Thursday, August 31, 2017


It's exceedingly difficult nowadays to say anything in defense of anything or anyone about which, or whom, the left has withheld its approval without being called all sorts of ugly names and having your life made miserable.

The latest case of people falling afoul of the censorious thought-police in an American university comes to us from the University of Pennsylvania where two law professors committed heresy by writing an encomium to the values commonly held by Americans in the 1950s. Here are some details:
Two law professors have been condemned by University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) students, alumni, and faculty as bigots engaging in "racist and white supremacist discourse," after they wrote a nostalgic op-ed praising America's 1950s "bourgeois culture."

UPenn Professor Amy Wax and University of San Diego's Lawrence Alexander were slammed by a group of 54 UPenn doctoral students and alumni as "promoting hate and bigotry under the guise of ‘intellectual debate'" in their piece titled, "Paying the price for breakdown of the country's bourgeois culture," published earlier this month by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
These two audacious professors are being pilloried for their wholly unexceptional but impertinent claim that some values are better than others and that some ways of living are better than others. It seems like such an obvious notion yet it has sent some of their fellow academicians and students into a politically correct tizzy:
[Wax and Alexander] argued [that] the "[1950s] culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime."

They conceded that there was "racial discrimination, limited sex roles, and pockets of anti-Semitism," but insisted that the modern "loss of bourgeois habits seriously impeded the progress of disadvantaged groups."

"All cultures are not equal," wrote Wax and Alexander. "Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-‘acting white' rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants."
I don't know what there is in the foregoing that's false or that thoughtful whites, blacks and browns don't agree with, but apparently the professors at Penn descried sufficient deviations from progressive orthodoxy to give them umbrage:
The UPenn coalition printed a letter on Monday in the school paper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, claiming the professors were "complicit in" and guilty of "normalizing" white supremacy through this op-ed.

The culture Wax and Alexander described, "if understood within their sociocultural context, stem from the very same malignant logic of hetero-patriarchal, class-based, white supremacy that plagues our country today," wrote the coalition. "These cultural values and logics are steeped in anti-blackness and white hetero-patriarchal respectability, i.e. two-hetero-parent homes, divorce is a vice, and the denouncement of all groups perceived as not acting white enough i.e. black Americans, Latino communities, and immigrants in particular."

The coalition called for the UPenn administration to investigate "Wax's advocacy for white supremacy."
So now, cutting through all the pretentious academese, we are to think that it's an expression of "white supremacy" to assert that children who grow up in households with both biological parents present and with both sets of grandparents, and all the resources they can provide, have a better shot at making it in life than those who don't. One may be forgiven for thinking that this was just common-sense, but perhaps common-sense is also a manifestation of white supremacy. Who knows?

Evidently, it's also a sign of malignant "white supremacy" to claim that young people who stay in school until they graduate, who learn while they're in school to read, write, and speak proper English, have a better chance to succeed in life than those who lack an education and a decent vocabulary.

In the febrile minds of the professorial critics of Wax and Alexander it's also an insufferable demonstration of "white supremacy" to affirm that young people who get married before they have children and who stay married afterwards do better by their children and themselves than those who flout this "bourgeois value."

Moreover, it's hateful bigotry to state that those who work hard at their jobs, who stay away from drugs and alcohol, who show up for work every day and on time will have a better chance of eventually moving into the middle class or higher than do slackers.

There's more in the article concerning those who are scandalized by Wax and Alexander's common-sense:
The signees, many from the anthropology department, "each committed to combating white supremacy in our pedagogy," and called on others to focus on discussing racism in the first weeks of the semester.

The day before this letter was published, five UPenn law professors wrote a column for the student paper arguing, "The ‘racial discrimination' and ‘limited sex roles' that the authors identify as imperfections in midcentury American life were in fact core features of it. Exclusion and discrimination against people of color was the norm…"

Last week, the IDEAL Council of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly at UPenn published a list of demands to the university in response to the "hate speech" in the op-ed. These included, "A policy in place to ensure that tenured faculty with a record of discrimination do not sit on hiring, tenure, or student admissions committees."
Normally in cases like this, the hapless offender grovels penitentially before his inquisitors and begs forgiveness for his transgressions. It was gratifying, therefore, to read that neither Wax nor Alexander have wavered on their views despite the blowback. Their responses have been unrepentant, cutting and much more intelligent than were the criticisms of their original article:
"What the objections boil down to is that the bourgeois virtues are somehow racist, or somehow cause racism—contentions that I and my co-author expressly contest, of course," Wax wrote in an email. "But if, indeed, bourgeois values are so racist, the progressive critics should be out there in the street demonstrating against them, stripping them from their own lives, and forbidding their children to practice them. They should be chanting, ‘No more work, more crime, more out of wedlock babies, forget thrift, let's get high!' … Of course, there's little chance we're going to see anything like that, which shows the hollowness, indeed the silliness, of the critiques."

Alexander said he "would change nothing" about the piece. "The charges of racism, white supremacy, etc. are, sadly, the predictable responses of those who can't refute the claims we made," Alexander said. "And those charges are laughable, given that I was a civil rights marcher and have a multi-racial family. But, of course, when you don't have the facts on your side, you resort to calling names. Pathetic!"
Indeed, "pathetic" is perhaps the very nicest thing one could say about it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Fundamental Nature of Everything

An idea that has percolated through this site over the years - because I find it fascinating - is that the universe, contra the materialists, is not fundamentally comprised of material particles, nor, contra the physicalists, is it fundamentally made up of fields and forces. Rather, the idea is that ultimately the universe and everything in it reduces to information.

An article by Philip Perry at Big Think elaborates on this strange sounding notion:
There are lots of theories on what the basis of the universe is. Some physicists say its subatomic particles. Others believe its energy or even space-time. One of the more radical theories suggests that information is the most basic element of the cosmos. Although this line of thinking emanates from the mid-20th century, it seems to be enjoying a bit of a Renaissance among a sliver of prominent scientists today.

Consider that if we knew the exact composition of the universe and all of its properties and had enough energy and know-how to draw upon, theoretically, we could break the universe down into ones and zeroes and using that information, reconstruct it from the bottom up. It’s the information, purveyors of this view say, locked inside any singular component that allows us to manipulate matter any way we choose. Of course, it would take deity-level sophistication ....
Indeed, which is why scientists committed to metaphysical materialism aren't eager to hop on board. The implications of the information hypothesis sound too much like what theists have been saying for centuries.

Following a discussion of the work of Claude Shannon, the creator of classical information theory, Perry notes that most physicists still maintain that matter, material particles, is the fundamental stuff of the universe. But not all scientists agree:
The eminent John Archibald Wheeler in his later years was a strong proponent of information theory. Another unsung paragon of science, Wheeler was a veteran of the Manhattan Project, coined the terms “black hole” and “wormhole,” helped work out the “S-matrix” with Neils Bohr, and collaborated with Einstein on a unified theory of physics.
Scientists in Wheeler's camp argue that:
To look at information theory from a quantum viewpoint, the positions of particles, their movement, how they behave, and all of their properties, gives us information about them and the physical forces behind them. Every aspect of a particle can be expressed as information and put into binary code. And so subatomic particles may be the bits that the universe is processing, as [if it were] a giant supercomputer.

In the 1980s, [Wheeler] began exploring possible connections between information theory and quantum mechanics. It was during this period he coined the phrase “It from bit.” The idea is that the universe emanates from the information inherent within it. Each it, or particle, is a bit. It from bit.

In 1989, Wheeler produced a paper for the Santa Fe institute, where he announced "every it--every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself--derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely--even if in some contexts indirectly--from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits." A team of physicists earlier this year announced research conclusions that would make Wheeler smile. We might be caught inside a giant hologram they state. In this view, the cosmos is a projection, much like a 3D simulation....

If the nature of reality is in fact reducible to information itself, that implies a conscious mind on the receiving end, to interpret and comprehend it. Wheeler himself believed in a participatory universe, where consciousness holds a central role. Some scientists argue that the cosmos seems to have specific properties which allow it to create and sustain life. Perhaps what it desires most is an audience captivated in awe as it whirls in prodigious splendor.
All of which implies not only a mind on the receiving end but also a mind at the generating end. Information is not just recognized by minds, but is the product of a mind. If the universe really is, at bottom, information then there's very good reason to believe that there is a mind of incomprehensible computing power that has produced it. It's a breathtaking implication.

Perry links interested readers to this video for more on information theory as the basis of the universe. If you like slightly zany videos give it a look:

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Decapitation Strategy

There's a column at Strategy Page in which the allies' strategy for dealing with ISIL in Syria and Iraq is explained. The plan, largely unreported in the media, is to prioritize the elimination of the people responsible for media propaganda, finance and logistics. The thinking is that these people have technical skills that are very hard to find and thus the loss of these players is even more crippling to the barbaric terror group than even the loss of their military commanders.

Evidently the plan is working. Here's an excerpt from the article:
Three years after ISIL(Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) surprised a lot of people, especially the Iraqis by quickly seizing Mosul in mid-2014 American intel analysts believe that attacks against key ISIL personnel since then played a major and largely unreported role in the defeat of ISIL. These attacks became more frequent and more effective as ISIL lost most of its territory in Syria and Iraq.

This gave key people fewer places to hide and even more importantly forced them to move more frequently and often without the careful planning and preparation they had learned was essential for survival. By early 2017 the impact of the damage was pretty obvious.

While the hunt for the senior leadership got the most publicity, these men, especially ISIL founder and leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, were not the most important target (unless the goal was headlines and maximum media audiences). The key to crippling ISIL as an organization were those leaders responsible for finance, logistics and media.

These were harder to replace and the senior ISIL leaders knew that success at raising huge amounts of cash (mainly via looting and smuggling, but also extortion and ransoms paid to free kidnapping victims and slaves) and maintaining effective communications for the finance and recruiting operations were more important. The logistics included obtaining weapons and explosives and moving them to where they would be most effective.

For example a number of attacks carried out in the months before Mosul fell (and Raqqa was surrounded) in July led to the loss of several key people who managed and ran the ISIL media networks. This included Internet distribution of propaganda and ISIL documents as well as the ISIL Amaq News Agency.

Attacks against these media networks have been going on for nearly three years although the results were often kept secret (short or long term) in order to exploit the confusion these losses created within ISIL. ISIL would often deny accurate reports of their key people dying or being captured in order to maintain morale.
The article goes on to explain how these people are targeted and is pretty interesting. The problem with crushing ISIL, however, is that it's like striking liquid mercury with a hammer - the blow scatters it into numerous globules that run all over the place. Thus, as ISIL suffers ever greater losses of territory cells of terrorists are popping up all over Europe.

The hope is, presumably, that once ISIL is completely defeated on the battlefield, the allure of an inevitable caliphate will evaporate and Islamists will find it harder to recruit volunteers for suicide missions for what will seem to be a lost cause.

At least that's the hope, but unless the U.S. and its allies start waging a war of ideas in which the weapons are public arguments made by moderate Muslims against extremist readings of the Koran there will always be a pool of disaffected young men eager to inject meaning into their lives by martyring themselves for what they believe to be the will of Allah.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Identity Politics

Mark Lilla is an academic, a liberal and a man contemptuous of Donald trump's presidency. After stating that he's an academic the rest of the description may sound redundant to some, but it's worth stating in order to clarify that Lilla is no closet Republican out to undermine the Democratic Party. He's written a book titled The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, in which he diagnoses what he perceives to be a deep problem in contemporary liberalism and ergo in the Democratic Party.

Peter Berkowitz writes about Lilla's book in a piece at Real Clear Politics. Lilla's thesis, in a word, is that Democrats' embrace of identity politics is a betrayal of true liberalism and has estranged Democrats from the people who have traditionally been their constituency.

It's interesting, parenthetically, that liberals once upon a time appealed to blue-collar workers and disdained the fat cat corporate CEOs. Today fat cat CEOs are frequently among the biggest donors to the Democratic party and blue-collar folks are voting for Trump.

Anyway, Berkowitz writes that:
Last November, shortly after the election, [Lilla] called in the New York Times for fellow liberals to face up to their party’s portion of responsibility for Trump’s victory, which Lilla traced to the rise [of] “identity liberalism.” His contention that “American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing” provoked outrage on the left.
The outrage is understandable. Some on the left have committed their entire lives to promoting identity politics. To have a supposed ally declare, in the New York Times, no less, that their life's work has been a misguided calamity is not a message likely to be received with equanimity even if it's true.
In “The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics,” Lilla elaborates on his thesis, providing a short, elegant polemic exposing the profound harm that identity liberalism has caused to the Democratic Party.

A professor of humanities at Columbia University, and a regular essayist at the New York Review of Books, Lilla uses the term “liberal” to denote those who identify with the achievements of the New Deal, which summoned Americans to “a collective enterprise to guard one another against risk, hardship, and the denial of fundamental rights.”

The essential contrast in post-World War II American politics, for Lilla, is between such liberals, who embodied the “Roosevelt Dispensation,” and those who embraced the “Reagan Dispensation” with, according to Lilla, its hyper-individualistic citizens living in their separate communities and its dedication to free markets, economic growth, and the shrinking of government.

Liberals, he argues, must repudiate the politics of identity because it undermines the pursuit of the common good to which American liberalism is properly directed. Identity liberalism divides Americans into groups—women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, and on and on. It nourishes a “resentful, disuniting rhetoric of difference” that defines membership in terms of distinctive narratives of victimhood, and confers status in proportion to the magnitude of the oppression one claims to have suffered under the hegemonic sway of white, male structures of power.

Propelled by America’s colleges and universities—which, Lilla observes, have replaced political clubs and shop floors as the incubators of liberal political leaders—identity liberalism has abandoned the political mission of bringing fellow citizens together in favor of the evangelical one of extracting professions of faith and punishing heretics, apostates, and infidels.
These are powerful words indeed. An ideology as divisive as modern liberalism has become can scarcely unite the country except perhaps through the exercise of various forms of compulsion which is certainly the direction in which today's liberalism seems to be headed. So, what's to be done?
Disappointingly for an author whose purpose is to rouse fellow liberals to action, Lilla offers no proposal for reforming our colleges and universities, which he blames for indoctrinating students in identity politics dogma. But he does sketch the larger political goal: a “more civic-minded liberalism” that cultivates a shared appreciation of the rights and responsibilities that all American citizens share and which encourages individuals to undertake “the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from themselves to join a common effort.”
This is a noble goal, but one that can be reached only by a people who focus on the things they share in common, not the things that make them different. Diversity, notwithstanding its status as an idol on the left, is much overrated as a public good, especially when those who worship it are incessantly celebrating the things that make us different and thus dividing us from each other. In any case, as Berkowitz has noted, Lilla's argument, both in his Times column of last November and in his book, has received a chilly reception on the left:
The reply from the establishment left to Lilla’s brief for less victim politics and more retail politics was swift and sure. To mark publication last week of “The Once and Future Liberal,” the New York Times published a review by Yale University History Professor Beverly Gage that dismissed Lilla’s critique as “trolling disguised as erudition.”

Finding nothing bad to say about identity liberalism except to wonder why it hasn’t generated more marchers, Gage sent Times readers on their way with a clear conscience to continue to exhaust themselves in venting fury against Trump’s daily outrages.
Nevertheless, Berkowitz finds several elements in Lilla's presentation of his case to criticize. First, Lilla himself falls into the same pit that he urges liberals to avoid, and second he fails to recognize that what he's advocating, a return to classical liberalism, is, in fact, a plea to liberals to adopt a cluster of conservative principles.

Indeed, modern conservatism is in many respects an expression of the ideas of classical liberalism. Berkowitz writes:
The serious criticism of Lilla is twofold.

First, while holding aloft the idea of a common citizenship, he lapses from time to time into an illiberal politics of friends and enemies revolving around a fundamental antagonism between right and left. Conservatives, in Lilla’s account, are simple-minded, selfish, and anti-political; indifferent to the plight of those not like them; and oblivious of the claims of culture and nation. To assert that “a vote for Trump was a betrayal of citizenship, not an exercise of it” is—in lockstep with the purveyors of identity liberalism—to smear nearly half of your fellow citizens as traitors.

Second, Lilla propagates a basic misunderstanding about the liberalism he laudably sets out to save. That liberalism is not the antithesis of conservatism, or, at least of that conservatism devoted to liberty, limited government, and democratic politics. Despite his best efforts to ignore or conceal it, the liberalism that he labors to restore has a decisively conservative element, because, as Lilla rightly recognizes, the enduring ground of citizens’ solidarity in America is a shared commitment to a constitutional order that equally protects the individual rights of all.
Maybe it's because the left recognizes that Lilla is campaigning for liberty, limited government and a commitment to the Constitution that they despise his critique.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Phony War Between Science and Religion

You have doubtless heard that ever since the dawn of the Enlightenment science and religion have been at loggerheads - Galileo, and all that. The claim, however, is historical horsepucky as almost all scholars agree and as an article a few months ago by Dr. Justin Taylor adumbrates.

Taylor begins by noting that scholars as diverse as Ronald Numbers (an agnostic) and Timothy Larsen (a Christian theist) agree that the alleged warfare between science and religion was a myth perpetrated for propaganda purposes in the 19th century primarily by two men. He goes on to explain who these two very influential characters were.

The first was Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the founding president of Cornell University, and the second was John William Draper (1811-1882), professor of chemistry at the University of New York.

Taylor writes:
In December 1869, Andrew White--the young and beleaguered Cornell president--delivered a lecture at Cooper Union in New York City entitled “The Battle-Fields of Science.” He melodramatically painted a picture of a longstanding warfare between religion and science:
I propose, then, to present to you this evening an outline of the great sacred struggle for the liberty of Science--a struggle which has been going on for so many centuries. A tough contest this has been! A war continued longer--with battles fiercer, with sieges more persistent, with strategy more vigorous than in any of the comparatively petty warfares of Alexander, or Caesar, or Napoleon . . .

In all modern history, interference with Science in the supposed interest of religion—no matter how conscientious such interference may have been--has resulted in the direst evils both to Religion and Science, and invariably.
His lecture was published in book form seven years later as The Warfare of Science.
Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918)
In 1874, Professor Draper published his History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science. His thesis was as follows:
The antagonism we thus witness between Religion and Science is the continuation of a struggle that commenced when Christianity began to attain political power. . . . The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.
Draper’s work was enormously popular, going through 50 editions in the next half century.
John William Draper (1811-1882)
The conflict these men envisioned existed wholly in their own minds, but the theme was nevertheless popular among secular folk, and their work gained a currency unmerited by it's accuracy. Thanks largely to these two writers the notion of a warfare between science and religion became something of an urban legend and has persisted up to the present day despite having been debunked by numerous historians and other scholars.

Taylor provides a sample of the claims that Draper and White promoted and which have subsequently been shown to be utterly false. They wrote, for instance, that:
1.The church believed for centuries that the earth is flat.

2.The church opposed the use of anesthetics in childbirth since Genesis promised that childbirth would be painful.
On the first myth, Lesley B. Cormack, chair of the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, writes that “there is virtually no historical evidence to support the myth of a medieval flat earth. Christian clerics neither suppressed the truth nor stifled debate on the subject.”

On the second myth, Larsen states that:
No church has ever pronounced against anesthetics in childbirth. Moreover, there was no vocal group of ministers who opposed it. In fact, the inventor of chloroform received fan mail from ministers of the major denominations thanking him for helping to alleviate the suffering of women in labor.

Rather, the opposition to anesthetics during childbirth came from medical professionals, not from ministers, and for scientific, not religious, reasons.
So why, Taylor asks, did men like White and Draper--along with English biologist T. H. Huxley, who championed Darwinism and coined the term “agnostic”--manufacture these historical myths and this overall legend of perpetual conflict?

He cites Larsen's answer:
The purpose of the war was to discredit clergymen as suitable figures to undertake scientific work in order that the new breed of professionals would have an opportunity to fill in the gap for such work created by eliminating the current men of science. It was thus tendentiously asserted that the religious convictions of clergymen disqualified them from pursuing their scientific inquiries objectively.

More to the point, however, was the fact that clergymen were undertaking this work for the sheer love of science and thus hindering the expectation that it would be done for money by paid full-time scientists. Clergymen were branded amateurs in order to facilitate the creation of a new category of professionals.
This may be true as far as it goes, but I think there's a more fundamental reason for the conflict thesis. To wit, it has been an effective weapon in the arsenal of those atheists who wish to discredit religious belief altogether. If students and others who know that science has been enormously successful are convinced that science and religion are incompatible, then obviously there's not only no need for religion, but it's also positively pernicious to the extent that it impedes the progress of science.

As we've pointed out on Viewpoint numerous times over the years, and as Alvin Plantinga masterfully explains in his book Where the Conflict Really Lies, there's no conflict between religion and science, but there is a conflict between religion, particularly theistic religion, and metaphysical naturalism. Opponents of religion sometimes blur the distinction between naturalism and science to make it appear as if there's an incompatibility between science and religion, but this is a bit of polemical sleight-of-hand that simply obscures the truth.

It is naturalism, the belief that physical nature is all there is, which is at war with theism which is, of course, based on the belief that nature is not all there is. There is a supernature as well.

This belief and science are, contrary to those who wish to perpetuate the warfare thesis, perfectly sympatico.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Monumental Insanity

A few days ago I did a post titled "Slippery Slope" in which I joined the swell of voices who believe the destruction of Confederate statues is the first step onto a slippery slope that leads to utter insanity. A friend wrote to explain why he thought taking down statues of Robert E. Lee and like-minded Confederates is wholly justified and does not have to result in wholesale obliteration of our history. His argument is a good one. Here's part of what he wrote:
I don’t believe that removing Confederate monuments from public spaces through legal means puts us on a slippery slope at all. Let’s remember that many of these monuments were erected during the Jim Crow era as an homage to the cause of slavery and segregation – and as part of an ongoing, vicious campaign to intimidate those who thought differently.

The people memorialized by these monuments are not American heroes. Robert E. Lee was a brilliant general. He was also a traitor to this country who waged a war not only to preserve slavery but to expand it. Had he prevailed, the United States likely would not have become the greatest country in the world and the indignities of slavery would have been perpetuated.

Lee was an unapologetic advocate of slavery who thought the Emancipation Proclamation was an abomination. During his lifetime, plenty of people recognized that slavery was a terrible sin against God and humanity, so it’s not as if he was a victim of his times who didn’t know better. He chose to enable the oppression of an entire race and consequently sent tens of thousands of his fellow Southern soldiers, not to mention Union ones, to their deaths. That was his choice; we don’t need to give him monuments to affirm it.

I recently toured the Gettysburg battlefield with my family, a few weeks before the Charlottesville incident. It struck me, as we walked across the fields and through the museum, how many lives were needlessly lost because Lee chose to fight for the South and slavery. Had he applied his military genius in service of the Union and on behalf of human rights, the war probably would have been over before it even started. He has an extraordinary amount of blood on his hands, and it was all through his own choosing.

And this gets to the central difference between Lee/other Confederate leaders and our Founding Fathers. When Trump wonders where it all ends with the tearing down of monuments, this isn’t all that complicated either. Yes, Washington and Jefferson had slaves, and that is a serious stain on their legacies. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the defining aspect of their contributions to our country. They also brought the world’s greatest form of government into being. They are the Founding Fathers of our country, and their positive contributions to the world are enormous.

For Lee and his fellow Confederate leaders, it’s hard to say what they contributed beyond a lot of unnecessary suffering and death in their defense of an entirely indefensible institution. None of that deserves monuments. Their cause was not noble and neither was Lee.
I agree with much of what my friend has written here. I've never been a fan of Lee, and I, too, have reflected on how many lives were shattered and lost because he used his talents on behalf of the Confederacy. If, after calm rational debate, the citizens of a town voted to remove statues of Lee and others on the basis of arguments like my friend articulates there'd be little reason to object.

But, in my opinion, the left is not demanding that the statues come down because Lee et al. were traitors to their country. Indeed, for some on the left that'd be to their credit. Rather, they want the statues gone because Lee is a symbol of the institution of slavery and that sin trumps whatever virtues he might have possessed.

Yet, once we countenance pulling down monuments of slave-owners who made no good contribution to the country, the next step will be to pull down monuments of slave-owners regardless of their other contributions. In fact, their other contributions will be eclipsed by the fact that they will be seen as racists, which fact will obviate, in the minds of many, everything else they've done. At that point there'll be no stopping the madness.

This isn't hypothetical. We're seeing it today. People on tv are calling for monuments to Washington and Jefferson to be purged. Even Lincoln's monuments are being vandalized, presumably because he pardoned the Confederates in order to promote national healing and also proposed that ex-slaves might wish to be sent to Liberia.

An article in the Washington Times summarizes some of the nuttiness:
Baltimore in the middle of the night removed its Confederate-tied monuments. North Carolina thugs in Durham tore down a Confederate soldier statue and kicked and spat on it. A pastor — a man of Christ — called for the renaming of Washington Park in Chicago, as well as the removal of its George Washington statue and the renaming of Jackson Park. Why? The names conjure images of slavery, he said.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan removed the Taney statue from the State House — a step aimed at appeasing those offended by the fact it showed the likeness of the very U.S. Supreme Court justice, Roger B. Taney, who wrote the famous 1857 Dred Scott decision upholding slavery and denying citizenship to blacks.

Democrats in Congress called for an all-out cleansing of Confederate-tied statues, monuments and structures from Statuary Hall, a Capitol Hill fixture and popular tourist draw that contains dozens of contributions from individual states.

“The Capitol is a place for all Americans to come and feel welcomed, encouraged and inspired,” said Sen. Cory Booker, New Jersey Democrat. “Confederate statues do the opposite.”

This, from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: “The Confederate statues in the halls of Congress have always been reprehensible. If Republicans are serious about rejecting white supremacy, I call upon Speaker [Paul] Ryan to join Democrats to remove the Confederate statues from the Capitol immediately.”

... The left’s only warming up. This insanity is not going to end any time soon. The train still has to ride over the Washington, D.C., monuments of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Al Sharpton’s already called on Congress to defund the Jefferson Memorial in the District, saying Jefferson “had slaves and children with the slaves” and that tax dollars that are used to fund this monument are an affront.

“When you look at the fact that public monuments are supported by public funds,” Sharpton told Charlie Rose in a recent televised interview, “you are asking me to subsidize the insult of my family.”

Keep going. The journey’s not over. Next stop: The documents of these so-dubbed racist Founding Fathers. The Declaration of Independence. The U.S. Constitution. And the question that looms — the question that’s to be posed by the left: How can these documents represent the freedoms of all, when they were penned by those with racist mindsets?

Once it’s admitted into U.S. society that Jefferson and Washington have no business being represented in the public memorials of America, it’s only a small, very small step to say the same of their writings? But what are we going to do, rip up the original Declaration of Independence — tear the Constitution to shreds? What would that accomplish?
The bit about Al Sharpton objecting to spending federal tax dollars to support maintaining the Jefferson Memorial is especially funny. Sharpton's taxes are, or were, $4.5 million in arrears. Evidently not many of Reverend Al's tax dollars are going to the Jefferson Memorial in any case.

Perhaps, though, the award for the most risible piece of insanity connected to this whole business has to go to ESPN which has decided that they can't have an Asian-American named Robert Lee announce a football game played by the University of Virginia because his name is the same as that of the odious general.

I once had a student named Jeff Davis. I wonder if he's decided to change his name yet.

If men who transgressed liberal ideas of righteousness in some areas of their lives, even though they may have done much good otherwise, deserve to be expunged from our national memory, who will be left? As another friend told me recently, if we're going to remove the statues of everyone who was in some way morally flawed there'll only be one statue left, the one that overlooks Sao Paulo, Brazil. That won't make a lot of folks on the left happy either.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Tale of Two Cities Redux

Several years ago Myron Magnet wrote a powerful essay at City Journal in which he reacted to the claim by New York's liberal mayoral candidate at the time Bill de Blasio that there are two New Yorks, one rich and one poor. Magnet argued that the actual divide is between New Yorkers who pay taxes and New Yorkers who live off of them. Because the whole article is such good reading (and fairly brief) I thought I'd rerun the post I did on it when it first came out. Here it is slightly edited.

One of the best parts of Magnets column is this:
As its very name suggests, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio’s tale of two cities is pure fiction, a myth that formed the intellectual basis of leftist politics long before Marx turned it into “science.” Its key idea is that the rich are rich because they have somehow extracted their wealth from the poor, causing their poverty....

In the early days of industrialization, when nearly naked children pulled carts of coal through mine shafts and factory workers got ground up by unfenced machinery, this tale had a core of truth. But....[a]s for New York’s poor of today, there is not a scintilla of truth in the notion that the co-op dwellers of Fifth and Park Avenues have caused their poverty—not even if you believe that Wall Street hanky-panky is the cause of the deep unemployment America suffers five years after the outset of the financial crisis.

The trouble with the two-cities narrative is less that it is false and more that it has become a cause of the very poverty it pretends to explain—especially in the case of the minority poverty so prevalent in New York. The belief that people are poor because they are victims of economic injustice, and that the nation owes the African-American poor, in particular, some kind of reparation for the slavery and racism that supposedly has kept them perpetually poor, led to a War on Poverty that began half a century ago and that resulted in a welfare system that today, together with food stamps, public housing, and other benefits, provides its recipients with more income than a minimum-wage job, vaporizing the economic incentive for going to work.

Worse, the elite mindset that conceived the War on Poverty permanently transformed the nation’s culture in ways that entrenched the poor in their poverty. Thanks to the elites in the press, the government, and the universities—thanks to the writers, preachers, and teachers who have made “social justice” the reigning orthodoxy—the once standard belief that it’s dishonorable and unmanly not to work, at however menial a job, to support your family has given way to the view that there’s no shame in accepting reparations for victimization.

Combine these economic views with the change in elite views about sexuality that, also about 50 years ago, destigmatized casual sex and out-of-wedlock childbearing, and you have a sure-fire recipe for a caste of perpetually poor people, disproportionately minority, who rarely work or marry, and who form families headed by young, inexperienced, and ill-educated single mothers, poorly equipped to give children the moral and cognitive nurture, the thirst and drive for education they need to succeed in an increasingly skills-based global economy.

If you were going to divide New York into two cities—one rich, one poor—this would be the poor one: female-headed families living in housing projects or Section 8 apartments with flat-screen TVs and refrigerators stocked with food-stamp plenty, for generation after generation, whose unmotivated kids learn little from bad schools that cost more than almost any other public schools in the country—schools that only the most determined manage to learn enough from to escape the government-financed ghetto, leaving behind the average, ambitionless mass to become the parents of the next generation.

The rich New York would be exactly the opposite: people who get married and mostly stay married, who work hard to give their kids the best educational credentials and enrichment programs they can afford (alas, with a full measure of social-justice ideology and resume-burnishing social-service summer internships), who worship the work ethic, and who pay the taxes that support the other New York.

An observer from another planet would ask, Why does such a bizarre system go on, seemingly without end? Why does the rich New York keep supporting the poor New York, and why does the poor New York not improve its lot?
Magnet offers more insight at the link. His article highlights the fact that there's something odd about discussions of the poor and material poverty in the U.S. Most of the people who are classified as materially poor (there are types of impoverishment other than material deprivation, of course) possess luxuries that even the wealthiest aristocrats as recently as a hundred years ago would have envied. Here's economist Thomas Sowell on the subject:
Most Americans living below the government-set poverty line have a washer and/or a dryer, as well as a computer. More than 80 percent have air conditioning. More than 80 percent also have both a landline and a cell phone. Nearly all have television and a refrigerator. Most Americans living below the official poverty line also own a motor vehicle and have more living space than the average European -- not Europeans in poverty, the average European.
He could have added that they also have access to public transportation, medical care, food, and education. Their residences are dry and have indoor plumbing and heat. Their clothing is superior to even the finest raiment of a century ago, the air they breathe is cleaner, and the water they drink is purer. They are materially far richer than the wealthy of all but the most recent generations. So why do we call them "poor"? Sowell answers:
Because government bureaucrats create the official definition of poverty, and they do so in ways that provide a political rationale for the welfare state -- and, not incidentally, for the bureaucrats' own jobs.
The poverty that afflicts America is not material, it's spiritual, and for that sort of poverty there's no government program.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Brooks' Inadvertent Description of Conservatives

New York Times columnist David Brooks assays to describe the distinctive characteristics of political moderates, but I think he manages instead to give a pretty good description, inadvertently, of political conservatives.

He lists eight ideas that, he says, moderates tend to embrace. In fact, for the most part he's describing political conservatives. Of the eight traits Brooks discusses three are ideologically neutral but five are actually characteristics which define conservatives. Wherever he uses the term "moderate" the reader can more accurately, I think, substitute "conservative". Here are the five in boldface with my comments:

1. Politics is a limited activity. Zealots look to the political realm for salvation and self-fulfillment. They turn politics into a secular religion and ultimately an apocalyptic war of religion because they try to impose one correct answer on all of life. Moderates believe that, at most, government can create a platform upon which the beautiful things in life can flourish. But it cannot itself provide those beautiful things. Government can create economic and physical security and a just order, but meaning, joy and the good life flow from loving relationships, thick communities and wise friends. The moderate is prudent and temperate about political life because he is so passionate about emotional, spiritual and intellectual life.

This is why conservatives argue incessantly for limited, decentralized government and for more autonomy for communities and families, Edmund Burke's "little platoons" of society.

2. In politics, the lows are lower than the highs are high. The harm government does when it screws up — wars, depressions — is larger than the benefits government produces when it does well. Therefore the moderate operates from a politics of skepticism, not a politics of faith. He understands that most of the choices are among bad options (North Korea), so he prefers steady incremental reform to sudden revolutionary change.

Conservatives are not opposed to change, but they are opposed to change for the sake of change. All change should be tempered by experience and traditions which have proven themselves reliable guides over long periods of time. Conservatives are very suspicious of revolutions, whether political, cultural or social. Sudden, rapid change rarely makes things better and usually makes them worse.

3. Truth before justice. All political movements must face inconvenient facts — thoughts and data that seem to aid their foes. If you try to suppress those facts, by banning a speaker or firing an employee, then you are putting the goals of your cause, no matter how noble, above the search for truth. This is the path to fanaticism,....

For precisely these reasons conservatives are the strongest advocates of free speech and the free flow of ideas in our culture. Those who prohibit or restrict this freedom are taking us down the road to Big Brother totalitarianism.

4. Partisanship is necessary but blinding.....Moderates are problematic members of their party. They tend to be hard on their peers and sympathetic to their foes.

This helps explain why conservatives are such a thorn in the side of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and why conservatives are among President Trump's strongest critics. The Democratic party is disciplined and unified largely because it has no conservatives in it.

5. Humility is the fundamental virtue.....The more the moderate grapples with reality the more she understands how much is beyond our understanding.

Precisely because of the humility Brooks describes, conservatives tend to be skeptical when authorities in various fields speak apodictically about phenomena like climate change, biogenesis, morality, religion, and what's best for our children. Conservatives often suspect that neither we nor they know enough to warrant their certainty.

Brooks finishes with this:
Moderation requires courage. Moderates don’t operate from the safety of their ideologically pure galleons. They are unafraid to face the cross currents, detached from clan, acknowledging how little they know.
In fact, the people who must have courage today are those who stand against the Zeitgeist, who are legally hounded for their religious beliefs, who are shouted down in the university, who are threatened with violence and who lose their jobs, businesses and friends because of their beliefs. Most of these folks today aren't moderates, they're conservatives.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Devil's Bargain

Progressive leftists are fond of dreaming of ways to create utopian societies, but often the brave new worlds they conjure up turn out to be dystopic prisons.

The communist prison states of the twentieth and twenty first centuries were the product of leftists' desire to produce perfect societies. Even if the dreamers seem like a sweet, kind souls the future they envision is often a dehumanizing, totalitarian nightmare. B.F. Skinner's Walden II comes to mind as does Peter Singer's vision of a future in which mothers are free to kill their young children.

A few years ago The Atlantic published an essay on the thoughts of an academic by the name of S. Matthew Liao, a professor of philosophy and bioethics at New York University. Mr. Liao believes that at least part of the solution to our pending environmental troubles is to re-engineer human beings so that they leave a diminished carbon footprint. Here's The Atlantic's lede:
The threat of global climate change has prompted us to redesign many of our technologies to be more energy-efficient. From lightweight hybrid cars to long-lasting LED's, engineers have made well-known products smaller and less wasteful. But tinkering with our tools will only get us so far, because however smart our technologies become, the human body has its own ecological footprint, and there are more of them than ever before.

So, some scholars are asking, what if we could engineer human beings to be more energy efficient? A new paper to be published in Ethics, Policy & Environment proposes a series of biomedical modifications that could help humans, themselves, consume less.

Some of the proposed modifications are simple and noninvasive. For instance, many people wish to give up meat for ecological reasons, but lack the willpower to do so on their own. The paper suggests that such individuals could take a pill that would trigger mild nausea upon the ingestion of meat, which would then lead to a lasting aversion to meat-eating.

Other techniques are bound to be more controversial. For instance, the paper suggests that parents could make use of genetic engineering or hormone therapy in order to birth smaller, less resource-intensive children.

Liao is keen to point out that the paper is not meant to advocate for any particular human modifications, or even human engineering generally; rather, it is only meant to introduce human engineering as one possible, partial solution to climate change.

He also emphasized the voluntary nature of the proposed modifications. Neither Liao or his co-authors, Anders Sandberg and Rebecca Roache of Oxford, approve of any coercive human engineering; they favor modifications borne of individual choices, not technocratic mandates.
Of course the authors disapprove of coercion. Brave new worlds always start out sounding reasonable and non-coercive, but it's not long until, as in Orwell's Animal Farm, it all turns ugly. When people choose not to genetically rejigger their children or to swallow the meat pill the state will decide to do something "reasonable" like set limits to how much carbon you can consume, or they'll tell you they'll not provide insurance coverage for more than two childbirths, or they'll not provide health care for people over a certain bodyweight, etc.

In the end they won't tell you that you'll have to do the things Liao suggests, you'll be free to ignore the wise advice of the government planners and statists if you wish, but you won't be able to afford to. You'll have been "gently" coerced by Big Brother into participating in their dehumanized society without even realizing it was happening.

Here are some of the "options" Liao proposes:
  • A "meat patch" that makes you vomit when you eat meat.
  • Hormones that retard your children's growth.
  • Drugs that make you want to write checks (to charities, of course).
  • Genetically engineering humans to grow "cat eyes" so we don't need light bulbs.
Because it's voluntary it all sounds so reasonable, so harmless. Just like Mephistopheles' bargain sounded so reasonable to Dr. Faustus.

Monday, August 21, 2017


In a piece for the New York Times Molly Worthen tries to get her arms around the idea of a "Christian worldview" and makes a few distressing missteps along the way.

She quotes, for instance, the Christian writer Rachel Held Evans who, criticizing the religious training of her youth, asserts that the Christian worldview includes the beliefs that “... climate change isn’t real, that evolution is a myth made up by scientists who hate God, and capitalism is God’s ideal for society.”

Evans' dismissive summation would be news to a lot of Christians who would certainly profess a Christian worldview but who hold to none of these beliefs.

Worthen adds that:
The innocuous phrase — “biblical worldview” or “Christian worldview” — is everywhere in the evangelical world.... [but it's] not as straightforward as it seems. Ever since the scientific revolution, two compulsions have guided conservative Protestant intellectual life: the impulse to defend the Bible as a reliable scientific authority and the impulse to place the Bible beyond the claims of science entirely.
This is a bit misleading, however. One can have a Christian worldview and have no particular opinion at all on the Bible's standing vis a vis modern science. In fact, I suspect that most evangelicals simply acknowledge that they don't know enough about the Bible or science to navigate this alleged dispute. They're too busy, in any case, ministering to the sick and the poor to worry much about it.

Part of the difficulty with Worthen's essay is that she conflates the term "Christian worldview" with "conservative Christian worldview" and by "conservative" she means "politically conservative." Thus she writes:
The conservative Christian worldview is not just a posture of mistrust toward the secular world’s “fake news.” It is a network of institutions and experts versed in shadow versions of climate change science, biology and other fields.
But there are many people who are skeptical toward the media, toward the pronouncements of some scientists about climate change and evolution, etc. who are not Christian. Conversely, there are many Christians who have a Christian view of life who embrace climate change, evolution, and largely trust the media. These are primarily political or ideological positions, independent of one's overall faith commitment.

So what is a Christian worldview? Its essence might be distilled to three fundamental propositions or beliefs:
  1. That God exists and has created the world (How and when the world was created are ancillary matters)
  2. That God reveals Himself specially in the person of Jesus Christ whose teaching on how we should live is divinely sanctioned and authoritative.
  3. That God restored Jesus from death to life and will raise us as well to eternal life.
Of course, this is just the core of a Christian worldview. Many Christians believe more than this. Many hold that the Bible, properly interpreted, is completely trustworthy in what it affirms, that Jesus was Himself divine, that God grants eternal life only to those who accept Jesus' lordship, etc., but the point is there's nothing in any of this about "Fake News," capitalism, climate change, or even about evolution. These things are what Reformation era theologians called adiaphora. They're matters upon which Christians who share a core worldview can disagree.

Worthen adds this:
[T]he worldview that has propelled mainstream Western intellectual life and made modern civilization possible is a kind of pragmatism. It is an empirical outlook that continually — if imperfectly — revises its conclusions based on evidence available to everyone, regardless of their beliefs about the supernatural. This worldview clashes with the conservative evangelical war on facts, but it is not necessarily incompatible with Christian faith.
This is also a bit misleading. There is, as far as I am aware, no "conservative evangelical war on facts." There is, however, among evangelical thinkers a great deal of concern about what constitutes a fact as well as the interpretative framework in which facts are situated.

In other words, an evangelical can look at the same evidence as did Charles Darwin without coming to Darwin's conclusion that those evidential facts obviate the need for an intelligent agency to explain them. How facts are interpreted is often a function of a person's metaphysical or philosophical predilections rather than his or her commitment to objective science.

She concludes with this:
Mr. Nelson [a professor of journalism at an evangelical college] encourages his students to be skeptics rather than cynics. “The skeptic looks at something and says, ‘I wonder,’ ” he said. “The cynic says, ‘I know,’ and then stops thinking.”

He pointed out that “cynicism and tribalism are very closely related. You protect your tribe, your way of life and thinking, and you try to annihilate anything that might call that into question.” Cynicism and tribalism are among the gravest human temptations. They are all the more dangerous when they pose as wisdom and righteousness.
This is an ironic conclusion given that it is the skepticism expressed by some Christians - skepticism about the pronouncements of journalists as to what is true in the news, skepticism about the pronouncements of some climatologists concerning anthropogenic global warming, and skepticism about the metaphysical claims of some scientists about the nature of ultimate reality and causation - that Worthen considers to be so problematic.

The people who need to read Mr. Nelson's admonitions are not the Christians who are already plenty skeptical of secular authorities, but those who eagerly and uncritically gulp down their pronouncements. They're the ones who need to spend more time chewing on those claims before they swallow them.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Trump Derangement Syndrome

"Our media have a problem: they are essentially incapable of covering Donald Trump with anything less than full-on deranged hysteria." Daniel Payne at The Federalist.

It's hard to argue with Payne about this. It seems that the liberal media, as well as others, have taken on the role of Chief Inspector Dreyfus to Donald Trump's Inspector Clouseau. The mere thought of Donald Trump seems to induce in them a completely mindless, irrational malice and rancor.

Those in the media suffering from this affliction can't seem to help themselves, nor can they seem to focus on things that matter. They panicked like Chicken Little when he talked tough to Kim Jung Un, fretting that Trump would unleash nuclear war. North Korea backed down from their threats against Guam, and the media, rather than acknowledging the fact, quietly shoved the whole business down the memory hole.

Nothing much appears to be coming of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation either, although there's plenty going on with Hillary's emails and Debbie Wasserman Schultz's inept dealings with nefarious IT people, but despite having promoted the "collusion with Russia" meme 24/7 for almost the entire year, the media is now ignoring it. Any failure gets prominent attention and becomes the subject of much ridicule, any success, and there've been quite a few, gets shunted to the media equivalent of Siberia.

So what's now occupying their attention instead? Like a kitten mesmerized by a laser dot on the carpet the media is fixated on Trump's claim that there was blame to be found on both sides of the awful events in Charlottesville and that "fine people" and bad people were on both sides of the protest. The former assertion is undeniable. The latter, not so much. As of this writing there's no good evidence of any "fine people" on the side of the white supremacists, but even if the president is completely wrong about this, it's hardly the sort of error that merits the hysterics we've been witness to from MSNBC, CNN and sundry other commentators over the past week.

If you think "hysterics" is too strong a word, consider that a state senator from Missouri was driven so far out of her mind by Trump's press conference that she declared she hoped someone would assassinate the president. But perhaps I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt here. For all I know, she was actually in her normal state of mind.

Others, less vicious but equally ridiculous, are calling for his impeachment. This would be a novel development: impeaching the president of the United States because he claimed that both left and right in Charlottesville were responsible for violence. Someone should enlighten these knuckleheads to the fact that they can't impeach a president just because he says things they don't like.

In the body of his article Payne elaborates on the semi-insanity rife in the media this week:
The furor surrounding the press conference stemmed largely from one particular line Trump delivered. When one reporter asked about his claim that there had been “hatred [and] violence on both sides,” Trump replied: “Well I do think there’s blame. Yes, I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides.”

With that unremarkable assertion, the media were off. “HE STILL BLAMES BOTH SIDES,” CNN blared in enormous font on its front page. In a headline, The New York Times blared that Trump “again blames ‘both sides.” So did the Chicago Tribune. So did NBC News. So did U.S. News and World Report (calling it “an insane press conference” to boot). So did NPR. So did CBS News. So did the Washington Post. So did the Wall Street Journal. So did Time. So did MSNBC. So did USA Today. NBC News later wondered: “Has Trump Lost His Moral Authority for Good?” CNN continued with the massive headlines, calling Trump’s press conference “a meltdown for the ages,” and declaring: “Trump is who we feared he was.” Vox claimed Trump “is offering comfort to racists and extremists.”

The unambiguous implication of this media firestorm is obvious: we are supposed to see it as outrageous at best and morally abhorrent at worst that Trump would claim that “there is blame on both sides.” The thing is, Trump was telling the truth. There is blame on both sides. And we have eyewitness descriptions and photographic evidence to back it up.
This evidence hasn't been very widely publicized by our fourth estate because it contradicts the narrative they wish to purvey which is that the protestors were ugly Nazi brown-shirts and the counter-protestors were gentle clergy, nuns, and grandparents. In fact, the eyewitness testimony gives a fuller picture of the composition of the counter-protestors and the violence they inflicted that the progressive media has largely, but not entirely, ignored:
New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, for one, attested: “The hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right,” she tweeted. “I saw club-wielding ‘antifa’ beating white nationalists being led out of the park.” If there were any doubt as to whether the Left were committing violence that day, Stolberg later clarified: “[I] should have said violent, not hate-filled.”

Another eyewitness report comes from Isabella Ciambotti, a creative writing major from the University of Virginia [who was herself a counter-protestor]. Speaking to The New York Times, Ciambotti testified that at one point “a counterprotestor ripped a newspaper stand off the sidewalk and threw it at alt-right protesters.” Photographic evidence confirms Ciambotti’s account.

Raw footage of the moment the counterprotestor threw the box is inconclusive but strongly suggests the counterprotester was unprovoked at the time. Further raw footage shows counterprotesters hurling objects at white supremacists and neo-Nazis while the latter simply stand there a good distance apart from the crowd.

Ciambotti also claims to have witnessed “another man from the white supremacist crowd being chased and beaten.” Additionally she saw “a much older man, also with the alt-right group, [who] got pushed to the ground in the commotion. Someone raised a stick over his head and beat the man with it.” Ciambotti claims to have intervened before the beating could continue further.

According to Jake Tapper of CNN the leftists also physically assaulted journalists who tried to record the violence.

Payne continues:
The fact that our media dedicated an entire news cycle to Trump’s truthful statement on the matter is staggering. This was not necessary. There were plenty of things the media could have criticized in Trump’s press conference. He asserts, for instance, that “very fine people” marched with the white supremacists and Nazis, people “that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue.”

Maybe this is true, but there is no evidence that the statue protest was made up of anything other than paranoid racists. Trump should not have made this statement unless he was willing to provide proof to back it up.

Yet he also told the press: “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally.” This, according to Vox, constitutes Trump “offering comfort to racists and extremists.”

Trump makes a lot of mistakes. Some are minor, some major. In that, he is like every president who has ever held the position. Sometimes he gets things right, too—-as he did blaming the Charlottesville street violence on “both sides.”
Truth and objectivity are very difficult to espy in our current political reportage. Too many editors, journalists, talking heads and television news producers have adopted a pragmatic understanding of truth that justifies them to themselves when they tell only one side of a story. They've embraced the post-modern notion, widely held on the left, that truth is whatever works to achieve one's purposes. If the purpose is to discredit and ultimately remove Trump from office, then any account of events which accomplishes that goal is justified and "true" regardless of how well it corresponds to the actual facts.

Payne concludes with this:
The media’s responsibility, if it even cares anymore, is to learn how to tell the difference between the things he does right, the small mistakes he makes, and the big blunders he commits. Currently the media are apparently incapable of telling the difference between all three: it’s one and the same to them, no matter what he does, no matter what he says.

This is a dismal situation for Americans to be in. We have newsmakers whose only professional function these days seems to be whipping tens of millions of people into angry, irrational frenzies. They do not seem to care about the truth. They do not seem to care about honesty, integrity, or accuracy. We are lurching from one shrieking, insane media episode to the next. And it is wearing on all of us, and weakening the bonds of fellowship and friendship between common Americans.
Those last few sentences are certainly true, and maybe that's the whole point - weakening the bonds of fellowship and friendship between common Americans.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Racial Bigotry at Sojourners

Sojourners touts itself as a magazine of Christian love, reconciliation and Christ-like compassion. So why do they publish the sort of ugly, hate-filled rhetoric David Potter delivers to his readers in a recent edition of the magazine?

In the course of a piece on Charlottesville and white supremacy Potter decides that limiting himself to condemning white supremacists imposes too narrow a scope for his purposes. He pulls out all the stops and seizes his opportunity to indict the entire white race:
[I]t is imperative that white people understand that the construct of whiteness is a disease. In baring [sic] the brutalizing effects of whiteness, people of color are all too familiar with the reality that the overwhelming majority of domestic terrorism is committed by white men: the Oklahoma City bombing, the massacre at Emmanuel AME, the stabbing attack on a Portland train earlier this spring, and the Charlottesville car ramming that injured 19 counter-protestors and murdered Heather Heyer. That white men have the highest suicide rate, accounting for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015, provides further symptoms of this sickness.
Set aside the dubious claims about domestic terrorism and the peculiar interjection of the suicide rate and focus instead on what this writer claims about being white: Whiteness, he avers, is a disease. White people are sick.

Imagine saying anything remotely like that about blacks or Arabs, Jews or Asians. It would surely get the writer fired from many publications or opinion outlets. Yet it's apparently acceptable to voice this sort of bigotry at Sojourners. It's very sad that a putatively Christian magazine allows its pages to be disgraced by this sort of vitriolic small-mindedness.

If Potter thinks that telling people that they're diseased by virtue of their race will cause them to suddenly become more receptive to pleas for racial comity and reconciliation then he couldn't be more mistaken.

If he doesn't really care whether white readers become more interested in racial harmony and just wants to vent his own hatreds, prejudices and frustrations then he couldn't be acting less Christianly.

I don't know whether Potter is black or white, but it doesn't matter. It's columns like his which drive people into the arms of the white supremacists, and, ironically enough, language and insults such as he employs are the very sort of repulsive rhetoric employed by the neo-Nazis and other bigots who demonstrated in Charlottesville.

Perhaps Mr. Potter will have the grace to print a clarification or retraction, but if not, he has shown himself to have more in common with those whom he claims to be repelled by than he is evidently aware.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pull Down Darwin, Too?

In an article for the Evening Standard journalist A.N. Wilson, who has a biography of Charles Darwin due for release next month, notes that Darwin's statue is prominently situated in the Natural History Museum in London.

In the article he goes on to discuss two of Darwin's big ideas and writes this:
Darwin’s second big idea was that Nature is always ruthless: that the strong push out the weak, that compassion and compromise are for [s]issies whom Nature throws to the wall. Darwin borrowed the phrase “survival of the fittest” from the now forgotten and much discredited philosopher Herbert Spencer.

He invented a consolation myth for the selfish class to which he belonged, to persuade them that their neglect of the poor, and the colossal gulf between them and the poor, was the way Nature intended things. He thought his class would outbreed the “savages” (ie the brown peoples of the globe) and the feckless, drunken Irish.

Stubbornly, the unfittest survived. Brown, Jewish and Irish people had more babies than the Darwin class. The Darwinians then had to devise the hateful pseudo-science of eugenics, which was a scheme to prevent the poor from breeding.

We all know where that led, and the uses to which the National Socialists put Darwin’s dangerous ideas.
To be sure, Darwin was opposed to slavery but not because he recognized the equality of the races. He clearly believed that whites were more highly evolved than, and in many ways superior to, blacks and famously elaborates on that belief in his Descent of Man:
At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. [Emphasis mine]
Such passages from Darwin arguably provided more ammunition for the pernicious propaganda of white supremacists in the 19th and 20th centuries than did any Confederate soldier or officer. When the mobs get done purging our public spaces of all the monuments to these relatively inconsequential figures perhaps they'll turn their attention toward those whose ideas really count.

On the other hand, Darwin, despite his racist views, is a revered saint on the left so his memorials are probably safe.

Equally secure are any memorials to Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, whose ambition it was to limit the production of black babies. Sanger is also a progressive saint so the mob won't be looking for her portraits to deface and burn.

It's too bad for those saddened to see the assaults on Robert E. Lee's monuments that Lee was never able to declare himself to be a Darwinian or pro-choice. If he had, ironically, his statues would be safe today.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Slippery Slopes

So leftist protestors have started pulling down statues of confederate soldiers who fought to defend the right of a state to practice slavery. Whatever one thinks of the propriety of this destruction, whatever one thinks of those who engaged in the buying and selling of human beings, one has to wonder where it will all end.

If monuments of those who fought on behalf of the south in the 1860s are to be destroyed, will all the monuments in cities like Richmond and at civil war battlefields like Gettysburg be pulled down as well? If not, why not?

If monuments of confederate soldiers, most of whom themselves never owned slaves, are no longer tolerable on the American landscape what about monuments to men who actually bought, sold, and owned slaves? Shall we destroy the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.? Shall we change the name of the Washington Monument? Indeed, should we change the name of the city itself?

What about the state of Washington? How can the citizens of that reliably liberal enclave suffer to have the place in which they live be named for a slave-holder? What about all the universities and colleges and towns across the land named for Washington and Jefferson and other slave-owners? Should not their names be changed as well and the portraits and statues of these men removed?

How about the University of Virginia which was founded by Thomas Jefferson? Is it not sufficiently tainted by its association with its slave-owner founder that it should be closed down? And what should we do with the Constitution and Declaration of Independence which were written by slave-owners? Should they not be torn up and re-written?

While we're at it how can we abide having portraits of Washington and Jefferson on our currency and on Mount Rushmore? And speaking of our currency what's Andrew Jackson's portrait doing on the $20 bill? Jackson perpetrated one of the worst atrocities in our history when he evicted the Cherokees from Georgia. Shouldn't he be expunged from our historical consciousness as well?

Furthermore, consistency demands that the Democratic Party should, at the very least, be compelled to change its name since under that name it has historically been home to all of the major racists in our nation's past. Why don't those who insist on tearing down statues of Civil War soldiers, and those who support them, take their reasoning to its logical conclusion and insist that we do away with the very name of the party of George Wallace, Woodrow Wilson, Bull Connor and FDR who interned thousands of Japanese Americans during WWII?

The first step on a slippery slope - in this case the destruction of Confederate monuments - is always the easiest, but after the first step the logic upon which it was based makes it increasingly more difficult to find a place to stop the slide into sheer madness and mindlessness.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Value of Lecture

Students and teachers among Viewpoint readers might be interested in a column at the New York Times by Molly Worthen, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina. The column is about the value of lectures in college classes, a topic about which there's quite a diversity of opinion.

After introducing her essay by quoting some instructors who eschew lecture in favor of "active learning" and think others should, too, Worthen writes:
In many quarters, the active learning craze is only the latest development in a long tradition of complaining about boring professors, flavored with a dash of that other great American pastime, populist resentment of experts. But there is an ominous note in the most recent chorus of calls to replace the “sage on the stage” with student-led discussion. These criticisms intersect with a broader crisis of confidence in the humanities. They are an attempt to further assimilate history, philosophy, literature and their sister disciplines to the goals and methods of the hard sciences — fields whose stars are rising in the eyes of administrators, politicians and higher-education entrepreneurs.

In the humanities, there are sound reasons for sticking with the traditional model of the large lecture course combined with small weekly discussion sections. Lectures are essential for teaching the humanities’ most basic skills: comprehension and reasoning, skills whose value extends beyond the classroom to the essential demands of working life and citizenship.
I wonder how many critics of lecture have in their minds a picture of something like a prof I had as an undergrad who, at the beginning of class, would sit on his desk, pull a lectern in front of him, and proceed to read his lecture from a series of blue books in which the lectures were recorded word for word.

This, I know, is how many scholars at professional conferences present their papers, and it's pretty much a waste of time for the listeners who could simply read the paper for themselves.

Worthen continues:
Those who want to abolish the lecture course do not understand what a lecture is. A lecture is not the declamation of an encyclopedia article. In the humanities, a lecture “places a premium on the connections between individual facts,” Monessa Cummins, the chairwoman of the classics department and a popular lecturer at Grinnell College, told me. “It is not a recitation of facts, but the building of an argument.”

Absorbing a long, complex argument is hard work, requiring students to synthesize, organize and react as they listen. In our time, when any reading assignment longer than a Facebook post seems ponderous, students have little experience doing this. Some research suggests that minority and low-income students struggle even more. But if we abandon the lecture format because students may find it difficult, we do them a disservice.

Moreover, we capitulate to the worst features of the customer-service mentality that has seeped into the university from the business world. The solution, instead, is to teach those students how to gain all a great lecture course has to give them.
It is indeed hard work to listen to an hour-long lecture, but the discipline it instills and the skills it develops are immensely valuable.
Listening continuously and taking notes for an hour is an unusual cognitive experience for most young people. Professors should embrace — and even advertise — lecture courses as an exercise in mindfulness and attention building, a mental workout that counteracts the junk food of non-stop social media. More and more of my colleagues are banning the use of laptops in their classrooms.

They say that despite initial grumbling, students usually praise the policy by the end of the semester. “I think the students value a break from their multitasking lives,” Andrew Delbanco, a professor of American Studies at Columbia University and an award-winning teacher, told me. “The classroom is an unusual space for them to be in: Here’s a person talking about complicated ideas and challenging books and trying not to dumb them down, not playing for laughs, requiring 60 minutes of focused attention.”
For my part, I don't think 60 minutes of non-stop lecture is particularly efficacious. The instructor needs to pause from time to time and let students digest what they've heard, to be questioned and to ask questions. Their opinions on the issues under discussion should be solicited and challenged and students should be encouraged to defend their views.

Many students, unfortunately, either have no questions or opinions or are reluctant to voice them, but those who do, learn.

One of the dismaying aspects of this approach, though, is that students frequently expect their opinions to be accepted tout court and to be immune to challenge. If the prof does press them on their view, or evinces some disagreement, students sometimes interpret this as a sign that they're not free in class to voice their thoughts. In other words, they see having their views challenged as a form of "put-down" when, of course, it's not that at all. It's simply an attempt to prod the student to sharpen his or her arguments, to express them in a rational fashion rather than simply emoting, and to think more deeply about what they believe.

Worthen goes on to talk about another valuable discipline: Note-taking. This is a skill that, for whatever reason, fewer and fewer students seem to have developed in high school, but in my opinion it's one of the major keys to student success in many college courses.

There's much else of interest to both teachers and students in her column, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Shapiro on the Alt-Right

In the wake of Charlottesville Ben Shapiro fired off a series of tweets about the alt-right which I wish to almost completely affirm. Shapiro's tweets are in italics accompanied by my comments:

1. The so-called alt-right is an evil movement having nothing to do with - and actively opposing - Constitutional conservatism.

Any movement based on hatred is evil. The alt-right is not evil because they're nationalistic although that could be troubling. They're evil because they wear the mantle of the nazis and the nazi ideology of racial purity which leads almost inevitably to racial-cleansing.

2. They've done an excellent job, with the media's ignorant help, of portraying themselves as large and powerful.

I don't know how many of them there are, but I suspect there are many more who sympathize with them than actually belong to any organization.

3. And broadening their definition to include anyone who is anti-establishment .... That's not what they are.

This is one of the frustrating things about the progressive media. They constantly commit the fallacy of undistributed middle, i.e. they assume that because group A shares certain beliefs in common with group B that therefore the two groups are identical. It's like arguing that because dogs and cats both have four legs that therefore dogs are cats. The fact that conservatives favor some of the things the alt-right favors does not entail that conservatives are alt-right.

4. The alt-right has a very definite philosophy, articulated by people like Spencer, Taylor, and Vox Day. 5. And excused and popularized by people like Milo Yiannopoulos. They were successful online in convincing key figures that they were 6. An important constituency. Immoral politicians and advisors then made the conscious decision not to carve them off. 7. Yes, that includes Trump and Bannon.

This was indeed a mistake on Trump's part which it's not too late to rectify. Barack Obama stood by Rev. Wright for years until Wright's rhetoric made the association untenable. Trump should completely dissociate himself from any support alt-right individuals like David Duke may be giving him. If that costs him support in the polls, so be it. It's the right thing to do. It's perhaps worth noting that despite the awful rhetoric from some elements in the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent murders of police officers, the left never really pushed Obama to disavow BLM, but they're certainly critical of Trump for not more explicitly separating himself from the alt-right.

8. Three elements assure their continued growth: pandering politicians and media figures catering to or ignoring them [i.e. the alt-right], and 9. Left-wingers labeling all right-wingers alt-right and therefore leading innocent people to believe that alt-right Judy means right.

See #3.

10. And left-wing violent groups like Antifa that drive fools into the belief that anyone who fights Antifa is necessarily an ally [of the alt-right].

11. We're watching a tiny microcosm replay of brownshirts vs. reds in Weimar Germany. They're even carrying the same flags.

This is precisely right. There's no substantive difference between the alt-right and the far left. They're both steeped in hatred and both would impose a socialist totalitarian tyranny if they could. The only differences between fascists and communists is that fascists are more militaristic, racist and nationalist (blood and soil) while communists are less fond of overt military trappings, base their hatreds more on class and religion rather than race, and are more globalist. Otherwise, the neo-nazis in Charlottesville and the left-wing protestors in Hamburg and elsewhere are simply two sides of the same coin. They're equally noxious. Given power they would both oppress the groups they hate or, if history is a guide, seek to slaughter them.

12. And leadership in media and especially the White House must actively and thunderously condemn the evil we're watching metastasize.

Trump's response yesterday has been criticized because he didn't explicitly condemn white supremacists and other fascists. I think this is unfair, but even so, the Charlottesville marchers and their ilk, like their counterparts on the left, do need to be explicitly and specifically deplored.

It would be nice, though, if the people so outraged at Trump's measured response yesterday had been as critical of Obama for his disappointing unwillingness to call Islamic-inspired domestic terrorism by its name as well as his failure to dissociate himself from the hateful rhetoric of certain elements of BLM instead of inviting them to the White House.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Few Rarities

Nature enthusiasts have been treated to several avian rarities in Pennsylvania this summer, and since it's been awhile since I've posted anything on birds I thought I'd share the news about these feathered visitors. None of the photos below are of the actual birds found in Pennsylvania this summer, but they are pics of birds of the same species.

The first is a Roseate spoonbill which inhabits wetlands along the coast in the southern states but rarely ventures as far north as the mid-atlantic region and even more rarely as far inland as Pennsylvania.

Even so, there were two of them present in the state last month within forty miles of each other. One of them is still here. Notice the oddly shaped bill which the spoonbill uses to push mud around as it probes for insects, worms, and other delicacies:

Roseate spoonbill
The second is a small heron that also is found along the southern coasts and very rarely inland this far north. Yet there was one, and maybe two of these birds in PA at the end of July as well.

It's called a Tricolored heron and the reason I said that there may have been two of them is that when one bird was no longer being seen a second one was discovered at a lake only about twenty miles away from where the first was originally found.

Tricolored heron
The third visitor is the most remarkable. It's called a White-winged tern and it's indigenous to eastern Europe and central Asia:

Yellow is its breeding range. Blue is where it winters
How this lovely bird found its way to a small lake in the mountains of north central Pennsylvania this week is a mystery, but its striking black and white plumage and extreme rarity (it may be the only Pennsylvania White-winged tern on record) have been delighting birders and photographers who've been making the trek to Tioga Co. to see it for several days now:

White-winged tern
The natural world is full of beautiful jewels, and birds are among its most gorgeous treasures. To see these creatures in real life can sometimes take one's breath away.