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November 2009 Archives

November 2, 2009

The Abolition of Man (and Woman)

Philosopher and science writer - and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow - Benjamin Wiker has an insightful paper printed in the new National Catholic Register, "The Abolition of Man (and Woman)."

November 3, 2009

The Huge News on Energy: We Have Lots, Right Here

Three years ago this month Discovery Institute reported on massive new North American explorations of oil and gas--especially gas--that offered to transform the energy scene and the economies of the United State, Canada and Mexico. My colleague, Charles Ganske, and I described how these developments could liberate North America from dependence on overseas energy, with very positive effects on international relations.

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Interstate pipelines (in the blue) and intrastate pipelines (red) blanket the country. Graph courtesy of the Energy Information Administration.

Last week in this space, and on Russia Blog, I commented on the recent article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the London Telegraph about the World Conference on Gas that took place in Buenos Aires and the growing optimism that natural gas is becoming so abundant as to blow away the pessimism about energy--and even about global warming, since the carbon effects of gas are far less than for oil or coal.

Today The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by Daniel Yergin (author of the The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power) and Robert Ineson of IHS CERA--"America's Natural Gas Revolution"--detailing the way the new gas discoveries already are expanding America's ability to lean more on domestic natural gas.

Sometimes it takes a while for major news to break through into the mainstream media, especially, and perversely, if the developments reported are helpful to America's national interests. In this case, it also is a way to help meet concerns about climate change (regardless of one's opinions on the topic). It would help if our leaders would take note, and allow themselves to applaud. This is real "change we can believe in." It is happening now.

November 4, 2009

A Majesty Lost

My take on the voting process in King County (below), appeared in today's issue of Crosscut. The original article appears here.

On November 3, 1992, I strode into the United Methodist Church in Colfax, Washington to cast my first ballot in a U.S. presidential election. I remember the moment vividly -- not only because I was doing my part to help choose the next leader of the free world, but because of the excitement I felt at the people I saw there, working the polling site. Colfax is a small town farming community of 2,800 so, in a sense, the people were the same ones who helped raise me and instill within me many of the values that I hold today. Key among them was the responsibility to vote: both to exercise my constitutional right and to honor the sacrifice of those who had given their lives to preserve it.

Fast forward to the present, in King County, and to the convenience of Vote-by-Mail. Sadly, while the ballot represents the same sacrifice, it is relegated to the status of my cable bill -- both due on a date certain. But it gets tackier. In King County, ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day. That means that many of the ballots cast won't arrive at the elections office until several days after the election is over. Most races by that point will have been decided, rendering those late ballots effectively meaningless. (Okay, not really, but are they really that meaningful if they have little to no impact on the outcome?)

Continue reading "A Majesty Lost" »

November 5, 2009

Hitchens Apologizes

Among those picking up our October 30 news post (see below) on Christopher Hitchens' unseemly attack on Mother Theresa--made in a debate on the Dennis Miller radio show--was William Donohue of the Catholic League. Today, Donahue declares that Hitchens contacted him to apologize, at least in large measure. Donahue tells his email list today:

"On November 2, I criticized Christopher Hitchens for saying that Mother Teresa was 'a fanatic and a fundamentalist and a fraud, and millions of people are much worse off because of her life, and it's a shame there is no hell for your bitch to go to.'"

"At the end of the news release, we published his e-mail address, and he was roundly condemned, sometimes maliciously, by angry Catholics (he forwarded some of the e-mails to me). I subsequently e-mailed him, saying, "Seems like you've heard from the faithful." I also took the opportunity to invite him for drinks the next time he is in New York. Why? Although we've had it out several times in the past--in person and on TV--and although I strongly disagree with him, the man is no phony, and that means a great deal to me. Unlike most of those whom I do battle with, Hitchens is intellectually honest.

"Christopher wrote back to me today, saying, "The first thing to say is that I felt remorse for employing the word 'bitch' as soon as it was out of my mouth." Forgiven. As I have always said, when someone apologizes, Christians have no choice but to accept it. Besides, anyone who fights for a cause, myself included, occasionally lets his emotions get the best of him. The difference is, Christopher admits it.

"A few years back, Christopher wrote a piece in Vanity Fair on abortion that was so fair that it moved me to write a letter in praise of it; it was published. In other words, this is not the first time we have broken bread. But who needs the bread? Christopher and I have some serious drinking to do."

Donahue shows again that while he is relentless in pursuit of bias and discrimination, he also is gracious when given the opportunity.

The Longest Running Election Returns

King Country (Seattle), Washington is getting a reputation as home to the nation's longest delays in counting ballots. The problems now are chronic. Operating an all-mail system mean central office delays in checking signatures that used to be checked at hundreds of polling places. The state law that allows ballots to count if they are post-marked anytime before midnight on election day further compounds the wait. And, this year there is yet another innovation in causing delays, the bureaucratic decision at King County to hold up returns for a full day after each new batch of a few thousand is reported. On election night there was a report at 8:15 and then nothing--until the next afternoon at 4:30, when a few percent more trickled in. Same thing today. (The elections report schedule shows ballots being counted daily until November 24.) The County has budget problems but no one is saying how they are effectng the counting of ballots.

As of Thursday afternoon, the mayor's race in Seattle is still undecided and, apparently, only about 50 to 60 percent of the ballots cast have been received and counted. Delays in King County have been long enough in close races of recent years to keep the issue of victory in doubt for weeks and to start attracting lawyers like political vultures. If you want anxiety and contention, go with this system.

The old system usually worked fine. Most votes were tallied and reported election night. People who were ill or out of town cast absentee ballots, but these were not numerous enough to overwhelm the elections staff. Polls closed at 8 p.m.--period. Soon after the polls closed the "early returns" were reported, and then new reports continued being reported through much of the night. In Washington, as in many states now, a near-complete tally was often available by midnight.

Same day voting in Washington State's past--and in other states now--meant that the community aspect of voting was respected. Voters all got the same information about the candidates from the media and the candidates at the same time, as (to repeat) they still do in most of the country. People also received the election results together during the evening after the election. There often was a satisfying drama about it--the democratic process in relatively efficient and transparent operation.

Today in Washington, we face the prospect of election campaigns in the future where a truly important late-breaking event or development will not be reflected in a major way at the polls because a large part of the electorate already has voted. ("If only I had known!"," people will say.) Indeed, the old rhythm of campaigns has been disrupted has been disrupted and it can be said that some election results might be different if people voted en bloc on one given day. As to ending the vote gathering at a time-certain, this past Tuesday evening, after the first vote tally reports, it became clear that the race for mayor in Seattle was a near tie, so workers for one candidate actually went out looking for more voters who could be helped to vote, with the resulting ballots then taken to a late-night post office near the airport.

To be sure, there is certain pleasure in sitting around the kitchen table now, perhaps as a family, and deciding how to vote--and actually voting--and preparing the ballot for the mail. But in the recent past (and in most of America) you and your family could still go over a sample ballot and the information in the voters pamphlet together. On election day in the recent past you had the satisfaction of seeing your neighbors doing their civic duty at the polls. (See Steve Buri's article from Crosscut below.) And you did not have to worry, as now, about the potential for fraud when special interests corral the otherwise uninterested and effectively vote them.

What we have now is technological regress, not progress. In the computer era things have slowed down more than in the 19th century when ballots were cast on paper, or in Canada today, where national election results by riding (district) are available within about two hours.

Has all-absentee balloting increased participation? Not a lot, apparently. But it certainly has increased frustration and doubt.

Now imagine if the whole country adopted this system!

Postscript: Secretary of State Sam Reed has asked the Washington Legislature to require that the mail-in ballots be received by election night. The legislators have not acted on this reform for the obvious reason that people won't trust the Post Office to deliver the ballots to the elections officers on time. How do you know that the ballot mailed on Monday will arrive by the next day, for example? The proposed reform still would represent an improvement on the system we have now. But it is not the full answer. Thanks especially to King County, Washington State's election system has been painted into a corner.

November 6, 2009

Suicide Enabler Hits Washington State Tomorrow

By
Wesley J. Smith

Voters in Washington State approved assisted suicide in a vote last year, but now they are being pushed still further down what suicide opponents have warned is a "slippery slope" to outright euthanasia--to advocate for suicide, not just permit it. This Saturday, November 7, Australia's internationally famous suicide promoter, Philip Nitschke, will bring his suicide seminar to Bellingham's--appearing, ironically, at the "Sustainable Living Center." He is prepared to teach all comers how they can make themselves dead, whether employing animal euthanasia drugs from Mexico or a plastic bag and helium.

But shouldn't there be limits to assisted suicide activism? Not according to Nitschke, who bluntly takes assisted suicide advocacy to its logical conclusion. If we each own our bodies, he says, and if self-termination is an acceptable answer to human suffering, then assisted suicide shouldn't be restricted to limited "subgroups" such as the terminally ill. Indeed, in 2001 interview with National Review Online, Nitschke asserted that "all people qualify, including the depressed, the elderly bereaved, the troubled teen." He even envisioned suicide pills available in supermarkets.

Nitschke has put his nihilistic beliefs into action. When the Australian Northern Territory legalized assisted suicide, he created a computer program that released deadly drugs into the user's blood stream at the push of a keyboard button. Four people died in this manner before the law was overturned by the Australian government. Until it was made illegal in Australia, he distributed custom made plastic "Exit Bags" along with instructions on its use in association with a barbiturate overdose. He concocted the "peaceful pill," in actuality, a toxic recipe made from common household ingredients, for use in suicide so that people would not have to rely on doctors for deadly drugs. He also sells a drug testing kit to help the suicidal ensure that an intended overdose will do the job.

In 2002, a woman named Nancy Crick caused a media frenzy in Australia after announcing publicly that she was being counseled by Nitschke due to terminal cancer. After months of equivocating, she finally killed herself in front of a group of awestruck euthanasia advocates, who reportedly, applauded when she took the drugs. (Nitschke was not present.)

When the autopsy showed that she was not terminally ill, Nitschke admitted that he and Crick knew it all along. However, rather than apologize, he argued that the non-terminal nature of her condition was "irrelevant" because she was "hopelessly ill" with a painful digestive problem.

Some assisted suicide advocates will say that Nitschke's activities illustrate why assisted suicide should be legally regulated. But why would that stop him from "counseling" people who would not qualify for assisted suicide under such a law? Indeed, that is precisely what is happening in Washington, where assisted suicide is legal for people with terminal illnesses.

More importantly, if society comes to broadly accept a "right" of the dying to receive assisted suicide--currently legal in three states--what would prevent legal access to terminal prescriptions from expanding eventually to people with serious disabilities and chronic diseases, the elderly, and the existentially despairing--who, after all, may suffer far more profoundly and for a longer time. That is precisely what has happened in the Netherlands and Switzerland, after assisted suicide became popularly accepted. Indeed, the Supreme Court of Switzerland declared a constitutional right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill.

Yes, Philip Nitschke appears to be on the radical edge of the assisted suicide movement. But he's really just more candid. Indeed, he is often invited to speak at international euthanasia society gatherings. Should assisted suicide mentality sink into the bedrock of American culture--which alas, Washington voters made more likely last year--the question will not be whether its practice will expand to accommodate Nitschke's dark vision, but rather, how long that process will take.

(Wesley J. Smith is a Senior Fellow in Human Rights and Bioethics at Discovery Institute.)

James Baker Understates Ronald Reagan's Role

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One reads over Jim Baker's article for the new Newsweek, looking for acknowledgement of President Ronald Reagan's crucial role in bringing down the Berlin Wall in 1989. It turns out that Reagan is mentioned by Baker, but only in passing. Others are credited more.

But it was Reagan who rebuilt America's military might, confronted the Soviets around the world, promoted Star Wars and revived the American economy while the Soviet's command economy was crumbling. In diplomacy, it was Reagan who pursued "peace through strength" when dealing--brilliantly--with Mikhail Gorbachev.

It was Ronald Reagan who stood before the Wall in 1987 and demanded, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" The famous declaration was made in the teeth of advice from his own White House staff and top State Department officials that he not provoke the Russians and embarrass the Germans. The famous line, writes Steven Hayward in his fine new history of the time, The Age of Reagan, actually was extracted from early drafts of the speech text several times by would-be in-house censors. The President kept putting it back in. Hayward describes a conversation between the President and his aide, Kenneth Duberstein, in which Reagan actually has to remind his own staffer that he is the President and the staffer is not!

Ronald Reagan does not deserve all of the credit for the end of "The Evil Empire," as he called it (also famously, and to the howls of his domestic critics). But he deserves a lot of the credit, along with Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher, one should say, and, of course, countless Eastern European martyrs to freedom and such luminary intellects as Alexander Solzhenitsyn. So, yes, give credit to Mikhail Gorbachev, to George H. Bush, and, by the way, to Jim Baker, too. But without Ronald Reagan it probably would not have happened.

James Baker was Secretary of State under President George H. W. Bush at the time the wall came down, ten months after Reagan left office. (He was Chief of Staff in the Reagan White House in the early years.) I well recall Mr. Baker's reaction the day in 1989 that the wall first was pried open by East German youth. I was watching TV, thrilled, tears coming to my eyes.

Secretary Baker was asked (by CNN, I think) for his reaction. He said he thought it was "a good first step." I couldn't get over that tepid reaction. I said to the television: "A good first step, Jim? The Berlin Wall is coming down!"

It is likely that the Mr. Baker was just being professionally cautious. After all, he must have thought it important not to celebrate too much in public while the Soviets could still use troops to quell the change.

Still, Jim Baker seemed as surprised as anyone.

In contrast was Ronald Reagan, who often had predicted the defeat of communism. He worked most of his adult life to that end. He also and a very few others also saw ahead to the fall of the Wall. Give him due credit.

PLEASE NOTE: I will have the pleasure of introducing Steve Hayward, author of The Age of Reagan, at Discovery Institute headquarters, 208 Columbia, Seattle at 4:30 p.m. Monday--the 20th anniversary of the fall of The Wall. Email Mollie Tschida at molliet@discovery.org if you'd like to join us.

November 8, 2009

Pro-Life Victory in House Surprises, Stuns Planned Parenthood

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Amendment co-author Bart Stupak

Most coverage of the U.S. House vote late last night adopting the Pelosi health care bill ignored or downplayed the successful last minute amendment to prohibit use of federal health care funds to perform abortions. The consequences would seem to reach beyond the Hyde Amendment language of the past. The vote on the "Stupak-Pitts" pro-life amendment was 240 to 194.

Prof-life backers are trying to contain their enthusiasm. They point out that the bill, as adopted, has many other problems that will trouble pro-lifers. Dr. Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life emailed supporters that, "While we applaud the passage of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, serious concerns about H.R. 3962 remain. The Rules Committee did not permit amendments to address concerns about conscience protection, the use of comparative effectiveness research and end of life provisions."

Planned Parenthood's President, Cecile Richards, meanwhile, was stunned and indignant over the vote, seeing it as a rollback of women's health. "Simply put," she declared in a message to supporters, "the Stupak/Pitts amendment would restrict women's access to abortion coverage in the private health insurance market, undermining the ability of women to purchase private health plans that cover abortion, even if they pay for most of the premiums with their own money. This amendment reaches much further than the Hyde Amendment, which has prohibited public funding of abortion in most instances since 1977."

Feminist groups now say they may oppose the bill altogether if comes out of the Senate with similar pro-life language. On her blog this afternoon, Jane Fonda (after reporting on the cold she caught) issued a call to arms over the health bill.

On the other side of the issue, there suddenly is new interest in the bill by the Catholic Bishops, whose main objection has been abortion.

Regardless, the House amendment was still a signal accomplishment for pro-life forces that have have been struggling in the new Washington, D.C. environment. What happens next should be interesting. The battles won't stay behind the scenes and out of the mainstream news very long.

November 9, 2009

Reagan's Writers

Plenty of speech writers like to take credit for this or that speech that a President, in particular, gives. Often it is not deserved, for major speeches are the products of more than one hand. And one of the hands belongs to the President himself.

But the speechwriters of Ronald Reagan are a special case. Tony Dolan, who has an historically significant article in this morning's Wall Street Journal about the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, ran a presidential speech writers staff that was famous in its day and deserves to be called great by any measure.

Almost all the team members were fiercely loyal to the President, self-effacing, truly smart, able craftsmen and serious in-house diplomats. A group of them went off to found the White House Writers Group (Clark Judge, Josh Gilder, et al.) Novelist and Hoover Institution fellow Peter Robinson has helped lead a revolution among Dartmouth alumni. Several others have written well-received books, including, of course, Peggy Noonan.

Lodged in what is now called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (the onetime War Department) across Executive Avenue (closed to traffic) from the West Wing of the White House, the writers labored on many chores at once. They obviously had a primary obligation to heed the desires of the President, but they also had to take more attentive direction (sometimes unwanted) from assorted Chiefs of Staff and Communications Directors. Mrs. Reagan was known to let her views intrude on occasion.

Then there were all the department heads that had to be consulted. Usually they got to clear text that dealt with "their" issues, and Ronald Reagan was generous--maybe too generous--in heeding the voices of caution. But on important matters he also put his foot down, as in the instance of the Berlin Wall speech. His willing accomplices were the Presidential Speech Writers. They had him figured out about as well as anyone. He liked them, they loved him.

Great Day to Encourage Freedom

Ingratitude is part of human nature. So, too, is the convenient memory lapse. In Germany itself we see reports recently of East Germans who mourn the loss of the old DDR, though they quickly add that they surely wouldn't want the old system to return. West Germans, in turn, are quick to count the cost of rehabilitating the East after reunification, but they fail to mention the priceless gift of increased national unity and security.

Our friends at CEI have made a perfect short video to help us all remember and keep this anniversary of the Wall's fall in historic context.

Meanwhile, this afternoon at Discovery Institute we are hosting Steven Hayward, whose truth-telling chronological history of the Reagan Administration--The Age of Reagan--is a riveting reconstruction of a period too often represented now in a kind of gauzy glow. In fact, as Hayward shows, the Reagan years were tumultuous and sometimes even frightening for those who fought its battles. The judgement that they had been hugely successful was not clear until well after President Reagan left office. Unfortunately, human nature also can create a false nostalgia.

Hayward's book is like a splash of cold water in the face in the morning. It wakes you up. It is not agreeable at once, but then it refreshes and encourages. It helps you face the pessimism of now.

November 10, 2009

Climate Change, All Right: It's Been an Unusually COLD Year

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Oct. 10, 2009: When Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, turned into a hockey rink.

The hurricane season of 2005 (Katrina) supposedly showed the way global warming is increasing the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. You haven't heard much of that theory lately. This past season has been downright boring.

Now we find that the cooling trend of the past decade is continuing. Some areas of the U.S. had record cold temperatures last month.

Here is another useful NOAA map.

November 11, 2009

Abortion a Hobson's Choice for Health Care Bill

The Democrats are now in a fix. If they advance the House bill--with its anti-abortion language--they risk losing some 40 pro-choice members on a final vote, not to mention certain Senators meanwhile. If the Senate strips the anti-abortion language out (or the Conference Committee does), Speaker Pelosi faces a final vote defection of about 40 pro-life Democrats.

Discovery colleague Jay Richards discusses the conundrum at the "American" (AEI) site today.

Anti-Semitism in Sweden, Pro-Israeli Iranians

I can't join those denouncing moderate Muslims for not disassociating themselves from the Islamists, because I know a number of moderate Muslims who have done just that. In the Middle East and Central Asia, of course, many moderates are standing up to the Islamists, to the extent of losing their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On the other hand, one might demand that supposed Westerners who learned the lessons of the Holocaust might be counted upon to resist anti-Semitism. But, as a story from Sweden points out, the ancient bigotry has a way of re-gaining fashionability.

Two Muslim Americans of Iranian background (Shayan Arya and Nir Boms), meanwhile, publish in the Jerusalem Post what should be a source of great anticipation; namely, the hostility of the people of Iran to the theocrats who currently rule.

George Gilder's Telecosm annual conference on technology and society is underway today in Tarrytown, New York. The theme is technology in Israel and what it signifies for America's economy and the defense of the West. If you haven't purchased Gilder's The Israel Test yet (and are not at the Telecosm conference), you can order directly from the Discovery.org website.

Obama's Idea of "Bi-Partisanship" versus Reagan's

Dr. Steven Hayward, historian and Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, visited Discovery Institute this week to discuss his new book, The Age of Reagan (volume two, the presidential years). Here is how he handled my question asking him to compare President Obama's idea of bi-partisanship with Reagan's. "The large majorities Obama has are (also) his curse," says Hayward. See the video after the jump.

Continue reading "Obama's Idea of "Bi-Partisanship" versus Reagan's" »

November 12, 2009

Keeping Commentaries on Fanatics Sane

There seems to be a middle way between asserting that the Fort Hood massacre was the product of a religious fanatic and claiming that it was the product of a deranged mind. A fanatic is often deranged or slightly so. That does not usually excuse the individual from the consequences of his actions. Osama bin Laden in an American uniform probably might well have done the same as Major Nidal Malik Hasan.

David Klinghoffer points out that atheist evangelizers want the Fort Hood killings to be laid at the foot of Islam almost as badly as some right wingers do. They are not wrong about the way the religious thinking of Dr. Hasan was turned to violence. And it is certainly correct to notice that Islam these days does seem to provide a great many violent agitators. But, as I have said before, there are many Muslims who are fighting and dying against just such fanatics around the world, whether their foe is Al Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan or the oppressive regime in Iran. Please make clear, then, that the danger comes from Islamic extremists.

And, meanwhile, as Klinghoffer says, if you want to trace the works of ideas in our civilization, let's bring in the parade of secularists. (Shall I mention North Korea?)

Medvedev Signals Kremlin Policy Shift

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Two trends of Russian government policy seem to be shifting, as witnessed by President Medvedev's major address today in Moscow. The first is the tendency in recent years for government to punish those individuals and companies deemed guilty of economic misbehavior. Now, it seems, the Kremlin is taking a more free market approach.

In foreign policy--connected to business, as well--the Kremlin seems eager once again to bring foreign capital back into the country, and to protect it. Russian leadership also seems to be warming a bit to the U.S., and cooling to Iran.

At least that is the interpretation many are putting on the fairly general statements in the Medvedev speech. See the following report from Stratfor:

Thursday, November 12, 2009
A Speech, the Russian Economy and U.S. Relations

"AS RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DMITRI MEDVEDEV was preparing to make his second State of the State address on Thursday, some major shifts in Russian domestic and foreign policy appeared to be taking place. Those shifts seemed destined to affect not only the speech, but Russia as a whole."

Continue reading "Medvedev Signals Kremlin Policy Shift" »

November 13, 2009

Israel is now "The Startup Nation"

When it comes to technology, entrepreneur Jonathan Medved told George Gilder's Telecosm 2009 conference in Tarrytown, New York this week, Israel is the world's "startup nation," now eclipsing everyone else in the world (even the U.S. on a per capita basis).

There was great enthusiasm for Medved and other speakers at this year's Gilder show, which was built around The Israel Test, George's new book. A video greeting from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the conference.

On "Street Insider" at CNBC TV later, Jonathan Medved also described the remarkable prominence of Israel in green technologies, including desalinization, geo-thermal power and electric cars (thanks to Shai Aggaziz, who spoke last year at Discovery's Cascadia conference, "Beyond Oil".)

Another Medved, radio star/author/Discovery senior fellow Michael, was also a resounding success at Telecosm 2009. We hope to have his and other speeches at the event posted soon.

The Rapture of the Atheists

Text courtesy of CNS, who published the article online this morning.

"This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper."

--T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

The level of maturity of the New Atheism movement was on florid display at the national convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation this past weekend in Seattle. A high point apparently was a "non-prayer breakfast," where six hundred attendees were reminded of the oppressive civic funcions where people often are asked to bow their heads for a moment of silence. Instead, the atheists were encouraged to exhibit a moment of "bedlam", shouting, clinking glasses and who knows what? How liberating!

A top draw attraction at the convention was Ron Reagan, a middle-aged "unabashed atheist" who is best known for....well, for being a son of President Ronald Reagan, who was a favorite target of people like the conventioneers. President Reagan often ended his speeches with the benediction, "May God bless America." Ron derives whatever significance he enjoys from repudiating his father's worldview. It's not much of a gig, is it? And it also is not much of a threat.

The other good news for non-atheists is that the chief philanthropy of the New Atheism--its most heartfelt project, in fact--seems to be....bus signs. Richard Dawkins is using profits from his books for the signs. Lesser-known, latter-day Clarence Darrows and H. L. Menckens likewise are using their savings to invest in bus cards that sally forth in cities from London to Seattle. The seasonal placards now up in Seattle announce that, "Yes, Virginia, there is no God."

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Continue reading "The Rapture of the Atheists" »

November 15, 2009

Health Bill Foes Foolishly Ignore Young Adults

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Conservatives are lining up some fine arguments against the strange health care beast being shepherded through Congress this season. Oddly, however, as the public as a whole turns against the Obama Administration on health care and other issues, the critics have neglected the young adult constituency that voted 66 percent for Mr. Obama last fall and are the least engaged now in the health care debate.

Move them and you will move the debate substantially. So far, the critics are not making the effort. They attack rationing, Medicate cuts that threaten seniors, lack of controls on tort excesses and much else. But they don't address the interest of the young.

Yet there is every reason that young voters should be anxious about the health care bill that recently passed the House, as well as the bills under consideration in the Senate. They stand to lose a bundle.

Among other things, as papers from CATO (libertarian) and the Urban Institute (liberal) make clear, the House bill provides for "community rating" that will prohibit insurance companies from offering young people--who are almost always "low risk" so far as health is concerned-- commensurately lower rates for health insurance. It doesn't matter whether their health now is good, whether they eat right and don't smoke and exercise regularly. Effectively, young people--unless they are poor and therefore subsidized--will see the price of health insurance skyrocket.

Moreover (here's the kicker), under the "individual mandate" they will find they must buy such insurance. The new law requires it. They can even go to jail if they don't.

In short, young people are going to be forced for the first time to have health insurance and, and unless they are the subsidized poor, they are going to pay through the nose for it. How popular can that be?

Popular enough, so long as the young people involved don't know about it until it is too late. As is, young adults tend to think health care "reform" is just apple pie and Mom, something all good people should support. They haven't bothered to learn about it. And no one is telling them. For example, if the Republican National Committee has any significant outreach to college students and other young adults on this topic, it is keeping the message secret.

Again: the highest level of support remaining for the Obama Administration and its health care bill(s) are young voters. If they desert, the bill's base will be greatly weakened. So, why are they not being educated about the bill by its critics?

November 18, 2009

"Insurance Reform" Translates to "Higher Prices"

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The assertion that Obamacare will lead to lower costs fortunately is not believed by most Americans.

Former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, a Board Member of Discovery Institute, describes the true situation in the Seattle Times.

A Weak Dollar Produces a Weak Economy

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Talk to everyone you know and find out how many are investing in new businesses, new technologies, new equipment. Not many. Those who are investing are mostly in fields that are being revolutionized as part of sectoral technological change. Amazon.com does well, a start-up in traffic data, Inrix, does well.

Other people are making money bottom fishing in the old economy; for example, businesses buying up home foreclosures and distressed office buildings.

But try to find a new retail outlet. Drive down Main Street and notice the increasing number of boarded up shops and the office buildings at 4 p.m. whose lights are not burning.

You can blame the high spending, the penchant for demonizing businessmen, increasing regulations and plans for higher taxes. All that is true.

Continue reading "A Weak Dollar Produces a Weak Economy" »

November 19, 2009

Democrats Turning on Obama Economic Team

Pete Defazio is a popular and senior Democrat member of the U.S. House from Oregon and a leader in something called the "Populist Caucus" that was created earlier this year. His call for the resignation of the President's two top economic advisers, Larry Summers and Tim Geitner, should send shudders through the White House.

The misuse of TARP money now reverberates through the President's party on Capitol Hill. It means that the economic recovery is sputtering on Main Street, where it matters most.

Of course, the real scandal is not the salary bonuses at Wall Street, but the way the government has misused stimulus money on low impact, temporary projects that do nothing to create permanent jobs.

November 20, 2009

Copenhagen's Ardor Cooling, Along with Climate

What do diplomats do when circumstances change before a scheduled international conference to take action? They put out a resounding statement and pledge to meet again. That is what you can expect from the coming global climate summit in Denmark.

The problem for the global warming hysterics is that the globe is not warming this decade. Activists like Chris Mooney who have tried to smear anyone who questioned the extent or causes of global warming now have to deal with growing dissent within the ranks of climatologists.

How much better it would be for them to try to find common practical ground with doubters. You don't have to buy the idea that human beings have caused global warming to agree that Americans should reduce pollution and reduce dependency on foreign oil--and on oil in general. The Obama Administration that has ditched cap and trade for now could achieve an alternative victory by encouraging conversion to nuclear power and abundant, cleaner burning natural gas. At that point, electricity becomes relatively cheaper and electric cars become viable. Meanwhile, agreement also could be reached on helping developing countries to effect a similar conversion.

Instead, we get endless Chicken Little statements that seem to have increasingly little point.

Possible Science Conspiracy Cools Copenhagen Climate Talks Still Further

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South Park's Al Gore explains the danger of Manbearpig

The news is filtering out, but growing, that someone "hacked" the U.K global climate science computers and put up emails that suggest a conspiracy to promote global warming against the evidence. Or was it a leak in disguise?

Regardless, there will be a major spin effort to make the story the crime of hacking, while climate skeptics will be pouring over the released data to show how the data on climate change may have been altered and how dissenting scientists have been sabotaged.

Apply Chapman's "Shoe on the Other Foot" rule and imagine the outpouring of journalistic indignation and investigation if the story was that evidence supporting climate warming had been suppressed.

Meanwhile, one can't read the emails and the personal animus they express without seeing the veil of scientific objectivity shredded before his eyes.

November 23, 2009

Finally, the Word is Getting Out: the Young are Targets

Young people are conspicuous victims of "federal health care reform." They just don't know it, and opponents are really dim-witted about the subject, imagining that the young will figure it out for themselves. Robert Samuelson describes the truth.

So, when the Republican National Committee calls during the dinner hour, asking for a contribution, I intend to ask them what they are doing about the young--the sweet, ignorant, gullible young.

November 24, 2009

Chanukah Lights Dimmed at White House

Politico reports that the annual Chanukah celebration has been downgraded at the Obama White House.

One well remembers the reports of last year's ecstatic celebration, the last of George W. Bush's palpable expressions of admiration for Judaism and Israel. Dancing broke out in joy, Diane Medved reported. People were swept up in the excitement.

What changed?

November 26, 2009

"Hide the Decline"--the Mantra of Corruption

The perpetrators of the ClimateGate scandal are trying hard to minimize the significance of their email trail and what it reveals of efforts to prejudice climate change discussions. The obfuscation and hand-waving are working (of course, and as usual) with The New York Times and certain other major media. The BBC had the story and attempted to spike it. But the story is just too compelling to suppress in other outlets and on the Internet.

Scientists know that this is an honest tattle-tale moment. They know that the treatment of dissenters has been disgraceful. First you say they can't be heard because they haven't published in supposedly sacrosanct "peer-reviewed journals," then you keep them from appearing in those journals; then, when a journal does publish them, you denounce the journal as--by definition--"unscientific".

It's nice to see The Wall Street Journal and other leading organs take up this issue of authoritarianism. Lorrie Goldstein of the Toronto Sun further points out that money and power are central to the climate change debate and that Big Government provides money to push in a certain direction.

In the practical world of politics and public policy, the ClimaeGate scandal further diminishes prospects of an international agreement at the forthcoming climate change summit in Copenhagen.

But what will it take for the media to take up the exactly parallel case of scientists who question the ability of Darwinian natural selection to explain the origin of life and the development of species? In several instances (the Richard Sternberg case, the Guillermo Gonzalez case), email trails have shown a similar attitude of entitlement and coercion. And money in the form of federal grants also suggests a similar pattern of prejudice and cronyism in universities and research institutions, not to mention at supposedly scientific journals.

Or do the media really imagine that the case of climate change is unique?

November 29, 2009

Inconvenient Truths About Climate Emails Expand

Wesley Smith's First Things blog nails the connection between the ClimateGate emails and the similar authoritarian approach to Darwin and design. The Wall Street Journal editorial he cites elicits comparable comments from several other readers who noted the paper's article online.

Consider these lines from the editorial:

"The real issue is what the messages say about the way the much-ballyhooed scientific consensus on global warming was arrived at, and how a single view of warming and its causes is being enforced...

"According to this privileged group, only those whose work has been published in select scientific journals, after having gone through the "peer-review" process, can be relied on to critique the science. And sure enough, any challenges from critics outside this clique are dismissed and disparaged.

"As anonymous reviewers of choice for certain journals, Mr. Mann & Co. had considerable power to enforce the consensus, but it was not absolute, as they discovered in 2003. Mr. Mann noted in a March 2003 email, after the journal "Climate Research" published a paper not to Mr. Mann's liking, that "This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the 'peer-reviewed literature'. Obviously, they found a solution to that--take over a journal!"

"Mr. Mann went on to suggest that the journal itself be blackballed.."

As Bill Dembski has noted at Uncommon Descent, "Sound familiar?"

(Meanwhile, the London Telegraph's Christopher Booker reminds us that the scientists involved in ClimateGate are the leaders of the warming pack, not just a few who share the supposed consensus opinion. It is their work upon which the international consensus is based.)

Reviews of Peer-Review are Peerless

Humorous political writer Mark Steyn has it right about the corruptible peer review process that helped keep the Climate Research Unit in charge of global climate studies.

"'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' wondered Juvenal: Who watches the watchmen? But the beauty of the climate-change tree-ring circus is that you never need to ask "Who peer-reviews the peer-reviewers?" Mann peer-reviewed Jones, and Jones peer-reviewed Mann, and anyone who questioned their theories got exiled to the unwarmed wastes of Siberia. "

Meanwhile political humor writer Iowa Hawk has this delicious take on the way peer review operates as a grant seeking hive.


Anti-Iran Resolution on Nukes Marks New Russian Stance

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Iran is now more isolated than at any time in over three years as the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors, meeting in Vienna, rebuked the theocratic Muslim regime for its disregard of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and efforts of the international community to find a peaceful resolution. Russia and China voted with the West, as did India. Only Cuba, Venezuela and Malaysia voted with Iran, while a number of Iran's neighbors bravely abstained--Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan among them.

Russia's growing impatience with Tehran is the big development here, especially if it leads to a Russian vote at the Security Council that backs the IAEA position with real sanctions. Give some quiet applause to the Obama Administration (quiet, because matters are still delicate) and also credit Russia's increasing realism about economics and terrorism.

On the other hand, Iran's contemptuous reaction to the IAEA resolution and its announcement that it will build even more centrifuges is hardly a laudable achievement for Obama Administration diplomacy, is it?

Data Pollution in Turn Polluted ClimateGate Studies

It isn't just the emails about covered up information, it also is the huge store of bogus data--out of control studies--that the Climate Research Unit (CRU) pretended to rely upon. Lorrie Goldstein describes it in the Toronto Sun, relying, apparently, on a close reading of the voluminous documents by CBS News' columnist, Declan McCullagh. Note, however, that McCullagh's investigation is not getting a lot of support from CBS. Indeed, the MSM are in denial.

Honduran Election a Welcome Victory for Democracy and Constitutional Governance

The conservative candidate for president won in Honduras and it is likely now that the United States will recognize his government, as will Panama and Costa Rica. The way the Washington Times plays it in early reports (big, legitimizing turnout, show of rejection for the ousted Zelaya) versus the Washington Post story (small turnout, many voters not happy with choices) is telling, isn't it?

Mainstream media, being liberal, are unhappy that the Hondurans upheld their own constitutional ban on added Presidential terms and--with united Honduras Supreme Court and congressional backing--ousted Manuel Zelaya. T They also aren't very happy that Zelaya's antics thereafter, backed by Hugo Chavez, failed to sway either major party in Honduras or that country's courts.

Actually, the election results are a big victory for democracy and freedom in Latin America and a setback for Latin America's authoritarian regimes like Chavez' and Castro's. Had Zelaya come back, Honduras could well have been muscled into a situation like that afflicting Venezuela.

November 30, 2009

The Government-Foundation-Academia Complex

Nearly a half century ago, leaving office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of a "military-industrial complex" that promoted particular new weapons systems and, hence, concomitant budgetary and foreign commitments. In other words, warned the former five star general, selfish professional ambitions and interests can create a false perception of national interest.

The term "military-industrial complex" has become famous. Neuroscientist Michael Egnor reminds us, however, that Ike's farewell address also warned of development of a grants-corrupted "scientific-technological elite."

"Today," President Eisenhower said, "the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present -- and is gravely to be regarded."

"Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should," he continued, "we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite."

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Today, almost fifty years later, we are seeing the mature fruits of a Government-Foundation- Academia complex in science. It is beginning to appear almost as sinister and corrupt as the military-industrial complex ever was. It is wanton hubris to assert that "science" and the agenda of the Government-Foundation-Academia complex are the same and that to criticize the latter is to be "anti-science." In truth, that kind of smear is just the problem with the system now coming under investigation. Even if man-made global warming is just as bad as we have been told, the case for it is undermined by efforts to suppress data and stigmatize opponents.

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