"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, January 21, 2008

Rush is Wrong, Statesmanship, or: The Year of the Mixed Bag

"I can see possibly not supporting the Republican nominee this election, and I never thought that I would say that in my life."--R. Limbaugh, January 21, 2008

Well, I must admit that if it's Huckabee vs. Obama, I might cross party lines for the first time since 1988 myself. Rush shares my antipathy for Huck, but I think he's really talking about John McCain.

Now, McCain has his sins against conservative orthodoxy, and wrote a bill with Ted Kennedy for what amounted to amnesty for illegal aliens. Very unpopular, but President Bush supported the idea, too, after all. McCain has since retracted this apostasy, and says he'll support border enforcement as the Will of the People.

Not great, but hey, that's the idiosyncratic McCain. Scarcer than honest men in Washington are people who agree with McCain 100% on the issues. It's part of his charm, what makes him appealing to independents, and what makes him the only Republican who, according to the current polls, is in a statistical dead heat with the Democrat candidates---any, all, and each, even against the odious John Edwards.

But what puts a burr under El Rushbo's bottom most is McCain-Feingold, a law that admittedly puts a dent in the First Amendment's protection of free political speech. Bad idea.

McCain was also one of only two GOP senators to vote in 2001, '02 and '03 against the Bush tax cuts [known today as "the Bush tax cuts"], a pillar of one of conservatism's three-legs-of-the-stool, economic liberty. But McCain's right out front in 2008 that he wants to make them permanent, under the somewhat twisted but clever logic that to repeal them would amount to a tax increase. McCain is philosophically against tax increases---and in this, the Year of the Mixed Bag, that should be sufficient.

As for the other two pillars of the conservative coalition, McCain's credentials on national security are nonpareil, and it was he who wanted to whack the counterattack in Iraq even more than Bush and the neo-cons did. As for social conservatism, McCain's record as a pro-lifer is nigh-perfect on abortion issues, although he's not an absolutist on banning embryonic stem cell research.

And if his "Gang of 14" bi-partisan coalition with 7 Democrats in the Senate was offensive to conservatives who wanted to go to the mattresses over Bush43 judicial nominees, it was that very peace treaty that put John Roberts and Sam Alito on the Supreme Court, neither of whom conservatives view as "compromise" candidates.

In fact, they may stand as the Bush43 administration's greatest accomplishment, and it may very well have been John McCain's statesmanship that made their confirmations happen.

So when the estimable Mr. Limbaugh says

The Drive-Bys [mainstream media] consider McCain's 'straight talk' anything they agree with, and the first item on the things they agree with him is: 'Bush sucks.'

I think he's missing the bigger picture here. Although it's unfair to call Bush43 a divider [he reached out to Ted Kennedy, after all, with "No Child Left Behind"], even Dubya's admirers confess that his style became more autocratic than statesmanlike. It was John McCain who buried the hatchet after the 2000 primaries, campaigned for him in 2004, and carried his water in Congress without losing himself and his credibility as his own man in the process.

"Bush sucks?" Hardly.

Look, Rush, I realize that you see yourself as a conservative first and a Republican second, and that's OK. You yourself admitted to the mistake of carrying the Bush administration's [and the GOP's] water, and regretted losing yourself in the process.

John McCain never did. That's presidential timber: his personal heroism is unquestionable, his statemanship and character as well.


Caught on CNN's "Situation Room"

WOLF BLITZER: ...and thank you for the excellent report, Lou. I had no idea things were that bad for the Republicans. Truly a party in chaos. Now over to Jack Cafferty, who gives us the opinions that create the news.

JACK CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf. Today's question---Does the president, Mr. Bush, really suck, or does he really REALLY suck?

Summer from Palo Alto writes, "He really sucks. He got us into an illegal war and let bin Laden slip away at Tora Bora. And then there's Katrina. Oh yeah, and tax cuts for the rich."

Brent from Boston says, "Really REALLY sucks. Iraq, Tora Bora, Katrina, and eroding our civil liberties. Oh yeah, and tax cuts for the rich."

William from Berkeley agrees. "Definitely really REALLY sucks. Iraq, Tora Bora, Katrina. Civil liberties, the police state, and Guantanamo. Oh yeah, and tax cuts for the rich."

Sheila from Long Island thinks he just really sucks. Howard from Vermont and Ted from Martha's Vineyard say, he really REALLY sucks. So you can see, Wolf, we're really all over the map on this one.

But Jim from Boise asks, "Why do you even pretend the "Situation Room" is a newscast? Jack Cafferty hangs over Wolf's shoulder like some demented Jiminy Cricket, asking leading questions when he's not spouting leftist propaganda every fifteen minutes. I mean, are you afraid people might think for themselves?"

But Noam from New York observes, "Why didn't you include 'really REALLY REALLY sucks,' which is what Dumbya actually does? Just proves you're all right-wing stooges for the globalist corporate newsocracy."

And there you have it. America speaks. Our next question---Barack Obama: Will he be a really great president, or a really REALLY great one? Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack. I notice we got criticism from both the right and the left on that last question, which is what happens when you play it straight and down the middle. Which is why we here at CNN, as always, are proud to remain The Most Trusted Name in News™.

And at 8 PM Eastern, our award-winning special investigative report, "Planet in Peril: God's Warriors in our Broken Government." Don't miss it.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Whose Party Is It, Anyway? [...and I'll cry if I want to.]

Last November, this correspondent tried to warn philosophically-minded Republicans that they were taking Christian votes for granted. They're certainly the backbone of social conservatism---sympathetic to pro-life issues and the cohesion and integrity of the nuclear family---and compose the third leg of the GOP coalition along with a strong national defense and economic liberty.

But they also believe that Christian charity is a duty, caring for those who slip through the cracks of the free market system's meritocracy.

Just because some people aren't equipped to compete in it---for whatever reason, their fault or not---that doesn't mean they should be left to starve in this dog-eat-dog world. A Christian conscience cannot permit that to happen.

Jonah Goldberg picks up the theme, in a customarily excellent essay. Committed Christians, primarily the evangelical vote, represent 30% of the conservative coalition, and at least 10% of the total electorate. And Roman Catholics are also an overlooked part of the coalition, and it was their favorite philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas who argued for a "just wage." No wonder a Pew poll noted that "79 percent of self-described social conservatives" favor raising the minimum wage. Lose half of these voters, and in this 50-50 republic, the GOP loses 55%-45%.

That's a landslide, folks, and a helluva mandate for more Bigtime Bigass Government. Word up---even Adam Smith, the apostle of competition and free markets, before he wrote the capitalist bible An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776, in 1759 wrote:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it…That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane…the greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.
—--Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

If Marxists are brutes who trust the false god of government, and whose greatest error is ignoring human nature, so are those who worship the equally false god of the free market and ignore what's in the heart of every man, Christian and non-Christian alike.

In this here democratic republic, every one of us is a citizen-ruler, so we don't just petition the government to help out the poor and the weak. We are the government, and vote accordingly, every man a king. The just ruler is also kind, and anyone who writes kindness out of the human equation misses the whole point of being human in the first place.

Friday, January 11, 2008

No More Bradley

Brrrr. It was a cold day in New Hampshire, where Hillary Clinton had climbed off the mat to post a significant, if less than decisive, victory. This coincided, oddly enough, with the day on which Barack Obama had come down off the mountaintop to post a significant, if less than decisive, defeat. The Iowa Bounce effect had bumped up against the Spalding-off-the-Wall effect which states: “Every bounce must be answered by an equal and opposite bounce.”
The scarier theory for Obama underperforming his overhyped overcoming of underdog status is known as the Bradley Effect. This refers to the actor Karl Malden who, after playing General Omar Bradley in the movie Patton, became the spokesman for American Express, repeating the slogan: “Don’t leave home without it.” People could buy their travelers checks and fantasize they were off to Normandy to fight the Krauts instead of sitting like beached whales in loud ill-fitting swim trunks on the beach. In the case of Obama, winning a caucus where people vote in the open air led him to fantasize that he could win in a closed booth.
Ha, ha, just kidding. The Bradley Effect actually refers to the New York Knickerbockers championship NBA basketball team in 1989, in which Princeton grad Bill Bradley injected a cerebral element into the game by “moving without the ball”. This later led to him becoming a United States Senator from New Jersey who did not have very much on the ball. Barack Obama played some high school ball in Hawaii, and mistakenly thought that he could beat Hillary Clinton one-on-one in New Hampshire. He found out that white women can jumpstart a campaign from a sitting position. Add to that the fact that Senator Bradley endorsed Obama just two days ago, and you can see the whole thing unfolding, or perhaps unraveling.
Ha, ha, just kidding yet again. The Bradley Effect actually refers to philosopher Francis Herbert Bradley (1846-1924), a leader of the Idealist school. These idealists make the classic mistake of thinking that nice guys don’t really finish last. They assume their underlying sincerity will serve them well, not realizing that no one is more adept at underhanded lying than the Clintons of this world. Bradley fought against the school known as Hedonism, which believed that morality is designed to create a more pleasurable world. The parallel to trying to defeat a Clinton is undeniable.
Well, if you must know, I fooled you one last time. Now that my credibility is totally shot (although the points are not without validity) I will fill you in on the real deal. The Bradley Effect was based on former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley leading George Deukmejian in the polls of the gubernatorial race, then losing on Election Day. The theory was that white voters will tell pollsters, especially members of minority groups, that they will vote for the black candidate. But when Election Day dawns, they dump the dusky fellow and go with the alabaster.
You would think that the questioners in these polls would learn how to factor in these biases. A good follow-up question might identify subtle leanings that the yes-or-no format fails to elicit accurately. Here are some sample indicators of the Bradley Effect in cross-examining potential voters. “I would be thrilled to vote for a black guy for President, especially if he invites me to the White House for fried chicken and watermelon.” “I think it is high time those people got their chance just like everyone else.” “This is wonderful. Some of my best friends are blacks. Boy, my cleaning lady will be so thrilled!”
All in all, I suspect all of this is baloney, the result of too many pundits trying to slice the salami. The fact is that Obama and Hillary share this quality of being a historical vote, at least in the bean-counting modern world where race and gender stats are painstakingly tabulated. The Republicans had hoped to capture some of this energy by promoting Colin Powell a few years ago, but he would not bite. Bottom line, the country is disgusted with the absurd allegation that they would reject the better candidate for lack of testosterone or excess of melanin.
From my perspective, neither of these candidates is good for America. Black or white, man or woman, I need someone unafraid to send the Bradley tank out into the world’s hot spots. Until then, it is a cold day in New Hampshire. Brrr.

Brezhnev Lives!

Yes, it is official: Universal coverage is the opposite of health care. Don't believe it? Well, then, please pay attention to the position of the federal government---yes, that same federal government that many believe should guarantee health care coverage for all---in a lawsuit filed by a couple of veterans' groups arguing that the VA health care system "illegally denies care and benefits..."

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle (January 11): "The government had argued that it was required to provide only as much care as the VA's budget allowed in a given year."

Now, it is absolutely clear that the Constitution vests the power of the purse in Congress, and not the judiciary. Congress has the power to spend whatever it chooses, and if given interest groups deem that amount insufficient, they have every right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

But let us shunt that legal/constitutional issue aside. What is fascinating is the policy dimension: The bureaucracy has just agreed that resources are limited---duh!---and therefore that not everything can be covered and that the beneficiaries of government spending programs might not get everything they would like. In other words: They will not be fully "covered" despite future promises of "universal coverage."

And that is for a small (and politically untouchable) population of beneficiaries: veterans. What would the system "cover" when everyone is the special interest, competing with everyone else for slices of the federal pie in the context of health care expenditures skyrocketing? The short answer: Not everything, not the universe, and not the free lunch that so many believe is within reach.

This little spat reminds me of the old joke about the time that the great Leonid Brezhnev was on the phone listening to the desperate pleas of Todor Zhivkov, the general secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party, as he begged Brezhnev for increased economic aid. "Comrade Leonid Ilyichovich, we desperately need 10 million tons of grain." Brezhnev: "You will have them." "We need 25 million tons of oil." "You will have them." "We need 5 million tons of steel, 40 million tons of cement, 10 million pairs of shoes, 15 million winter coats, and 25 million tons of potatoes." "Fear not, Todor Hristovich: You will have them."

"Leonid Ilyichovich, you are a giant among the defenders of the proletariat, and the savior of the Bulgarian workers. But I have only one question. Do you really think that the Czechs will be able to deliver?"

[cross-posted from www.medicalprogresstoday.com/blog/]

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I previously wrote:

I, of course, support Fred Thompson, who, altho a down-the-line conservative, is at least mellow, and undoubtedly to my lefty pal's delight, also stands not even a snowball's chance.

According to the estimables John Podhoretz, Frank Luntz and National Review in general [which endorsed Mitt Romney as the only viable conservative], after tonight's South Carolina debate, please upgrade to

...stands a snowball's chance.

Hey, stranger and far worse things have happened. Like Jimmy Carter...


Professor Reich Speaks

Robert Reich opined in yesterday's Wall Street Journal about the mudfight among the Democratic presidential candidates on the issue of whose individual "mandate" (a requirement that health insurance be acquired) would yield the most extensive coverage. And Reich is right: The differences are small, and the most extensive (or more stringently enforced) mandates are a way of imposing a tax on the young and healthy so as to subsidize other purchasers of health insurance. And thus does the great struggle over health care and "the children" boil down, as usual, to a fight over who gets to have greater snout privileges at the federal trough.

Reich claims that all the Democratic plans would cover roughly the same number of people; but nowhere does he delve into the issue of precisely what "coverage" means in a world in which government mandates insurance. Even apart from the larger reality that all the Democratic plans would lead toward a single-payer system and all the perversities thereto pertaining, government does not have infinite resources, and so must make choices about whom to "cover" and for what. And this dynamic proceeeds in the context of the eternal struggle over budget dollars, in which patients are just another interest group among many.

And that is why "universal coverage" is the opposite of health care, as government squeezes patients and providers so as to engender "savings" that can be used for other budget priorities. Where does the quality of actual care fit in that Beltway universe? The question answers itself, just as it has in the UK and Canada and other places where government compassion reigns supreme.

[cross-posted from www.medicalprogresstoday.com/blog/]

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Can't We All Just Get Along? [apparently not Some of Us, even with Each Other]

I remember saying about a year ago I'd be happy with John McCain as president, even tho he often departs from conservative philosophy, if it would get America---left and right [the folks I work with lean left and they're always jawing at me]---off each other's throats.

I'm sick of all this, too.

A lefty pal o'mine writes:

[T]he most exciting development for me so far in the primaries has been McCain's victory in New Hampshire and possible resurgence. I've long thought that the key to bringing sanity back to American politics lies with the GOP...

Well, of course he would say that, since Ann Coulter's indiscretions are headline news, whereas Bill Maher's and Al Franken's and Michael Moore's and even Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean's are so par for the course that we on the right don't even raise an eyebrow anymore.

But without getting into strict disagreement with him, a look at the GOP field shows McCain and Rudy Giuliani with established maverick credentials, Mitt Romney managing to get hisself elected governor of the only state that George McGovern carried, and Christianist Mike Huckabee more a believer in government as the solution to people's problems than any Republican in recent memory.

[I, of course, support Fred Thompson, who, altho a down-the-line conservative, is at least mellow, and undoubtedly to my lefty pal's delight, also stands not even a snowball's chance.]

So, the GOP has already de facto done its part in Our National Healing. On the other side, only HRC could possibly be construed as center-left rather than simply left, and that takes a ton of mental creativity.

And from what I see in the headlines, Herself and Sen. Barack Obama are getting ready to take the gloves off. Not mellow, atall, atall.

But if Obama prevails as the Dem nominee, there's a chilling possibility that any legitimate criticism of his candidacy might be seen as racially insensitive or offensive or divisive or whatever. Al Gore's 2000 campaign manager Donna Brazile made that charge against Bill Clinton His Ownself today.

For him to go after Obama using "fairy tale," calling him a "kid," as he did last week, it's an insult. And I tell you, as an African-American, I find his words and his tone to be very depressing.

America's First Black President disses his own. Very depressing indeed. All that healing he did, circling the bowl.

This all might get a helluva lot uglier before it get prettier, folks, but it has zilch to do with the Party of Lincoln.

[Me, if Obama slapped Ms. Brazile down in a Sista Soulja moment and gave ex-President Clinton's remarks a pass as histrionic but legitimate campaign fare, he might even win my vote, his Senate voting record being identical to Teddy Kennedy's notwithstanding. Did I mention I'm sick of all this?]


It's Just Improper

What is it this time, you ask? Unsurprisingly, given the election season now entering full bloom, it is some types of drug marketing, according to a couple of disgruntled former employees of Amgen, who now are immersed in arbitration proceedings after having been fired for... well, it's not quite clear. The LA Times reports today that the two are accusing Amgen of requiring sales staff to engage in "aggressive and possibly improper marketing practices to boost Enbrel sales beyond its approved uses." (Enbrel is an expensive psoriasis treatment.) One former employee "contends that the company required salespeople to gain access to patient medical information in doctors' offices and market the drug directly to patients, many of whom may not have needed the medication."

It's not quite clear why the doctors would allow the drug reps to look through patients' files. But the larger policy issue that arises out of such cases as this one is whether off-label drug use, as prescribed by a doctor not being bribed by a pharmaceutical producer, is useful for patients. The evidence---crude, indirect, but compelling--- is that it is indeed. This is not very surprising given the powerful incentives of the FDA to approve drugs too slowly and for too few uses.

And so beware newspaper articles sympathetic to the argument that it is "improper" for the private sector to find ways to serve the interests of patients more fully. Once we allow bureaucrats to define the boundaries of propriety, we will have taken a long step toward serfdom, higher drug prices, and increased human suffering.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Stop The Presses

You'd better sit down. The Washington Post offers the following headline today: "Medicare Helps Push Drug Spending Up."

No kidding. When patients get a subsidy, they take advantage of it! And not just any subsidy: a federal subsidy defined as a budget entitlement for the purchase of prescription drugs under Medicare Part D.

Down around paragraph 2,938 it is noted as well that "The primary driver of the higher drug spending was increased consumption, not price increases..." This is not very surprising---notwithstanding the predictions of the usual suspects that prices would rise in the absence of federal negotiations of prices---in that Part D has expanded the market, for better or worse, and thus allowed the pharmaceutical producers to exploit the sizeable scale economies that characterize the cost conditions under which most drugs are produced.

And so we have some indirect but important evidence that an expansion of drug advertising would have a similar salutary effect on prices, again contrary to the simple-minded arguments of many that such advertising costs money, and so obviously it must drive prices up. How is it possible for some to get everything wrong? Good question.

[cross-posted from www.medicalprogresstoday.com/blog/]

Who'd A Thunk It?

The January issue of Archives of General Psychiatry---we labor mightily day and night so that you, dear Reader, do not have to read such stuff---has a nice article reviewing the California data on thimerosal and childhood autism. You may recall that the purported link between thimerosal---a vaccine preservative containing ethylmercury---and autism is one of those conspiratorial fads promoted by the likes of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and believed with religious fervor by thousands of desperate parents despite the utter absence of systematic evidence showing any such effect.

Anyway, the article reports an examination of the evidence reported by the California Department of Developmental Services. The removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines was accelerated between 1999 and 2001, and the data report the incidence of diagnosed autism by age and birth cohort from January 1995 through March 31, 2007. The finding? "Since 2004, the absolute increase and rate of increase in DDS clients aged 3 to 5 years with autism were higher than those in DDS clients of the same ages with any eligible condition including autism."

What does that mean? "The DDS data do not show any recent decrease in autism in California despite the exclusion of more than trace levels of thimerosal from nearly all childhood vaccines. The DDS data do not support the hypothesis that exposure to thimerosal during childhopod is a primary cause of autism."

Maybe Bobby the Child now will argue that Californians are just weird. And you know what? He's right.

[cross-posted from www.medicalprogresstoday.com/blog]

Friday, December 28, 2007

Faith, Religion and Atheists

Two articles last week had me thinking how easy it’s been for prominent blowhard atheists of late to control the terms of the debate. The first was in the Chicago Tribune, “Of books, faith and cathedrals: The mystery at the heart of religion is individual belief.” Notice how the author compares religious faith to that of the atheist:

Without question, the New Atheism sells. Even with what seems to me to be a smug, hip, self-congratulatory tone, these books do quite well. Hitchens' "God Is Not Great" is a best seller . . . . And unlike Hitchens and his fellow nonbelievers, I'm willing -- to employ the phrase of the great singer and songwriter Iris DeMent -- to let the mystery be.

Mystery. That's really the point, isn't it? The mystery at the heart of religious faith isn't about syllogisms or axioms. It's not about logic. It's not about what I think about your beliefs; it's about what you believe. Faith baffles. It's supposed to. It's as puzzling and inscrutable as the emotion one feels when strolling through a Swiss cathedral on a cold afternoon in mid-December, holding a book, minding one's footsteps on the chipped and craggy stone floor but dreaming, all the while, of sky.
Faith is in effect a synonym for religion, while the atheists get the logic, the syllogisms and axioms. Are you kidding me? As if Hitchens doesn’t have faith! We can say it is not religious faith, but it is faith nonetheless. In fact the leap of faith it takes to be an atheist is incomprehensible, because they have to believe that everything came from nothing. I would say that is impossible, but then that would be a self-evident truth that requires no proof, or yes, an axiom.

It is not religious faith that baffles, or puzzles, and it is certainly not inscrutable (i.e. incapable of being investigated, analyzed, or scrutinized; impenetrable). What is incapable of being investigated or proved is the philosophical pre-commitment of the atheist that nothing is responsible for everything. That truly baffles. There is much mystery in religion, and Christianity in particular, but it is not incoherent or illogical. People embrace it for many reasons, but not because it makes no sense. To allow the atheists to traipse around proudly wearing the unchallenged assumption that they are the logical ones with no need of faith is absurd. It is also not accurate or true.

The other article was a wonderful piece wishing Mr. Hitchens a Merry Christmas while making fun of the blowhard atheists. But it also gives them a pass on the faith issue. Here it is:

But for those of us who don’t need a God Helmet, who intuit a Presence all on our own, what Hitchens writes doesn’t matter. Here is a man who admits he has no faith, nor capacity for it, but presumes to write volumes on the topic.
Why do we allow the atheists to determine that faith is a synonym for religion? That’s what in effect is happening here. So we let these little blowhards think that we, the religious folk, we’re the ones who need the faith, we weak minded souls looking for a crutch before a threatening and uncertain universe. In fact, not only do atheists have faith, they have a gargantuan capacity for faith bigger than a black hole. How else could one believe (there’s the word, friends, they must believe, i.e. have faith) that, I say again, everything came from nothing? The only capacity they have bigger than faith is the capacity for self-delusion. It is we, the faithful, yes the religious, who inhabit the rhetorical high ground. Let us stop ceding it to the leapers.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas from the Moon

(This was our blog's message in 2005 and 2006. Another year has passed, but do the important things ever change?

Remembering the important things, as these men did, seems longer ago and even farther away with each passing year, and to some, even more silly. But Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all those here gathered anyway, and may we smile today, give thanks, and be inspired in the coming year to perpetuate their silliness...)

It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:

Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

It is good. God bless us, every one.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Darwin Goes Fishing

The above title was the one I gave to the following article that was rejected back in '04 or so by a magazine whose editor's eye amazes me in retrospect. Some months later, I took all of this and wrapped it into a slightly longer, much quoted and celebrated, article at Jewish World Review entitled Dare To Win. That ran on Jan. 26, 2005. In recently organizing my archives, I came upon this original version and was pleased to see how well this stood up in hindsight. See if you agree:

It was announced recently that the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the school district in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that has incorporated into its curriculum the idea that the evolution of the natural world is believed by some to be so complex as to have required intelligent design. Bring ‘em on, I say, this may be a blessing in disguise. There might be a chance to turn things around and gain some ground.

Although the theist view always wins vastly more adherents in the countryside than does its counterpart, the normative intellectual or academic view for over a century has favored Darwinism. The fireworks of the Scopes Trial, with Clarence Darrow besting William Jennings Bryan in feisty public exchanges, heralded the conquest of the classroom by the forces of evolution. This is what we like to call the origin of the specious notion that the question of creation has been debated and settled for all time.

Yet the courtroom has never been a venue suited to the rigors of scientific colloquy; it lends itself to the moods and tides of rhetoric. Mastery of the rip-roaring riposte serves one better here than the measured tones of the academy and the laboratory.

That very climate can be turned to favor any underdog, even when Bryan and Darrow have their roles reversed. When I lived in Cincinnati, the old-timers described to me how Rabbi Eliezer Silver, confidante of President Taft and many Republican politicians, won the right to build a Jewish ritual bath despite being sued by the Zoning Commission. Former Senator Taft, son of the President, was his defense counsel, and Silver took the stand on behalf of his cause.

The plaintiff’s attorney must have had visions of Darrow and Bryan dancing in his head when he stood up to cross-examine. He used a similar approach, asking if the rabbi believed that all the events described in the Bible were literal, such as the splitting of the Reed Sea and manna raining from the sky. He acknowledged that he did.

“And do you mean to tell this court and the learned gallery that you believe the story of Balaam in the Book of Numbers, that an ass could actually speak?”

“Sure I do. I’m seeing it with my own eyes.”

The courtroom exploded in laughter and the case was essentially won by a single well-timed witticism.

This Harrisburg case needs to be joined and fought with slogans and sound bites, both inside and outside the courthouse. Especially potent will be one key phrase, one key image, namely that this is the “Scopes Trial in reverse”. The public can be, must be, made to see this battle as the mirror image of the Scopes Trial. It is not a tussle between science and religion so much as it is a power grab by one view of science over another. This needs to be pounded over and over. It is a bullet point that needs to be reloaded into the chambers again and again.


Most importantly, one prime insight can frame this battle in terms that are amenable to the position espoused by the school district and have the added advantage of being true. It will not only have a decisive impact in the courtroom, it has the capacity to transform the popular debate as well. This simple idea, if promoted relentlessly and sold, is a nuclear bomb that will ramify in the culture for generations.

Namely, that there are essentially two separate theories advanced by Darwin. The first is that the process of the world attaining its current form was characterized by evolutionary transitions in its phasing, which built themselves into permanence by providing in each instance a fitter form or functionality. The second is the idea that this could have happened by itself without a conscious design.

In the past, this distinction was obliterated by the fact that most of the religionistic resistance to Darwin overreached by challenging elements of the evolutionary science as well. This led to their being diverted from the fundamental epistemological division between these two components of Darwin’s larger presentation. It is urgent that this wedge be driven into his work, driven now and driven hard. We are not debating evolution. We are challenging the separate theory that evolution could have happened without someone turning on the switch.

This approach would be devastating in the courtroom. If an attorney won early on from the judge the right to refer to Darwin One and Darwin Two as a shorthand for the two theories, the plaintiff’s case would be literally decimated. As pedestrian as this linguistic affectation may seem, it literally divides and conquers the opposition.

Once the battleground has thus been narrowed, the absurdity of the ACLU’s position is highlighted. In what way is it more scientific to say that evolution could happen by itself? Why is it unscientific to maintain that much information had to be encoded, in individual cells and in the stuff of matter itself, to facilitate evolutionary tendencies? The truth is that Darwin Two is an intellectual choice engineered not by logic but by a distaste for the idea of being beholden to a Creator.