Friday, June 30, 2017

A Hero You've Never Heard About Before

Oscar Schindler was a German businessman in the early 1940s who was a member in good standing of the Nazi party. Distressed by the horror of what he saw his government doing to Jews he secretly undertook to save as many of them as he could. His story is recorded in the excellent Steven Spielberg movie Schindler's List which, if you haven't ever seen it, you should.

There's a Jewish businessman in Montreal named Steve Maman who owns a luxury car and motorcycle dealership who has been called the Jewish Schindler. In November 2014, Maman founded the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI) to free hostages from ISIS.

Bradley Martin at The Federalist tells the story of how a wealthy Jewish car dealer in Canada got involved in rescuing Christians and Yazidis.

Here's Martin's lede:
At a high-end car and motorcycle dealership in Montreal, a Canadian-Jewish businessman has made it his mission to save Christian and Yazidi girls from ISIS. What began as just another business venture for Steve Maman, a car dealer specializing in luxury automobiles, would turn into saving the lives of thousands of people.

Born in Morocco and immigrating to Canada at a very young age, Maman describes himself as an Orthodox Jew who grew up with “a great sense of being proudly Jewish.” Maman’s journey began following the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein, sons of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Aside from their horrifying reputations consisting of rape, murder, and torture, the brothers also had a voracious appetite for fine automobiles.“

[Uday and Qusay] traveled the world to collect fine cars,” said Maman. “They had over 500 cars in their collection – the most valuable cars in the world – Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces, you name it. They even had a 1958 Bentley Continental Dropped Coupe, which is worth several million dollars."

At the time, Iraq would not allow any of these cars to leave the country. But Maman’s business inquiries resulted in a close friendship with Canon Andrew White, the former Anglican vicar of Baghdad’s St. George’s Church, known by many simply as “the Vicar of Baghdad.”

During one of their conversations, White told Maman of the dangerous situation facing the last five Iraqi Jews who lived in Baghdad. With a history stretching as far back as biblical times, the Iraqi Jewish population once numbered 150,000. This remnant celebrated Shabbat at St. George’s Church under White’s protection. White even recounted how they would celebrate Jewish holidays at the American embassy in Baghdad, alongside American Jews serving in the U.S military.

White also spoke to Maman about the genocide taking place against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq. The vicar gave an account of the thousands of women and children ISIS was holding captive. Amidst the beheadings, torture, and other horrors of the genocide, thousands of women were being sold into sexual slavery. Maman knew he had to do something. “From 1939-1945, Jews were being murdered during the Holocaust,” said Maman, “despite the fact that everyone around knew it was going on. It was three years into the genocide [of Christians and Yazidis] yet nobody acted. That is why I did what I did. I didn’t trust anyone else to do it.” In November 2014, Maman founded the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI) to free hostages from ISIS territory.

In early 2015, Maman was part of a delegation that met with then-Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. After his speech, Maman approached Harper, praising him as a hero for his strong pro-Israel stance and “all he had done for Jews.” According to Maman, “Harper had tears in his eyes and was very touched.” During their meeting, Maman then reported of his plans to rescue women and children from ISIS territory.

“Harper loved the idea,” said Maman. “The [Canadian] federal government and [former Canadian minister of National Defense] Jason Kenney provided support to the rescue efforts under his leadership. We will leave it at that.”

When the vicar left Baghdad in November 2014, he left behind a security team that was integrated into CYCI’s rescue operations. Through a variety of methods, Maman set about trying to liberate as many of the estimated 10,000 women who were being sold in Iraqi slave markets as he possibly could. When ISIS terrorists were away from their homes, civilians would be hired to extract enslaved women and bring them to safety. In total, 140 women and girls were liberated.

“When you see a girl being rescued, you cry,” says Maman. “I don’t care how tough you are, you cry.”
Please read the rest of Martin's account at the link.

Steve Maman
Maman and his organization are doing wonderful work, as is the team led by Jeremy Courtney whose organization Preemptive Love I wrote about a year ago. These people and others like them are the real heroes in our world today, but living as we do in a superficial culture infatuated with celebrity and the trivial we rarely hear about them. This post is a small attempt to rectify that.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Who Believes in White Privilege?

Are all whites beneficiaries of white privilege? Are all whites racists? Is it wrong to categorize an entire group of people? Do all African Americans consider themselves victims of white privilege and racism?

Ami Horowitz interviews both white liberals and black "men (and women) on the street" and comes up with what may be some surprising answers to these questions - surprising in the sense that the white liberals and the minority folks in the video have very different takes on the questions. The video was edited, of course, but even so it's interesting, not to mention humorous.

Listen closely:
Frankly, I'm skeptical of the whole "white privilege" meme. It seems to me little more than a convenient hammer used to drive the nail of white guilt into our collective psyches. I share some thoughts about white privilege in more detail here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Why It's Not a Right

Last month I put up a post on Viewpoint defending the claim that health care (or health insurance) is neither a right nor a privilege. A friend wrote to ask me to expand on my reasons for holding this view, and I thought I'd share on Viewpoint my response to him.

Here's my reply edited and somewhat expanded. The arguments are the same, I think, whether we're talking about health care or health insurance:

If everyone has a right to have health care provided for them then why do we not also have a right to have a home, food, transportation, clothing, etc. provided for us? All of these are just as important as health care to our well-being, but if we maintain that people have a right to these things that implies that others have an obligation to provide them. We may, as compassionate people, choose to provide them for others, but if so, it's an act of personal or corporate charity, not an obligation imposed on us by others.

If we do think of it as an obligation then the recipient need feel no gratitude, nor is the donor being virtuous or compassionate if all he's doing is meeting a state-imposed requirement.

You yourself made a truly wonderful choice a few years ago to donate a kidney to enable someone to live, and what made your decision so marvelous is precisely that you didn't have a duty or an obligation to do it. It was completely gratuitous.

If, however, you had been coerced by the state to provide the organ then compassion would've been no part of your act. There would've been no more virtue in it than there is in paying your taxes. Likewise, though I'm sure the recipient of your kidney was extremely grateful for your sacrifice, if he/she believed that you had a duty to make that donation, gratitude would've been out of place. That's a major problem with our welfare system, by the way, it stifles both compassion and gratitude by making support of the needy something to which they feel entitled.

Parenthetically, if people have a right to health care do people who are in need of an organ have a right to be given that organ? If so, doesn't that mean that we have an obligation to provide our organs to them, at least if, like kidneys, we have more than we need? If they have a right to our money to subsidize their health care why would they not have a right to our organs, especially those organs of which we have a surplus?

Another difficulty is that a "right" to health care is not like other rights that are intrinsic to our being human - rights like the right to life, liberty, etc. Those rights impose no duties upon others beyond obligating them to refrain from impeding us in our exercise of the right (within reasonable limits, of course). A right to health care, however, imposes an obligation on other people to provide it.

Suppose I live an irresponsible lifestyle that causes me to develop diabetes with all its concomitant health complications. Then you, essentially, have a duty to subsidize my irresponsible lifestyle by providing insurance for me against those complications. In my opinion, you should be no more required to pay for my irresponsible lifestyle choices than you should be required to pay my grocery bill or mortgage. You may choose to do so (and you, being the sort of man you are, probably would), but it would be an act of grace, not of duty.

Suppose, too, that society can't afford to pay for health care for everyone and can no longer insure it without bankrupting itself. What are the reasonable limits on one's right to health care? If no money was available to fund it we wouldn't claim that individuals' rights were being denied because their health care was no longer being subsidized, but then health care would be a basic human right only if our nation can afford it.

At what point, then, do we decide that providing health care for others is no longer affordable? Surely, at some point the right to keep one's property overrides another person's right to have health care. If we deny that then we're saying that we must provide health care coverage even if it means confiscating everyone else's property in order to pay for it, or if it means forcing medical professionals to provide care for free.

Health care is like owning a house. We all have the right to own a house - no one can legally prevent us from purchasing one - but we don't have the right to demand that others buy the house for us no matter how badly we might need it. If we can't afford housing then people may wish to provide shelter for us, but we don't have the right to demand it of them.

At least that's how I see it.

Understand, this is not an argument against single-payer or Obamacare. We may as a society comprised of good and generous people decide we want to provide health coverage for everyone, to the extent that a wise, affordable program can be crafted. It is an argument, however, against the assertion that anyone has an inherent human right to such coverage.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

OK GO and First Causes

Watch this video of a song titled This Too Shall Pass by a group called OK GO and ask yourself what would have happened if there'd been no first cause to initiate the sequence of events it depicts. Of course, if there were no first cause in the sequence of cause and effect in the video then there'd simply be no subsequent effects. Without a first cause nothing would happen. This is essentially a simple version of the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God called the Kalam Cosmological Argument:
The people shown cheering at the end of the video are the students who designed and constructed the apparatus which leads to another question worth pondering. Could such an apparatus have resulted from the random action of blind chance and natural law or did it require intelligent engineers to put it all together. This question highlights a version of another argument for the existence of God based on the design inherent in the cosmos as well as in living things.

Once life appeared on earth then perhaps it could have proliferated and diversified via mutation and natural selection, but how did the first living things, cells far more intricate and complex than the Rube Goldberg apparatus in the video, ever come to be in the first place? Are blind, purposeless processes a sufficient explanation or do those first life forms, like the Rube Goldberg device, require the input of an intelligent agent?

For a simple explanation of the Kalam argument you might want to watch this video (although the video doesn't use the word "Kalam," it's the Kalam version of the Cosmological Argument that it's describing.):

Monday, June 26, 2017

Wrong About Everything

Matthew Continetti at The Washington Free Beacon has some sage advice for consumers of news in our hyper-politicized, hyper-partisan media culture.

He writes:
Events are turning me into a radical skeptic. I no longer believe what I read, unless what I am reading is an empirically verifiable account of the past. I no longer have confidence in polls, because it has become impossible to separate the signal from the noise. What I have heard from the media and political class over the last several years has been so spectacularly proven wrong by events, again and again, that I sometimes wonder why I continue to read two newspapers a day before spending time following journalists on Twitter. Habit, I guess. A sense of professional obligation, I suppose. Maybe boredom.

The fact is that almost the entirety of what one reads in the paper or on the web is speculation. The writer isn't telling you what happened, he is offering an interpretation of what happened, or offering a projection of the future. The best scenario is that these theories are novel, compelling, informed, and based on reporting and research. But that is rarely the case. More often the interpretations of current events, and prophesies of future ones, are merely the products of groupthink, or dogma, or emotions, or wish-casting, memos to friends written by 27-year-olds who, in the words of Ben Rhodes, "literally know nothing." There was a time when newspapers printed astrology columns. They no longer need to. The pseudoscience is on the front page.
There's much more of interest in Continetti's column at the link and I encourage you to read it. For my part, I think he's right, even though I suppose what he says could apply to Viewpoint as much as any other blog. The difference is, I think, that this blog is clearly a platform for opinions, not news, and I don't pretend it's anything else.

In any case, I don't think we should give up on trying to be informed by our media, but we do need to be very critical readers, viewers and listeners. This is especially the case if we get our information from cable news shows and talk radio. Not every show on either of these venues is overly biased, but both are populated with programming and personalities who are committed advocates of a particular ideology. Even when I think the people I'm listening to are correct in what they're saying I'm often dismayed by the manner in which they say it.

For just one example, hosts on both left and right on television and radio will make criticisms of their opponents (i.e. Trump or Obama) which could just as well apply to their preferred heroes (i.e. Trump or Obama) whom they wouldn't dream of criticizing. This is not only tendentious, it seriously diminishes their credibility, not to mention that it makes it extremely hard to refrain from turning them off in disgust.

On occasion hosts on one of these venues will have someone of a contrary viewpoint on their program, but they'll frequently step all over their guest, interrupting and talking over the guest, to prevent him or her from being heard. Chris Matthews at MSNBC and Sean Hannity at Fox are particularly egregious examples of the type.

It's probably a good rule of thumb whenever we read or hear some personality make a criticism of someone to ask oneself what evidence they're offering to buttress the criticism, and does the criticism they're making apply with equal force to their own political champions. If the answers to those questions are "not much" and "yes." then tune them out. They're not informing you, they're propagandizing you.

Continetti closes his piece with a quote from the late Michael Crichton: "Like a bearded nut in robes on the sidewalk proclaiming the end of the world is near, the media is just doing what makes it feel good, not reporting hard facts. We need to start seeing the media as a bearded nut on the sidewalk, shouting out false fears. It's not sensible to listen to it."

Sadly, for much of the media - and not just cable and talk radio, either - this is good advice.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Powerful Indictment

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and founder of the AHA Foundation. Asra Q. Nomani, an author and former Wall Street Journal reporter, is a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement.

Ali has written several books about her life as a female Somali refugee from Islam and its attendant horrors. She has been the target of credible death threats because she's been an outspoken and eloquent critic of sharia in particular and Muslim beliefs in general.


Ali and Ms Nomani were invited recently to testify as scholars before the U.S. Senate about Islamic ideology, but both of them were completely ignored by the feminist senators on the Intelligence Committee prompting them to write an op-ed in the New York Times about their experience. Here's the heart of their column:
Last week, Senator Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, made headlines when Republican senators interrupted her at a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee while she interrogated Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The clip of the exchange went viral; journalists, politicians and everyday Americans debated what the shushing signified about our still sexist culture.

[Nevertheless] the Democrats on the panel, including Senator Harris and three other Democratic female senators — North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill — did not ask either of us a single question.

Just as we are invisible to the mullahs at the mosque, we were invisible to the Democratic women in the Senate.

How to explain this experience? Perhaps Senators Heitkamp, Harris, Hassan and McCaskill are simply uninterested in sexism and misogyny. But obviously, given their outspoken support of critical women’s issues, such as the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria and campus sexual assault, that’s far from the case.

No, what happened that day was emblematic of a deeply troubling trend among progressives when it comes to confronting the brutal reality of Islamist extremism and what it means for women in many Muslim communities here at home and around the world. When it comes to the pay gap, abortion access and workplace discrimination, progressives have much to say. But we’re still waiting for a march against honor killings, child marriages, polygamy, sex slavery or female genital mutilation.

Sitting before the senators that day were two women of color: Ayaan is from Somalia; Asra is from India. Both of us were born into deeply conservative Muslim families. Ayaan is a survivor of female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Asra defied Shariah by having a baby while unmarried. And we have both been threatened with death by jihadists for things we have said and done. Ayaan cannot appear in public without armed guards.

In other words, when we speak about Islamist oppression, we bring personal experience to the table in addition to our scholarly expertise. Yet the feminist mantra so popular when it comes to victims of sexual assault — believe women first — isn’t extended to us. Neither is the notion that the personal is political. Our political conclusions are dismissed as personal; our personal experiences dismissed as political.

That’s because in the rubric of identity politics, our status as women of color is canceled out by our ideas, which are labeled “conservative” — as if opposition to violent jihad, sex slavery, genital mutilation or child marriage were a matter of left or right. This not only silences us, it also puts beyond the pale of liberalism a basic concern for human rights and the individual rights of women abused in the name of Islam.

There is a real discomfort among progressives on the left with calling out Islamic extremism. Partly they fear offending members of a “minority” religion and being labeled racist, bigoted or Islamophobic. There is also the idea, which has tremendous strength on the left, that non-Western women don’t need “saving” — and that the suggestion that they do is patronizing at best. After all, the thinking goes, if women in America still earn less than men for equivalent work, who are we to criticize other cultures?

This is extreme moral relativism disguised as cultural sensitivity. And it leads good people to make excuses for the inexcusable. The silence of the Democratic senators is a reflection of contemporary cultural pressures. Call it identity politics, moral relativism or political correctness — it is shortsighted, dangerous and, ultimately, a betrayal of liberal values.

The hard truth is that there are fundamental conflicts between universal human rights and the principle of Shariah, or Islamic law, which holds that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s; between freedom of religion and the Islamist idea that artists, writers, poets and bloggers should be subject to blasphemy laws; between secular governance and the Islamist goal of a caliphate; between United States law and Islamist promotion of polygamy, child marriage and marital rape; and between freedom of thought and the methods of indoctrination, or dawa, with which Islamists propagate their ideas.

Defending universal principles against Islamist ideology, not denying that these conflicts exist, is surely the first step in a fight whose natural leaders in Washington should be women like Kamala Harris and Claire McCaskill — both outspoken advocates for American women.
There may be reasons why progressives are reluctant to criticize a set of beliefs which, when espoused by other groups such as the Westboro Baptists, the KKK, male chauvinists, Christian fundamentalists, and others, they have no difficulty ridiculing and condemning in the harshest tones. Whatever those reasons may be, however, I doubt that any of them are good, and they're certainly not consistent with the liberal ideology they profess.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sloppy Argument

John Zeigler at Mediaite has written a column castigating Donald Trump, a column so sloppily argued that it's hard to take it seriously. Zeigler is upset that more conservatives are not also upset that Trump "lied" about having taped his conversation in the Oval Office with James Comey.

He begins with some background:
To the shock of no one with a functioning and objective brain, it was finally revealed today that President Donald Trump, contrary to previous public statements, does NOT have any tapes of his conversations with then FBI Director James Comey. This official revelation should be a rather big deal, but much like nearly everything involving Trump, it likely won’t be.

Let’s be very clear about what really happened. After Trump suddenly fired Comey and was stunned by the backlash, word began to “leak” out about Comey’s version of their conversations. Trump then tweeted that Comey “better hope there are no tapes” of those discussions. We now know that Trump (unless he is a complete imbecile) knew when he made that pronouncement that no such tapes existed, and yet he waited several weeks, dodging many opportunities to clarify, before finally admitting that it was all just a bluff.
Zeigler then gives three reasons why Trump's tweet about the tapes is so outrageous:
First, there is the issue of Trump strongly suggesting something that he knew to be untrue and purposely allowing people, including Comey, to believe it for several weeks. I don’t know what that is called in this post-truth era, but where I come from that is still a lie. To a few people (I think/hope), lies by the President of the United States still matter, at least a little.
This is just silly. Trump didn't suggest that the tapes actually exist. That's an interpretation of his words that hostile interpreters have read into them. Nor is it a lie to say that "Comey better hope there are no tapes". A proposition, to be a lie, must be false, and there's no sensible reading of Trump's words that can turn them into a false proposition. If people have jumped to the conclusion that Trump was claiming that tapes definitely exist that's their fault, not Trump's.
....Even more nefariously, Trump was clearly trying to intimidate Comey, a likely key witness in a criminal investigation, into being afraid to offer specific details of their discussions because it might not match with tapes, which he was using the credibility of his office to strongly suggest existed. It is not hard to imagine that, in Trump’s mind (he didn’t know about Comey’s memos at that time) this would greatly chasten Comey in what he might say or testify to because he would fear being contradicted by audio evidence.
This is also silly, if not incoherent. What Trump was obviously doing was attempting to insure that Comey told the truth about their conversation. It'd hardly be helpful to Trump to frighten or intimidate Comey into saying anything that would be contradicted by tapes, if they existed. Why would Trump even raise the possibility of tapes unless he was trying to convince Comey of the need to be truthful in his statements about his conversations with the President?
Third, the practical impact of Trump shooting his mouth off about these non-existent tapes could end up being catastrophic to his presidency. Because of the “tapes” tweet, Comey let the cat out of the bag about his memos and, in turn, this helped provoke the naming of Robert Mueller as special counsel. Much like with his “Muslim Travel Ban,” it sure seems like Trump’s own words turn out to haunt him in the legal arena more than just about anything else possibly could.
This may or may not be correct, but it assumes that Comey would not have discussed his memos if Trump hadn't mentioned the possibility of tapes. How Zeigler knows that Comey would've kept the existence of the memos secret he doesn't say. An assertion like this should be supported with at least a little bit of evidence, but Zeigler gives us none.

One thing I agree with Zeigler on, though, is that Trump's tweets have often been unhelpful to his presidency, but in this instance the only reason to think that Trump did something that should arouse the ire of all decent persons is to impose on his tweet words and intentions that simply aren't there.

One need not be a Trump apologist to insist that weak, sloppy arguments against him - by those on both left and right - are not only unfair to the president but also diminish the credibility and stature of the people who make them.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Too Little Time

Ann Gauger, co-author of Science and Human Origins, and senior scientist at the Biologic Institute, argues in this video, and in her book, that the time necessary to fix the number of mutations necessary to evolve a human from a chimp-like predecessor is greater than the age of the universe.

In other words, even if it were possible to coordinate the needed mutations so that they would bring about the desired effect, it would take billions of years for these mutations to occur in just the right sequence, at least if they were to occur by chance.

Gauger is not saying that man did not arise from an ape-like ancestor, but rather that if he did, it is astronomically improbable that his evolution was driven solely by physical mechanisms like chance mutations, genetic drift, and natural selection. In order to make such an evolution plausible there must be something else, something in addition to the physical processes, that can drive biological change toward a goal, something that has foresight and engineering genius. A mind.

Apart from a mind behind the process, or something like mind, there's very little reason to think that Darwinian evolution is anything more than a materialist fairy tale.

Gauger's book is a good read and very informative, especially her chapter in which she discusses all the changes that would need to take place to derive a human from an ancestral ape.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Where's the Beef?

Readers of a certain age will recall that back in the 1980s the Wendy's hamburger chain ran a television ad in which they challenged their competitors to compare the amount of beef in their burgers to the amount in Wendy's. Their question to their competitors, "Where's the beef?" became a pop culture slogan for implying that something lacked any real substance.

David Brooks at the New York Times has implicitly raised that question of the Democrats in a recent column in which he called attention to a fact that a lot of people have been wondering about for some time. Despite all the talk about President Trump having colluded with the Russians to swing last November's election his way there's been almost zero evidence adduced by anyone to substantiate that any such collusion has taken place.

It's interesting that Brooks would highlight this little detail since it runs counter to his employer's (i.e. the NYT) obsessions, and it's never a good thing to challenge one's employers nor their obsessions.

In any case, Jack Crowe at The Daily Caller quotes from Brooks' column:
New York Times columnist David Brooks challenged the paper’s dominant narrative in a Tuesday op-ed in which he cautioned critics of President Donald Trump to show restraint in light of the absence of evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

“There may be a giant revelation still to come. But as the Trump-Russia story has evolved, it is striking how little evidence there is that any underlying crime occurred — that there was any actual collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russians,” Brooks wrote.

Brooks’ explicit admission that there is no evidence to suggest the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials to interfere in the 2016 presidential election represents a significant departure from what has been the New York Times editorial position since the multiple ongoing investigations began.

Brooks examines one of the central arguments that Trump’s critics, his own New York Times colleagues among them, have introduced in an effort to implicate him in nefarious activity and quickly dismisses it.

“There were some meetings between Trump officials and some Russians,” Brooks wrote. “But so far no more than you’d expect from a campaign that was publicly and proudly pro-Putin. And so far nothing we know of these meetings proves or even indicates collusion.”

He goes on to admit Trump has made a number of missteps, including firing former FBI director James Comey and subsequently crafting an ill advised tweet hinting at the existence of recordings of his conversations with Comey.

While he says firing Comey was a mistake, he pushes back against the claim that the firing is evidence of obstruction on Trump’s part, pointing out that if a “democratically unsupervised, infinitely financed team of prosecutors” was unleashed on “a paragon of modern presidents,” like Abraham Lincoln, even he might be tempted to fight back.
The Democrats' reasoning seems to be that Hillary couldn't possibly have lost the election unless it were rigged. Trump is a despicable character and must therefore have rigged the election. Thus, the fact that there's no evidence of collusion means we just have to dig deeper because it must be there since Trump must have rigged the election.

So, like Ahab insanely pursuing Moby Dick to the detriment of all aboard The Pequod the Democrats refuse to be diverted from their monomaniacal pursuit of Donald Trump despite what that pursuit does to the credibility of their party or to the well-being of the nation.

Trump tweeted that "They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice"
“Unless there is some new revelation, that may turn out to be pretty accurate commentary,” Brooks wrote referring to Trump’s tweet.
One wonders what the Democrats will come up with if and when the obstruction of justice investigation also comes up empty. At some point the Democrats have to choose between the good of the country and their manic pursuit of Moby Trump.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What's the Difference?

Here are three or four questions to ponder today:

1. Should a doctor who believes that it's immoral to perform a surgery on someone who insists she wants to be crippled because she doesn't want to be guilty of "ableism" be required to perform the surgery? Should the doctor be subject to a lawsuit or fine if he or she refuses to perform the surgery to deliberately cripple the patient?

2. Should a doctor who believes it's a form of child abuse to mutilate a young girl in what's called female circumcision nevertheless be required to provide the service? Should the doctor be subject to a lawsuit or fine if he or she refuses to perform the surgery to deliberately desensitize the girl?

3. Should a doctor who believes abortion is immoral nevertheless be required to perform the procedure on a woman who demands that he do so? Should the doctor be subject to a lawsuit or fine if he or she refuses to perform the procedure?

If the reader answers any of these questions "yes" then it's fair to say that the reader doesn't hold individual freedom and freedom of conscience in very high regard.

If the reader answers any of these questions "no" then that raises a fourth question:

4. Why should bakers and florists be required to provide a service that they believe would be immoral? Should these businesspersons be subject to a lawsuit or fine if they refuse to participate in, say, a gay wedding?

There may be a good answer to this question, but I'm not sure what it would be, at least not if the reader answered "no" to any of the first three questions. What's the salient difference, after all, between #4 and #1-3?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Why Fathers Matter

When David Blankenhorn's Fatherless America came out in 1995 it became an instant classic on the importance of men to the well-being of the American family. Blankenhorn said so many things in that book that needed to be said after our society had suffered through two decades of radical feminism with its relentless downplaying of the need for traditional two-parent families, and even though the book came out over two decades ago, what he said in 1995 needs saying as much today as it did then. Recall Gloria Steinem's aphorism that "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." It turned out that women and children both need men, at least fathers, as much as a fish needs water.

Yesterday was Father's Day so today might be a good time to remind ourselves of some of the key points Blankenhorn illuminates in Fatherless America.

He tells us, for instance, that men need to be fathers. Fatherhood is society's most important role for men. More than any other activity it helps men become good men. Fathers are more likely to obey the law, to be good citizens, and to care about the needs of others. Men who remain single are more likely than those who marry to die young, or commit crimes, or both (This is a point also made by George Gilder in his equally fine 1986 book Men and Marriage which I heartily recommend).

Children need fathers as protectors. Eighty-four percent of all cases of non-parental child abuse occur in single parent homes and of these cases, 64% of them occur at the hands of mom's boyfriend. Statistically speaking, teenage girls are far safer in the company of their father than in the company of any other man.

Children need fathers as providers. Fatherlessness is the single most powerful determinant of childhood poverty. Regardless of how poverty is measured, single women with children are the poorest of all demographic groups. Children who come from two-parent families are much more likely to inherit wealth from paternal grandparents, much more likely to get financial support at an age when they're going to school, buying a home, or starting their own families than children from single parent homes.

The economic fault line in this country doesn't run between races, it runs between those families in which fathers are present and those in which they are not.

Children need fathers as role models. Boys raised by a traditionally masculine father are much less likely to commit crimes, whereas boys raised without a father are much more likely to do poorly in school and wind up in prison or dead.

Valuing fatherhood has to be instilled in boys from a young age by a masculine father. Commitment to one woman and to their children is not something that comes naturally to men. It's almost impossible, for instance, to find a culture in which women voluntarily abandon their children in large numbers, but to find a culture in which men in large numbers voluntarily abandon their children all one need do is look around.

Boys who grow up without fathers are statistically more likely to become louts, misogynistic, abusive, authoritarian, and violent. Girls who grow up without fathers are more likely to become promiscuous. A society in which a father is little more than a sperm donor is a society of fourteen year-old girls with babies and fourteen year-old boys with guns.

Stepfathers and boyfriends (Blankenhorn calls them "nearby guys") cannot replace the biological father. For stepfathers and boyfriends the main object of desire and commitment, to the extent these exist, is the mother, not the child. For the married father this distinction hardly exists. The married father says "My mate, my child". The stepfather and boyfriend must say "My mate, the other guy's child".

Children are a glue for biological parents that serves to hold them together, but they're a wedge between non-biological parents, tending to be a source of tension which pushes them apart.

Fatherhood means fathers teaching children a way of life, which is the heart of what it is to be a father. More than providing for their material needs, or shielding them from harm, or even caring for them and showing them affection, paternal sponsorship means cultural transmission - endowing children with competence and character by showing them how to live a certain kind of life.

One wishes every man - and woman - would read Blankenhorn's Fatherless America. It's loaded with great insight.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Apples and Apples?

I wrote a post the other day in which I offered several examples of what seem to me to be inconsistencies in the thinking of people on the left. I suggested that it's inconsistent of people who think that we should pay more in taxes, be willing to sacrifice jobs to reduce our carbon output, and prohibit private gun ownership to be taking tax deductions, jetting around the globe in private jets, and owning guns of their own.

Well, I came across another example of this sort of inconsistency among liberals written by a young philosopher and law student named C'Zar Bernstein. Bernstein writes about Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria and begins with this:
Over the last few decades, hundreds of thousands of people from one country have illegally moved themselves into another country’s territory. They have settled the land, using its resources, creating cultural and ethnic enclaves, and changing (probably irrevocably) the demographics of the land into which they’ve migrated.

What’s more, many of them regularly point out that the land they’ve settled was once theirs and had been illegitimately taken from members of their nation in the past. On one side, these settlers’ supporters don’t see anything wrong with what they’ve done. On the other side, opponents call them “illegal” and demand their deportation. Every U.S. president in the last few decades has tried and failed to resolve this conflict.

I’m thinking, of course, of Mexicans.
He has a point. Many of the folks who condemn Israelis for moving into Palestinian land are equally ardent about opening American borders for any Mexican and Central American immigrants who wish to settle here. It seems hard to reconcile the two positions.

Bernstein anticipates the objection that he's comparing apples and oranges:
Leftists are almost invariably opposed to Jewish “settlements” in Judea and Samaria, including East Jerusalem, where there have been Jews from time immemorial. They declare that Jewish settlements are both immoral and illegal. (Note leftists use the word “illegal” rather than “undocumented.”)

They demand that these Jews be deported back to Israel proper. They worry that Jews living in Judea and Samaria are a demographic threat to the Arabs. In summary, leftists are virulently against (allegedly) illegal Jewish immigration into lands once occupied and controlled by their ancestors and support their forced expulsion back to the country from which they emigrated.

Does that sound familiar? It should, for that position is indistinguishable from one of President Trump’s positions on illegal Mexican immigration. And what’s the leftist response to the president’s previous proposal of deportation? Racism! Bigotry!

If so, leftists also deserve these indictments, for they support the mass expulsion of (allegedly) illegal Jewish immigrants. If the fact that someone is here illegally isn’t, by itself, sufficient to morally justify his expulsion from this country, then the mere fact that Jewish settlers are illegal isn’t, by itself, sufficient to morally justify their expulsion. And if Jews can be permissibly expelled only because their presence in Judea and Samaria is illegal, then illegal aliens can be permissibly expelled only because their presence in the United States is illegal.

The Left is happy to see millions of illegal alien “settlers” set up their cultural enclaves with relative impunity. Illegals are fine so long as their descendants will vote for the Democrat Party, but if they’re Jews who want to live in their historic homeland and near their holiest sites, then the land must be cleansed of their presence, with force if necessary. This is rank hypocrisy.
There is one important dissimilarity, though, between the two situations:
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not claiming that opposing illegal Mexican immigration is analogous to opposing Jewish settlements. On the contrary, the latter is much more morally objectionable. The so-called settlements in Judea and Samaria are not illegal, whereas Mexican illegal immigrants are here illegally.

The piece of international law the Left cites in defense of their position is from Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, according to which ‘[t]he Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’

The implicit premise connecting this text to the conclusion that the settlements are illegal must be that the state of Israel (i.e. “the Occupying Power”) has transferred hundreds of thousands of Jews into Judea and Samaria, a proposition that is manifestly false. Jews have, like many Mexicans, transferred themselves. If self-transfer is the same as state-transfer, then Trump was right after all about Mexico sending many of its criminals to the United States!
So, if Bernstein's analogy is tight, and it seems so to me, those who oppose Israeli settlements and demand that the Israelis leave Judea and Samaria should also be demanding that illegal immigrants leave this country. Yet, so far from making the same demand they make of the Israelis, some anti-settlement people support sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants in the U.S. even while dumping Israeli stocks from their investment portfolios because some Israelis have essentially chosen to do pretty much what some Mexicans and others have done in the U.S.

A view of life and the world that doesn't require one to be logically consistent can be pretty attractive to people, I guess.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Rules for Radicals

Over the course of the two days following the attempted assassination of Republican congressmen by a left-wing lunatic there's been lots of talk about restoring civility to our political discourse. The talk won't last, unfortunately.

The President is probably not going to stop calling his opponents "bad people," nor are folks like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likely to cease referring to their opponents as bitter clingers and "deplorables." Others appear to be so addicted to vile, violent, and hate-filled rhetoric that pleas directed to them for civility are probably futile.

Even so, one step that may go some distance toward a more cordial and civil polity would be for responsible people on the left to repudiate and renounce the malign influence that Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals (1971) has had on left-wing political activism. They don't have to renounce the whole book. Not everything in it is corrosive, but certainly it would be a salubrious development if more of them would separate themselves from Alinsky's rules #5, #11, and #13.

Here are the rules I have in mind:
5. "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon." There is no defense. It's irrational. It's infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.

11. "If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive." Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.

13. "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
Alinsky's book has been something of a catechism for left-wing activists throughout the almost fifty years since it first came out, whether those who employ Alinsky's methods are aware of it or not, but a book that urges its disciples to ridicule their opponents, to provoke their opponents to violence, and to personalize disagreements by insult and isolation, is not likely to bring people together or to enhance comity. Indeed, Alinsky promotes polarization in #13.

Some of the remainder of Alinsky's thirteen rules are also of dubious value if we're serious about improving the quality of our political discourse. #4, for example, says that the activist should,
"Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules." If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
Notice the language. Those who disagree aren't just "opponents," they're "enemies." Enemies. Moreover, the goal is to make people who may be decent, sincere human beings vulnerable to a phony charge of hypocrisy. Throughout the book Alinsky urges that activists discredit and smear, not just their opponents' ideas, but their opponents themselves. People who stand in their way don't just need to have their ideas defeated, they need to have their reputations ruined and their careers destroyed.

Appropriately enough, Alinsky dedicated his book to Lucifer. Ever since its initial publication those who live by it have had a divisive, malignant effect upon our nation. Division is what the book advocates and it's what its votaries want, but if they're serious about cleansing the political environment of the toxicity that currently permeates it, they'd do well to unambiguously renounce Alinsky and his book.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Was He a Gun Owner?

James Hodgkinson, the 66 year-old shooter who tried to massacre Republican lawmakers as they practiced for a ball game against Democrats, was a Bernie Sanders supporter and campaign worker. He was also a big fan of Rachel Maddow, Bill Maher and other left-wing television personalities.

Given his ideological affinities, I think it's safe to presume that he was himself a down the line left-winger, which, if true, raises an interesting question. One of the key issues on the liberal social agenda is the elimination of firearms, so why did Hodgkinson own not only a semi-automatic rifle but a handgun as well?

Did he, like many others of his political stripe, think that the policies they endorse are meant only to limit the rights of others and not themselves? How many other opponents of the right to private ownership of guns own their own firearms even as they strive to deny firearms to everyone else?

It reminds me of the debates over taxes which liberals think we need to pay more of. Very well, we can disagree on the merits of tax increases, but if liberals think that all of us should be paying more taxes, why do many of them take all the tax deductions the law allows them? Why don't they send the IRS as much of their paycheck as their income would warrant? On the contrary, many of them, it's safe to say, pay their accountants and tax preparers handsomely to figure out ways to avoid having to pay what would otherwise be due.

It also reminds me of the Affordable Care Act which was passed by Democrats without a single Republican vote. They passed a law which required everyone to live under its burdens, but they exempted themselves. They impose laws on us which they don't have to live under, which is exactly how Martin Luther King defined an unjust law in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

It reminds me, too, of liberal climate change proponents who want to curtail our carbon footprint even if it costs jobs and raises taxes while they fly to speaking engagements and vacations all around the world in their private jets, pumping tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere from their engines.

In the wake of yesterday's attempted massacre, a massacre prevented only because the House Majority Whip, Steven Scalise was at the practice and, being in congressional leadership, had a security detail which returned fire and killed Hodgkinson, there'll be the usual demand by liberals for gun confiscation and control. When our politicians start lecturing us on the subject, though, the first question they should be required to answer is whether they themselves own a weapon. If the answer is yes, we should just tune them right out.

Actually, the very first thing that liberal progressives should be asked to explain is, what is it about the left that seems to attract so many hate-filled, violent people? Every presidential assassin and would-be assassin in the twentieth century, to the extent he or she was ideological at all, was a person of the left.

In recent weeks we've witnessed not only the gruesome antics of Kathy Griffin, but college professors and others calling for Republicans to be shot, a play in New York depicting the assassination of Donald Trump, a pop singer (Madonna) declaring that she's thought about blowing up the White House, a round of approbation on Twitter from progressives applauding what Hodgkinson tried to do, and so on.

This stuff goes beyond legitimate political disagreement. It reveals a profound, dehumanizing hatred on the part of these people for those with whom they disagree.

You can't keep stoking that hatred, you can't keep demonizing the other, calling them irremediably evil and deplorable, without someone eventually taking the incendiary rhetoric to its logical conclusion.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It's Not Just a Chinese Problem

An AP report from Beijing raises some interesting but troubling questions:
A speeding taxi knocks the pedestrian off her feet, sending her hurtling through the air. Dozens of people stand gawking or walk past, as if the young woman sprawled in the busy intersection simply doesn’t exist. A full minute passes, and another speeding vehicle, this time an SUV, tramples the prone woman. Her unconscious body churns under its large wheels like a lumpen sack.

After a grainy video of a traffic accident in the city of Zhumadian surfaced on Chinese social media this past week, the initial reaction was one of outrage directed at the more than 40 pedestrians and drivers who passed within meters of the woman, all failing to offer help.

But for many Chinese, the video was something more: a 94-second reminder of their society’s deep rot.

Even as China presents itself outwardly as a prosperous rising power, around kitchen tables and in private WeChat groups, Chinese citizens routinely grumble about a nation that’s gone bankrupt when it comes to two qualities: “suzhi,” or “personal character,” and “dixian,” literally “bottom line” — or a basic, inviolable sense of right and wrong.

Here, the common refrain goes, is an unmoored country where manufacturers knowingly sell toxic baby formula and fraudulent children’s vaccines. Restaurants cook with recycled “gutter oil” and grocery stores peddle fake eggs, fake fruit, even fake rice. Many Chinese say they avoid helping people on the street because of widespread stories about extortionists who seek help from passers-by and then feign injuries and demand compensation — perhaps explaining the Zhumadian behavior.
There are a couple of things to be said about this, but before saying them let's read what some thoughtful people in China are saying:
“It’s a problem with the entire country: Our moral bottom line has fallen so low,” Tian You, a novelist based in the southeastern city of Shenzhen, said by phone. “If I’m truly honest, I wonder, would I myself have dared to help the woman?”

The news swept through social media and even state media outlets. The Communist Youth League, an influential party organization, circulated the video on its Weibo account, urging its 5 million followers to “reject indifference.” An opinion column on china.com, a state media organ, asked citizens to “reflect” on the tragedy. Others used the episode as a starting point to vent about social ills.

“Like the polluted haze facing our country, we see boundless corruption, left-behind children, medical disputes and so forth,” a columnist in the Chengdu Economic Daily wrote. “Have our society’s morals gotten better or worse in the last 10 years? What about our future, are you confident about that? Don’t ask me, because I’m not.”

Public concern about China’s morals crosses decades and age groups. Ever since China began its free market reforms in the 1980s, older citizens have frequently griped about moral decay and profess nostalgia about a more innocent socialist era, while younger, worldly Chinese wonder why fraud and fake products aren’t as rampant in other countries.

Chinese scholars say many issues that leave the middle class disillusioned are a result of lagging government regulation and the dislocating forces of swift development.
So, a number of people simply have no answer to the moral malaise they discern spreading throughout their country. Others push forward possible culprits like free markets. I think the correct answer is offered by a sociologist at the China University of Political Science and Law:
“In the West, law, faith and morality are a three-legged stool,” said Ma Ai, a sociologist at the China University of Political Science and Law. “Our legal system is catching up, but we don’t have religion and a new moral system has not established after China transformed away from a traditional, collectivist society.”
This problem, as the article goes on to point out, is not uniquely Chinese. It's a problem that arises in every society when people no longer feel a moral responsibility for others. When that sense of responsibility fades so does human sympathy and compassion. Egoism and the wish not to get involved in other people's troubles are really the default position in a culture. People have to be taught not to be egoistic and that requires that they be given good reasons why they should care about others.

Unfortunately, a secular society such as China's, and, increasingly, societies in the West, can give no compelling answer to the question, why should I care about other people unless it's in my interest to do so? If I can profit from, and get away with, fraud and peddling fake food why shouldn't I do it? If it'll inconvenience me to help a stranger in distress, why should I help him? If nothing's in it for me what good reason is there for going out of my way to help someone else?

An individual who rejects any transcendent moral authority has no good answer. To care about strangers requires that we see human beings as in some sense sacred, but in a world that has done away with the sacred, a world that has adopted the view that human beings are little more than temporary aggregations of molecules, caring about strangers is not going to be high on anyone's list of priorities. If the Chinese, or anyone else, wonder why so many of their countrymen seem so indifferent to the plight of others, all they need do is ask themselves what motivation anyone who believes we're merely dust in the wind has to sacrifice his or her own time and energy to help someone who needs it.

The Judeo-Christian worldview, on the other hand, teaches that we have a duty to help our neighbor, to be compassionate and to do justice, not because it's the "nice" thing to do but because God insists. It teaches that people have worth, dignity and rights because God loves them and desires that we love what, and whom, He loves. Our default is to put ourselves and our interests first, but that option is not open to the Christian committed to do the will of God.

Put differently, the Christian believes that God died for us so that we can live. Out of gratitude for that act of cosmic self-sacrifice we can surely inconvenience ourselves to help someone else. That's why so many of history's greatest humanitarians, people like William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa, were people of deep Christian commitment.

On the other hand, when modern man pushes God to the periphery of his social life, or expels Him altogether, he forfeits any objective ground for feeling obligated to treat others with compassion and justice, or for putting others' interests ahead of his own. Society becomes a Darwinian jungle, a war of every man against every man. Such a society may present a superficial patina of politeness but underneath that surface many people know intuitively that, in the absence of God, the only person who really matters is me, and it's just a short step from knowing it to living it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cultural Appropriation

According to a piece by Katherine Timpf at National Review unless you invented something or someone of your particular racial identity invented it, you're not allowed to wear it, or do it, or whatever. To do so is cultural appropriation and that's a serious microaggression.

Timpf gives us some background:
A resident assistant at Pitzer College sent out an email to the entire school about how upset she was seeing white girls in hoop earrings because it’s culturally offensive to “[t]he black and brown bodies who typically wear hooped earrings.” According to an article in The Claremont Independent, the whole thing started when a group of Latino students spray painted “White Girl, take off your hoops!” on a dormitory wall that’s devoted to free speech.

Then, after one white girl said she was confused by the message, one of the spray-painters – a resident assistant named Alegria Martinez — felt the need to fire off a school-wide email expressing her disgust. ““[T]he art was created by myself and a few other WOC [women of color] after being tired and annoyed with the reoccuring [sic] theme of white women appropriating styles … that belong to the black and brown folks who created the culture,” Martinez wrote. Martinez explained that “[t]he black and brown bodies who typically wear hooped earrings, (and other accessories like winged eyeliner, gold name plate necklaces, etc) are typically viewed as ghetto, and are not taken seriously by others in their daily lives,” and that she sees “winged eyeliner, lined lips, and big hoop earrings … as symbols [and] as an everyday act of resistance, especially here at the Claremont Colleges.”

“We wonder, why should white girls be able to take part in this culture (wearing hoop earrings just being one case of it) and be seen as cute/aesthetic/ethnic,” Martinez continued. “White people have actually exploited the culture and made it into fashion.” Then, because just one of these emails was apparently not enough, another student replied to the thread with an email demanding that all white girls remove their hoops immediately: “If you didn’t create the culture as a coping mechanism for marginalization, take off those hoops, if your feminism isn’t intersectional take off those hoops, if you try to wear mi cultura when the creators can no longer afford it, take off those hoops, if you are incapable of using a search engine and expect other people to educate you, take off those hoops, if you can’t pronounce my name or spell it … take off those hoops / I use ‘those’ instead of ‘your’ because hoops were never ‘yours’ to begin with,” Jacquelyn Aguilera wrote.
Well, okay, it's good to know that college students are fired up about life's most profound questions and important problems, but let's think about this one for a minute. Who invented the cell phones Ms Martinez and Ms Aguilera use, or the cars they drive, or the airplanes they travel in, or the English language they speak, or their televisions, air conditioners, microwaves, computers ...? You get the idea. The list of stuff these students appropriate for their own use is no doubt extensive, and I'm fairly confident that most of it was developed by a bunch of unwoke geeky white guys.

There's lots of "cultural appropriation" going on out there, but if this troubles Ms Martinez and Ms Aguilera, they need to understand that white girls wearing hoop earrings hardly comprises the bulk of it. Maybe they should take an inventory of their own apartments and ask themselves how much "appropriation" they themselves are responsible for.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Romanticizing the Exotic

Bernie Sanders, Article VI of the Constitution notwithstanding, believes that there should be a religious test for holding public office and anyone who's an orthodox Christian ipso facto fails the test. John Daniel Davidson explains:
Sanders doesn’t think Christians are fit to serve in government because they’re bigots. Basic Christian theology, in Sanders’s view, “is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”

Here’s what happened. During a confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sanders expressed his indignation at an article Vought had written in January 2016 about a controversy that erupted at Vought’s alma mater, Wheaton College. A political science professor, Larycia Hawkins, had published a Facebook post announcing her intention to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims and suggesting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Vought, a Christian, took issue with Hawkins’s post and defended Wheaton in an article for The Resurgent. During the hearing Wednesday, Sanders repeatedly quoted one particular passage he described as “Islamophobic” and “hateful.” Vought wrote: “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
This is indeed the orthodox, reformed theological position of many protestant Christians today. It's what Sen. Sanders thought was "indefensible...hateful...Islamophobic, and... an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world." Somebody should ask Mr. Sanders, however, whether he'd object to an orthodox Muslim, like, say Democratic congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, holding public office because, after all, Muslims share a doctrine on salvation that's at least as exclusive as that of orthodox Christians. They believe that anyone who does not embrace Islam is doomed by Allah to eternal punishment.

Thus, this statement by a spokesman for Sen. Sanders is more than a little tone deaf, as are the statements by the groups mentioned in the next paragraph:
A spokesman for Sanders said in a statement issued Thursday: “In a democratic society, founded on the principle of religious freedom, we can all disagree over issues, but racism and bigotry—condemning an entire group of people because of their faith—cannot be part of any public policy.” The nomination of Vought, “who has expressed such strong Islamaphobic [sic] language,” the statement said, “is simply unacceptable.”

At the hearing on Wednesday, Sanders said he would vote against confirming Vought for deputy director of the OMB. Afterwards, Muslim groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Muslim Advocates, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, condemned Vought’s comments, saying without a hint of irony that his views threaten the principle of religious freedom.
This is indeed ironic inasmuch as, aside perhaps from atheistic communism, there's nothing more threatening to religious freedom in our contemporary world than Islam. No predominately Islamic nation allows Christians and Jews equality with Muslims, and in many Islamic countries Christians, Hindus, and certainly Jews are persecuted.

Davidson closes with this:
[T]he progressives who now run the Democratic Party will turn a blind eye to the exclusivity claims of Muslims and other religious groups they think they need in their political coalition. But they will not suffer Christians. There’s a simple reason for that: Democrats know they have lost orthodox Christians as a constituency, and now they have no use for them.
What Sen. Sanders is engaging in here is an example of what Jewish philosopher Lenn Goodman calls "romanticizing the exotic." Christianity is deemed docile enough to be a safe target for criticism by secular Americans who wish to look politically virtuous, while "foreign" religions like Islam, which is not a safe target, are romanticized as noble, wholesome, pure and victimized.

This behavior is either hypocritical or mindless or both, and all the more in Sanders' case because he claims to be a tolerant progressive when in fact his outburst against Vought is clearly an act of intolerant bigotry. To be sure, the Senator is not intolerant of those who make exclusive religious truth claims per se because Islam certainly does that, but he is intolerant of Christians who make exclusive religious truth claims. It's not the truth claims, apparently, that elicit his bigotry, it's the Christianity.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Fortunate Galaxy

Astronomer Hugh Ross discusses some fascinating facts about our Milky Way galaxy in an article at Salvo. In the article he points out that the age of our galaxy, it's uncommonly low luminosity for a galaxy its size, and its very unusual proximity to several smaller galaxies, all conspire to make the Milky Way habitable.

It's pretty interesting stuff. Here's why the age of the galaxy is important:
We must first explain how galaxies are categorized by color. Though it may seem counter to the colors we usually associate with hot and cold, young stars, which tend to be hot, are blue-colored, while old stars, which tend to be cooler, are red-colored. So galaxies in which star formation proceeds aggressively shine with a blue color, while galaxies in which star formation has ceased appear red.... Astronomers have typically categorized galaxies as belonging to either the red population or the blue population.

The Milky Way (MWG), however, fits into neither the red nor the blue category. It has taken on a green hue. This is because, while star formation in the MWG has subsided some, it has not yet ceased. Thus, our galaxy contains a combination of blue stars and stars that aren't yet old enough to be red but have aged enough to be yellow. Blended together, these stars give the galaxy a green appearance.

Green galaxies are rare, but they are exactly what advanced life requires. A galaxy dominated by blue stars will bathe its planets with many flares—flares too abundant and intense, and with too much ultraviolet and x-ray radiation, to permit life to exist on any of the planets. A galaxy dominated by red stars will also bathe its planets with many flares—again, flares of deadly intensity. A red galaxy also exposes its planets to more supernova and nova events (stellar explosions) than advanced life can possibly handle.

Another problem for galaxies dominated by red stars is that they lack the necessary level of ongoing star formation to sustain their spiral structure. But galaxies dominated by blue stars, where star formation is advancing aggressively, experience major disturbances (warps, bends, spurs, and feathers) in their spiral structure, so they cannot maintain a stable spiral form, either.

But the green Milky Way, in addition to being of appropriate size and mass to contain the elements that life requires, has another characteristic that allows for the existence of advanced life within it: its spiral arms are stable, well separated, highly symmetrical, free of any significant warps or bends, and relatively free of spurs and feathers. In part, these spiral-arm features are possible because the galaxy is dominated by yellow stars which are complemented by a significant population of blue stars.

[O]ur galaxy....is transitioning from a star-forming site to a no-longer-star-forming site. And this midlife period appears to be the "best of times" for the sustainment of living things....[T]he Milky Way has transitioned from its role in building the required ingredients for advanced life (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, calcium, iron, etc.) to one in which it can now, for a relatively brief time period, sustain advanced life.
There's more on why our galaxy is a suitable habitation for living things at the link. The sorts of things Ross says about the Milky Way can also be said about the solar system and the earth/moon complex. When all the unique factors which have to be pretty much just as they are for higher life forms to be sustained anywhere in the cosmos are tallied up it has led some scientists to conclude that it's very unlikely that there's any other place in the universe where life like ours could exist.

One could perhaps say that the existence of another habitable galaxy somewhere out there, with a solar system and a planet capable of sustaining life, would almost be miraculous.

Friday, June 9, 2017

But Is it True?

Shortly after the recent terror attacks in England a billboard appeared along an interstate highway in Indiana that deeply disappointed and even outraged some who saw it. The billboard is ostensibly a description of the prophet Muhammad, although he's not actually identified anywhere on it.

In any case, the billboard displays six purported facts about Muhammad that many people think should not be publicized because it's offensive to muslims. Yet if the claims are demonstrably true then why should anyone object to being confronted with the truth? This is not to say that the billboard is not offensive, or that it won't harm relations with Christians. Maybe it will harm relations with Christians just as mass slaughter in the name of Allah tends to harm relations with Christians, but the important question is, are the claims true?

Here's the billboard:



The first statement is a bit controversial. Some Islamic historians claim that Muhammad never married a six-year old girl. Rather, they point out, he was engaged to a six-year old girl named Aisha and then married and consummated the marriage when she was nine and he was fifty four. In any case, I'm not sure that that mistake is particularly egregious.

Other than that all of the other claims are corroborated by muslim chroniclers.

Even so, some muslims were understandably upset to see the man they revere publicly maligned:
“I was a little disappointed when I saw that...We do support free speech, but we do realize this is also rooted in bigotry,” said Farial Khatri of the Islamic Society of North America, according to Fox59. “We’ve seen them in New York and several others cities on billboards as well as other transit ads,” he added.

Some groups spoke out against the display as disparaging to Muslims while other groups want to do more. The Muslim Alliance of Indiana plans to raise money to put up its own billboard nearby to spread a message of peace and kindness.

Rima Shahid, executive director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana, said she was “heartsick” when she saw a photo of the billboard, especially since it appeared at the start of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month. She strongly condemned the billboard for spreading lies and misinformation about Islam and its prophet. “These are completely false statements,” Shahid said, according to NBC news.

“It perpetuates hate. It perpetuates misconceptions about Islam, and it makes our neighbors think we believe things that just aren’t true … they’ve been misinformed,” she said. “This billboard is garbage,” Shahid added.

Shortly after the giant board went up, the Muslim Alliance of Indiana reached out to Mayor Joe Hogsett and Congressman Andre Carson about ways to challenge the billboard.
The best way to challenge the billboard, it seems to me, would be to publicly demonstrate that the claims it makes are false or unfounded rather than simply asserting that they are. That's how it's done in a free society. It'll be interesting to see whether that kind of discussion ever actually takes place.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Culture Clash

In light of the horrible events that have occurred at the hands of Muslims in Manchester and London recently I thought it'd be appropriate to rerun a post from last February:

There is, I think, a puzzlement among many Americans as to why there's so much concern over bringing Muslim refugees to our shores. Some Americans seem to think that Islam is sort of like any other religion, but I think this is a misunderstanding of Islam. Moreover, the misunderstanding includes the view that only a small percentage of Muslims are extremists, and that it's worth the risk to bring them into our country to increase diversity and broaden the tax base.

I say this is a misunderstanding because most Muslims, in fact almost all devout Muslims, adhere to Koranic law, i.e. sharia. If they do not follow sharia they're often not considered true Muslims by their co-religionists, even if they faithfully observe the five pillars of Islam, and over 80% of Muslims emigrating from most of the countries listed on President Trump's travel ban executive order believe sharia should be the governing law of whatever country they reside in.

In June I posted some thoughts on the notion of moderate Islam which I'd like to rerun here to help readers understand why there's concern and why so many people who are sympathetic to the plight of refugees nevertheless support Mr. Trump's EO:
Last January I did a post on moderate Islam which quoted at length from a column by former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy who argued that the idea of moderate Islam is something of a myth. There are no moderate Muslims, he maintained. There are Muslims and there are apostates (who, according to Islamic doctrine, deserve to be killed) and that covers the spectrum of Islamic belief.

People in the West, so accustomed to the notion that in everything there's a wide diversity of opinion, have a hard time accepting that many Muslims don't see things that way. At least they don't see Islam that way.

The following video features a Muslim speaker named Fahad Qureshi addressing an audience in Norway in 2013 on this very matter. He's attempting to make the point, a point of which he obviously approves, that, although Westerners often try to minimize it, the belief that gays should be killed and women subjugated to men and stoned to death if caught in adultery are in fact mainstream Muslim beliefs. They're not the beliefs of a fringe group of radicals, Qureshi insists, they're views taken directly from the Koran:
Keep in mind that Qureshi was addressing a mostly Muslim audience in liberal Norway. Toward the end he asked a question everyone should be asking as President Obama opens the floodgates to millions of middle eastern Muslims:
What are the politicians going to say now? What is the media going to say now? That we are all extremists? That we are all radicals? That we need to deport all of us from this country?
Actually, no. In the wake of Orlando [the terrorist massacre at The Pulse nightclub] the media I've seen, in a masterful diversion of viewers' attention, has been talking mostly about the need for gun control.

Imagine, though, the uproar had a politically conservative fanatic committed the atrocity in the Orlando night club, and a video like this had subsequently been found to have been made at a gathering of Tea-Partiers. If the views held almost unanimously by this audience of Muslims were held by even a significant minority of any group of conservative non-Muslim Americans they would be anathematized, persecuted, and endlessly ridiculed. Yet Muslims are given a pass. Their views are ignored. Why?

An anonymous gay activist in a letter quoted in Tuesday's post highlights the Left's hypocrisy:
I also now realize, with brutal clarity, that in the progressive hierarchy of identity groups, Muslims are above gays. Every pundit and politician -- and that includes President Obama and Hillary Clinton and half the talking heads on TV -- who today have said "We don't know what the shooter's motivation could possibly be!" have revealed to me their true priorities: appeasing Muslims is more important than defending the lives of gay people. Every progressive who runs interference for Islamic murderers is complicit in those murders, and I can no longer be a part of that team.

I'm just sick of it. Sick of the hypocrisy. Sick of the pandering. Sick of the deception.
So should every American be.
Later, I elaborated on how we might think about the views expressed in the above video and wrote this:
One thing I think we can say about sharia is that it's not what Westerners would call "moderate" or "progressive."

Suppose you found yourself among a group of people which, it eventually became clear to you,...
  • held approximately the same views about gays as the Westboro Baptists, only worse.
  • held approximately the same views about women as Jim Crow era southerners held about blacks.
  • held approximately the same views about Jews as did the Nazis.
  • held approximately the same views about freedom of religion as did medieval inquisitors.
  • held approximately the same views about freedom of speech as does the North Korean government
  • held approximately the same views about human equality as do proponents of the Hindu caste system.
  • held approximately the same views about church/state separation as fundamentalist theocrats.
  • held views regarding criminal justice that endorsed cruel and unusual punishments like cutting off the hands of thieves, whipping adulterers, hanging gays, and killing apostates.
Would you call that group "moderate"? Would you call them "progressive"? Yet these are views held by large numbers of mainstream Muslims, not just in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, but in Europe and the U.S. A Pew poll found that a majority of American Muslims prefer sharia, and one in four accepts the use of violence against other Americans who give offense to Islam, for instance, by caricaturing Mohammed.
Let us do all we can to aid and comfort those, both Christian and Muslim, who are experiencing hellish suffering at the hands of Assad's military, ISIS, and al Qaeda Islamists, but let us not be blinded by compassion or political correctness to the realities of the belief system held by most of the people we're bringing into this country. Many of them do not want to assimilate, they do not want to become Westernized, and they do not want to moderate their convictions. If that's true we're possibly setting up many refugees and other Muslim immigrants for alienation, bitterness and resentment that could one day boil over into violence, the kind of awful mayhem already visited upon Paris, Nice, Berlin and Brussels in recent years.

Ignoring the cultural dissonance between Islam and the West is not a solution to the problem and will not prevent further horrors from happening.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Resist

A friend sent me a panel presentation by professor Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto who explains postmodernism to what I assume to be a gathering of conservative students. Peterson describes why he thinks postmodernism is such a threat to traditional Western values like rational discourse and freedom of speech.

I've pulled some excerpts to give you a sense of why Peterson thinks the cause of resisting the incursions of postmodernism is urgent:
You need to understand postmodernism, because that's what you're up against. You're up against it far more than you know or think, and it's a much more well-developed and pervasive, pernicious, nihilistic, intellectually attractive doctrine than has yet come to public realization. It absolutely dominates the humanities and increasingly the social sciences in the universities.

It's not like any given person is absolutely possessed by the spirit of postmodernism, because often they're not educated enough to know all the details about what it is that has them in their grip, but if you get 20 of them together and they're all 5% influenced by the postmodernist ethos, you basically have the spirit of the mob. It's a mouthpiece for that particular philosophical doctrine.

And if you understand the doctrine than you understand why things are progressing the way that they are progressing.

So I'm going to tell you a little bit about doctrine, because it's not optional to understand this. This is crucial to understand this, you can't underestimate the power of ideas and also of words, of course, because ideas are expressed in words.

So the first thing that you might want to know about postmodernism is that it doesn't have a shred of gratitude -- and there's something pathologically wrong with a person that doesn't have any gratitude, especially when they live in what so far is the best of all possible worlds. So if you're not grateful, you're driven by resentment, and resentment is the worst emotion that you can possibly experience, apart from arrogance. Arrogance, resentment, and deceit. There is an evil triad for you.

And if you're bitter about everything that's happening around you, despite the fact that you're bathed in wealth, then there is something absolutely wrong with you.

So here's what the postmodernists believe: They don't believe in the individual.

They believe that since you don't have an individual identity, your fundamental identity is group fostered, and that means that you're basically an exemplar of your race.

Hence, white privilege. Or you're an exemplar of your gender, or your sex, or your ethnicity, or you're an exemplar of however you can be classified so that you are placed in the position of a victim against the oppressor.

So for the postmodernists, the world is a Hobbesian battleground of identity groups. They do not communicate with one another, because they can't. All there is, is a struggle for power, and if you're in the predator group, which means you're an oppressor, than you better look out, because you're not exactly welcome. Not exactly welcome, and neither are your ideas. So that's what you're up against.

They believe that logic is part of the process by which the patriarchal institutions of the West continue to dominate and to justify their dominance. They don't believe in dialogue.... They don't believe that people of good will can come to consensus through the exchange of ideas. They believe that that notion is part of the philosophical substructure and practices of the dominant culture.

I would say it's time for conservatives to stop apologizing for being conservatives.

You don't apologize to these people. It's a big mistake. They read apology as an admission of guilt. You don't apologize, and you don't back down.

With regards to the universities, I thought at one point that the best thing to do would be to cut their funding by 25% and let them fight among themselves for the remnants, because it would force universities to decide exactly what's important and what isn't.

So I would say the humanities, and much of the social sciences, have turned into a postmodernist neo-Marxist playground for radicals. The scholarship is terrible. 80% of humanities papers are not cited once. Once!

And so what that means is that they write papers for each other, and they sell them to libraries, and that's a how the publishers are making money. No one reads them, but the publishers can print them and the libraries have to buy them -- And they are buying them with your tax money. And so all of you who are sitting here are funding a postmodern radical neo-Marxist agenda that has its roots in the university, and your tax money is going towards it.

And if you want proof of that. Just go online and look at the websites, especially of disciplines like 'women's studies' which is pathological right to the core. But it's not just women studies, it is all the ethnic studies groups, it is anthropology, it is sociology, social work, and most of all, it's education.

They're not interested at all in [genuine] education. They are interested in the indoctrination of people as young as they can get their hands on, so to speak.

Our society needs to figure out how to stop shunting public tax money to radical left-wing activists. If we were doing that for the radical right-wing activists, there would be an absolute storm, but it's happened incrementally since the 1960s and needs to stop.

So that's what conservatives and also liberals --true liberals in the English sense-- are up against. What's happened also as a consequence of this postmodern neo-Marxist intellectual invasion, is the center keeps moving way to the right now, so if you're a classical liberal, you've become a conservative.

And then finally with regards to talking to young people. You finally have something to sell to them. It is not easy to sell conservatism to young people, because they want to change things. That's not what conservatives want to do, they want to maintain things. Well, now you got something to sell -- you can sell them freedom of speech, and you can sell them responsibility.
Postmodernity, put simply, is essentially the denial of objective truth and value. It subjectivizes everything and makes truth group-based and feeling-based. Thus, if I feel oppressed then that's my truth regardless of whether I am or not. LeBron James recently came home to find a racial epithet spray-painted on the gate of his mansion. He lamented that it doesn't matter whether you're admired or rich or successful it's still tough to be black in America.

James makes millions of dollars a year playing a game, yet he thinks life is tough because some pimply-faced kid with a can of spray paint did something malicious and stupid. The postmodern would say, though, that if James and others feel strongly about their lives being tough then it's a true belief - true for them - regardless of the objective facts of the matter.

Peterson notes in his speech that if American blacks comprised a country they'd be the 18th wealthiest nation in the world. I can't vouch for the statistic, but if it's true it's an objective fact that's meaningless to many postmodern progressives. Their truth is that African Americans are oppressed and statistics such as that are simply part of the white, patriarchal, logical mode of thinking that the postmodern rejects a priori.

It's easy to see why Peterson thinks such a worldview is dangerously corrosive to a pluralistic society. It pits one group against another and makes dialogue and reconciliation difficult, if not impossible. The only way for one group to accomplish its goals is to acquire more power than competing groups and to impose their will upon the others.

No worldview is all bad, of course, and there are some aspects of the postmodern mindset that could and should be seen as beneficial, but Peterson is right that much of it is extremely toxic to a free and open society and students should strive to resist it's siren song.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Liberal's Dilemma

There's a news report out of Oklahoma fraught with difficulties, in my opinion, for liberal progressives who wish to ban guns. Bre Peyton summarizes the events:
An Oklahoma man used a revolver to stop a neighbor from killing his three-month-old twin children last Friday.

Leland Foster was allegedly trying to drown his twin babies, one boy and one girl, in the bathtub of his Ada, Oklahoma home after threatening their mother with a knife. Then his neighbor intervened, according to KOFR-TV.

A 12-year-old girl who was living in the house ran to seek help from her neighbor, Cash Freeman, who saved the babies’ lives by shooting Foster twice in the back with a revolver, which killed him.

Foster has a violent criminal record. In 2011, he pled guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation and arson in the first degree.

Freeman told reporters he’s worried he might get into trouble for saving the babies’ lives. According to KOFR, Ada police said the incident would go before the district attorney, who will decide if the homicide was justified. Police said they questioned Freeman just after the incident and released him.

The babies were flown to a nearby hospital and have since been released.
Here are six questions for my liberal progressive friends:
  1. Should Mr. Freeman have been allowed to own a firearm?
  2. Should he be allowed by law to have used a firearm to shoot Mr. Foster to save the children?
  3. Should not Mr. Foster have the right to kill his three-month-old children?
  4. If the answer to #3 is no, at what point should the life of a child be protected by law?
  5. What is the rationale for drawing the line at that point?
  6. Should the cop who fought off the Islamic terrorists on London Bridge with his nightstick, or the defenseless cop in Paris who was murdered by the Islamic terrorists who perpetrated the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in 2015, been armed with a gun?
Dilemmas, dilemmas.