the taxpayer-funded New Jersey school. McKelvey reportedly chose the Twitter handle @keanuagainstblk (Kean University against black) to make the threats, which included a promise to “shoot every black woman and male.” Police said McKelvey also tweeted: “kean university twitter against blacks is for everyone who hates blacks people.”
There are more at the link. Maybe we should see it as a sign of progress, of a sort, that those who wish to support their claims of racism in this country are now reduced to having to make up the evidence. It doesn't say much for the character of these individuals, nor the discernment of those who are quick to believe them, but it does say something about how far we've come as a society in the last three generations in casting off the bigotries of the past.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Myth of Epidemic Racist Police Shootings

Someone who got their news only from the major news outlets might easily assume that white cops are killing innocent black men willy-nilly across the length and breadth of the country. The fact of the matter is, however, that this is a myth created by those who believe another myth, the myth that white Americans are inveterately racist.

The New York Post recently featured an article which brings some clarity to this discussion. The NYP story actually built off a story which originally appeared in the Washington Post. Here are a few highlights:
Last week, The Washington Post published a study of the police shootings that took place in 2015. Likely they intended the story to be shocking — as on Dec. 24, 965 people were killed by police! Instead, the report quells the notion that trigger-happy cops are out hunting for civilian victims, especially African-Americans. Among its key findings:
  • White cops shooting unarmed black men accounted for less than 4% of fatal police shootings.
  • In three-quarters of the incidents, cops were either under attack themselves or defending civilians.
  • The majority of those killed were brandishing weapons, suicidal or mentally troubled or bolted when ordered to surrender.
  • Nearly a third of police shootings resulted from car chases that began with a minor traffic stop.
The moral of this story is: Don’t point a gun at the cops and don’t run when they tell you stop, and you’re likely to survive. Since the population of the US is about 318 million people, a thousand deaths at the hands of police works out to 1 in 318,000. You have a better chance of being killed in a violent storm (1 in 68,000) or slipping in the tub (1 in 11,500) than being shot by a cop, no matter what color you are.

But even these figures are deceptive. Of those 965 killed, only 90 were unarmed, and the majority of those were white. (And that doesn’t take into account other extenuating circumstances besides a weapon that would have caused a police officer to fire).

Still, the “killer cop” narrative refuses to die, and The Washington Post decided to throw fuel on the racial fire with context-free statements like these: “Although black men make up only 6% of the US population, they account for 40% of the unarmed men shot to death by police this year.”

This ignores the fact that black violent-crime rates are far higher than those of whites. According to the Department of Justice, blacks committed 52.5% of the murders in America from 1980-2008, while representing only 12.6% of the population.
Indeed, the murder rate in some Chicago neighborhoods is higher (117 per 100,000) than in countries with a reputation for homicidal violence, e.g. Honduras (90.4 per 100,000).

Nevertheless, there is a problem with excessive use of force by some police officers. The shooting last spring of Walter Scott by an officer (who was subsequently placed under arrest and awaits trial) seems to be a clear case of homicide, but these cases are rare and just as importantly, they're not limited to instances of white cops shooting black men. This story recounts a shooting of a white teenager by a white cop, which, if you watch the video, seems totally unjustified. Yet no charges were brought against the cop.
Another instance occurred in Hummelstown, PA where a female cop killed an unarmed white man after the man had been tasered. She was exonerated.
Perhaps she should have been exonerated, and perhaps most of the cops who shoot black suspects should have been exonerated as well. It's hard to say, but to find in these incidents support for one's assumption that the nation is fundamentally racist is unwarranted.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Raising the Minimum Wage Doesn't Help the Poor

We've often wondered here at VP how increasing the minimum wage would actually help anyone beyond just making politicians and other proponents feel good about themselves. A research paper by David Neumark, visiting scholar at the San Francisco Fed, answers the question of what good raising the minimum wage accomplishes by finding that it doesn't accomplish much good at all. The reason is that, aside from the negative effect raising costs has on job creation and availability, relatively few of those falling below the poverty line actually receive the minimum wage in the first place.

Here are some excerpts from an NBC News report on Neumark's findings:
Demographically, about half of the 3 million or so workers receiving the minimum are 16 to 24 years old, with the highest concentration in the leisure and hospitality industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, the percentage of workers at or below the minimum is on the decline, falling to 3.9 percent in 2014 from the most recent high of 6 percent in 2010.

Neumark also points out that many of those receiving the wage aren't poor — there are no workers in 57 percent of families below the poverty line, while 46 percent of poor workers are getting paid more than $10.10 an hour, and 36 percent are making more than $12 an hour, he said.

"Mandating higher wages for low-wage workers does not necessarily do a good job of delivering benefits to poor families," Neumark wrote. "Simple calculations suggest that a sizable share of the benefits from raising the minimum wage would not go to poor families."
It is hard to see how raising the wages of people who aren't poor does much to help people who are poor. Neumark argues that a much better way to help poor families is to raise the Earned Income Tax Credit:
Increasing the earned income tax credit is a more effective way to fight poverty, he said. A family of four can get a credit of up to $5,548, which Neumark said is more tailored toward low-income families than hikes in the minimum wage.

"The earned income tax credit targets low-income families much better, increases employment and reduces poverty, and for all these reasons seems far more effective," he wrote.
Unless Neumark's data can be shown to be misleading or incorrect it seems irresponsible or even disingenuous for political figures and others to keep insisting that they want to help the poor by raising the minimum wage.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Books of 2015

Each January I indulge myself by posting an annotated list of the books I managed to read during the year just past. This list does not include every book, but it does include most of them.

(RR) stands for Reread. There are some works which, no matter how many times I've read them, I always benefit from reading them again a few years, or many years, later.

The diversity of the list is largely explained by the fact that I'm in a reading group which often selects books that I probably would never have otherwise sat down with, but which I'm invariably glad I was compelled to read to fulfill my obligation to the group.

Here's the list with a very brief description of each:
  1. The Third Target - Joel Rosenberg: An apocalyptic novel set in the Mid-east in the near future.
  2. The Legacy Journey - Dave Ramsey: How to be sure you leave an inheritance for your children.
  3. The Existence of God - Richard Swinburne (RR): Prominent philosopher of religion discusses some reasons for believing that God exists.
  4. The Coherence of Theism - Richard Swinburne (RR): Swinburne refutes the criticism that the concept of God is incoherent.
  5. Washington's Secret Six - Brian Kilmeade: True story about a revolutionary war spy ring.
  6. God's Battalions - Rodney Stark (RR): An outstanding account of the causes and conduct of the Crusades and why the crusaders were able to defeat their Muslim foes in virtually every encounter despite working from serious strategic disadvantages.
  7. Metaethics: An Introduction - Anthony Fisher (RR): A discussion of the possibility and nature of ethics.
  8. Being As Communion - William Dembski (RR): All reality reduces not to matter but to information and thus to mind.
  9. Why Football Matters - Mark Edmunson: Life lessons from the authors experience playing high school football in the late 1960s.
  10. Consciousness and the Existence of God - J.P. Moreland (RR): A prominent philosopher of mind explains why conscious experience leads to theism.
  11. Finding Truth - Nancy Pearcey: An excellent summary of the failures of the naturalistic worldview.
  12. Atheists: The Origin of the Species - Nick Spencer: A history of atheism and atheistic thought in the West.
  13. Heroes and Heretics - Thomas Cahill: Interesting biographical sketches of medieval personalities.
  14. The Italian Renaissance - J.H. Plumb: A historical overview of the major personalities of the Renaissance.
  15. Theodicy - Gottfried Leibniz: Leibniz's famous work in which he seeks to explain why God allows suffering and evil in the world.
  16. Roman Life in the Days of Cicero - Alfred Church: A look at some of the famous historical personages of Rome prior to the Christian era.
  17. Time and Eternity - William Lane Craig (RR): Philosopher William Lane Craig lays out his view of the nature of time.
  18. Discourse on Metaphysics - Gottfried Leibniz: Leibniz discusses his metaphysical views.
  19. Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding - David Hume (RR): Perhaps skeptical philosopher David Hume's most famous work.
  20. The Grand Design - Hawking and Molodinow: Two famous cosmologists discuss the origin and nature of the universe.
  21. Lives of the Artists - Georgi Vasari: Vasari was Florentine artist living toward the end of the fifteenth century who undertook to collect all the biographical information he could on the artists who gave us the Renaissance. Many of these men he knew personally.
  22. Reasonable Faith - Wm. Lane Craig (RR): Philosopher W.L. Craig's major work on Christian apologetics.
  23. Atheist's Guide to Reality - Alex Rosenberg: Duke philosopher and atheist lays out the case for nihilism as a consequence of atheism.
  24. The Agony and the Ecstacy - Irving Stone: Classic novel recounting the life of Michaelangelo.
  25. On Guard - Wm. Lane Craig: A simpler version of Craig's Reasonable Faith (see above).
  26. Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible - Jerry Coyne: Atheist biologist argues that coexistence between the two spheres is impossible.
  27. Things That Matter - Charles Krauthammer: A collection of essays from Krauthammer's long career as a syndicated columnist.
  28. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus - Nabeel Qureshi: Story of one man's journey from devout Muslim to devout Christian.
  29. Killing Reagan - O'Reilly and Dugard: Story of Reagan's presidency with emphasis on the assassination attempt by John Hinckley.
  30. Aquinas - Ed Feser (RR): Scholastic philosopher Ed Feser discusses the life and philosophy of the great 13th century philosopher theologian Thomas Aquinas.
  31. Not in God's Name - Jonathan Sacks: Jewish Rabbi Sacks weaves a fascinating explication of the book of Genesis with a strong message of reconciliation important for our own time.
  32. Jesus and the Jihadis - Evans and Johnson: A comparison of the teachings of Christ and Mohammad, Christianity and Islam.
  33. Fool's Talk - Os Guinness: Guinness explains how to, and how not to, talk to others about Christianity.
  34. Locke - Ed Feser: Feser considers the thought of John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the Two Treatises of Civil Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration.
  35. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr: An elegant novel about a blind girl in the midst of the German invasion of France during WWII.
  36. Là Bas - J.K. Huysmans: An autobiographical novel by the late 19th century French writer who writes about the depravity of fin de siècle Paris and man's need for God.