10.31.2012

A Tempting Review

I have the book - Where the Conflict Really Lies - on my reading list, but haven't gotten to it yet.  This review whets my appetite for it, however.  I may have to bump it up the list.

Alvin Plantinga is one of the most thorough defenders of Christianity in the face of the modern and enlightenment assaults on it.  I've read a couple of his essays and shorter works, which is enough to conclude that any serious work of apologetics must engage his thought.  To do otherwise is to try to have a dialogue without Socrates.

Comparing Reasons & Conclusions - and a Shout-Out for Mark Johnston

It's interesting to compare where people are at on the various ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments being voted on next Tuesday.  Let's look at Madville Times (staunch leftist), me, and Constant Conservative.

Constant Conservative & Madville both think "M" is a no-vote, both because they do not trust the legislature (although their reasons for this distrust are very different).  I say that this does not belong in the state's constitution but can and should be handled at the legislative level.  It's not that I trust legilstures.  It's that legislatures are more readily held accountable to voters.

All three of us think we can take the mileage rate for state legislatures out of the constitution (amendment "N").

I haven't seen CC's take on O, P, or the initiated/referred laws #14, 15 and 16.  Watch his site for updates on those.

Both Madville and I are opposed to "O" for opposite reasons - he because he doesn't trust the legislature, me because I don't trust the education establishment.

Both Madville and I think amendment "P" is redundant.  He opposes it for that reason, I think it's OK to make explicit what is only implied at present.

Madville & I are agreed that referred law #14 is just a form of corporate welfare.  He, of course, thinks the money collected should be spent by the state on something else.  I think the money shouldn't be collected, but just left in the pockets of taxpayers and their businesses.

On #15, Madville is coming down in favor of the tax increase, even though he knows it will hit the poorest the hardest (as sales taxes always do).  Ultimately, his aim is to protect schools and the welfare bureaucracy (in this case, Medicare/Medicaid) from legislative oversight by making it nearly impossible for the legislature to adjust their budgets.  Legislative accountability, however, is absolutely essential to a functioning democracy.  There is no reason to tax the poorest to pay school superintendents salaries higher than the governor's (and at least 2 of SD school districts do pay their head honchos more than the gov).  The schools have enough money and we are taxed enough.  I say an emphatic "NO" to #15.

Regarding #16, Madville again wants to protect schools from necessary accountability, so he opposes this measure.  I favor it, however, precisely because it strengthens that accountability.

Do keep tabs on Constant Conservative's site to see what he says on these other measures in the coming days.  Think not just about the measures themselves, but about the overall trends they feed (or starve) and their implications beyond just the measures themselves.  What is and is not proper to government?

And then vote next Tuesday.

By the way, if you're over in District 12, mark the ballot for my friend, Mark Johnston, too.  The endorsment from the Argus is one of the few times I've agreed with our local rag.

US Pressuring Israel More Than Iran

The Obama administration is warning Israel not to attack Iran.  Officially, this is because an Israeli attack would severely limit our options in going after Iran's nuclear development operations.  If there were the slightest indication that Obama were serious about stopping Iran's march towards a nuclear weapon, that might be plausible.  As it is, it's just one more effort to persuade Israel not to defend herself.

With a growing antagonism form Egypt, a resurgent al Qaeda in Libya, Palestinians pushing for more armaments, and Syria on the cusp of becoming a satellite of either Egypt or Turkey, Israel's options are already limited.  Demanding they forego self-defense in order to lean more heavily on the weak reed that is the Obama administration strikes me as extremely foolish.

A Silly Question, A Serious Reflection

Here's a stupid question: "Does economic growth make you happy?"  The article is a confused mish-mash of tripe ("...population should be stabilized to reduce competition for positional goods – goods like Old Masters or beautiful views – that only a few can get..."), leftist boilerplate ("...minimizing the downside of economic freedom rules out a laissez-faire approach to climate change."), and a general sense that you would be happier if you were poor ("Turner discusses some of the ills of wealth.").  For this advice, however, be prepared to pay large sums of money, because the therapist peddling this nonsense would be happier if he were rich.

If it does, you're either a government bureaucrat, a politician hoping for re-election, or insane to some degree - or all of the above.

Economic growth, at least as it is measured by GDP, is such a broad category as to be only marginally  meaningful.  For instance, GDP includes government spending, but government can only spend what it takes out of the income and profits of citizens - which is also counted in GDP.  It gets a double-effect, then, within the GDP statistic the U.S. government produces.  At best it is neutral.  In actual practice, it should be seen as a net drain on GDP.

But the creation of wealth is a very different thing from economic growth.  Wealth creation is caused by moving things - goods, services, knowledge, and everything else - from those uses that are less valued towards those that are more valued.  If what is valued is in fact worthy, that is, if one's values are true, then this will entail joy, gratitude, a sense of pleasure, or, to be brief, happiness.

Of course, if what one valus is false, then this process will not entail happiness.

"Worship the Lord your God and serve him only..."  I believe that's the phrase.  Yes.

10.30.2012

Serious Idiots at Yale University, Irvine, and Beyond

There is a movement afoot in this country to reduce human beings to mere animals.

Ostensibly it is intended to prevent cruelty to animals, but in fact it will open the door wide for cruelty to people.  Playing off the love many people feel for their pets, they claim "rights" for animals.  And so you find an Irvine, CA woman is asking for a roadside memorial to 1,600 pounds of fish who died after the truck hauling them to market (where they would eventually be sold to people who plan to kill and eat them) - after the truck hauling them to market crashed.  Saltwater bass fish "value their lives and feel pain," she says, so they're people and just like we put up the memorials to human victims of automobile crashes, we should put up a memorial to these fish.

Bear in mind, though, that these fish were being hauled to market to be killed and eaten, not to be nurtured and cared for until they can't any more, at which point their care-giver (can't say "owner" - that would imply fish slavery!) would compassionately euthanize them.

If fish and people are no different, then why can't we do that to people?

You might be tempted to think this is just some addled crack-pot in California, but it isn't.  Over at Yale University, they've convened a conference, "Personhood Beyond the Human," at which event they will

...focus on personhood for nonhuman animals, including great apes, cetaceans, and elephants, and will explore the evolving notions of personhood by analyzing them through the frameworks of neuroscience, behavioral science, philosophy, ethics, and law.
   The conference will be co-sponsored by the Nonhuman Rights Project and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies in collaboration with the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics.
These people are serious.  They're idiots, but they're serious idiots who hold distinguished professorships, manage government departments, and run respectable (well, respected anyway) think tanks.  They foolishly think this elevates animals.  It doesn't.  It can't.  When great apes are able to build universities and hold conferences, then maybe I'll listen to such talk, but they can't, don't, and won't.  Neither will elephants or cetaceans.  Or saltwater bass.

Obama Wants Another New Bureaucracy?!?

Obama says he wants a Secretary of Business...  He might want to rethink that job title.

More than that, however, it shows just how utterly ignorant Obama is about the economy and how it works - and thus, why it isn't working at present.  We already have a Secretary of the Treasury and a Secretary of Commerce, but then there are a bazillion federal government agencies that impinge on someone's ability to do business (EPA, OSHA, BLS, Commerce, Energy, Treasury, FDA, FAA, FCC, IRS, and on and on and on).  Besides the fact that these agencies impose regulations that can too often have little or no connection to reality, they also don't often talk to each other so their requirements can be contradictory and mutually exclusive.  The very idea that yet another federal bureaucracy is somehow going to fix this is just absurd.

As with binders, Big Bird, and this proposed SoB, it is just one more example of the Obama campaign's vacuity, ignorance, desperation, and vanity.

10.27.2012

Joe Biden: Crass, Undignified, & Dumb

While we're on the topic of crass, inappropriate, and - to be honest - misunderstood things said by politicians, allow me to direct your attention to our Vice-President, Joseph Biden (a man declared by our president to be the best vice president he could imagine - something that leads me to believe Obama's imagination is woefully lacking).

In an awkward attempt to compliment and comfort the father of Tyrone Woods, former SEAL and part of the security detail in Benghazi, our vice president said, “Did your son always have balls the size of cue balls?”

This is the man we send to diplomatic funerals around the world, and he is apparently unaware of the fact that discussing the size of testicles at memorial services is inappropriate. 

He is also unaware that the presumption of such familiarity as might make this kind of comment acceptable even if not welcome is itself highly offensive to many.  The vice president of the United States of America is expected to conduct himself with at least a modicum of dignity and decorum at these events. But then, the best vice president Obama can imagine has never been known for dignity, decorum, or even intelligence for that matter. 

Perhaps that's why Obama thinks he's so good as vice-president.

Abortion, Rape, Indiana, and Politics

I see that Democrats in Indiana are objecting to the notion that life - even life conceived as a result of rape - is still life and that God might have plans in regards to it.

I grasp the concept of rape's horror.  I have no wish to claim that it is otherwise, or mitigate that horror.  Nevertheless, if I were to counsel a woman in such a situation, I would wish her to see this life as a way that God can bring great good out of tremendous evil, even as he brought us life through the death of his Son on the cross.  I do not think we should ever underestimate the power of God's redeeming love.

But I would hate to demand, by force of law, that she see it this way.

I would want certain protections in law against false accusations of rape, and against claiming rape in order to take advantage of the exception to a general ban on abortion.  There are already men in prison because a woman found it more convenient to claim the intercourse was forced when she faced the consequences of the act.  I have no wish to add to that number those men whose girlfriends decide they want an abortion.

I don't think Richard Mourdock of Indiana would disagree with any of the above, although he might be somewhat uncertain as regards to whether the law should allow for an exception.  Regardless, the attempt to present him as someone who approves of, promotes, is ignorant of, denigrates, or encourages rape is a monstrous libel. 

But then, monstrous libels coming from Democrats is not unusual.  They've already accused Romney of conspiring to murder a man's wife by closing down a factory, kill off old people by reforming Medicare, steal from the poor by not paying taxes (and cheating by paying more taxes than he was legally required to pay).  They've also accused some schmuck in California of fomenting riots in the Middle East and contributing to the death of an ambassador, charged the Tea Party with racist slurs despite video evidence that no such things were said, and so on and on.  Conservatives, by definition (according to the Democrat Party), hate children, murder old people, burn homosexuals, stomp on Black people, hate women, and so on down the list.  It seems too often that Democrats have little to say in promoting their ideas beyond such libels.  I hope the good people of Indiana are able to see past it.

10.26.2012

Forces Eager to Aid Ambassador Ordered to Stand Down

It seems I was too kind in my description of the administration and the president the other day.

There were assets on the ground in Libya that were twice ordered to stand down by the administration and refuse repeated calls for assistance and back-up by the ambassador over the course of a 6-7 hour long assault.

All you people out there thinking Obama's going to give you free stuff and take care of you and make sure you're happy - you take note here.  The ambassador - the hand-picked representative of the President and his administration in a foreign country - was under attack for six hours.  There were CIA and military assets available who could have and wanted to assist that ambassador.  The two former SEALs who were killed disobeyed explicit orders in doing so.  They, at least, understood what "honor" means.  They were ordered to stand down and let this hand-picked representative of the United States of America be attacked, sodomized, and murdered.

If that's how Obama treats people he knows, with whom he is friendly and who have connections within his administration - to abandon them to this fate because it is politically expedient (he thinks) to do so, what makes you think he won't abandon anyone and everyone else in similar circumstances?

And then to lie about it, to harass and arrest some poor guy in California who had absolutely nothing to do with any of this on some trumped up charges in order to placate family and the press is just appalling.

I am confident that Gen. Colin Powell would never so cavalierly and callously abandon his troops on the battlefield in such a fashion.  That he would endorse for the position of Commander-in-Chief someone who has rather sadly diminishes the general.  His thoughtless rationale indicates to me that General Powell is not nearly so principled as he once was.  I sincerely hope he is embarrassed and ashamed by these recent revelations, and I hope that all those who serve or have served in the military take note of President Obama's actions.  This man will see you dead and think nothing of it.  This man will see you under attack and refuse to help.  This man will see you brutalized and turn away to party with JayZ and Beyonce at Las Vegas fundraisers.  And all he will say is that it is not optimal when your mangled corpse is returned to the United States.

10.25.2012

Obama Administration Abandoned Ambassador Stevens

It is clear, beyond doubt, that the President, the Secretary of State, and probably Ambassador Rice knew at the time they blamed the attacks in Benghazi on a stupid youtube video that those statements were simply not true.  In other words, they lied.

There is no valid reason for this lie.  It does not in the least change the fact that Ambassador Stevens is dead, nor does it make his sacrifice more honorable.  It does not placate the enemies of the United States who carried out this attack or protect Libyan sovereignty.  Indeed, it encourages our enemies, dishonors and disgraces Ambassador Stevens (and his 3 staff members), and becomes a way to chip away at one of America's foundational freedoms - freedom of speech.  Do not forget that this administration, in collusion with local authorities, arranged to have an American citizen arrested on trumped up charges simply because they wanted to perpetuate this lie, appease our enemies, and blame this country for what our enemies have done.

So why did they lie?

It is also now known that there was real-time video feed from overhead drones and voice communications at the time indicating the consulate in Benghazi was under attack.  It was some six hours before they finished.  In that time, the administration did nothing and authorized the military to do nothing.  This is not because nothing could be done.  We have military assets close enough to get to Benghazi within an hour to an hour and a half (Sicily, Crete, Red Sea/Gulf of Aden).  From alert to mission launch could be done in an hour.  Travel time puts that to 2 1/2 hours, easily in time to rescue our ambassador - if someone were willing to decide to do it.

Nobody made that decision.

Why not?

The gross negligence regarding security for our ambassador and his staff, the blatant lies to the American people in the immediate aftermath (and subsequent lies to the effect that they didn't lie but that it's the CIA's fault), the abandonment of our own ambassador to this bitter death all require answers and you will not get them unless you vote against Obama on November 6.  But if you vote for him, it is very likely we'll get opportunities to ask these questions again, when the next ambassador is murdered.

Interesting Bout of Federalism Going On

This is fascinating.  Arizona is voting on a ballot measure to assert control over the Grand Canyon.  Now, I don't think anything will come of it even if it passes, but it is an interesting concept.  I might suggest a slightly different tack.  Tax it.

The Grand Canyon is owned by the Federal Government and it has a certain value as property.  As with any other property owned in the state, the state should be able to levy taxes on it, or even charge the Federal Government income taxes on the revenue they generate at the park over and above expenses.  States are, according to the Constitution, sovereign entitiies.  Neither is there any provision in the Constitution that expressly forbids taxing property owned by the Feds.  There is only this:
The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State. (Art. IV, Sec. 3).
So there may be a provision in the federal law that asserts as "needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States" a prohibition on such taxation and I'm no lawyer, so I can't say.  But I think it would be an interesting exercise in federalism to have a state assert the right to levy property taxes on the federal government.  It would be fascinating to see what the courts do with it.

10.24.2012

CRC OSJ Nonsense Again

Our lovely CRC Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action is at it again.  In addition to pushing the extra-ecclesial assembly that is the Board of Trustees to put the denomination on record in support of a specific piece of legislation, is now calling on us to support a "fair farm bill".

I really do detest the word "fair".

So, what does OSJ mean by that?  We find from their web site that it includes the following:
  • Adequately fund and oppose weakening or restructuring of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) so that people in need in the U.S. receive adequate and nutritious food; 
  • Adequately fund and protect the PL 480 Title II food assistance program that combats chronic hunger, builds resilience against natural disasters and provides nutrition for poor families overseas;
  • Protect the development “safe box” and ensure reliable and predictable funding to assist people in poverty overseas;
  • Make Title II funding more flexible to better serve hungry people by increasing cash resources and incorporating Local and Regional Procurement;
  • Fully fund conservation initiatives such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP); and
  • Reduce agricultural subsidies and direct payments to farmers overall and target subsidies to small and moderate-sized farms, especially minority-owned farms.
What is "adequately fund"?  I, personally, think they are more than adequately funded already and that, as obesity seems to be a major problem among those on food stamps and food assistance, they might adequately stand to reduce the money spent on these.  Assisting people in poverty overseas is not the responsibility of the U.S. government and there is no way they can do this appropriately.  Governments help other governments, and it's often the other government that is causing the poverty.  Giving more cash away is always a bad idea, too.

Then there's the "fully fund" bit.  I'm for letting owners of private property fully fund themselves.  I don't see why I should fully fund somebody else's land.

But I agree - reduce ag subsidies.  I'll take what I can get, but I think we should reduce them all the way to zero.  They're not necessary to the nation as a whole, they don't achieve their intended purpose, and more often than not are just another form of corporate welfare.

But OSJ and Hunger Action thinks the answer to all the world's food needs is another U.S. government boondoggle.  We're $16,000 billions in debt and all OSJ can think of is ways to spend more money.  Do they really think over at that office?  Do they understand economics?  Have they given even a moment's thought to whether or not it is proper to the purpose of government to do these things?  I am not sanguine on any of those questions.

A Bit More on the U.S. Navy

On a side note, I see from Charles C. W. Cooke over at National Review's Corner blog that the Army and Marine Corps between them have around 600,000+ bayonets, compared to about 150-200,000 in 1917, so the president was technically in error regarding bayonets.  We do have fewer horses, though (the Army reports 178 on hand).

I also note that the Navy claims it needs 313 ships to meet its global requirements.  It has 258.  Going by the lists of ships in commission on the Navy's web site, there are 10 active Nimitz class carriers, plus the soon-to-be decommissioned Enterprise.  There are two carriers under construction as well (the Gerald R. Ford will be the first in its class, then the John F. Kennedy).  We have 9 small carriers - amphibious assault ships - 25 other amphibious ships, 22 cruisers, 63 destroyers, 26 frigates, 10 patrol coastal ships, 3 littoral combat ships, and 72 submarines, 14 mine countermeasure ships, 2 sub tenders, plus the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides" laid down in 1797).  [Updated to get types and number correct. -PNR]

The question however, as I stated yesterday, is less a matter of how many than of what kind and do the kinds of ships we have match the real and potential threats to global merchant shipping - piracy, area/access denial (China), mine warfare (Iran), etc.  Like all large, long-lived organizations the Navy has a history and that history impels it forward even as it restricts its vision into the future.  Like all large, government bureaucracies, the Navy also has various factions with a vested interest in maintaining and expanding the rice bowls they control even if that bowl is woefully obsolete or designed to deal with a threat that no longer exists.  And, like all political organizations, the Navy tends to go for the dramatic, flashy, showy gear that gets the voter all excited and eager to spend money.  It's a lot easier to get people to vote for Top Gun, especially when Tom Cruise is headlining, than it is to get people to vote for a new airborne/early warning aircraft (the E-2C Hawkeye looks ugly and hasn't seen any significant changes in the aircraft itself since introduced in 1964, although some of the electronics have been updated).

So, while I think the president is incredibly wrong about the adequacy of our navy and his comment indicates a woeful ignorance of what a navy does - Obama is not a strategic thinker in any area, though he is an able political tactician - I hope his spite manages to spawn a serious discussion about the size, scope, and capability of the United States sea services (Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard).  We need such a discussion rather badly.

10.23.2012

The Car Is Fine - the Government Says So

The Chevy Volt is back in the news.  The pricey golf cart has had issues with batteries catching fire, prompting Chevrolet to launch a "customer satisfaction program" a year or so ago.  Interestingly, although one would think burning batteries in an electric car would be a safety issue, no recall was sent out.

And now, again, the Volt is having problems.  It just stops.  If you set the automatic recharging software to take advantage of off-peak electricity rates, you could find your car simply shutting down.  We're assured that you can still steer and brake and that, if you turn it off for 2-5 minutes it will start up again, but again - no recall.  Apparently a car that just quits running even while at a high rate of speed (yes, these glorified golf carts can reach highway speeds - briefly) - that's not a safety issue.

At least, it's not a safety issue when the government owns the car company.

Ships, Navy, Horses, Bayonets, Obama, and Romney

Governor Romney mentioned that our Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1917, to which our president responded with "Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed.”

The president is correct in one respect - the literal truthfulness of that answer.  We do have fewer horses and bayonets (UPDATE: I'm informed we actually have more bayonets than we did in 1917) and the nature of the military has changed.  That does not, however, address Gov. Romney's criticism. 

Nor does the mere number of ships mean much.  The Cyclone class Patrol Coastal ship has a crew of about 30-35, is less than 180' in length and 25' a-beam.  The Nimitz class Aircraft Carrier has a crew of around 3,000 (plus another 1,200+ when the air wing is on board), is 1,092' long and has a beam over 250'.  When counting ships, we count both of them.

Navies are expensive and they are always prime targets of budget cutters, particularly those who do not understand what a navy does.  The USS CYCLONE (PC1) cost about $25.7 million to build.  The USS GEORGE H. W. BUSH (CVN 77) cost well over $6 billion and took nearly 8 years to finish.  An F/A-18 E/F costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million.  The GHW BUSH typically carries four squadrons of them - 48 aircraft at another $2.4 billion - plus 4-6 each of E-2C Hawkeyes, EA-6B Prowlers, and helos which, while not as expensive as the Hornets still cost a pretty penny.  Figure a nice, round, $10 billion for the carrier and the aircraft.  Then we need to pay for upkeep, crew, fuel, port facilities, and everything else that goes along with that - anywhere from $130-170 million annually.  We have ten of these carriers and air wings.  We used to have eleven.

Even though a carrier is designed to last about 50 years (the USS Enterprise, just being decommissioned, was put in service in 1961), it's still a lot of money.  So it's easy to see why someone interested in trimming funds, whether aiming to balance the budget or simply spend that money on statist welfare programs, would look at the military in general and the Navy in particular.

What creates wealth?  Trade.  How are the overwhelming majority of raw materials and finished goods shipped?  Well, there's a reason they call it "shipping" - almost all that stuff is transported via ships.  The navy, in maintaining the freedom of the seas, allows that trade to happen, not merely enriching a few fat cats, but everyone (and I do mean everyone).  According to the World Trade Organization, the dollar value of global trade in 2011 was over $18,000 billion.  That's a lot of money, too.

To achieve and maintain the freedom of the seas that allows that trade to happen, the navy needs to be able to do two rather different things.  First, it needs to protect the traffic in the open oceans and seas.  Big ships that can project power over hundreds of miles are needed for that.  Second, it needs to police the world's seven great ocean-going choke points.  These are: (1) The Panama Canal; (2) The Suez Canal and Bab al-Mandab (the point where the Arabian peninsula and the Horn of Africa nearly touch); (3) The Skagerak or Danish Straits (4) Gibraltar; (5) Malacca; (6) Hormuz; (7) The Bosporus/Dardanelles (between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean).  Other strategic passages are Cape Horn (southern tip of South America), the English Channel, Cape of Good Hope (southern tip of Africa), and the G-I-UK gap (the narrower waterways between Greenland and Iceland, and between Iceland and the UK).

These are typically narrow and shallow with little room to maneuver, also close to shorelines that can help mask radar profiles.  They are also fairly easily controlled by countries that border them (or own them, as is the case with the canals and the Bosporus).  Maintaining the freedom of merchant traffic through these narrows takes a much more complex mix of sea, air, and land power projection as well as diplomatic pressure.  Often the countries near these points are troubled and unreliable, little different from the dozens of petty medeival nobles along the Rhine river who were hardly distinguishabe from the pirates they claimed to control.  These are the people with their hands on the throat of international trade - and we've got an aircraft carrier, a Marine Amphibious Ready Group (SOC capable), some long range bombers, and ultimately nuclear weapons pointed at them to make sure they don't squeeze.

The Pax Americana, like the Pax Britannica that preceded it, fosters global prosperity and peace largely through our ability to project maritime power via a strong, almost uncontested navy.  China is beginning to move in the same direction Germany and France did during the years of the British Empire.  We'll have to see how that develops.

It's worth asking whether the navy we have can answer the China threat and maintain this freedom of the seas.  It's worth asking whether we need all ten carrier battle groups, or whether that's enough.  And it's worth asking what kinds of ships we need to do the job handed to us.  Noting that we don't have as many ships as we used to, or that we don't need as many horses as we used to, are ways to bypass that essential question rather than answer it.  We need to answer it.

10.19.2012

About Those Jobless Numbers...

Remember that wonderful change in unemployment a bit ago?  Do you?  Well...

Business Insider is suggesting that California, being short-staffed (likely due to their impending bankruptcy), didn't get everything processed in a timely manner.  California says there's no problem on their end, but Business Insider is still a bit skeptical.  It was still odd that new jobless claims were 30,000 below expectations (339,000 vice 370,000).

But those numbers have been revised upwards to 342,000 and the new one is at 388,000 initial jobless claims.

I'm sure that applies to the numbers used to give us the 7.8% unemployment rate, too.  Besides moving more people out of the work force entirely so that fewer are counted as "unemployed", it seems certain other glitches in the process all came together to make things look a bit rosier than they in fact are.

I wonder how that could happen.

Still, as Al Smith IV mentioned last night in New York, it's not a good thing for a president when his challenger has helped create more sons than the president has jobs.

10.18.2012

Changing Words, Changing Meanings

Came across this over at National Review's Corner.  Governor Romney suggested employers explain their political views to their employees and point out that policies which hurt their business also hurt their employees.  According to the cited article, what Gov. Romney said is:

I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope, I hope you pass those along to your employees.
OK.  Fair enough.  I don't know that I would want my boss telling me which way he thought I should vote, especially if he made it seem like he'd fire me if I didn't vote for his candidate, but Romney isn't suggesting that.  He's saying he hopes you point out that their jobs require the business to prosper and they should consider which person's policies are more likely to help the business prosper.

But then we see how the news organization puts it in the lead-up to that quote:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney instructed employers to tell their employees how to vote in the upcoming election.
Let's compare those two again, shall we? Romney says, "I hope you make it very clear... Whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope, I hope you pass those along..." But the newspaper says, "Mitt Romney instructed employers...."

"I hope you will..." is now "instructs".  At least according to the In These Times web site.  Hhhmmm...instructive, I think.

The Obama Platform Summarized

So, it's "binders of women" now, is it?  We got the big bird flipped at us after the first debate and now binders of women after the second.

Interesting.  I wonder if Obama has any, say, policy position he wants to advocate?  What's that?  He does, you say?

Well, yes, there is the insistence that Catholics and other Christians subvert their faith in obedience to the Almighty State.  There is that.

And gay "marriage" - he's for that, too.

And increasing taxes and spending more, so also borrowing more, but since he calls it "investment", it must be good.  Everybody likes "investments".

Oh, right.  He's also in favor of appeasing muslim bigots in Egypt and Libya (among other places) by arresting U.S. citizens who say things they would rather not have said..  He wants to do that, too.

How's that for a platform to get behind - Vote for Obama so he can kill the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, promote gay "marriage", raise your taxes, borrow more money, and surrender to your enemies.  He has no binders of women (but he does have Metamucil) and will save Big Bird, too!!  And he's not White, either!  He may be rich, but he's not as rich as Mitt so he must be more moral.

10.17.2012

Confusion, Uncertainty, Casualties in Afghanistan

Why are we fighting in Afghanistan?  What is it we hope to achieve?

There's talk of the Taliban, of al Qaeda, of "War on Terror", but what - precisely - is our objective?  It has been shifting about quite a bit and the absence of a clear objective is what leads to the kinds of casualties we've been experiencing and defeats like the penetration of Camp Bastion and destruction of a Marine Harrier squadron.

That confusion and uncertainty regarding objectives also leads to confusion and uncertainty regarding tactics, gear, and everything else.  If we're not sure where we're going, it's rather hard to figure out how to get there, too.

Michael Yon, one of the premier reporters in this war, is obviously getting very frustrated.  There are some serious issues in the Army's leadership, particularly in the general officers.  This has been less of an issue in the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy it seems but there are problems there, too.

You can see Mr. Yon's frustration in articles like this one.  You can sense the confusion and uncertainty when you compare that one to this article.

I've come to trust Yon's reporting.  I also know that, as people become more frustrated they tend to lash out with less discipline, less direction, and more emotion.  So I believe him when he says something doesn't smell right in the Army's chop-chain and it needs to be cleaned up.  I'm not so sure he's adequately or accurately delineated the actualy mess that is causing the smell.

But there are two things that need to happen if we are ever going to win this war against Islam.  First, we have to be prepared to accurately and appropriately identify the enemy.  Second, we have to be prepared to kill him without remorse or compunction.  Or, as I put it some years ago in a conversation with a fellow officer, "Until and unless we are prepared to turn Mecca into radioactive glass; until and unless we are prepared to march through Iran like Sherman marched through Georgia, we will not win this war."

That doesn't mean we have to actually do those things.  It means we have to be prepared to do those things and make sure our enemy knows that we will do so.  They must first fear us or no progress will be made.  The Commander-in-Chief, however, is determined that they not be afraid of us.  Hence the confusion, the uncertainty, and the casualties.

Summing Up the Issues in Libyan Debacle

A bit about Libya again.

There are two things to be addressed.  First there is the woefully inadequate security measures taken.  The embassy staff, including the ambassador, repeatedly warned about it and requested support which was denied.  This security was not denied because of budgetary constraints but because of policy, that is, politics.  And that policy is one of appeasement and deference towards our enemies along with a singular refusal to accept just who and what Islam is become in the Middle East today - violently intolerant, aggressively demanding, murderously anti-Semitic.  For that policy, the administration, from the top - the President - bears responsibility even if the actual decisions to withold security from the ambassador to Libya rested with Mrs. Clinton and the State Department.

Second, there was the dishonesty of the administration in response to the attack as they sought to pin the blame for it on American "intolerance" rather than muslim violence.  There is an American citizen still in jail because of the lies told at the highest levels of this administration and the left wing of this country, those defenders of free speech when it means putting smut on TV, says nothing.  That lie also provided cover for hateful demagogues to incite mobs to violence against U.S. and allied embassies throughout the Middle East as well as more attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt.  It was not a mistake.  There was never any indication from anyone on the ground in Libya, from intel sources either human or electronic, or any other source to suggest in any way, shape, or form that this late evening attack on our consulate in Benghazi was anything other than a deliberate assault.  It was a lie from the beginning and those who promulgated it knew it to be so. 

That lie was told not merely in order to advance the policy of appeasement and deference (see above), but also in order to attack our freedoms - to provide a basis for curtailing freedom of speech in the United States of America.

The policy is not evidence of malice, merely of deadly stupidity.  The lie, however, betrays a deep distrust of freedom and is most certainly malicious.  If Mrs. Clinton wishes to accept responsibility for deadly stupidity, who am I to gainsay her?  I hope she resigns, but that would mean she retains a modicum of honor and I have no reason to believe either she or her husband are familiar with that word's meaning.  The lie, with the attendant antipathy to freedom it displays, means her boss needs to go.  In three weeks, I hope a majority of Americans join me in saying so.

10.16.2012

Apparently Really Stupid People Are in Charge

Obviously, the administration is hemorrhaging on Libya big time.  That's why Hillary went out to commit political seppuku with a wooden sword, and it's why you are now getting news stories like this one.

We have several administration figures - high up administration figures - leaking to the press that SOCOM has forces moving into the central and eastern Mediterranean and that we're looking at drone strikes in Libya as retaliation for the embassy attack.  They are preserving at least some secrecy.  They spoke on condition of anonymity.  Rest assured, they also spoke with the approval of folks even higher up the food chain.

Of course, telling the enemy that you're coming for him and laying out in the popular papers the methods you intend to use to get him is...how should I put this...it's...uh.... Oh heck.  It's just really, really, really STUPID!

Roberts Executed

South Dakota executed a man yesterday.  This man was serving a life sentence when, in an escape attempt, he murdered one of the guards.  This murder was pre-meditated and part of the escape plan.  He confessed, requested, and was granted, the death penalty.

As always, when an execution occurs the discussion over capital punishment rises again.  Some say it's never necessary, most don't really think about it.  I disagree with Madville in labelling those who favor the death penalty as "bloodlusters" - I favor it and I do not lust for blood - he is correct in pointing out that the "man-in-the-street" interviews he references display a mind-numbing incoherence.

Roberts murdered a man in a carefully planned, cold-blooded manner.  It was no accident.  He took what was not his to take.  As a society, we must affirm the value of the life that was taken.  Whether it deters others or not, whether it costs a lot of money or not, we must affirm the value of Officer Johnson's life.  We must require of his murderer something approaching the value of what he unjustly, callously took - we must require Roberts' life.  Anything less devalues the life of his victim.

We had already tried to demand that life of him through the more gentle method of incarceration which, though dull, is not uncomfortable.  He has said that he would kill again, too.  There is, in this instance, no other way to affirm the value of Officer Johnson's life than to kill Roberts.  It is right and just therefore to execute him.  I would have no difficulty carrying out such an execution myself.

Is this closure?  No.  Officer Johnson is still dead.  The wound that is to those who knew and loved him remains.  Is it bloodlust?  No.  It is necessary to affirm the value of innocent life.  There are other cases where it may be harder to say that and we have tried in this state to draw the line in a way that looks most mercifully upon the guilty.  Even so, there are times - and this is one of those times - when society can say innocent life is supremely valuable in no other way than to require the life of those who take it.

Irresponsible Responsibility

Hillary Clinton says she takes full responsibility for the security failures in Libya.

I anticipate her resignation any second now....

To be sure, these decisions were made at a level where the President had no visibility on them.  And given his non-attendance at security briefings, it's likely he was equally unaware of the escalating attacks in Libya so he had no particular reason to question those who were responsible (like Mrs. Clinton).  It is accurate to say that those security failures are her fault.

Now, perhaps the president would not wish to accept her resignation at this point in time - that's his perogative.  But to say, "I accept full responsibility" and not offer her resignation is to make a mockery of the word "responsibility".

There is, however, still the fact that Obama, Biden, Clinton, and Ambassador Rice lied to the American people for well over a week about the attacks, arranged to have an American citizen arrested merely because he produced a youtube video foreigners found objectionable, and have sought to appease those who attacked us rather than fight them.

That's Obama's responsibility, but he won't take it.  He hasn't accepted responsibility for anything he or his administration has done over the last 4 years.

10.12.2012

South Dakota Ballot Measures, 2012

There are several ballot measures up here in South Dakota, so I thought I'd give my take on them.

M - This is a constitutional amendment that removes certain restrictions on forming corporations.  I'm not sure why such restrictions are part of the state constitution, but it strikes me that this is something we can reasonably trust to the regular legislative process.  Those restrictions don't need to be part of the state constitution so I'd vote yes on this one.

N - The SD state constitution sets travel reimbursement for legislators on their way to and from the session at 5 cents per mile.  I have to wonder, again, why this is part of the state constitution.  This is something that can be handled via the more ordinary legislative process and I expect they'll just tie it to the IRS mileage rate.  This is another yea vote.

O - At some point, the state of South Dakota owned a cement plant.  They sold it and put the money in a constitutionally created trust fund.  Currently this pays out $12 million annually to the general fund and the legislature may, under certain conditions, take out additional money for education.  This amendment would make it mandatory that 4% of the fund's market value be transferred to the general fund in support of education.  In effect, this is a way to get around the usual legislative process and accountability.  They get this money and the legislature can't touch it, which means the ability to use the power of the purse to hold the education system to account is reduced.  While I don't think the trust fund should be a constitutional concern and would be in favor of putting decisions regarding annual disbursements entirely in the hands of the legislature, I am not in favor of allowing the educrats to do an end-run around them.  This one gets a no vote from me.

P - This makes a balanced budget an explicit requirement in the constitution.  Currently the constitution only restricts the ability of the state to incur debt.  It doesn't strike me as a substantive change, but it does give the lawyers a little less wiggle room.  Okay.  I can go for that.

To sum up, No on O, Yes on the rest.

Then there are three referred/initiated laws:

#14 - This law passed the legislature and was referred due to actions by the state Democrats.  It sets up a "Large Projects Fund" out of money taken from the excise tax levied on contractors.  The state Board of Economic Development will then use that money to fund grants for, well, large projects (defined as costing over $5 million).  Can you say, "corporate welfare"?  It is flatly redistributionist in taking from the small contractors to give to the big guys.  If the state can afford earmarking 22% of contractors' excise taxes to big corporate projects, then it can afford to reduce the excise tax by 22%.   I say no to this one.

#15 - This is another one that tries to do an end-run around the legislature - for the children, of course.  It increases the state sales tax and earmarks that money for education (and Medicaid).  It's born out of the teachers' unions who got ticked off over the governor's balancing the budget since that balancing act did not leave their pet projects untouched.  So they want to set it up where their money is automatic - automatic from the cement plant trust fund (amendment O above), automatic from sales taxes, automatic from everything.  But making it not automatic is the point.  That's why we have a legislature and is the primary means of accountability.  But the education establishment doesn't want to be held accountable.  They don't want merit pay, evaluations, test scores, or anything else that attempts to determine whether or not they're actually doing their job.  This one's another no vote.

#16 - This law also passed the legislature and, in addition to setting up some scholarship funds and offering some incentives to teach math and science, it sets up a standardized teacher and principal evaluation system, allows for bonus pay to the top teachers in a district, and grants greater flexibility to districts in contracting teachers.  The scholarship stuff is OK, but again the teachers object to the evaluation and bonus measures because they establish competition towards excellence among teachers and holds teachers and administrators accountable.  This one gets a yes from me.

So, No on 14 & 15, Yes on 16.

Biden Battles Biden to a Draw

The reaction among the punditry to the debate - at least among the conservative punditry - seems to be pretty universal: disappointment.  They expected Ryan to clean the floor with Biden and he didn't, largely because ol' Uncle Joe didn't let Ryan get an uninterrupted word in for a good portion of the debate.

If you expect a rational presentation of conflicting ideas from a debate like this, you'll be disappointed more often than not.  In the first place, such a rational presentation of ideas will result in the obvious rejection of liberalism.  Its portrayal of the way the world works is not rational.  People are not the way liberalism thinks they are, economics does not function the way they think it does, and the policies they think will bring utopia tend instead to poverty, dissolution, and decay.

Biden is a salesman and while he may be dumb, he's smart enough to know that if he lets you actually think about it, you'll never buy the used car he's trying to move off his lot, so he tried (and I think failed) to prevent his customer - the voter - from thinking.

But this is also politics and for as long as politics have been around the most important thing is not substance, but perception.  This was true when politics was restricted to the emperor's court and it's true now that it's popular in nature.  What that means in a television age is that image and show is more important.  Ryan has become dependent on charts and graphs, making presentations and answering questions like a teacher and that's good on the stump - but in the head-to-head show, it's not.  The Obama campaign is trying to leverage this reality - the show's the thing - by portraying Romney in the first debate as merely a show and you can expect conservatives to take a similar tack in response to this one.

That doesn't mean the show can't be substantive or meaningful.  Band of Brothers, for instance, was a show.  Ken Burns' Civil War was a show.  It does mean that a primary requisite for winning the head-to-head contest that goes by the name of "debate" in these elections is showmanship.

From the reports and the little I saw, Biden both demonstrated his superior ability as a showman and badly misjudged what the audience would find entertaining.  This made Ryan a more sympathetic figure even if he was not able to fully lay out the substance of his argument.  A gentler touch from Biden would have brought it home.  Instead he battled himself to a draw and left too much room for Ryan's substance to get through, making the debate a net win for Ryan on points.

10.11.2012

Those Dead Americans in Libya? Hey, Excrement Happens

First it was because of a video.  For nearly 2 weeks we were told it was a spontaneous response to a crappy video that nobody'd seen - even though within 2 hours it was obvious to even the most casual observer that the attack on Benghazi was, in fact, an attack.

Then it was "based on the information we had at the time", even though it has come out that the information they had at the time was that Al Qaeda had launched a coordinated, carefully planned attack on our consulate in Benghazi.

And now it's, "Hey, Libya's a dangerous place.  Excrement happens, you know?"

Well, if you knew it was a dangerous place, why'd you reduce the security assets available to the ambassador and his staff?  Why'd you deny requests for additional security measures?  It wasn't budget - Ms. Lamb expressly told the congressional committee that a lack of money was not the issue in any way.

So, they knew it was dangerous, but chose to let down our defenses regardless.  They knew Al Qaeda was a resurgent threat in the area, and did nothing to break it up.  They knew it had nothing to do with the video, but for 2 weeks lied about it, then lied about what they knew at the time, and then in an effort to downplay the lies tell us that we shouldn't worry about the deaths of our ambassadors and 3 of his staff members because it's just one of those things that happen.

Talk about callous!  Callous towards the families of these 4 dead Americans, callous towards the truth, callous towards the people who work for them.  They are putting themselves forward as among the most unfeeling, heartless, cold and compassionless people imaginable.  Even Henry Higgins had more feeling than this lot.

No Such Thing As Economic Values

Towards the end of his classic text, Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell addresses the question of non-economic values.
   One of the last refuges of someone whose pet project or theory has been exposed as economic nonsense is to say: "Economics is all very well, but there are also non-economic values to consider."... Of course there are non-economic values.  In fact, there are only non-economic values.  Economics is not a value in and of itself.  It is only a way of weighing one value against another....
   The market as a mechanism for the allocation of scarce resources among alternative uses is one thing; what one chooses to do with the resulting wealth is another. (3rd edition, p.518, 519)
That's worth remembering.  There is only so much oil, for instance, on the market.  Oil has multiple uses.  What use do we value more?  And of the things we can do with oil, which do we value more than we value other things we wish to do?  Answer those questions and you have arrived at roughly what you are willing to pay for a barrel of oil.  If others will pay more, they'll get the oil and you'll go do something else.  If others will pay less, you'll get the oil and can use it as you deem proper.

But the market doesn't determine the value of oil to you.  The market is not setting your values at all.  Your values are guiding your participation in the market.  Money, prices, and all the rest are just ways of setting your values against the values others might have and then allocating the commodity where it is most valued.

Economics looks at how millions of different people collectively express their values.  It does not determine what those values are.  Individuals do that on their own.  Or rather, they do that on their own in a free market.  In a command economy, the government tells you what you value - in effect, dictates your morality to you.  This is precisely what Obama and the Democrats are trying to do.  You have to value abortion and contraception and racial favoritism and "free" health care and....

The thing is, although Republicans and conservatives are often accused of trying to impose their morals on you, of being a political "Taliban" or other such thing, it is not so.  We wish to persuade you, and we wish to prevent the imposition of values and morals with which we disagree.  We are in favor of freedom, confident that the vast majority, if our ideas and arguments are allowed free rein, will pretty much agree with us.  But Obama and the Democrats don't trust you to value what they value, nor do they trust the power of their arguments to persuade you.  They want to use government to force you to think as they do.

Surreal Debate

I came across this over at National Review's Corner (thanks to Jonah Goldberg).

It's much better than the actual debate - friggin' hilarious.

Hey! Teacher! Leave My Pants Alone

I find the need to constantly change clothing styles irksome.  Wide lapels, narrow lapels, wide ties, narrow ties, collars, hems, cuffs, pleats, and so it goes.

I found a make and size of pants that fit comfortably.  I used those pants for some time.  It was nice - didn't even have to go try things on, just order the same make and size or ask the wife to pick up a pair next time she's at the store.

They're no longer made.  Styles changed.

The most irksome thing about the pants available right now is the decision some nincompoop made to place the belt right at the hip.  There are two major problems with this.  First, it makes it impossible to bend over or squat without smiling at those behind you - a vertical smile.  One gets the impression that this may be what happened in this photo:

The second problem is that the makers of pants neglected to coordinate this decision with the makers of shirts as the latter have not lengthened.  Any bend of any sort, therefore, pulls the shirt out of the pants - again, helping to guarantee those behind receive that inimitable smile we all know and love.

One could, I suppose, wear the pants above the hips anyway.  Do that, however, and you end up singing soprano every time you sit down.

I don't like shopping for clothes and I don't have a lot of money for them.  All I want is a relatively inexpensive pair of pants that covers the essentials without crushing them and allows me to move without revealing details I do not want known and those around me would rather not know.

And once I find them, they'll change styles again.

10.10.2012

Obama - Wishing He Were Hugo

There were "elections" in Venezuela.  The dictator won.  Gosh.  What a surprise.

Naturally, the man who wishes he could pull that kind of junk off here in the U.S. - our own dear el presidente - gave the elections his blessing, pronouncing them legit.

Just like he pronounced his blessing on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The scandal out there over Benghazi and the administration's lies about a video indicate not only that they are incredibly foolish when it comes to security matters, but that they really do not like freedom.  The way they had this film maker arrested on trumped up charges is indicative. The series of stories, editorials, and so on suggesting that maybe free speech should be regulated and curtailed in the aftermath of that humiliation also highlight the difficulties Obama has with freedom.  So does the HHS mandate that insists on people subordinating their deeply held religious convictions to his government-run health care schemes.

Right now, he's working hard to do all he can to subvert the popular vote, too.  It's why they don't like voter ID laws, efforts in places like Florida to purge the voter rolls of those inelligible to vote, and why they don't seem to have a problem with helping people to vote twice.

10.09.2012

Another $150 Million Down the Tubes for Obama

As we consider the success of Obama as a businessman, investing your tax dollars in such promising start-ups as Solyndra, Fisk, and buying GM in order to force it to make cars nobody wants, we now get this story out of my ancestral home state and region - West Michigan.

The U.S. government gave $150 million to the South Korean company LG Chem to build a battery-manufacturing plant in Holland (the city in Michigan, not the country on the North Sea with all the windmills and dikes).  This was roughly half the cost of the plant.  Touting it as a potential source for thousands of "green" jobs, Obama was there for the opening in July, 2010 to say, “You are leading the way in showing how manufacturing jobs are coming right back here to the United States of America."  The batteries were supposed to be for the Chevy Volt.

The factory has not produced a single battery.  They've got about 200 employees that they rotate through various furloughs during which you pay their salary via unemployment compensation.  But mostly it's a $300 million white elephant full of crushed hopes, a monument to the foolishness of trusting a community organizer who's never had to work in the private sector in his life with making business decisions.

But, hey, four more years and maybe we'll actually get a battery charged up out this thing.  Don't hold your breath.

No, Romney Didn't Lie

In the debate over the debate, the Obama line is that Romney lied so much he just couldn't keep up and counter it all.

Male bovine fecal matter.

There are two areas where the Obama campaign (including most of the media) has been trying really hard to make that stick.  The first is in this mystical "$5 trillion tax cut".  It's a number they've pulled out of a hat, not something Romney has ever said.  To the extent it has any basis in actual data, it is premised on a flawed, partisan analysis of Romney's proposals and intentionally declines to consider several factors.  It's such an odd accusation that nobody other than those already committed to Obama can believe it and not all of them.

The second tack they're sailing is on this matter of "pre-existing conditions". 

Insurance is not paying somebody else to pay your bills.  Why would somebody do that?  The person you pay to pay your bills would have to collect the amount of the bill from you, plus his own pay and any sensible person would just pay the bill himself.  Insurance is a way of pooling resources to mitigate risk.  If, out of ten thousand people, five will get cancer and require expensive treatments but none of those ten thousand know which five will get the disease, we have a certain level of risk.  All ten thousand pay into a pool so that, in the event any of them do come down with it, there will be enough money in the pool to pay that person's medical bills.  The hope is that 9,995 will pay into the pool and not have to draw anything out, but those five that do need it will have the care they need.  But if I've already got cancer, and want to get into the pool, then it's not risk mitigation - I've already got the disease, so there is no question of risk.  In this case, I'm just asking the others in the pool to pay my bills.

What Romney is proposing is that, if you've been duly paying into the pool and something happens that you have to switch pools (move to a different state, change jobs, etc.), as long as you've been paying into the system to mitigate risk you're able to stay in even if you're one of those who need to draw from it.  We can't kick you out of the pool just because you're one of the five who got the disease and need the coverage.  But if you've never paid into the pool, you can't suddenly join the pool once you find you've got the disease or injury as a way of getting somebody else to pay your bills.

Romney is quite correct in saying that he proposes coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, then.  It's just that Obama (and Obamacare) want to make the phrase "pre-existing conditions" also mean that you can get somebody else to pay your bills by not purchasing insurance until after you're sick.  It's not that Romney lied, but that Obama wants to call something "insurance" when it's not insurance but charity or welfare.  Given that so many don't think of insurance as "mitigating risk" but only as "somebody else pays", Obama's accusation on this matter will resonate a bit more.  It's still not true, but more people will think that it is.

Food for Thought on Science, Theology, and Galileo

Here's an interesting piece by James K. A. Smith over at Christianity Today.  He addresses the tendency to look at the current debates raging about the interplay between orthodox Christian faith and certain scientific declarations in terms of our experience in the matter of Galileo.
The "Galilean" framing of these conversations assumes a paradigm in which science is taken to be a neutral "describer" of "the way things are." Consequently, it treats theology as a kind of bias—an inherently conservative take on the world that has to face up to the cold, hard realities disclosed by the natural sciences and historical research. Christian scholars and theologians who (perhaps unwittingly) buy into this paradigm are often characterized by deference to "what science says." They become increasingly embarrassed by both the theological tradition and the community of believers who are not so eager to embrace scientific "progress" and an updated faith.
But, he suggests, it's not so simple.  There are other possibilities and "to invoke the Galileo analogy is to have already made up our minds."

The tension between our faith and the results of scientific inquiry must be viewed in historical context, but also in terms of what theology, the Bible, and careful observation (science) tell us - and what they don't.  Quite a bit of what passes for "science" is not as rock-solid and incontrovertible as those making the claim wish to make it seem.  Science and observation by means of physical senses (often heightened by various methods) are not the be-all and end-all of fact and we should all be sufficiently familiar with instances in which what has been revealed by our senses has been unreal.  For everything asserted as "known" there is much that is assumed or unknown that might well alter what we "know" today.  There is indeed far more to the world than is dreamt of in Horatio's - or anyone else's - philosophy.  There is also the possiblity that things we think of as mutually exclusive are, instead, compatible.  As Professor Smith puts it:
Early Christians mined the mysteries of the faith to grapple with the challenge of the day rather than whittling down what's scandalous to fit the expectations of the day. Guided by the Chalcedonian consensus, church leaders did not have to settle for a merely defensive or conciliatory posture. They were not reduced to looking for nooks and crannies in the reigning scientific paradigms that left room to make religious claims. Instead, their central conviction of the lordship of Christ over all creation gave them a courage and confidence to theorize imaginatively and creatively. They didn't look for ways to blunt or downplay the particularities of the gospel. Animated by the conviction that all things hold together in Christ, early Christian theologians forged new models and paradigms which we now receive as magisterial statements of the faith—the heart and soul of the "Great Tradition."

A more confident and robust assertion of our faith, which includes the conviction that Christ's lordship over all creation does, as it must, bring all things together in him, would serve the Church and Christians far better than the meek surrender of ancient truth in the face of recent, untried innovations.  These innovations, even if in fact true, should be seen as additions and clarifications, not contradictions.

As I said, an interesting piece.

Fear-Mongering Sesame Street

Romney said in the debate that he would cut funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting - PBS, NPR, etc. - on the very sensible grounds that a nation over $16,000 billions in debt can't afford such a luxury.

Naturally, the Democrats are responding with their usual fear-mongering.  Romney hates Big Bird! Romney is stealing from your children!

Well, let's look at Sesame Street, or Sesame Workshop (originally Children's Television Workshop).  According to this New York Times piece, cited in Wikipedia's entry, Sesame Street was already garnering 68% of its revenue from sales and product licensing in 2004.  In 2008, that came to something over $15 million.  A non-profit pulling in over $15 million in net revenue from sales is, well, profitable.  Cliff Kincaid, citing Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), says Sesame Worship garnered over $200 million in world-wide sales and product licensing revenue from 2003-06.  He also points out that the current CEO takes in about $500,000/yr in salary plus benefits and perks.  The claim that Sesame Workshop is a "non-profit" strikes me as rather dubious, but regardless, eliminating CPB/PBS funding would do nothing more than change the channel Sesame Street is broadcast on.

To expand to the PBS in general, according to this rather unsympathetic column in Forbes, a mere 12% of PBS revenue comes from the federal government.  The rest comes from licensing and sales, some advertisements, and grants from private charities and foundations. 

This columnist thinks that cutting CPB/PBS funding is therefore not worth the trouble, but Ms. Erb is mistaken.  Quite a lot of federal funding goes out in dribbles - a few million here, a couple more there - and all of them, individually, are really small compared to the $3-4,000 billion the federal government spends every year.  But collectively, those dribbles add up to $3-4,000 billions and we're borrowing about 1/3 of that every year.

When a family starts cutting back to reclaim its budget, the family starts with small luxuries - don't go out to eat as often (or not at all), cut back on the cable bill, turn off some of the special features on the cell phone, turn the thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer, drive less, etc.  Each of these, by itself, is a small thing but done together this approach can spare the essentials like food, clothing, and shelter.  I dare say this is how Ms. Erb would do it if her finances took a tumble.  You look for things you can trim, not things you can amputate.

10.08.2012

Board of Trustees Political Action Committee

Sometimes I wonder if I'm a member of a church or a political action committee.

Not content with letting the Office of Social Justice tie us to leftist causes, we now have the Board of Trustees of the CRCNA endorsing specific pieces of legislation.

They're not saying, "We think these principles are essential and should be affirmed" or "We think a more just world would look like this".  They're saying, "We support passage of House Bill 3590 and Senate Bill 3339."

The bills, as far as I can see, are harmless enough.  They basically offer a 2-year extension on the right of certain individuals (Indonesians) who fled to this country between 1997 and 2002 to re-open a motion for asylum provided that the original motion was denied solely because the applicant failed to meet the 1-year deadline for making it. That re-opened motion is then to be handled in the usual way according to the usual guidelines.

The bills were referred to the House and Senate judiciary committees respectively and there they sit.

Nevertheless, the Board of Trustees has committed this denomination and its resources to support of a specific piece of legislation.  A threshhold has been crossed.

Is this a matter of intrinsic evil, or a matter of prudential judgment?  It is, I think incontrovertibly, the latter.  But the portion of the Church of Jesus Christ that is the CRCNA has determined, in all her wisdom, knowledge, and expertise on the matter, that a particular prudential course is THE Christian course.  Indeed, alternatives are not even considered.  The president, for instance, is given to issueing waivers for everything - a practice already endorsed by the CRC Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action.  Why not ask for that, instead?  A simple donation to the Obama campaign should be able to garner such a waiver.  Perhaps something that looks to rectify the entire process?  And why should Indonesians get an exception from the 1-year deadline, but no one else?

The article notes that U.S. immigration law is byzantine, inordinately complex, "broken" even (according to Rev. Greenway).  The solution, apparently, is to insert into that byzantine complexity yet another micro-provision to make it still more complex.  Instead of a clear call for simplifying our immigration laws along consistent moral principles, we get a move to re-arrange the weeds from a tiny denomination that has consistently displayed its legislative incompetence over the last several decades.

Besides the fact that I often disagree with the OSJ's stated objectives, it is clear they are politically naive, even ignorant.  Their endorsements often undermine those very objectives, tie the denomination to factions rather than principles, and typically put us in the embarrassing position of being perceived as irksome puppies instead of serious policy analysts.