Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why This Race Is Close

Ohio's gubernatorial race is amazingly close, with alternative polls providing alternative views as to which candidate, incumbent Ted Strickland or challenger John Kasich, leads.

On the one hand, this is no surprise, given Ohio's recent political history. On the other hand, it's a big surprise when one considers the national anti-incumbent mood, the unpopularity of every nationally visible Democrat, Strickland's own rapidly-rising disapproval numbers, and the miserable economic conditions in Ohio, all of which should have the colorless and clueless Strickland deep in the 30-percents.

What keeps afloat the man most famous for awkward nodding while Hillary Clinton derided BHO's lack of experience?

We figure two things, one of which may make the difference in November.

The economic and political landscape of Ohio continues to be polluted with the outsized influence of labor unions committed to the kind of economic inefficiency that retards the state's economic prosperity. That these groups are powerful in Ohio and hugely active politically, especially since 2006, is no big secret. Ohio's old manufacturing areas don't know it, but these unions are now playing on their historic loyalty to push for a new unionized economy, focused on government jobs of the kind that now comprise the majority of those held by union-represented workers. Unions are the paymasters of Democrats, especially in Ohio.

We happen to think that the non-union strongholds of Ohio--Columbus, Cincinnati, and rural areas--can offset union bastions like Cleveland, Toledo, Dayton, and Akron-Canton-Massillon, just as they have in the past. Strickland's distinct edge comes from elsewhere.

Two weeks ago the National Rifle Association endorsed Democrat Ted Strickland. Those with an ear to the ground in Ohio weren't surprised: the NRA has been badmouthing John Kasich for years, thanks to his willingness in Congress to vote in favor of certain bills supported by the NRA. Strickland, who rose through the ranks in an utterly rural congressional district, has cultivated a 100% rating from the gun guys.

And Ohio's gun enthusiasts are listening. We are well acquainted with an Ohio family, utterly devoted to Tea Party dogma, but utterly opposed to Kasich precisely because he is "opposed to the Second Amendment." We're not sure how peoople with more firearms in their house than the SWNIDs have tablespoons believes that the right to keep and bear arms is threatened, but we've never credited people for much rationality where their fears are concerned.

So if in two years Ohioans are still watching the governor insist that higher taxes are the best way to ensure the state's economic growth, you'll know who to thank.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I Don't Micromanage

No one ever does, by her own description. Yet everyone complains of being micromanaged. How so?

The PA state legislature is giving us yet another example. Included in the fine print of a recent law governing its state university system is a requirement that professors choose as textbooks the least expensive, educationally sound book available.

Right! Thanks for that good advice, Madam Legislator! There's $5 difference between this book and another one, so we're legally obligated to select the cheaper one, as long as it's "educationally sound," whatever standard that implies to whoever is in charge of applying such standards.

Legislators want to do something in response to parents who have written to them demanding that they do something about the ridiculous cost of textbooks. Legislators, by nature pleasers, make a law, by definition what they do.

The result is a dog's breakfast of rules that can't be defined and enforced but will make for more dissatisfaction and probably legal action down the road. No longer a republic of citizens, we prefer to be a bureaucracy of rulemakers, clerks and clients.

We will try to restrain our Schadenfreude that protests now arise from the state university community, commonly so devoted to the idea of better and better regulation of economic choices.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Why Religion Is Not Inherently Delusional

Antitheist celebrity author Richard Dawkins fashions theism a delusion and famously remarked that Antony Flew's adoption of theistic belief must be the consequence of dementia.

Psychologist Matt Rosano offers a nice response, noted in Science and Religion Today, under the title Why Religion Is Not Inherently Delusional.

We like his tidy comparison between religions that exist in community and delusions that are held by individuals.

We Blame Global Warming Redux

The allegation that St. Al Gore is a horn-dog must be judged unsubstantiated at this point.

But it also appears to be unremarkable. No one at this stage is surprised that the tortured Mr. Gore, addicted to public acclaim to medicate his feelings of failure in relation to his late father, might also be addicted to panky of the hanky variety.

Like a vuvuzela, we again sound a single note on stories of this kind:

Because Gore is a Democrat, no one is especially disturbed by stories of sexcapades. If he were a Republican, he'd be in the stocks in the public square, pelted with overripe cabbages.

This is as it should be. Rs at least claim to have standards and so should be held to them. Ds are proud to be unburdened by such.

Left tarnished in such affairs is the Democratic Party's insistence that it is the advocate for the rights and needs of women, though at this stage the only people who can be blamed for the ongoing existence of such a claim are partisan feminists so marginalized in the body politic as to be beneath negligible. Since an unsolicited tongue-kiss is no impediment to a politician's delivering favors to clients, such distasteful behavior is greeted with profound apathy by those inclined to support Andrew Jackson's patronage machine.

Standing Tall for the Faith

Manute Bol died too young.

He died in large part because he contracted a miserable skin disease while doing relief work in his native Sudan.

Previously he had marketed his post-NBA persona in clownish fashion--to finance his relief work.

Previously he had spent his NBA fortune--to finance his relief work.

Minute Bol believed that Jesus of Nazareth s God incarnate who died willingly for the sake of undeserving people. Hence, his own highly counter-instinctive life and death.

Read about it in WSJ's weekly "Houses of Worship" column.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Generals, Presidents, Packs of Dogs, Evil Geniuses

BHO's acceptance of Gen. McChrystal's resignation is, of course, big news, being compared to the classic presidential dressings-down of noisy, wayward generals. We offer a couple of noisy, wayward observations in response.

First, to McChrystal's behavior.

Some folks have compared McChrystal to MacArthur or McClellan.* We think that comparison is rather less than precise. Nothing in the Rolling Stone piece constitutes a criticism of BHO's strategy (which was, after all, McChrystal's strategy), and the worst that was said about his person was that he appeared uncomfortable in conference with generals. McChrystal's infamous predecessors, on the other hand, publicly blamed their Commander-in-Chief for mishandling a war. Big difference there.

We think McChrystal and his staff are better compared to a pack of dogs. Domesticated dogs that are docile and well behaved when alone will do all kinds of mischief if they join up with three or four other dogs and run free. Likewise, thoughtful, polite individuals will often "let their hair down," which is to say they will say almost anything, when in the company of a band of likeminded people whom they expect to share their impolite sentiments and even laugh at the same.

That's what McChrystal and entourage did. And stupidly, they did it in the company of a reporter. From Rolling Stone. That's how powerful this impulse can be.

On the side, the Stone reporter deserves praise for insinuating himself into after-hours bull sessions of senior military personnel. That's an amazing feat. We should put this guy on Bin Laden's trail.

Further on McChrystal, we understand that among his professional associates he was known for a contemptuous attitude toward civilians. Whether this is the case or not, we note a tendency of many professionals to disparage folks outside their profession. Such behavior strikes us as compensation. We have special scorn for members of our profession, the clergy, who act as if their calling is somehow exalted in a way that gives license to cavalier denigration of laypeople. It is unseemly in the extreme for proclaimers of the crucified Christ to puff themselves up by praising the preaching profession profusely while perpetually pillorying parishoners.

On this point, BHO is condemned as well. His blue-ribbon commission to examine the Gulf oil spill, as has been widely reported, includes all kinds of environmental advocates but not one person the least bit conversant with the actual technology of oil drilling. If this does not demonstrate a kind of ideologically reinforced professional tribalism, we don't know what does. Oh, and don't miss the reappearance of the "open minded, as long as . . ." trope, as BHO proclaims he'll listen to suggestions on managing the spill and regulating the industry from any political party, as long as the suggestion deals comprehensively with the problem and assures us that such disasters will never happen again.

On to BHO's response to McChrystal. Already the paranoid congregants of the conservative wing are imagining that BHO appointed David Petraeus to the Afghan command deliberately so that, overburdened with simultaneous Centcom command and saddled with a totally unreasonable pledge of withdrawal in thirteen months, Petraeus will fail, discrediting himself, the military and the war effort and thereby assuring for a generation that our Republic will run its armed forces as John Murtha intended--as a federal jobs program without the threat of mobilization, as in Vietnam's aftermath. Such scenarios are nonsense, demonstrated so by the length of the sentence that describes the notion.

Well, say the alarmed, are you sure that isn't the case? The answer is yes, SWNID by definition is sure. But we offer reasons:
  • Right now, BHO needs some level of success in Afghanistan, and he'll continue to need it past November. He knows enough to remember what happened to his hero, Lyndon Johnson, through mishandling of a war.
  • BHO deserves credit for making a smart choice in Petraeus, who is probably the last American with the public's confidence.
  • Petraeus deserves credit too. He didn't get where he is without learning how to delegate. Centcom and Afghanistan operations will be in his hands at the top, but he'll figure out how to do two jobs with the people who report to him.
  • BHO is by no means enough of a genius to be as clever an as the allegation alleges. We urge the more rabid supporters of conservatism not to vacillate wildly between ascribing clueless idiocy and mendacious brilliance to Mr. Obama.
In that regard, we give BHO some credit for learning on the job. It took him the better part of a year to decide what to do in Afghanistan, after having campaigned for two years insisting that the Afghan war had been shamefully neglected. On this matter, he shortened the window of military decision to two days. That's a signal accomplishment, even if he really had no choice at all.

For a substantial thought on McChrystal, Petraeus, Afghanistan and even Obama, we recommend the sublime Max Boot.

*We have yet to see a discussion, in light of this historical sample, of Scottish heritage as an explanation of anger-management issues.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Related, Untold Stories

Fact: While the recession has trimmed payrolls in the private sector, government employment--measured by number employed and wages paid--has remained steady or increased.

Fact: Over the last decades, as private-sector salaries and wages have at best grown slowly, government jobs have paid better and better, so that now government jobs consistently pay more than comparable private-sector jobs.

Fact: These developments are largely the consequence of the stewardship of our Republic's public-sector employee unions, the SEIU, AFSCME, NEA and AFT most prominently.

Fact: Unions representing public employees gave hundreds of millions to elect BHO in 2008.

Fact: Federal anti-recession stimulus funds have been largely directed to maintaining the employment and remuneration of public-sector employees, and BHO wants more of the same.

Fact: Innumerable states and municipalities are going broke paying for lavish pensions granted to retired public employees, many of whom are young enough to take new jobs as public employees while receiving their pensions.

Fact: Polls show that voters are figuring all this out. To wit, Rs lead or are even with Ds in the governor's races of all the big states electing governors this year, with the exception of New York, where Andrew Cuomo (D-Shapeshifting) is running on a platform proclaiming that government, meaning state government bloated with massive costs for its employees and pensioners.

To read more: check out the ever-relevant Michael Barone.

Moral: All the misgivings once offered against the unionization of public employees are now manifesting themselves in actual experience, as is the wisdom of the proverb that one can often have anything one wants but never everything that one wants.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We Blame Global Warming

We've been restrained on the announcement that the Gores are splitting. As the drama unfolds, we now have a tabloid's allegation of adultery and a categorical denial of the same. Whatever.

Now time for the insightful comment. The Gores' behavior as a couple in the 2000 campaign was dreadfully embarrassing. Thought to be proving his machismo and his superiority to Slick Willie, Al, with Tipper's apparent consent, elevated PDA to a campaign tactic more prominent than impatient, condescending sighing during televised debates.

Who was not reminded in those days in high school and college when the somewhat socially awkward guys constantly displayed their animal magnetism with their significant other? Shouts of "get a room" resonated across the Democratic National Convention's floor as Mr. and Mrs. Nominee staged a Big, Wet One. Even the Reagans, never ashamed to publicize their devotion to each other, didn't do the quadralabial click in public.

They call it compensation, and in our view it happens a lot. This was yet another sad instance. It doesn't surprise us at all that a couple "so much in love" has now split up. Love is not boastful, proud, rude or self seeking, or so we heard once.

Politicians of the future, when asking yourselves how to behave in public with your conjugal partner, ask the question that always leads to a wise conclusion: What would Calvin Coolidge do?

Obama's Oblong Oval Office Oration

We didn't watch the Presidential Address last night. Did you?

We have caught some excerpts.

We wonder what powers our Republic's President has to order a corporation to create an escrow account administered by a third party. We wonder also what powers our Republic's President has to assign liability for a presidential action--ordering a moratorium on offshore drilling--to a private corporation.

We understood the President to be deeply concerned about due process for terrorist suspects. We suppose we should be heartened that corporations--which by current dogma are not people and so have no rights--are bereft of due-process consideration. An act of war can be criminally prosecuted. A negligence tort is a casus belli. It's so wonderful to have a constitutional law professor in charge of the world.

If someone wanted to write a speech that would subtly reinforce the notion that BHO is at once grandiose in his self-evaluation and clueless about actual issues, we think this speech was probably unsurpassable.

Even Chris "Tingle Up My Leg" Matthews thought this was a stinker. Comparisons to Carter are now taking hold.

Or banana-republic strongmen: see the irrepressible Ben Stein's exceptionally restrained essay offering such.

Gaza Convoy: Israel Must Be Perfect

Here's a video, clearly produced with a bias toward Israel but nevertheless offering as vivid a summary as one can imagine as to why Israeli commandos used lethal force after boarding the ships of the so-called Gaza relief convoy.

If even some of this is correct, it reinforces something we've thought for awhile.

Much global reaction to Israel is grounded in old-fashioned antisemitism. Some of it is grounded in fatigue over the intransigence of Middle Eastern conflict. Some is pure contrarianism: the desire to take the side opposite that of one's peers.

But somewhere in the middle of all this is the belief that Israel can somehow preserve its life and limb while at the same time placating its fanatical Islamic opponents if it simply acts with optimal wisdom and discretion. How many pundits after the raid affirmed that Israel ought to monitor shipments into Gaza but carped that the Netanyahu government simply was going too far in doing that?

We think in this respect the Israelis are in large part the victims of their own success. From the Six Day War to the Yom Kippur War to the Entebbe Raid to the airstrike on Saddam's nuclear facility, Israeli intelligence and military forces established an impressive record, much to the relief of the world's democracies who stood on the sidelines while totalitarian regimes did what such regimes do.

Now, to do anything less than picture perfect is for Israel to fail.

We note that Ted Williams struck out 709 times in his major league career.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Embarrassment-a-Minute Campaign of Rand Paul

So what does the latest mala-Paul-ism say about KY GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul? That he's every bit the quixotic, individualist rebel that we would expect him to be.

For those who rely entirely on SWNID not just to interpret the news but also to report it: Dr. Paul has not been certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology, the nationally recognized certifier of eye doctors which certifies over 95% of the nation's ophthalmologists, in over a decade. In protest of that organization's post-1992 policy to require recertification of doctors joining after 1992 but grandfathering in those who received lifetime certification under the pre-1992 rules, Paul formed his own organization to certify eye specialists. He's the prez, his wife is the vice prez, and his wife's father is the secretary.

Paul says that his opponent's raising this issue is an attack on Paul's ability to earn a living.

There's the report. Here's the interpretation.

We figure that this has nothing to do with Paul's ability as an eye doctor. He had no record of problems with the ABO before he formed a rival organization, and he's OK with the KY medical board, so that much is probably enough to indicate to voters that he's not a quack. If he were a bad doctor, he'd have a record of litigation that would already be thoroughly exploited by his political opponents, for they are many.

What he is, however, is, like his father, impressed with his individuality and principled propriety. He didn't respond to an ABO policy with which he disagreed by staying engaged with the organization to change it. He just left and set up a rival organization, one that probably counts as members about as many people as one could get at a typical Libertarian Party fundraiser. For Paul, it's more important to take what he fancies a strong personal stand than to actually change something that exists.

SWNID lives in a world parallel to Paul's, as far as certification goes. Accreditation for IHEs is akin to certification for docs: voluntary organizations of practitioners band together to establish and enforce standards of mutual accountability. Because such ventures are voluntary and cooperative, not all agree to the standards and practices. Some disagree because they know they could never meet the standards; others, out of what seems to be principled--the suspicion that the organization has become misguided.

So in higher ed there exist IHEs that do not seek accreditation. Many gravitate to nonstandard accrediting agencies (called "nonstandard" because they aren't widely recognized, though by coincidence many have extremely lax standards). These are largely the institutions that don't measure up. Others declare their principled intention not to seek accreditation, to avoid the interference and entanglements that they allege such relationships produce.

As a practitioner of higher education, SWNID eschews such isolationism. Presently we can't name a recognized accreditor whose standards are unreasonable or whose pattern of practice interferes with an institution's pursuit of its mission, though we might someday modify that judgment. To the very limited degree that such conditions do or might exist, we believe it more important to belong to the organization and thereby influence its direction than refuse the association in order to posture as particularly possessing personal purity. That's why we routinely warn students not to pursue degrees from unaccredited institutions while quietly urging those who on historic principle eschew accreditation to reevaluate based on the facts and opportunities.

Paul is almost certainly of the postured-principled type, not the hiding-inadequacy type. The issue isn't that he's incompetent; it's that he's full of himself.

So here's what KY voters can expect of Senator Paul: lots of individual declaiming about things that no one else cares about, lots of votes against measures supported by 90-plus Senators, lots of talk about introducing measures that won't even be considered by committees, let alone get voted on (e.g., gold standard and dissolution of the Fed), not one bit of significant legislation co-sponsored, let alone written and shepherded through the deliberately arduous process once celebrated by Schoolhouse Rock in the Dave Frishberg classic "I'm Just a Bill."

In sum, they'll get a Senator who will exceed Jim Bunning for irrelevance. And, it should be noted, Bunning did agree to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame without protesting the questionable standards of that organization that has honored so few shortstops.

But, as the informercials say, there's more. This episode also reveals that Paul has an exceptionally thin skin, resembling BHO in that inglorious respect. So someone calls attention to the fact that he has irregular certification in his profession, and Paul calls it an attack on his ability to earn a living (something to which he seems to be insecurely devoted, as he has pre-announced his intention to stay busy as a practitioner while representing his state in the Senate). Hyperbole is hardly the most effective way to respond publicly to something that is personal, and this is hardly personal at all. It's as if Paul is assuming that his patients wouldn't know the significance of certification were Evil Democrats not drawing attention to it. Again, it's all about him, in that odd combination of libertarianism and narcissism typified by someone else named Rand.

Yes, we know that Paul is strong on fiscal sanity, a most needed perspective these days. The problem is that his political modus operandi is more likely to marginalize fiscal restraint than to promote it. He and his dad may be good at getting elected, but they're demonstrably terrible at influencing governance. Idiosyncrasy is highly counterproductive in the social drama we call politics. Posers don't change reality because they don't deal in it. But they look marvelous while being irrelevant.

Sure-to-Be-Over-Interpreted Local Event

For several years, one of the most frequent search-engine searches leading to SWNID has been an image search for the ginormous Jesus statue at Greater Cincinnati's Solid Rock Church.

Now that image search will assume historical significance. A portentous lightning strike last night ignited the statue, made to last with materials including styrofoam and fiberglass. Today, nothing remains except the steel skeleton. (Click picture for full view: our HTML skilz do not extend to formatting this graphic properly.)

For gentle readers who are also pyros, here's what seems to be the most graphic video of the event:

We refuse to speculate on the significance of this ominous episode, all such speculation sure to follow paths so well worn as to exceed description as hackneyed.

Instead, we offer a prediction: Darlene Bishop, whose surname roughly describes her role as co-pastor of Solid Rock, will begin raising money for a replacement statue, even more outsided and tasteless than the last, immediately.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

ObamaCare's Already-Roosting Chickens Squawk, "We Told You So"

BHO: If you like your present healthcare plan, you'll get to keep it.


Internal White House documents reveal that 51% of employers may have to relinquish their current health care coverage by 2013 due to ObamaCare. That numbers soars to 66% for small-business employers.

The documents — product of a joint project of the Labor Department, the Health and Human Services Department and the IRS — examine the effects new regulations would have on existing, or “grandfathered,” employer-based health care plans.

BHO: Projected savings on Medicare will help to pay for ObamaCare.


President Obama called Saturday for Congress to avert a planned 21 percent pay cut for doctors who see Medicare patients, saying the move, which would cost taxpayers billions of dollars, is necessary to insure the health of older Americans. . . .

With Medicare costs — and the federal deficit — spiraling out of control, how to fix that formula became one of the most contentious questions of last year’s health debate, but the fix did not get incorporated into the landmark health overhaul that Mr. Obama signed into law. The president acknowledged that putting the question off again by simply restoring doctors’ pay for another year is not the answer.

Put differently: not as advertised, but definitely as predicted.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Latest and Best Step to Reduce Fossil-Fuel Dependency

The impressive Megabus now announces the opening of a new hub in the City of Brotherly Love. The highly nimble, highly successful interstate bus company is obviously succeeding in its goal to get people who would otherwise drive to park their cars and enjoy express bus service on a double-decker with WiFi, movies, music and comfort.

We meanwhile update our previous reviews by stating that we now have significant anecdotal testimony from experienced riders that Megabus is offering excellent, even improving service that delights its customers. We affirm our warm recommendation of this service to any and all who consider it.

And we figure that this thoughtful deployment of existing technology is just what we need to continue the trend toward efficiency in the usage of fossil fuels, those substances the use of which seems so to trouble so many earnest folk. Enjoy your windmills, your solar cells, your plug-in cars, your ethanol subsidies. We'll take the bus.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Update on Deep Water Drilling

The estimable Robert Samuelson has offered the best view of the BP oil spill that we've seen to date. In it he notes:

  • Offshore drilling had an impressive record of success and safety prior to this event. This includes so-called deep-water drilling.
  • The 5000-foot depth of the BP Deepwater Horizon well was deep but hardly the deepest around.
  • The well's failure fits well the usual human pattern of complacency bred by success.
We therefore offer that if BHO wants, we'll rewrite his speech to reflect this reality. Deep-water drilling is presently less of a pioneering effort than we had understood (along with a lot of media, we suspect). We think that the consequences are largely the same: not to demand that government, thought to be good, provide "expertise" to overcome corporate evil but instead to assess negligence and liability and then move forward with informed caution tempering soberly realistic calculation of the risks and benefits.

For that reason, we applaud loudly the President's lifting of his moratorium on offshore drilling. We sincerely hope that this means the crisis will "go to waste" for those who want to use it to "transform our oil-based economy."

What We Said: "Progressives" Are Out of Touch

If it weren't for complaining that the political left regularly exercises what appears to be willful ignorance of economic reality, we'd have little to blog about.

In today's WSJ, George Mason University economist Daniel Klein codifies as much. Klein summarizes results of a recent survey to assess the grasp of economics found among different political groups. Asked eight questions reflecting basic economics, self-described adherents to various political ideologies missed the following numbers of questions, on average:

Very conservative, 1.30; Libertarian, 1.38; Conservative, 1.67; Moderate, 3.67; Liberal, 4.69; Progressive/very liberal, 5.26.

N.B. that the questions were given on a five-point Likert scale, and three of five responses were scored correct for each answer. That means that the left did worse than random guessing. It also means that noble, principled Moderates (read: confused and indifferent) are only slightly worse than random guessers.

Go ahead, Lefties: carp about the nature of the questions or the validity of the survey. The rest of us will try to get on with dealing with the grim reality.

Stephen Hawking and the Limits of Genius

There's no doubt that Stephen Hawking is a brilliant physicist. We express SWNIDish doubt that he knows what he's talking about when he moves outside his area of expertise.

Science and Religion Today notes Hawkings's recent remarks to senior mediababe Diane Sawyer on ABC World News (motto: watched in seniors communities throughout America's heartland):

There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.

Ah, lots of nuance in that characterization! We'll note that (a) religion is too broad a category to characterize simply, as it comprises mutually exclusive faith systems; (b) various "religions" have varying degrees of reliance on authority; (c) the religion to which we adhere--and the only one we think worth defending--has a rather multifaceted basis and a complex relationship to bald "authority"; (d) the scientific community has its own embarrassing reliance on authority, reflected in our willingness to listen to a physicist's ideas about religion; (e) both the Christian (there, we said it out loud) and scientific communities self correct through the use of observation and reason over time.

But there's more! Hawking continues:

What could define God [is thinking of God] as the embodiment of the laws of nature. However, this is not what most people would think of that God. They made a human-like being with whom one can have a personal relationship. When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible.

We urge that if from this remark certain words are changed or omitted, the conclusion, "seems most impossible," becomes "seems most intriguing/coherent/awe-inducing." The changes are:

  • "made": change to "understood" or "conceptualized"; there's no reason to assert that all "religion" (again, too broad a category) is entirely of human creation, even if one wants to do the same for glorious "science," and with similar discounting of the validity of conclusions.
  • "human-like": change to "personal," so as to eliminate all the problematic aspects of humanity and open the possibility that human personhood is a reflection of the divine and not vice versa (in passing we ask Dr. Hawking whether he is fully content that his self-awareness as a person is sufficiently explained as the consequence of natural selection).
  • "accidental": change to "distinctly self-aware," stressing the observable outcome and not assuming the nature of origin, which is the very thing being debated.
So in the end, a big universe with a tiny speck populated with several billions of self-aware and self-destructive human beings on a diverse but complementary quest for truth, love, justice and beauty is amazingly and remarkably explained on the hypothesis of their purposeful creation by a being with a will who is the embodiment of the object of their quest.

Friday, June 04, 2010

"To the Source": Babies, Like Other Humans, Are Natural Hypocrites

Guess what? Babies, shown simple puppet plays depicting good and evil, gravitate to the good puppets. Toddlers, shown the same plays, often try to punish the bad puppets.

The indispensable ToTheSource reports on research demonstrating this outcome, strongly suggesting an inherent moral sense in our youngsters--and ourselves.

Meanwhile, parents continue to observe that their children are profoundly selfish. The same child who wants to punish the bad puppet also acts like the bad puppet at least some of the time.

That, gentle readers, is the human condition in a nutshell: aspiring to the good but failing miserably to achieve it much of the time. Thus also the Christian Scriptures describe the human experience from the first chapters to the last.

This is why we affirm all who declare the church full of hypocrites. All humans are hypocrites, including especially those who proclaim themselves bad to avoid the charge of hypocrisy for failing to be good, as these hypocritically deny their occasional impulses, sometimes acted upon, for the good. Churches are full of hypocrites because if they're full of anything, they're full of humans.

Apply these truths generously all around.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Another Presidential Address We'll Never Hear

My fellow Americans:

I speak to you tonight about the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As your President, I want to explain as clearly as I can why this spill happened, why it has proved so difficult to contain, and how this event must shape our future energy policies and approach to government and private enterprise.

First, why did the spill happen? Some have argued that BP and other oil companies are too greedy for profit and so take unconscionable risks with the safety of our environment. Those critics fail to realize the enormous liability that BP will now suffer for the damage it has done to the economy of the Gulf. Anyone who has followed BP's stock price since the spill knows that BP would have done everything it could to prevent an event like this, had BP known exactly how to do that. Oil companies know that they will pay out ruinous damages for events like these. That threat to their profits is the most powerful motivation available to restrain the foolishness that greed can engender.

Some have argued that the well was in water too deep for drilling to be practical. Those people have a point: we have many places we can drill that are much less likely to create an environmental hazard like this. That's why I am issuing an executive order to open drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. Those fields offer much easier, safer drilling with less possibility of environmental impact. Perhaps such drilling will allow us to be more careful about drilling in deep water opposite states that are supportive of the oil industry.

However, the truth is that we have a national interest in deep-water drilling. If we are not to rely entirely on dictatorships for our supply of oil, we need enhanced domestic supply. But how can we drill in deep waters when the risks to the environment are so high?

The answer is that we must learn how to drill more effectively, just as we must learn how to manage oil spills more effectively. In this respect, oil drilling is just like every other human endeavor: we learn by trial and error.

Even now, while oil continues to spill into the Gulf, we know more about how to respond to such spills than we knew before this disaster happened. We are learning from this episode just as we learned better techniques for extinguishing oil well fires after Saddam Hussein left Kuwait's oil fields ablaze in his retreat in the first Gulf War. We are learning just as we did with Exxon Valdiz spill or the iconic Santa Barbara oil spill. We are learning just as we did after the two horrible Space Shuttle disasters, just as we did after Pearl Harbor and Bull Run and Bunker Hill, just as humankind consistently learns by making mistakes.

Some say that we don't need to learn anything from this episode except that oil is bad for us. They insist that we must move as quickly as possible from a fossil-fuel economy to a green-energy economy. But I must warn that green energy is not so green. Oil drilling alters the but a tiny fraction of the earth's surface, while green technologies--solar, wind, biofuels, and the like--will require millions of acres to produce what a few oil wells can offer. We will continue to support research into the development of alternative energy sources and to encourage energy conservation with tax incentives, building codes and the like. But let's be honest: fifty years from now, we will still be relying significantly on fossil fuels.

This is my answer to those who argue that federal regulation failed to prevent this spill because regulation was too lax. But let's remember that government regulators are not omniscient. They only know what the present state of knowledge is, and seldom do they know it better than those who work in the industry or who train its engineers in our universities. For those who complain about the close relationship between industry and regulators, I ask what they offer as an alternative. Only experts in the technology of an industry can regulate it. The only source of experts is the industry itself. Do we want our best and brightest engineers working for Washington or working to get the oil out of the ground effectively? Obviously we need a blend of both, and that's exactly what our "revolving door" between government and industry provides.

But still, these experts are human. They make mistakes--out of ignorance, sometimes out of carelessness, sometimes out of mendacity. We will investigate carefully this disaster's causes carefully, not to scapegoat but first to learn how to avoid such events in the future and second to hold to account those whose negligence, if indeed any were negligent, makes them civilly liable or criminally culpable.

But we won't redress some imagined "out of control" industry with more burdensome federal regulation. We may call government employees "public servants," but they are just as fallible as those in private industry--and just as inclined to the pride and selfishness that lead to bad decisions even about those things that we do understand. Anyone who's filled out a tax form understands what I mean.

So in sum, we will not back down from our goal to increase America's domestic oil production. In fact, we are doubling down on that commitment. Further, we are committed to learning everything that we can from this awful event so that in the future mistakes like this will be less likely and less costly. But we will not let this setback deter us from what is right and sensible for our country's future.

Allow me to make a comparison to another recent event. Wednesday night Detroit Tiger Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game. That is, it would have been a perfect game had umpire Jim Joyce not blown the call of the final out. Joyce himself has admitted the mistake, and Major League Baseball may yet allow Galarraga's feat to enter the record books.

What do we do with a mistake like Joyce's? Should baseball eliminate umpires? Should all calls be reviewed by instant replay, or just those that affect things that go in the record books? We can debate those questions, but it's clear that Major League Baseball and Jim Joyce both have a tremendous opportunity to learn from this event, a one-of-a-kind event to be sure, but one that can inform many more common events that happen on the field.

That's exactly the way we must view the Gulf oil spill. This is a disaster far worse than a blown call in baseball. But it need not--indeed it cannot--deter us from exploring the seas for oil. When this is over, and it will be over soon, we'll know far more about deep-sea drilling and oil-spill management than we did when we began. And we will be able to move forward with more confidence, not less.