Date ►►► March 29, 2012

Must... Control... Der Krapp... Flashback...!

Hatched by Dafydd

So when I see the headline on Drudge...

 

Man attacked by mountain lion,
saved by bear...

 

 

...The first thought that leapt into my mind was, "Girl attacked by giant dinosaur, saved by King Kong!"

 

Have I overdosed on reading Brad Linaweaver's brilliant Der Krapp movie reviews, or what?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 29, 2012, at the time of 2:12 AM | Comments (1)

Date ►►► March 28, 2012

A Universe Perhaps From Something - a Second and Conciser Critique
of the Central Tenet of Lawrence M. Krauss's a Universe From Nothing

Hatched by Dafydd

I have not read Krauss's book, a Universe From Nothing; I cheerfully admit as such up front. But funnily enough, I can still shatter its core argument... and in a lot fewer words than used by David Albert a few days ago in the Sunday Book Review of the New York Times, in his equally devastating (but overlong) piece, "On the Origin of Everything."

And I promise that the sentence above will be the longest and most convoluted in this post.

Krauss purports to prove, whether he admits it or not, that God did not create the universe, and indeed does not exist at all. His thesis culminates with what he alleges to be a scientific -- i.e., non-supernatural -- answer to the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?", which he sees as the crux of what his cohort, militant atheist Richard Dawkins, who wrote the afterword to Krauss's book, would call the "God delusion." (I'll deal with this -- the "God of the gaps" argument, a.k.a. the Thunder Fallacy -- in more depth below.)

Krauss's answer to his question is thus: Contemporary quantum mechanics demonstrates that what we have historically called "nothing," an absence of any physical substance, is in fact something, quantum fields interacting with other quantum fields; and that the original "nothing-something" can reformulate itself as "something-something," that is, physical particles and suchlike.

Distinct quantum fields can combine in various ways. When they combine in some ways, they create physical particles -- electrons, protons, neutrons, other, more exotic critters, and their quark building blocks. But when they combine in other ways, they create "things" that have no mass, no charge, and no other detectable properties... in other words, what earlier scientists would have called "nothing." (I'm doing my best here as a non-physicist; but even if I get the specifics of Krauss's scientific argument wrong, that doesn't change my point, as you will see.)

Under current theory, quantum fields can interact, break up, and realign themselves into different configurations. Which means that fields that are currently combined in ways that create so-called "nothing" can recombine in ways that create physical somethings.

And that is what he means by saying he has solved the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Albert's critique is a bit of handwaving -- appropriate because he's responding to an argument by Krauss that is a lot of handwaving. Albert essentially argues that, by Krauss's own description, previous ages of scientists, philosophers, and theologians were simply wrong to think that "empty space" actually comprised literaly nothing; it was always something, to wit, quantum fields arranged in certain ways. Therefore, Albert argues, even Krauss agrees that the universe was not created out of nothing but rather out of something; and the title of Krauss's book is misleading.

And who, Albert argues, created the quantum fields in the first place, not to mention the rules by which they can combine, and the rules preventing them from combining in other ways? Albert argues that all Krauss has done is push divine Creation back one step: Instead of asking, "Who or what created the physical world with us on it?", we must instead ask, "Who or what created the quantum fields and the physical rules that govern them, such that our physical world came into existence with us on it?"

Which is logically the same question, and Krauss is simply begging it.

Krauss complains that his critics are moving the goal posts. The theologians said that God must exist because how else could the universe be created out of nothing; I have proven that physics itself says things can be created out of nothing; but now the critics say that's not good enough, because those very theologians were wrong about nothingness in the first place!

Is that unfairly moving the goal posts? No; and for Krauss to maintain that it is ensnares him in the same trap that has caught many religious folk, when they argue, e.g., that evolutionary theory keeps "moving the goal posts."

Evolutionary science evolves -- pun noted -- because all science evolves. By the very nature of science, theory is constantly checked against observation; and when empirical measurement finds anomalous results, they must be explained. If they cannot be explained by finding some demonstrable error in the testing or analysis of results, then current theory must be changed to accomodate the new observation.

Science is therefore self-correcting, in a way that other disciplines are not. That is not a bug, it's a feature.

However, philosophy, to the extent it is grounded in physical reality, must necessarily also change along with the scientific concensus: When Johannes Kepler discovered that the planets orbited the sun, not in circles (with or without "epicycles") but rather in elipses (squashed circles), philosophy, including religion, had to change its fundamental theory that God pushed the planets around in circles because He is perfect, and the circle is the perfect curve.

Likewise, contemporary religion must remake itself to take into account the scientific truths that the species of Earth, including humans, physically evolved from simpler creatures; and also that quantum theory indicates that what appears to be nothing can reorganize itself into what is obviously something. It's not "moving the goal posts;" it's simply philosophy accepting the evolving nature of scientific understanding. Why should that get Krauss's knickers in a twist?

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of Krauss's (or Albert's) science; but fortunately, there is no need. The better critique is to get at the core of Krauss's argument and bypass the question of who or what created quantum fields.

And here it is: Who cares if Krauss has an explanation of how physical somethings can spontaneously spring into existence from nothing? How could that prove the nonexistence of God? The only logical connection that would make that argument work is that Krauss must assume that there is one and only one reason why believers believe in God: because they think there is some "gap" in scientific understanding that can only be filled by God.

Plug that gap, and poof! No more need for God. This, Krauss appears to think he has accomplished.

Francis Collins, author of in indispensible book the Language of God (which I did read) -- former head of the Human Genome Project -- calls this the "God of the gaps" argument, and it goes much like this:

  1. Current scientific theory cannot explain why X occurs.
  2. Thus there is a gap in science.
  3. Aha! That gap must be where God lives! Clearly, God causes X to occur every time it's necessary.

But what happens when scientific theory is changed, as above? Suppose science does now explain very nicely why X occurs? What happens to the God of the gap?

There are two general classes of response: The gapper can quibble whether new theory A really does explain gap X; or he can find another aspect Y, a deeper part of X, that is not fully explained by current theory... and aha again, that's where God actually lives!

Yep, it's turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down. But that other aspect Y is almost necessarily narrower and more technical than the original X. And as Collins (who is himself very Christian) argues, the gaps in which God lives get smaller and smaller, until finally He is squeezed right out. And that's why "God of the gaps" theologians oft become atheists: They run out of gaps in which God can hide.

More melodramatically, I call this argument the Thunder Fallacy -- that we need God to explain the thunder and lightning, the floods, the earthquakes, and the other scary threats that seem to arise out of nowhere. They're punishments by God for some sin we have committed.

But isn't that quite a primitive, petty, and meagre conception of what is supposed to be an omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-good being? I don't know why the sun shines, so God created it. I don't know where people came from, so God individually created them. I don't know how the Bernoulli Effect works, so God reaches down and grabs all the airplanes, holding them in the sky. You may as well say it's ju-ju.

Your dog doesn't understand how food keeps appearing in the magic bowl; but to humans, there is a simple explanation. Alas for Fido, it's simply beyond his ken. And much of the universe is beyond the ken of even the most genius human being; but is everything unexplained therefore unexplainable?

Krauss phrases his killer question as a "why," but it's actually a "how" -- Under quantum field theory, how, by what mechanism, does something materialize out of what appears to be nothing? Assume Krauss is correct: How in cosmos does that prove there is no God?

Even if it's possible for a universe to spring into existence ex nihilo, by itself and without being created by God, how does that prove that our own universe was not created by God? At best, Krauss can prove that we cannot use the Thunder Fallacy, the God of the gaps argument, to prove that the existence of Universe requires special creation by God.

Krauss might be able to demonstrate that God is not required to create a universe, but he surely cannot demonstrate that there is no God, or that God did not create this universe; maybe God is not a necessary condition for our universe, but He certainly would be a sufficient one, if He existed. Likewise, believers cannot use science to prove that God does exist and did create this universe, for the same reason you can't crack a walnut by hitting it with a hard calculus equation: Nutcrackers and mathematics are both useful tools, but they're hardly interchangeable.

And that is all Krauss has done; he has clearly shown that the existence of God cannot be proven by scientific reasoning... an insight that philosophers and theologians latched onto several centuries ago: If God's existence and/or nature could be proved by pure reason, argue the religious, then there would be no need for faith.

Speaking as a bona-fide agnostic -- not like most, who declare themselves agnostics but in fact are cowardly atheists -- I have always understood that God can neither be demonstrated nor refuted by logical or scientific means; He cannot be measured or deduced. I wrote a paper about it at university nearly 35 years ago, and it was an ancient, almost trite argument even then.

Congratulations, Lawrence Krauss... your scientific ontogeny has recapitulated philosophical phylogeny!

All right, all right, so my critique wasn't any more concise than Albert's after all. But by golly, it's more universal and doesn't fall prey to the Thunder Fallacy. So there. Krauss's argument that something can arise from what used to be called nothing proves nothing at all about the existence or nonexistence of God. It proves only that that particular "gap" in science has (perhaps) now been filled, thus it cannot be hiding a mysteriously shy and reticent Almighty.

But we already knew that, didn't we?

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 28, 2012, at the time of 6:46 PM | Comments (19)

Date ►►► March 27, 2012

Greasing My Spindle Regurgitated

Hatched by Dafydd

To recap, John Hinderaker at Power Line sporatically adds to a series he calls "slucing my spindle" or "polishing my pole" or somesuch (I forget), wherein he collates several quick hits on newsy items that either don't warrant a full post, or to which he was too lazy to publish in a timelier manner.

Since I'm even lazier than he, I have heisted the concept complete, and now I pretend that it's my own and hope nobody notices. Thus...

A twelve hundred mile reality gap

This one is too delicious to pass up: Trying to "deflect" the ire of Americans over four-dollar gas -- set to rise to five-dollar gas this summer -- President Barack H. "Gas Passer" Obama has finally, if reluctantly, embraced the Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas. Yazoo, yakima!

Oh, wait; it was the part over which the president has no authority... and he "authorized" only the half of it anyway: Obama is willing to "jump start" the (already scheduled) project to build the southern half of the pipeline... you know, that part that doesn't connect to the oilfields in Canada. So this authorized/unauthorized pipeline can just sit there as a monument to liberalism at its smirkiest:

"Despite numerous attempts by Republicans to compel the president to approve the Keystone permit, Americans are still left with a 1,179-mile (1,897-km) gap between the oil resources and this southern portion of the pipeline," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, referring to the full Keystone XL project.

Well! Who could argue with that Solomonic compromise? We build half the pipeline -- the half that doesn't connect to anything but an oil storage depot in Cushing, Oklahoma. As the saying goes, a man should not commence vast projects with only half-vast ideas.

I wonder if voters will get the joke.

BFF in the UK

There are some Progressivist ideas that simply scream for a mass "WTF?" Such as:

Teachers are banning schoolkids from having best pals -- so they don't get upset by fall-outs.

Instead, the primary pupils are being encouraged to play in large groups.

Educational psychologist Gaynor Sbuttoni said the policy has been used at schools in Kingston, South West London, and Surrey.

She added: "I have noticed that teachers tell children they shouldn't have a best friend and that everyone should play together.

What could go wrong?

Say, why don't we extend the policy to adults, as well? The British government could ban men and women from falling in love; think how painful it will be if they break up or get divorced!

And of course, they should ban career planning because of the severe shock if employees don't get promoted... or in Britain's case, employed at all.

I love the idea; it's so efficient: Rather than waste time and effort improving one's lot, isn't it better just to reject hope altogether? That way, you'll never be disappointed again.

Eurosocialist Progressivism: Leading the free world in institutionalized despair as public policy!

John Paul III he ain't

Pope Benedict XVI (no relation to Napoleon the XIV, as I understand it) courageously announced today that Communism is no longer working in Cuba:

His remarks on Friday were at least as forthright as any made by his predecessor, John Paul II, on a groundbreaking trip to the country 14 years ago. Answering a question about his visit to Cuba, which has remained a communist bastion for more than 50 years, the pope said: "Today it is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality."

Actually, I suspect that Pope John Paul II might have been a skosh more forthright. He might have inquired, after Benedict said Communism was no longer working, when did it ever? Yes, it was working like gangbusters for the first few decades; then something went terribly, terribly wrong!

Or he might have quoted his famous friend and simply left it at, "there you go again!"

Zimmerman's dreadful mistake

The current stories dominating the news the last few days, anent the confrontation between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, hold that it was Martin (the "victim") who first assaulted and then battered Zimmerman (the "assailant") -- rather than the other way around. Zimmerman claims that Martin punched him in the nost hard enough to knock him to the ground, then straddled him and repeatedly banged Zimmerman's head against the sidewalk. It was only then, emerging evidence suggests, that Zimmerman drew and shot Martin at point-blank range.

Aren't we glad that the President of the United States has already weighed in with his support for Trayvon Martin (and subtextual judgment that George Zimmerman is a despicable racist and murderer)?

Assuming the current claims prove correct -- and the police have admitted that the physical evidence seems to back Zimmerman up -- then I would have to say the plain implication is that Zimmerman did indeed make a terrible, and ultimately deadly mistake.

He should have drawn his gun earlier.

Zimmerman should have drawn his concealed pistol as soon as Martin began to approach him in a menacing manner. Had he done so, Zimmerman could have controlled the situation better; it's even possible that Martin would have backed off -- and Trayvon Martin might be alive today.

So the lesson for today is... if you are armed, and if a situation begins to develop that warrants an act of self defense (or defense of another), then earlier is better than later. The longer you wait, the less control you likely have over events.

Hey -- it's just like war! As Winston Churchill noted (paraphrasing Machiavelli), if a nation puts off a war that is inevitable (think Iran), a very likely outcome is that when the war finally comes, it will be significantly harder to win and much more devastating.

Something to think about; even the smallest stone thrown into the most local lake can create ripples of national and even international import. And on that pompous yet sententious note...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 27, 2012, at the time of 11:32 PM | Comments (9)

Date ►►► March 21, 2012

Exploring the Limits of Newsy Nonpartisanship

Hatched by Dafydd

So I start reading this APNews (pronounced "ape-news," I think) article about a new clue to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart -- digital analysis of a 1937 photo shows what could be part of Earhart's Lockheed Electra; but midway through, the subject of the piece changes abruptly and mysteriously.

The piece starts out fine:

A new clue in one of the 20th century's most enduring mysteries could soon uncover the fate of American aviator Amelia Earhart, who went missing without a trace over the South Pacific 75 years ago, investigators said Tuesday.

Enhanced analysis of a photograph taken just months after Earhart's Lockheed Electra plane vanished shows what experts think may be the landing gear of the aircraft protruding from the waters off the remote island of Nikumaroro, in what is now the Pacific nation of Kiribati, they said.

The story continues in this vein... until paragraph twelve (of eighteen). Then the first discordant note sounds:

"If you ever want a case of finding a needle in a haystack, this is at the top of the list," he at [sic] a State Department event where Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave their support and encouragement to the privately financed project.

Clinton? LaHood? What on Earth do they have to do with Amelia Earhart? I don't think either one could tell an aileron from an altimeter. Nevertheless, the next six paragraphs are all about -- you guessed it! -- Hillary Rodham Clinton.

We discover that "Hell to Pay" Hillary hails "Earhart as an inspiration to Americans in difficult times;" that she considers Earhart "a [sic again] unlikely heroine for a nation down on its luck;" that "after a long decade of war, terrorism and recession, there are some who are asking whether we still have what it takes to lead." Blast that Bush!

But like Franklin Roosevelt, she reassures us that "we can be as optimistic and even audacious as Amelia Earhart;" and despite the Obama administration's stubborn refusal to enact an official Amelia-Earhart policy, Hillary Clinton "cheered the searchers on" nevertheless.

In her concluding remarks, the entirety of which appears to have been shoehorned into the story, she pulls out all the stops of her campaign speech:

"Even if you do not find what you seek, there is great honor and possibility in the search itself," she said. "So, like our lost heroine, you will all carry our hopes ... We are excited and looking forward to hear about your own great adventure."

The story has morphed, willy nilly, into a rousing paean to Hillary Regina... inexplicably prefaced by some maunderings about a wayward pilot. Can the Ass. Press get any more subtle than that?

Great Honk, must every "news" story between now and November 6th be recast as a commercial for Obama's reelection -- or for Hillary's inevitable ascension from the tomb of 2008 to the opalescence of the Oval Office?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 21, 2012, at the time of 2:25 AM | Comments (2)

Date ►►► March 12, 2012

Addendum to Afghan Meadows Massacre - or Haditha Redux?

Hatched by Dafydd

Anent our previous post, here's my problem in a more succinct nutbag. American military spokespeople are saying this:

Two U.S. defense officials said an investigation has been started by the Army Criminal Investigation Division, but that it was too soon to say when any charges might be filed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the issue. Army officials are reviewing his complete deployment and medical history, the congressional source said.

Seems like our military officials want to look into the accusations a little less cursorily before dragging an American soldier (or soldiers) before the bar. But the American (?) news media, from AP to the New York Times to television networks, are saying this:

A young Afghan man recounted on Monday the harrowing scene in his home as a lone U.S. soldier moved stealthily through it during a killing spree, then crouched down and shot his father in the thigh as he emerged from the bedroom in the deep of night....

"He was walking around taking up positions in the house - in two or three places like he was searching," said 26-year-old witness Mohammad Zahir, who watched the gunman while hiding in another room. "He was on his knees when he shot my father" in the thigh, he told The Associated Press. His father was wounded but survived.... [Do we know for certain he is actually a witness? -- DaH]

Zahir described the scene that unfolded when the assailant came to his house before dawn....

The motives of the shooter and most details about him, including his name, are still not known....

The soldier was not assigned to a special operations unit and has no special operations training, Cummings said.

He attacked two small villages very close to his base in southern Kandahar province. An enraged Karzai called it "an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians" that cannot be forgiven. He demanded an explanation from Washington....

From Balandi, the gunman walked roughly one mile to the village of Alkozai, which was only about 500 meters from the American military base. There the gunman killed four people in one house and then moved to Zahir's house, where he shot his father in the leg.

Not a shred of a doubt; not a hint of uncertainty. No curiosity about justifiable or even mitigating circumstances. Not a single reporter questions whether the Afghans telling the story might have a motive to lie, might have been mistaken, might have been complicit in what might have been an ambush of an American soldier.

Do I know whether any of these factors are present in this case? No, of course not; but neither do the news media, a fact that seems not to perturb them in their rush to accept the atrocity story and condemn the American fighting man. Maybe it's just as bad as it seems; but we have history, including recent examples of massacre-mongering where the press was equally certain and fully as condemning, but which fell apart in the light of proper investigation.

We haven't even heard from the accused, nor any spokesman or defender. Would that the press showed the same solicitude for the niceties of due process that they routinely extend to illegal aliens accused of murder; Occupiers accused of rape, abandonment of children, and extortion; or any of the several dozen members of the Barack H. Obama administration accused of corruption and abuse of authority. (For Obamunists, the press doesn't merely extend the presumption of innocence until evidence shows otherwise... more like the persistence of innocence despite evidence otherwise!)

Where is the presumption of innocence? Instead, the (mercifully unnamed) soldier is portrayed by virtually every article I have read as already proven to be guilty, guilty, guilty... for don't we all know that Afghans in "Talibistan" never concoct fables of American massacres?

The only thing that's missing -- so far! -- is a John Kerry or a John Murtha to spray the atrocity charges through government organs, amplifying and adding piquant inventions of his own; thus crystalizing the accusation as "historical fact," despite a complete lack of impartial investigation up to this point. So far, the Left hasn't picked it up, perhaps because it can't help but reflect badly on the One; thank goodness for small crumbs!

If the man actually committed the heinous acts the Afghans accuse him of, in the manner of the media narrative, then he should be hanged. (Note that the "narrative" includes the fact or factoid that he walked back to the base and "turned himself in," which would imply knowledge of guilt; so he can't get away with an insanity plea.) But do we really know whether this is true yet? If so, then how do we know, based on what?

This is why I have always maintained (usually the lone voice crying in the wilderness) that of the three classical pillars of philosophy -- metaphysics (what we know), ethics (what we do about what we know), and epistemology (how we know what we know) -- the most urgent, and most quickly forgotten, is the last.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 12, 2012, at the time of 5:13 PM | Comments (2)

Date ►►► March 11, 2012

Afghan Meadows Massacre - or Haditha Redux?

Hatched by Dafydd

An American staff sergeant has just been indicted, tried, convicted, and condemned for a horrific massacre in Afghanistan; the court was the mainstream media -- which also served as judge, jury, and sentencing panel. Such Obamic efficiency; such economy of deliberation!

The trouble is, we don't know what really happened there, because the investigation has barely begun. As the Brady Bunch might say, "here's the story..."

PANJWAI, Afghanistan -- Stalking from home to home, a United States Army sergeant methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan early on Sunday, igniting fears of a new wave of anti-American hostility, Afghan and American officials said.

First discordant note of skepticism: The sources for information about this alleged massacre were cited as "Afghan and American officials;" but in the entire rest of the Times story, the only information from an American source is that there is only one suspect and he is currently being held:

The officials said the main suspect was an Army staff sergeant who acted alone and then surrendered. "The initial reporting that we have at this time indicates there was one shooter, and we have one man in custody," said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a NATO spokesman.

All other details come from Afghan reports, both by officials and by supposed victims and alleged eyewitnesses in Panjwai -- a notorious Taliban stronghold. The information flow appears to be from Afghan sources to Americans, who simply parrot what they have been told. That is, "[r]esidents of three villages in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province described a terrifying string of attacks," but "American officials in Kabul were scrambling to understand what had happened."

Now that certainly builds confidence.

The unilateral sourcing of the Times' story immediately raises my suspicions. Then, too, the Afghan-supplied details of the massacre sound even more bizarre:

Residents of three villages in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province described a terrifying string of attacks in which the soldier, who had walked more than a mile from his base, tried door after door, eventually breaking in to kill within three separate houses. The man gathered 11 bodies, including those of 4 girls younger than 6, and set fire to them, villagers said....

In Panjwai, a reporter for The New York Times who inspected bodies that had been taken to the nearby American military base counted 16 dead, including five children with single gunshot wounds to the head, and saw burns on some of the children’s legs and heads. "All the family members were killed, the dead put in a room, and blankets were put over the corpses and they were burned," said Anar Gula, an elderly neighbor who rushed to the house after the soldier had left. "We put out the fire."

The villagers also brought some of the burned blankets on motorbikes to display at the base, Camp Belambay, in Kandahar, and show that the bodies had been set alight. Soon, more than 300 people had gathered outside to protest.

And while such staggering carnage was carried out -- evidently by a lone American soldier -- not a single resident could locate a weapon and shoot back at the man. Not one.

But in areas of Afghanistan like Panjwai, that are forever in a tug-of-war between Taliban and government forces, shouldn't we assume that every man would be armed, or nearly so? Shouldn't these three villages be awash with AK-47s, M-16s, and heavier weapons, and thick with Afghans boasting much recent experience using them?

Yet a single soldier can not only walk from house to house, trying doors and entering domiciles to butcher women and children at will, but even finds the time and leisure to pick up eleven dead bodies, convey them (presumably one at a time on his shoulders or tucked under his arms) from one place to another, and there burn them. A veritable Superman. (Didn't anybody think to fire upon him while his hands were thus occupied?)

I can't say it's impossible that such a massacre occured in the way that AP and its sock puppets described it... but boy howdy, what a series of unfortunate events must have occurred to prevent the local residents from doing anything, anything at all, to stop this one man death squad from devastating a village.

And what perfect timing! The alleged event occurs just as the Koran-burning riots are dying down. By a tragic coincidence, a lone American gunman goes nuts and commits a demonic act of mass human sacrifice just in time to reignite the rampage against Americans and NATO, just as withdrawal talks have finally resumed.

We don't know who actually reported what supposedly happened, but we sure know who benefits from those reports (true or false): the Taliban... in one of the home bases of the Taliban.

I'm sorry if I seem insufficiently convinced of the accuracy and veracity of this report; but I can't help remembering the "Haditha Massacre" in Iraq -- which turned out, after a lengthy investigation and multiple criminal trials, to be a complete fabrication in almost every particular reported in the first heady days of the story -- lurid "factoids" ginned up by the media, who have yet to apologize or even admit they were dead wrong.

And then there was the infamous "Wedding Party Massacre," with the mystery band instruments that appeared, undamaged and right on top of the blast site, hours after earlier photographs of the same area showed nothing of the sort. (An immaculate deception.)

And leave us not forget the "Jenin Massacre," where Israeli commandos (according to Palestinian "eyewitnesses" and government officials) obliterated the entire inner city of Jenin, on the West Bank... except that they in fact did no such thing, as later photographs and video footage conclusively proved. "Never mind!"

President Barack H. Obama has already apologized to Afghanistan, if not quite to the Taliban:

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attacks, calling them in a statement an “inhuman and intentional act” and demanding justice. Both President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta called Mr. Karzai, expressing condolences and promising thorough investigations. "This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan," Mr. Obama said in a statement.

They could have added, "on the other hand, this incident might not even represent the truth;" but that would have spoiled the story.

Meanwhile, the Times managed to find a silver lining:

Another senior military official said the sergeant was 38 and married with two children. He had served three tours of duty in Iraq, this official said, and had been deployed to Afghanistan for the first time in December. Yet another military official said he has served in the Army for 11 years.

I.e., since enlisting in 2001; so it was George Bush's fault after all! Probably some soldier suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to repeated deployments forced upon him by the previous regime administration.

Maybe I'm jaded, but color me skeptical. It may well turn out to be every bit as horrific and shameful to America as the media gleefully report; accuracy is always a possibility, no matter how out of character that would be. But that's not how initial reports of similar incomprehensible, "American-caused" massacres have generally fared when exposed to the light of actual evidence dredged up by a thorough and complete investigation.

Let's sit tight and wait to see what the evidence actually shows before belly-flopping, yet again, upon the American military.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 11, 2012, at the time of 10:16 PM | Comments (2)

Date ►►► March 4, 2012

The Case for Discriminating Between Pre- and Post-Birth "Abortions"

Hatched by Dafydd

Some days ago, my Favorite Blogger posted The Case for Infanticide, as enunciated by a group of Oxfordian medical "ethicists." No, really:

Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued.

The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life”. The academics also argue that parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born.

Perhaps that's the reason many on the Left attacked Sarah Palin for giving birth to her son Trig: Progressivist "ethicists" must have wondered why she didn't just procure an "after-birth abortion."

The idea that we should allow post-natal killing of babies is, of course, both monstrous and insane; it's so bizarre that only a card-carrying "ethicist" could hawk it. John Hinderaker naturally rejects such an atavistic, I would say satanic ethic, which flies in the face of thousands of years of Western thought. He's not one to accept a lunatic assertion just because it's asserted by a guy who publishes in the Journal of Medical Ethics!

Alas, he then immediately accepts the lunatic assertion next door -- because it's asserted by a guy who publishes in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Hinderaker buys the same ethicists' corrolary proposition:

They preferred to use the phrase "after-birth abortion" rather than "infanticide" to "emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus." [Emphasis added -- DaH]

Logically, then, Hinderaker (and nearly all right-to-lifers) would have to agree with the following syllogism:

  1. Since said ethicists admit that the moral status of a foetus is the same as that of a newborn;
  2. And since all decent and moral Westerners believe that the moral status of a newborn is the same as that of an adult (i.e., that killing a newborn is morally the same as killing an adult);
  3. Thus the moral status of a foetus is the same as that of an adult;
  4. And therefore, medical ethicists have "proven" that abortion is murder. Quod Erat Demonstrandum!

And thereby hangs the tail.

In the pro-lifers' effort to prove that abortion is akin to actual murder, as well as in the ethicists' effort to prove that murder is akin to mere abortion, both sides begin from the very same premise: That there is no moral distinction between a zygote, an embryo, a foetus, and a newborn baby. That is, they accept Premise 1 in the syllogism above.

Contrariwise, I demonstrate the philosophical vacuity of that claim by noting that it goes to prove both that killing a newborn is murder, and also that killing a newborn is not murder.

In general, a premise the leads to a logical contradiction suggests that the premise itself is faulty; that's the generic structure of what's called Reductio ad Absurdum: To prove proposition X, you assume its opposite (which can be written ~X) then demonstrate that ~X leads to a contradiction, that is, both conclusions A and ~A at the same time.

This isn't exactly that situation; for one, there is more than one flaw in both syllogisms. Also, it's certainly possible that one side is right and the other simply wrong, which eliminates the contradiction. Still, it's a good bet that Premise (1) is just wrong. As further evidence, most pro-lifers reject it viscerally, even while championing it rhetorically. "Do as we say, not as we do!"

For instance, if (1) above were true, then pro-lifers would treat every early-term miscarriage as a death, and they would hold a funeral for the fertilized egg and mourn for months. Which obviously the vast majority do not. There is certainly sadness; but it's more the sadness of lost opportunity, what might have been, than the kind of long-term grief that accompanies the utterly tragic death of a newborn baby. To be utterly blunt and Spockian about it, I cannot imagine even Sen. Santorum showing his kids a heavy menstrual flow containing a miscarried fertilized egg. It's just not the same thing.

And on the flip side, many, many pro-choicers who support abortion nevertheless utterly reject infanticide; and they don't think of it as "after-birth abortion." I would guess that more than 99% of Americans -- and probably more than 95% of pro-life conservatives -- do not de facto treat a miscarriage as they would the death of a newborn; even more telling, the same ultramajorities would not even treat abortion the same as they treat infanticide.

If a mother who engages a physician to murder her newborn, nearly everyone in America would demand that not only the doctor but the mother herself be sentenced to life in prison or even the death penalty. But how many demand life (or death) for women who obtain an abortion?

There is no way to spin it: Even right-to-lifers by and large treat early-term abortions very differently than they would treat infanticide or late-term abortions. Except for a tiny, easily dismissed subgroup, we all discriminate between those two very different acts. Even those who condemn abortion do not call for the same punishment as they rightly demand for infanticides.

Right-to-lifers often argue, against their own actions, that there is no logical place for humanness to begin other than conception (and, as a hidden assumption, they generally equate humanness with moral personhood). But of course, there are many other points that folks can and historically have believed constitute the beginning of moral personhood, e.g.:

  1. At conception (week two -- remember that you begin counting from the last menstruation, typically two weeks before pregnancy).
  2. When the fertilized egg implants itself to the uterine wall, indicating that it's now a pregnancy (fourth week).
  3. When it first begins to divide, indicating that it's growing (shortly after implantation).
  4. At the "Gummy Bear" stage, when it takes on the basic mammalian (quadruped) shape, as seen via ultrasound (sixth week).
  5. When the foetus first begins to move, still only detectable via medical equipment (eighth week).
  6. When a doctor can first detect a heartbeat (week 10 to 12).
  7. At "quickening," when the mother can first feel the foetus move (about halfway through gestation, week 20-21).
  8. When the cerebral cortex becomes "human," in the sense of developing the brain structures that will allow the eventual baby to use language and think in a human way, as opposed to merely a mammalian or even primate way (eighth month, roughly half-way through the third trimester).
  9. At birth.

And on beyond zebra...

  1. When the baby draws its first breath (traditional Jewish teaching is that the soul enters the body at that point).
  2. At the severing of the umbilical cord, indicating complete autonomy from the mother's body.
  3. After some months or years following the birth, when the liberal "ethicist" finally decides he likes the baby enough not to kill and eat it.

Any one of these points can logically be chosen as the beginning of moral personhood -- the point at which the developing foetus or baby should be considered a person and be afforded the moral rights of all other persons. Most of them have, at one time or other in history, been chosen by some society, primitive or sophisticated; for an extreme example, a number of societies have considered children expendable until they reached a certain age.

In fact, I would say that societies are largely defined by who they consider to be "persons." The more savage a society, the more it tends to restrict personhood to a smaller and smaller subset of the population; they exclude members of non-allied tribes, children under some set age, often women in general, those of insufficient status (especially slaves), those who violate the law, those with mental or physical deformities, those with afflictions or conditions, those thought to be witches or sorcerers, and so forth.

We Americans must choose at what stage of development personhood obtains, as must every society. But we must choose on the basis of a real consensus -- based upon how folks act in real life, not some theoretical construct divorced from day to day life. And since real people in the real world do not treat, and never in our history have treated miscarriage the same as the death of a newborn, I think it prudent to find a consensus somewhere north of conception but south of birth.

This doesn't require that everyone believe that the consensus point marks the place that Nature and Nature's God give us our souls... the consensus point marks only the point at which our society confers legal personhood, pledging to protect, thenceforth, the rights and liberties of the new legal person.

Therefore, pace, John Hinderaker, but... a right-to-lifer can no more call it "proven" that abortion is as morally bad as infanticide -- than can a heartless secularist call it "proven" that infanticide is no morally worse than abortion. Many rational and logical points in foetal development other than either conception or birth can demarcate potential persons, which as yet have no moral rights, from actual persons who certainly do.

I said "north of conception but south of birth": When any pre-natal point other than conception is chosen, then necessarily, during some of the earliest weeks of gestation, the entity is not a legal person, and abortion is legally allowable. On the other hand, during the later weeks of gestation, the foetus becomes a child and is legally a person; after that point, not only would abortion only be allowed if required to save the mother's life (not merely her "health"), but every effort must be made to save the child; removing a baby from the womb without attempting to save its life would constitute negligent homicide at the least.

As you can see, logically, we cannot even begin to proceed deciding what to do about abortion until we first establish a national consensus on where we shall define legal personhood to begin. This national consensus cannot be too close to either extreme (conception or birth), because a forced "consensus" is not a concensus at all but a diktat... and experience teaches that a law that is utterly rejected by a large portion of ordinary members of society is a prescription for disaster, perhaps even leading to national suicide. (Cf. same-sex marriage/polygamy in America.)

Alas, we have never grappled, as a society and in a meaningful way, with the definition of personhood; in particular, when it's conferred and whether there are entities that are biologically human but will never be accorded personhood -- an anencephalic baby, for example, or a human being so severely retarded that he or she has none of the most basic attributes we associate with persons.

Of course, nothing stops a society from choosing to confer "created rights" upon non-persons, pre-persons, former persons, or even animals, protecting both those who are expected to develop human-like consciousness, those who never had human-like consciousness, and those who had it at one time, but through disease or misadventure, no longer retain it; note laws protecting those in an irreversible coma, laws prohibiting cruelty to animals, and laws against desecrating the dead. But such laws are actually to preserve the sacred dignity of the persons who love such non-persons.

A state should thus be allowed to choose to protect the rights and liberty of pre-natal life even if it's not yet legally a person. But all states should be mandated to protect the rights and liberties (including the right to life) of anyone already a person via the national consensus.

My personal choice for the national personhood consensus is Point 8, the humanization of the cerebellum; I believe in a soul, but I believe it can only live in a human, not animal brain; until the brain develops human-like functions, I cannot see that a soul would find a place to fit. But this is likely too far along in the pregnancy to be generally accepted.

Among those who don't believe in ensoulment, I'm sure you would still find much disagreement about when the entity becomes a person, from conception to deciding the kid is cute enough to live (assuming that doesn't disrupt the Progressivists' lifestyle). But we seem to have settled upon a de-facto consensus as somewhere within the second trimester.

For a number of reasons, therefore, I nominate quickening (Point 7) as the logical national consensus for when our society confers legal personhood:

  • It's about halfway through the second trimester, hence halfway through the pregnancy; it's a nice, round number, and we all tend to like round numbers.
  • It's easily detectable by routine doctor's examination; hence, such an examination would be determinative for legal purposes.
  • It marks the first time the expectant mother can actually feel that the thing inside her is a living being, moving of its own volition; she cannot deny that she has another life growing inside her.
  • In Western history, It's one of the points during gestation that has been frequently chosen by societies for the moment of ensoulment.

(Notice none of these reasons depends upon the specious Roe v. Wade criterion of "viability," which of course varies depending on the current state of medical technology.)

But whichever point we as a society finally choose, we need to get started on that conversation. Without it, the only principled action we can take regarding abortion, contraception, and reproductive rights is the Monkey Moot: screech hysterically and fling poo at each other.

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 4, 2012, at the time of 4:48 PM | Comments (3)

Date ►►► March 3, 2012

The Bright Part of Breitbart

Hatched by Dafydd

It's tough to write a memorial about someone you've never met, never spoken to or spoken about, and never even heard in an interview until after his death, when Hugh Hewitt played one he had recorded just the day before Andrew Breitbart died. I can only write about what others have said about the man and what he himself has written; which, lacking the personal touch, can seem cold, sterile, Kubrickian.

But I believe he and I were kindred spirits in one sense, and it explains why people like us become the most hated souls in any group that has been infiltrated, possessed, and transubstantiated by the twin demons of liberalism and Progressivism.

Breitbart and I share a characteristic: Neither of us backs down or backs away. We cannot be silenced by special pleading, threats, bullying, bribery, sexual enticements, pity, namecalling, snubbing, exiling, or faux shaming. (Gosh, I feel like Patrick McGoohan.) We can of course be moved by logical argument, by evidence, by some new information that shows we are actually wrong about something we have said or argued; we are not irrational or fanatical. (I speak of Breitbart in the present tense because to split tenses between us is rhetorically awkward.) But you cannot swerve us by irrelevant or immaterial denunciations, demands, or diversionary tactics.

This trait has gotten me into trouble on many occasions. I don't try to pick verbal fights -- not since I was a teenager, anyway; and in my late dotage, I have even started letting stupidities lie where the speaker dropped them, choosing not to take up the smart man's burden, as Isaac Asimov called it, to rush over and show that so and so why he's wrong. (From what I have read, Breitbart was more prone to do so than I; but of course, he was a lot slightly younger than I.)

But when the fight is brought to me, I am relentless in pursuit of the truth as I see it, even when the discussion has turned stale and pointless, and the other guy become so emotionally invested that he will not even grant me the premise that A=A, if that might further my own nefarious argument. I bore in like an earwig into the victim's brain, finding every hidden assumption and slipshod argument and revealing them, naked and bleeding, to the surrounding mob.

And I rarely care whether that mob is on my side or on the war path against me. I don't rest until I have discovered where the logic actually leads; and on those occasions where it leads against me, I own up promptly. Well, reasonably promptly!

I don't argue that this would be a good trait for everyone to have; but it's vital that some people have it. For the rest will generally back away, anxious not to be "the most hated" person in any group, wanting to go with the flow, to get along by going along, feeling sorry for the other bloke, hoping not to talk the lefty hot chick out of the mood, or any of a number of other reasons to drop an argument that you're clearly winning -- even for the sake of simple politeness.

And the Left depends upon that exact tendency, using its own weakness as a weapon: They know that if they chant their mantras long enough ("mike check, mike check!" "four legs good, two legs bad!"), the other side (that's our side) will say, "oh great leaping horny toads, fine, Capitalism really is unfair and we should try to come up with something better; now will you please tell everyone I'm not a horrible person after all?"

So without a few freaks like me and my never-met soulmate Andrew Brietbart, the world would go to heck in a hamfist; the bleeding hearts and artists, or the arts and farces, as Benny Hill enjoyed putting it, would win even more battles than they already do, by dirty tricks and corrupt practice. And that would be a shame.

It takes a personal toll, though; when the Progressivist Left is thwarted in its preferred tactics, it demands vengeance and bears a grudge to the grave and beyond. On such instances of victimization, I can only fall back on my natural contempt for those who cannot debate but only demonize. I suspect, but will never know for sure, that Breitbart lacked that healthy contempt; he may have cared more, fumed more, empathized more, or agonized more about why these lemmings cannot follow a simple syllogism. He may have split himself into too many different directions -- each of great value but totalling more than he could chew -- and taken too much incoming from each. And that may have hastened his very, very untimely demise.

Don't know.

I do know that, because I care only about the point and not the pointer, I generally don't get swept up in the emotional whirlwind: I have a magic charm of indifference to paralogia, intimidation, and argument by incessant and ever-louder assertion. An argumentary epicure, I sample the world; but I suspect Andrew Breitbart tried to swallow it whole; and it's a ghastly great wad to choke down.

I never met the man, so I'm not conversant with his many virtues; but this is what I glean from reading his Bigs, and reading what others who did know him have writ large.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 3, 2012, at the time of 2:15 AM | Comments (0)

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