Friday, August 29, 2008

Φ Endorses Sarah Palin

Ross Douthat on the future V.P.:

She's a pro-life working mom; she's tough on corruption and government waste without being a doctrinaire Norquistian on taxes; she's more supportive of gay rights than the current GOP orthodoxy (while stopping short of backing same-sex marriage); she has a more conservationist record than your typical GOP pol, but supports drilling in ANWR; she's an evangelical but she isn't a southern evangelical.

Assuming this assessment holds up until November, then Φ will carefully place his hand over the "president" column on his ballot and shade in the oval for Sarah Palin.

UPDATE:

Sailer on Palin:

In particular, she appears to have completely won the hearts of the Nerd Vote with her Tina-Fey-in-the-NRA image -- pretty girls with big guns, just like in all the movies.

Yup.

Sailer highlights Palin's record of fighting corruption, which contrasts favorably with Obama's record of jumping into the pockets of mobbed-up real estate developers.

So who is the real Obama? Is he really all about butterflies and unicorns (see the side-splitting JibJab video), a race-baiting radical, or just Dick Daley with a tan?

Probably some combination. I can't see into the man's heart, but I get the intuitive sense that he doesn't see himself as a gangster or a bomb-thrower. He's somebody appallingly naive about the world. Ayers and Dohrn? How chic! Wright? How authentic! Rezko? What a nice man to give me money! How can I do him a favor . . . .

Obama could benefit from a more pessimistic view of human nature, and moral clarity?

UPDATE 2: Half Sigma compares Mrs. Palin to Harriet Miers. I think the more apt comparison is to Jack Kemp.

I remember the flush of excitement when Kemp was nominated for vice-president in 1996. This was also considered a bold stroke at the time, but ultimately it meant nothing. Everything that Kemp was thought to stand for disappeared into the abyss of the doomed Dole campaign.

Sarah Palin ignites a similar enthusiasm, but it won't last unless she actually is allowed to bring actual policy ideas to the McCain campaign. (I'm not sure what the McCain campaign is even supposed to be about other than war, immigration, and debt.) I'm prepared to be hopeful, but I also I'm glad that it's Palin we're wasting and not someone with more long-run potential like, say, Bobby Jindal.

Friday, August 22, 2008

On Deathbed Conversions

The notion that a man could lead a life of sin -- indeed, a life of violent debauchery -- and then receive God's forgiveness at a conversion to Christianity on his deathbed is a notion that our sense of justice often finds offensive. Christ himself predicted that this would be our reaction when he told the Parable of the Vineyard:

9"The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' "

I was put in mind of this parable while reading one of Ilkka's posts:

Years ago, I read how somebody had asked a Catholic priest if God can forgive anything, even being a pedophile nazi rapist murderer. The priest had answered affirmatively, so the guy had asked him if he could now lead a lifestyle full of partying and casual sex (which are surely lesser sins than murder and rape) and later when he eventually gets tired of it, become a good Christian and have this past wiped clean in God's eyes. The priest had gone apeshit and told the guy in no uncertain terms that God can't accept or forgive that sort of manipulation. Which is kind of interesting, when you think about it. Apparently there are "meta-sins" that are worse than regular sins, even murder.

The unspoken assumption of the man who would lead a life of drunken fornication, and then seek God's forgiveness when he tires of it, is that his own will is sovereign with respect to his relationship with God. This assumption is in error.

While no Christian sect teaches that there are "meta-sins", the standard Evangelical response would be along these lines: the intent to manipulate God in such a manner calls into question to authenticity of his claim to faith and repentance. But while faith and repentance must indeed be genuine in order to be efficacious, this answer overlooks the fact that if indeed a man's will is sovereign, then he can genuinely plan to genuinely accept Christ on his deathbed.

But what did the Reformers teach? Let us turn once again to the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?

A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in effectual calling.

Q. 31. What is effectual calling.

A. Effectual calling is the work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Notice here that our salvation is not dependent on our will! Indeed, our natural wills are utterly incapable of spiritual life apart from the prior work of regeneration; however, once we our spiritually quickened, our embrace of Christ follows inexorably, as does our repentance:

Q. 35. What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is the work of God's Spirit, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.

So I would answer in this way: yes, God can and does work faith in the elect at all times during our lives, including on our deathbeds. But we cannot plan this, for it is God that is sovereign, not man. The hypothetical becomes impossible: a man cannot plan to embrace Christ at some future date, for these things are controlled by God, as any man who tries will discover to his bitter disappointment.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ruining Roosh

That dispenser of wisdom to would-be pickup artists known as RooshV has posted some videos of himself, I think for the first time.

The first thing I thought was, "Wow, his hair is even WORSE than it looks in stills!"

The second thing was: even if I were an aspiring PUA, I'm not convinced this guy would have much useful to teach me. Sure, the techniques he recommends sound plausible and may, in fact, work for someone like himself. But what the videos, taken in neither a sexual nor even social context, indicate to me is that he is already building on a base of raw charisma that would be extraordinarily difficult to teach or fake. It's hard to articulate the source of the charisma. The tenor of his voice, at a minimum. The structure of his face. Maybe body language is involved, in that he didn't do anything obviously off-putting. The point is, the attraction for women is obvious. I can totally believe his tales of conquest; what I don't believe is his claim that the psychological manipulation he employs would be met with the same success when used by people without his natural advantages.

UPDATE: While I'm slumming at PUA sites, I may as well link to Roissy's high-octane rant about John Edwards.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ethnic Cleansing in California: Gay Rights Edition

For years I've been warning that the "Gay Rights" agenda has little to do with materially advancing the condition of homosexuals, and a lot to do with marginalization and persecution of Christians.

I hate being right.

The California Supreme Court ruled this week that a lesbian has the right to force a Christian doctor to artificially inseminate her, in essence deciding that the right to practice a homosexual lifestyle is superior to the right to practice the Christian faith.

Guadalupe T. Benitez a California lesbian who lives with her partner wanted to become pregnant with donated sperm.

Benitez filed a suit after Dr. Christine Brody, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the North Coast Women's Care Medical Group in Vista, said she would not perform an intrauterine insemination. Benitez’s suit alleged that Brody said her religious views prevented her from providing the procedure to a lesbian. Dr. Brody countered that she objected to performing the procedure for any unmarried person, regardless of orientation, but no matter: the state high court said the doctors' constitutional rights to freedom of religion did not trump the state anti-discrimination law because the state has a compelling interest in ensuring full and equal access to medical care.

Benitez was referred to another fertility physician who assisted her fertility requests that succeeded in the birth of three children. Even though Benitez easily found another physician and birthed three children, she pushed her radical views against the Christian faith. And the liberal left California Supreme Court failed to even attempt to balance the religious rights of the doctor with the fact that Benitez easily found another physician for this voluntary, non-life threatening procedure.

The speed at which we have moved from "privacy of the bedroom" through "right to marriage" and on to "compel everyone else to facilitate my lifestyle" -- truly breathtaking.

On Slavery and Christianity

Megan has this exactly right:

[T]he northern church played a causal role in the abolition movement. There is no reasonable reading of history that attributes a similar causal role to the southern church. Indeed, the cause runs the other way--there was considerable selection pressure on southern churches, with churches that spoke out against slavery (there were some) seeing their membership transfer to more amenable congregations.

Think of it this way: if religious people had not been driven by their faith to come out against slavery, the abolitionist movement would have, at best, come into being much later and much weaker than it did. Had the the southern churches said nothing about slavery, would slavery have collapsed? It's unlikely to have had any effect. I am well aware that the southern church provided revolting justifications for slavery, but it's very hard to read the relevant history and conclude that these did much to strengthen an institution that had very strong self-interest behind it, as well as the universal human tendency towards xenophobia. If you hadn't been debating ridiculous religious texts, you would have been debating equally ridiculous eugenic claims, or cultural arguments. People have a powerful way of finding reasons to believe what they want to.

I'm an Adam Smith kind of guy in the sense that I believe voluntary cooperation and contract to be a superior form of economic organization when compared to its alternatives, not just (or even) in the moral sense, but also in its ability to generate wealth. But this is a non-obvious point; indeed it was considered controversial at the time Adam Smith made it. In contrast, the belief that it is in a man's own interest to force someone else to do his work for him is intuitive, even if that intuition is in error. So the bottom line is that I don't need a reason to engage in slavery; I need a reason not to.

The absence of such a reason was why slavery was a common feature of the world until relatively recently. If your tribe, nation, or empire had the power, it could conquer and enslave the populace of other tribes and nations. And why not? After all, they would (and often did) happily do the same to your tribe or nation given the opportunity.

My understanding of history is that non-African slavery began to recede in the Renaissance era, not because of moral enlightenment, but because European nation-states became strong enough to resist the efforts of others (specifically, the Ottomans) to enslave them. This left Africa as the last and only source for Muslim and, later, European slave merchants to procure slaves. That the slavers were Muslim and Christian were, in this context, an accident of history.

What was not an accident was how the African slave trade, and specifically the trans-Atlantic slave trade, came to an end. The African nations never became strong enough to resist their own enslavement as the European nations did; on the contrary, they happily sold each other into foreign slavery, and still practice it in some quarters. No, the end of the slave trade was a specifically European Christian (and, even more specifically, an English Protestant) undertaking, as the life of William Wilberforce demonstrates. Yes, there were some secularists who opposed slavery, but the notion that the abolitionist movement was animated by their contribution is a tortured version of history.

Megan and Ta-Nehisi have been going back and forth as to the moral justification for slavery, discussing the role in which concepts of "humanness" and "personhood" played in sustaining (or not) the institution. Without being a historian of slavery, I doubt such considerations played much of a role. Slavery was simply what the strong (we) did to the weak (you). Why would the strong (we) clutter this simple paradigm with abstract nonsense about "personhood"? Who cares?

Nonetheless, the usual suspects wish to indict Christianity, or at least the Christian church, with being somehow responsible for slavery (and particularly African slavery) because it occurred on the Church's watch, and they point to the "Curse of Ham" as providing its theological justification.

I have commented before that the "Curse of Ham" was always theologically weak and historically ignorant, but according to its Wikipedia entry it has a long pedigree. Secularist wet-dreams to the contrary, I am skeptical of the claim that the church was ever so all-powerful that slave interests had to approach it, cap in hand, seeking its permission to engage in the slave trade. More likely, it was either more-or-less instructed to approve of it, or those clergymen willing to approve it for their own reasons did thereby profit at the expense of those who did not.

But as I said, I'm not an historian, and I could be wrong, so allow me to stipulate, for the time being, that the church played the role that its enemies accuse of it.

It should be obvious that the only reason this would matter is because the church generally upheld the ethic that being among the strong was not the end of the argument, that "might" did not by definition make "right". The church held that morality was transcendent and universal: it was given by God and binding on all men in their relations with all other men. To the extent that it gave slavery (and much other evil) a pass, it was granting a waiver of this general rule. That it should not have done so is now obvious to everyone, including Christians, but we should not mistake cause and effect: this would not be significant except for the general rule.

Which brings us to abortion.

Here, again, the strong (pregnant women and their abortionists) do to the weak (the unborn child) as they will, and powerful political and social interests permit them. Why clutter this simple paradigm with abstract notions of "personhood"? Who cares?

Answer: the heirs of William Wilberforce.

Monday, August 18, 2008

T. Boone Pickens

I knew--just knew--that oilman T. Boone Pickens had a pecuniary interest at stake when he opines (via the television infomercial in which he appears) that "we can't drill our way out" of the energy crisis.

I had originally thought that he wanted to keep as high as possible the price of the oil coming out of the wells he already owns. And this may be true, but there is a second reason reported by John Wright:

According to an article in Popular Mechanics, if the plan is accepted, Pickens stands to reap a significant profit by building pipelines to pump billions of gallons of water from an aquifer under the Texas Panhandle, which he has bought the water rights to. The pipeline would follow the same 250-mile corridor that the wind farm would be on, which would be seized from private owners through eminent domain and granted to him.

Brilliant, isn’t it? Offer your solution to the energy crisis, offer to kick start the whole thing by buying up a ton of wind turbines, and - like a magician - ensure in the process of all this glamourous greenism that nobody notices the real business you want to build: selling your water to the metropolis of Dallas, Texas; all made possible because you got the government to like you so much they’d actually give you the land you need to do it!

The Wit and Wisdom of Megan McArdle

From today's posts alone:

[I]f I did have a firm belief in God, I'd have a hard time reconciling the following two principles:

- There is an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent deity, and man's highest destiny is to fulfill His purpose;

- I routinely ignore what this deity says because my neighbors disagree.

...

The question of personhood is not definitionally religious, even if the only people interested in expanding society's definition of personhood are religious. Blacks are people, and those of us without any particular religious convictions are able to apprehend this, even if 150 years ago the only people much interested in prosecuting their claim to personhood were ministers and their flocks.

...

Slaveowners didn't need religion to motivate them to defend slavery; they had a powerful financial interest in doing so. Similarly, the pro-choice movement, at least in my experience, gets most of its activist energy from reproductive-aged women who have a strong interest in being able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

By contrast, what self-interest was served by the abolitionist movement then, or the pro-life movement now? There's a legend among many pro-choicers that everyone in the pro-life movement is a patriarchal, selfish man who wants to force women to have babies in order to control them. In fact, women and men are roughly equally likely to be pro-life. The best that pro-lifers get out of their movement is--having to carry their own unwanted pregnancies to term.

Bonus: she provided a link to this, which I haven't digested yet, but seems pretty smart.

UPDATE: Having decided that Megan is the hottest girl over 6 feet that I'll ever disagree with, I've added her to the blogroll.

Random Thoughts on the Civil Forum

- That Barak Obama's Christian testimony at the Saddleback Civil Forum was superior to John McCain's mainly highlights the limited utility of the question. The(admittedly bizarre) combination of Calvin, Darwin, and William James in my own worldview causes me to say: politically speaking, I don't care whether my president is going to heaven. I do care who's side he's on. But short of an expression of dogmatic atheism (or Islam), the candidates' answers to Warren's question were likely to be a poor proxy for what matters.

- [This one I added since the original post.] I have become much more skeptical than I once was of the assertion that a man's Christian faith necessarily requires him to be politically pro-life. For that matter, I am skeptical that in a previous era it required him to be an abolitionist. On the opposite end, I would say that an actual abortionist, or a Portuguese slave-trader, is afflicted with a moral blindness that voids any claim to actual faith. Somewhere between these poles lies the line. That said: I find Obama's assertion that Matthew 25 casts judgment on the government of the present-day United States for not spending enough money and energy on poverty and "racism", while he simultaneously argues that women ought to possess full autonomy to kill their babies, to be deeply contradictory, and suggests that Obama is in thrall to a vision of society completely at odds from anything that could be inspired by the faith he claims.

- That John McCain put himself foursquare behind choice and competition in public primary and secondary education is all very well, but a discerning follow-up question would have been to ask him what specific policies at the federal level would he undertake to advance these principles. Ideally, the best answer would be: "nothing", and I suspect that this is exactly McCain's intention. But while local communities should be responsible for their own education policies, in practice, the federal government is already knee-deep in education at both a regulatory and financial level. It would therefore not be inconsistent, at a minimum, to tie federal funding to the implementation of meaningful choice programs, if for no other reason than to counterbalance the extraordinary power of the teacher's unions seeking to prevent it.

- Better yet, a completely honest answer would have been to admit that no policy cocktail, even "choice and competition", will dramatically improve aggregate educational performance as we usually measure it. A school's demographic profile imposes a hard ceiling on what it can accomplish educationally, on average. What choice will do (and the reason I support it) is restore to school staff, and by extension the parents who choose them, a measure of control over both the worldview and the behavioral standards that the schools seeks to teach. Presently, these are determined by the ACLU.

- Lest I seem like an idiot, I knew perfectly well who Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) is; I just assumed that McCain must have been referring to someone other than a standard-issue Congressional Black Caucus hack. Correct me if I am wrong, but if John Lewis has ever cast a conservative vote in deviation from the CBC's party line, I am unaware of it. But that said, it may well be that most of the people who know this about Lewis are his constituents, who will therefore disproportionally view McCain's endorsement favorably. It's mendacious as hell, but McCain might have put some votes in play in Georgia's 5th CD.

- How ironic that the president can launch a war on the other side of the planet, and continue that war in the face of the public's opposition to it, but the government can't muster the will to control immigration with the public's support. It's all well and good that McCain pledges support for fighting Islamic extremism, but until the extremists own a fleet of B-2 bombers, our greatest danger will be America's immigrant Muslim community. Not only is this this the sea in which the terrorists swim, but the sea itself can drown us. Either way, it's time to drain the sea.

Suderman on Government Regulation

Peter Suderman, writing at the American Scene:

[T]he favor-state [that author of The Wrecking Crew Thomas] Frank seems to despise thrives best under the larger, more intrusive government he favors. . . . [B]ecause of the complexity and political considerations of the regulatory process, those who can afford to hire expensive lobbyists to bend it in their favor are most likely to support it. I’d be surprised, for example, if Frank didn’t support some sort of fairly strong action to address global warming; yet as Jim Manzi has pointed out, climate-change policy is rife with opportunity for corporate gaming (indeed, a lot of major corporations are already spending massive amounts trying to pass climate legislation they believe is in their favor). If Frank is really worried about the corporate-lobbying behemoth in Washington, it seems to me he ought to address the root of the problem: the government’s willingness to set up elaborate bureaucratic systems. The more power the government wields, the more influence rich corporations and individuals will seek over how that power gets used. Lobbyists and the selling of connections and influence are merely inevitable symptoms of a powerful regulatory structure.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Funniest Thing I've Read All Day

From the Wikipedia article on the Soviet Union:

Although the Soviet Union was officially secular, it supported atheist ideology and suppressed religion . . . .

In other Wikipedia news, although the Catholic Church is officially Christian, it supports belief in the resurrection of Christ . . . .

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Live Blogging Saddleback's "Civil Forum"

Okay, not quite: I'm actually watching the DVR with about an hour and a half delay. On a positive note, I can close some of that delay by fast-forwarding through the commercials.

On a negative note, I'm worried about this. Obama, and even McCain, will probably run circles around Rick Warren in this deliberately "non-confrontational" forum. We'll see.

Obama's up first.

8:06 EDT. Obama calls Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar his administration's "wise men." Does this include Nunn's pivotal role in legislation restricting gays in the military?

8:09 EDT. Obama says (in context) that lack of government welfare is our "greatest moral failing."

8:11 EDT. Obama takes credit for Campaign Finance Reform. Wasn't that passed before he was elected?

8:12 EDT. Warren asks Obama to confess to any flip-flops. He admits to changing his opinion on Welfare Reform. (He now supports it.)

8:13 EDT. Obama calls opposition to the Iraq War his most "gut wrenching decision". Lists the obvious difficulties with 20/20 hindsight.

8:20 EDT. Worldview section: Obama: "I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins and that I am redeemed through him." We should "act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with our God." Right out of the song. Damn, this guy's good!

8:22 EDT. Abortion section. Obama doesn't think that there is a scientific or theological answer to the question of when life begins. A lot of shuck and jive about "moral gravity," but he's ultimately pro-choice. More shuck and jive about "limits on late term abortions" that he's never actually voted for. He's in favor of government spending in support of pregnant women.

Obama: "Marriage is between a man and a woman," but will leave the issue to the states, which means activist state judges imposing gay marriage. Supports civil unions, or words to that effect.

8:27 EDT. He's in favor of stem cell harvesting from embryos "about to be discarded." I could drive a truck through that loophole. "If adult stem cell lines are working, we should try to avoid any kind of moral arguments that may be in place." What does this mean, exactly? More vignette's about "perspectives" of the harvesters.

8:30 EDT. Obama: There is evil in Darfur, child abuse, etc., but not, evidently, in Iraq or Georgia. Says that good intentions are not enough. True.

8:31 EDT. Which existing supreme court justice would you not have nominated? Obama sez: Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and John Roberts. Honest and predictable. The job of SCOTUS is to "guard against the encroachment of the executive branch on the other branches." Why is SCOTUS supposed to take a side in disputes between the executive and legislature?

8:34 EDT. Obama: faith-based social services must forfeit right to discriminate in favor of their own faith when hiring people for programs for which they receive federal funds.

8:37 EDT. Education. Obama supports "performance pay" for public school teachers as long as teachers agree with it. In other words, no, but the crowd didn't get it, since they applauded.

8:38 EDT. Who's Rich? "If you have 25 million book sales . . ." Outstanding answer. Serious answer: more than $250K, so their taxes will go up. He's in favor of tax simplification.

8:45 EDT. America's role in the world. What's worth sacrificing American lives? "Freedom and National Interest." "Honor alliances." Darfur: no commitment. "If we have it in our power to prevent genocide and if we act in concert with the international community, we should act." Do we need U.N. approval? "No." Obama gives Bosnia as an example of something he would support. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

8:48 EDT. Obama commits America to supporting orphans worldwide. How much will taxes have to go up exactly? Sorry, question wasn't asked.

8:49 EDT. Religious persecution, China specifically. "We should speak out." Blah, blah, that's it pretty much. Not a bad answer, necessarily. But then: "The U.S. must have religious freedom at home. We must support habeus corpus and no torture to have moral standing." So once again, America must be metaphysically perfect by liberal Democrat standards to be concerned about the rest of the world.

8:52 EDT. Human trafficking. Again, we must first fight it at home.

Energy: There will be "a price to pay," "everyone must get involved", "we must make sacrifices on behalf of the next generation." The devil is in the details.

Not a bad performance; he totally snowed these yahoos. I wouldn't trust any of the commitments, but it was a good show, judging by the applause. I wonder how the crowd was picked? The Fox panel gave him high marks, but points out "racism and sexism" were among his answers of America's greatest evil. Krauthammer points out the irony of Obama's criticising Thomas's "inexperience" prior to his SCOTUS appointment.

McCain is up next. He's supposed to be asked the same questions.

9:02 EDT. Petraeus is his wiseman. But who is John Lewis? And why the CEO of Ebay Meg Whitman? I'm skeptical, in general, that corporate types, and especially entrepreneurs, will excel at statecraft.

8:04 EDT. McCain's greatest moral failure is his divorce. An honest answer, and one that helps to disarm the inevitable charge of hypocrisy. America's greatest moral failure is self-interest. We should have told America to "join the Peace Corp" after 9-11. Was the Peace Corp hiring? That would come as news to a lot of folks who lost their jobs.

8:06 EDT. When did you buck your party? A total softball for McCain, obviously. But he mentions our Beirut adventure in the early Reagan administration as something he opposed. If that's true, it was prescient, and an unexpectedly good answer, considering that most people have forgotten about Beirut, in contrast to most of his other party-bucking (immigration, campaign finance reform, etc.), which is viscerally despised by people like myself.

Flip flops? He's now in favor of offshore drilling. Outstanding. Supports alternative energy including nuclear. Double outstanding. "We now have a pro-American president of France, which shows if you live long enough anything can happen." Lots of applause for the home run.

Toughest decision: remaining a POW even after offered early release to deny North Vietnam the propoganda victory. Good answer, and undoubtedly true. "It took a lot of prayer." Good answer, and probably not true.

9:16 EDT. Worldview section. He's "saved and forgiven." Not as good as Obama's answer. Another 'Nam story, this time of a shared Christian moment with a prison guard over a cross drawn in the dirt. Would he make up a story like that?

9:18 EDT. When does a baby have human rights? "At the moment of conception." Applause. Unequivocally commits to pro-life policies across the board.

9:19 EDT Marriage: "Between a man and a woman." California Supreme Court was wrong to impose gay marriage. Supports federalism, as long as gay marriages contracted in one state do not have to be honored in other states; if SCOTUS makes that position non-viable, he would support the Federal Marriage Amendment. Hedges on civil unions, but my impression is that he believes these should be private contracts. Not sure.

9:21 EDT. Stem cells. Supports it without must specificity, but clearly means he's in favor of embryonic stem cell research until adult cells show more promise. I think.

9:22 EDT. Pledges America to fight evil, specifically "radical Islamic extremism." Energetically pledges us to see Iraq through.

9:24 EDT. Which Supreme Court Justices would you not have nominated? Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer, and Stephens. (I guess that means that Kennedy and Alito are the only ones the candidates agree on?) We must nominate judges with a "proven record of adhering to the Constitution and not legislating from the bench." Supports Alito and Roberts with enthusiasm. He implied earlier that he would see the overturn of Roe v. Wade, but it doesn't come up here.

9:26 EDT. Pledges support for full personnel discretion for faith based organizations, including those that receive federal funds. Battery is dying. . . . UPDATE: Most of the rest is from memory.

9:28 EDT. Education. McCain supports not only merit pay, but firing bad teachers. "Choice and competition, vouchers, homeschooling, charter schools. Every American family should have the same choice as we did and Obama's did. Vouchers work, homeschooling works." Lots of applause, but does he really want to "equalize opportunity" as he claims? I think (I hope) he's being hyperbolic here.

9:31 EDT. What is rich? Artfully dodges the question, but says he wants everyobdy to be rich. Supports tax credits for families, opposes government takeover of healthcare. "Spending got completely out of control." Good bit about how he wants taxes to be as low as possible for everyone.

America's role in the world. Avoids specific commitments to Georgia and Darfur, while expressing sympathy for those peoples. Reiterates that he puts American national security first in regards to our commitment of troops.

McCain totally misunderstood the international orphan question, which is just as well, since it probably kept him from saying somethingn foolish.

Religious freedom: I can't recall what he said about the world, but unequivocally said that America was unique in our freedoms and that we should always be greatful for these.

Surveillance. McCain acknowledged the trade-off with privacy, but pointed out the extent to which our enemies use communications to operate. He should have said that privacy protections exist to protect Americans, not scummy foreigners.

Winds up saying that America was founded on "Judeo-Christian principles."

Summary: well done. He totally snowed this yahoo. In fact, since immmigration didn't come up, were this all I knew, he'd have my vote. I specifically was impressed by the way his reflex was to praise America, in contrast to Obama's blame America.

On the other hand, the forum suffered the absence of tough follow-up. I think McCain got the better of this arrangement in that he was often non-specific on the extent of his proposed foreign policy commitments. But Obama got off easy on this too, plus his answers on domestic policy should have been challenged. Of course,the forum would no longer have been "non-confrontational".

Friday, August 15, 2008

On Class-based Affirmative Action

John Rosenberg and Ta-Nehisi Coates come at Peter Beinart from opposite directions for his op-ed urging Barak Obama to embrace class-based affirmative action as a replacement for race-based affirmative action.

When do we consider "no affirmative action"?

The virtue of a change to class-based affirmative actoin would be to assuage the anger of those who believe that the already-priviledged offspring of such as the Obamas and the Cosbys are receiving preferential treatment at the expense of hard-scrabble whites. Unfortunately, there is no political reason why these concerns should be elevated over those of blacks who believe that their underrepresentation is proof that higher-ed is a white racket. And in the mean time, we still have the same problem: a group of people elevated beyond the warrant of their cognitive station.

Lost in this discussion is: what ought a university admissions committee try to accomplish?

Here are some worthwhile objectives:

1. Predict Success. Can the applicant successfully complete the academic program? If his portfolio says no, then it doesn't matter that he faced discrimination or that his mother is a crack-whore: he ought to be steered in a direction in which he has a higher probability of success. If your prediction models tell you that objective criteria (test scores and GPA) underpredict the college performance of blacks and poor people, then by all means take these factors into account. But I haven't seen any evidence that this is true, and much evidence to the contrary.

2. Academic Uniformity. When all students in a classroom possess the same level of cognitive ability and preparation, all students benefit. In contrast, when an instructor must pitch his presentation at the mean of a wide distribution, all students suffer. The smart students are bored and learn less than they would at a more advanced level of instruction; meanwhile, the deficient students learn less than they would were the material presented at a slower pace.

Here is a wrong objective:

Diversity. The claims made for the benefits of diversity are mostly bogus. Whatever the theory about Learning To Get Along With Different People, Etc., the experience of "diversity" as it is actually practiced on college campuses is quite alienating: witness Michelle Obama.

Or perhaps alienation, a.k.a. "raising minority racial consciousness" is the real goal. Fine: go sell it to the voting and tax-paying public.

Lest I seem too dogmatic about this, I can think of other formulations, for instance, that schools wish to produce a particular type of graduate whose post-college career in the real world doesn't reduce to his collegiate GPA. I'm skeptical of the good faith of this claim made in this context, but stipulating good faith, I would challenge supporters of race-based affirmative action to rewrite Title IV of the Civil Rights Act specifying the kinds of racially discrimination that they now favor. And of course, sell it to the voting public.

Good luck with that.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On Values

Spungen attends her Catholic all-girls high school reunion, and discovers a sizeable proportion of attractive, slender, women who seem stuck in spinsterhood:

I think the problem is that they retained religious values, without being actually religious. This makes it difficult to navigate the unreligious, educated mainstream . . . . Perhaps adjustment takes a certain... moral flexibility.

Translation: it's tough attracting men if you don't put out.

How sad. This puts me in mind of the discussion between Trumwill and me a while back, during which Trumwill essentially took this same view.

I'm struck by the extent to which the sexual zeitgeist has served the interest of Spungen at the expense of her classmates. Objectively, Spungen's life has worked out quite well for her, and she otherwise has no regrets. (Alternatively, she remains heavily invested in her own "moral flexibility".) By her own telling, however, this regime has come at a cost to other women: either they feel compelled into more sexual activity than they would otherwise choose, or they find themselves in an uphill struggle in the dating marketplace.

Were this still an active question, I would insist that Christian morality is under no obligation to grovel before sexual libertinism. Sadly, that argument is already lost in the "mainstream" culture.

On Georgia

Via Majority Rights, here is an article from a webzine called Stratfor that seems to call the situation exactly right:

Putin did not want to re-establish the Soviet Union, but he did want to re-establish the Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union region. To accomplish that, he had to do two things. First, he had to re-establish the credibility of the Russian army as a fighting force, at least in the context of its region. Second, he had to establish that Western guarantees, including NATO membership, meant nothing in the face of Russian power. He did not want to confront NATO directly, but he did want to confront and defeat a power that was closely aligned with the United States, had U.S. support, aid and advisers and was widely seen as being under American protection. Georgia was the perfect choice.

By invading Georgia as Russia did (competently if not brilliantly), Putin re-established the credibility of the Russian army. But far more importantly, by doing this Putin revealed an open secret: While the United States is tied down in the Middle East, American guarantees have no value. This lesson is not for American consumption. It is something that, from the Russian point of view, the Ukrainians, the Balts and the Central Asians need to digest. Indeed, it is a lesson Putin wants to transmit to Poland and the Czech Republic as well. The United States wants to place ballistic missile defense installations in those countries, and the Russians want them to understand that allowing this to happen increases their risk, not their security.

The Russians knew the United States would denounce their attack. This actually plays into Russian hands. The more vocal senior leaders are, the greater the contrast with their inaction, and the Russians wanted to drive home the idea that American guarantees are empty talk.

Read the whole thing. It seems incandescently obvious at this point that our bluffs aren't going to work anymore. We're going to have to decide what we want out of Eastern Europe, draw the appropriate perimeter, and buy the military that will secure it in the face of a resurgent Russia. None of this will be cheap or easy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On John Edwards

I can't really get very interested in the John Edwards scandal, seeing that he already appeared politically washed up and kept himself in the game only by his willingness to spend a lot of his own money playing at politics.

But I will say this: I totally get it. I spoke with my father over the weekend, who asked rhetorically, "What was he thinking?" Answer: he wasn't, nor should we be surprised. Human reason is a slender thread by which to hang our resistance to sexual temptation. If I were brutally honest, I would acknowledge that my own fidelity relies less on my reason and more on the fact that I don't live the kind of life that puts me within a hundred miles of even being asked the question.

Note to handlers: keep a close eye on the talent. Modern political campaigns generate celebrity status, and you don't want your guy, um, enjoying that status in the wrong ways.

But the real story here is the extent to which the MSM, who knew the story, covered for a Democrat candidate while simultaneously publishing nonsense about McCain and Vicki Iseman.

Funniest Thing I've Read All Day

Via Megan, an NYT article that contains this line:

The problems, intensified by bond investors who have grown leery of these instruments, have been a drag on the economy and have persisted despite the exercise of extraordinary regulatory powers by policy makers.

In other NYT news, objects persist in falling toward the ground despite the force of gravity!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Via Ace, here is a mildly transgressive mini-musical about a geeky, love-struck arch-villian who competes for a young lady's affections against a self-absorbed asshole superhero. It runs off the rails in the third act, but the first two are really cute.

The Vindication of Larry Summers

From the Wall Street Journal:

The latest study, in this week's journal Science, examined scores from seven million students who took statewide mathematics tests from grades two through 11 in 10 states between 2005 and 2007.

The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, didn't find a significant overall difference between girls' and boys' scores. But the study also found that boys' scores were more variable than those of girls. More boys scored extremely well -- or extremely poorly -- than girls, who were more likely to earn scores closer to the average for all students.

One measure of a top score is achieving the "99th percentile" -- scoring in the top 1% of all students. Boys were significantly more likely to hit this goal than girls.

In Minnesota, for example, 1.85% of white boys in the 11th grade hit the 99th percentile, compared with 0.9% of girls -- meaning there were more than twice as many boys among the top scorers than girls.

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution, who details the misreporting of this study.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Evolution Sucks

Fred Reed takes on the Just-So stories told by evolutionists:

I once asked a list of ardent evolutionists why humans, in evolving from lower primates, had largely lost their sense of smell. Their answer was in two parts.

First, men evolved an upright posture, and evolved it in the savanna, where the comparatively unobstructed terrain allowed them to see all around them. They therefore did not need a sense of smell. This makes no sense. At night it obviously would be useful to know when predators were about. Lions are astute at using cover to approach their prey, and are the color of dirt. Horses, which have eyes at about the height of a man’s, and have good eyesight, also have an acute sense of smell. The upright-posture stuff is sheer story-telling.

Second, I was told that brain tissue uses a great deal of energy, and that having olfactory lobes to allow a good sense of smell would require humans to find more food, causing a grave selective disadvantage.

Let’s think about this. How much of an energy drain would a good olfactory lobe cause? A quick web search pulls up the assertion that rats have quite good olfaction, and use it extensively to find what they regard as food. Another quick search reveals that a rat’s entire brain occupies two cubic centimeters. A man’s brain is some 1350 cc. Let us assume that the rat’s brain consists entirely of olfactory tissue, which of course it doesn’t.

So 2/1350 x 100 reveals that the rat brain is .148% of the human. Since according to [Michael Hart, author of Understanding Human History] the brain uses twenty percent of the resting energy expenditure of a man, adding the additional two cc of olfactory tissue would increase the body’s energy demands by.148 % / 5, or .03%. This minute sum, we are to believe, is so draining as to overcome the advantage of detecting predators at night or in brush.

I have heard of suspension of disbelief, but I am too weak a cord by which to suspend that much disbelief. What astounds me is that evolutionists believe it without effort. I encounter the Argument from Metabolic Burden repeatedly. Its virtue is that of being superficially plausible but not verifiable.

And much more in like vein.

It occurred to me, reading this, how natural selection, however it manifests itself, really bites for those unfortunate enough to go through it. Let's consider human intelligence, the nominal topic of Reed's essay. We happy progeny of Northern Europeans may wish to take pride in the superior intelligence we evolved over less cognitively endowed peoples, although, per Mr. Reed, we should not assume that we know very much about why such evolution took place. But whatever the reason, of one thing we can be mathematically certain: this evolution required that a great many of our number in ages past either: (a) were eaten by predators, or otherwise came to violent and untimely ends; or (b) never got a chance to breed (which, let's face it, from a guy's perspective is almost as bad). Either way, they led Hobbesian lives that were truly "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Our ancestors -- as in the physical antecedents of those of us currently alive -- were the ones that spent every waking hour avoiding this fate, leaving them little time for fun stuff, like blogging.

Our present technological prowess and the lives of ease and comfort it allows are thus in debt to the lives (and, more importantly, the deaths) of suffering and hardship led by those who came before us.

But what of the future? In the recently-published book A Farewell to Alms, economist Gregory Clark argues that the Industrial Revolution, inter alia, dramatically improved the likelihood that most individuals would have surviving offspring, thereby dramatically slowing natural selection for cognitive ability. (It should be duly noted that his thesis has been controversial, even among people without ideological objections.) Will the widespread distribution our present wealth allow us to be overtaken, evolutionarily speaking, by other peoples in which selection remains operative? Consider China and its looming demographic imbalance. If, as appears certain, 1/3 of the coming generation of Chinamen leave no offspring, what kind of a people will emerge on the other side?

Americans should realize that we are probably living at the apex of our civilization.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Great White Defendant

Via Disloyal Opposition, I came across this story about the Mayor of Berwyn Heights, MD, whose home was violently raided by the Prince George's County sheriff:

Members of a Prince George's County Sheriff's Office SWAT team shot [the mayor's] dogs Tuesday while bursting into the home of Mayor Cheye Calvo. The raid, conducted jointly with county police narcotics officers, took place after officers saw Calvo bring a package containing more than 30 pounds of marijuana from his front porch into his house. They had been tracking the package since police dogs sniffed out the presence of drugs at a shipping facility in Arizona.

The package was addressed to Trinity Tomsic, Calvo's wife. But law enforcement sources said last week that they are now investigating the possibility that the mayor and his wife were unwitting recipients and that a deliveryman might have intended to intercept the package as part of a drug smuggling scheme.

The package landed on Calvo's doorstep after police posing as deliverymen brought it to the door and Calvo's mother-in-law asked that it be left on the porch. Police recovered the unopened package from the home Tuesday night but made no arrests. Calvo has said he was interrogated for hours while handcuffed and surrounded by the bloody bodies of his dogs.

Check out the demographic profiles of Berwyn Heights under its link above, and compare them to those of Prince George's County. Then come back and try to explain to me that this really ISN'T a case of Black Democrats trying to use law enforcement to harrass White Republicans for political gain. Just try!

UPDATE: Perhaps I should explain myself further.

The phrase "Great White Defendant" entered the public lexicon with Tom Wolfe's 1988 (or so) novel Bonfire of the Vanities, and describes the enthusiasm with which public officials, who normally spend their days putting blacks in jail, greet the opportunity to prosecute a white person. The phenomenon explains the suspension of critical thinking that accompanies incidents like, for instance, the Duke Lacrosse Rape Hoax.

A similiar suspension of critical thinking afflicted the public officials of Prince George's County. Politically beholden to their black Democrat constituency, they jumped at the opportunity to pursue a white Republican for drug law violations. At some point, someone should have said, "You know, this guy doesn't exactly fit the profile. Maybe we should just ask him about it, or pursue an investigation back toward the source, or something other than sending in the SWAT team to kill his dogs!" But the political opportunity was too tempting.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Φ is a Jeans Snob

Ever since Mrs. Φ introduced them to me, I have been a fan of Gap jeans.

After a lifetime of seeking the balance between a too-tight ass and a too-loose waist, here was a pair of relaxed-fit jeans that actually, you know, fit.

About a year ago, I put out that I was down to only one pair of jeans, having worn the knees out of my other pair. But I was nonplussed the other day when Mrs. Φ called me from, um, K-mart.

"I want to get a couple of pairs of jeans for you to try on," she said.

"But . . . I thought I liked Gap jeans," I replied skeptically.

"Yeah, but . . . these jeans are on sale for $8.99," she informed me. "Gap jeans are $30 when they're on sale."

So she brought home the K-mart jeans for me to try on. I surveyed myself in the mirror and said, "Sweetheart, I love you very much, and I know that as a married man my evolutionary fitness doesn't depend anymore on how I look.

"But I don't think I'm ever going to be . . . that married."

"HA!" scoffed Mrs. Φ. "Listen to you! This is exactly what you wore before I came along to clean up your sartorial act."

She had a point. But I liken this to how I started buying my own cheese after I left home. Sure, as a kid, Kraft Singles processed cheese food was fine. But after I started eating real cheese, I could never go back.

"Honey, I promise that, when we're poor, I'll wear K-mart jeans with pride. But since I don't get a new pair of jeans except every few years, I'd just as soon pay the extra money."

EPILOGUE: We were getting in the car to go to the pool when Mrs. Φ said, "I need you to stop at the fabric store on the way."

"Um, is that the one next to the K-mart?"

"Yup, that's the one," she replied, and then rolled her eyes at the realization.

She went back inside to get the jeans.