Thursday, September 30, 2010

Michigan takes on Breastfeeding

The State of Michigan has launched a series of ads aimed at teaching women the value of breastfeeding their infants. There's nothing wrong with breastfeeding, of course, it being completely natural. As to the advantages which Michigan says that the practice offers, moms losing weight more quickly or that it makes babies smarter, for example, they may well be true. Ultimately, however, that seems like ideas which ought to concern the mother more directly that it may concern the government. The real question becomes, why are taxpayer dollars being spent on such advertising?

A Michigan Department of Community Health spokesperson, Julie Lothamer, says that while the decision to breastfeed is personal, she "... just (doesn't) want anyone to ever say, 'No one ever told me' " about the health benefits. Okay; but again, should the State be the one doing the telling? It seems a stretch to believe that in this day and age pregnant women have no idea, or are not informed at some point during the course of their pregnancy, that breastfeeding is a good idea.

Yet even accepting that rationale begs the question of whether taxpayers should be the ones making the idea known. If it is such a private choice, why is Lansing involved at all?

Perhaps because it would save the state on the cost of formula for welfare mothers? That option appears to be the more plausible one: and the State could defend it on the grounds that it is actually looking out for the ones truly footing the bill. It might save us a bit of that taxpayer green, your taxpayer green, in the long run. Yet if that is the case it actually makes the campaign look rather callous: we aren't truly concerned with you or your baby's health. We want to save a few bucks.

Either way you see it, the real bottom line is that the government shouldn't be addressing the issue at all. Spending our taxes on matters which are indeed no one else's business is wrong, even if you are willing to argue that the state has the right to influence the decisions of mothers essentially under its care. That isn't compassion; that's actually another form of the nanny state in a more subtle yet still dangerous approach. It is the government trying to control people more than help them. It teaches nothing save that we need the government involved in more areas of our lives. That does not promote freedom nor responsibility. It only keeps us more under wing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Check Lanes

Something which we are seeing more and more often, at least here in Michigan but it seems safe to assume that it's happening in many areas of the country, are drunk driving check lanes. The idea is to capture drunk drivers before they can do any harm. On paper, it isn't a bad idea. Yet other ideas on paper, such as our Constitution, my well be at odds with it.

Why should anyone be pulled over merely to see if they are driving legally? Aren't we supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? Aren't the authorities supposed to have reason to detain us, let alone inspect ourselves in our private vehicles (vehicles as private as our own homes, in moral if not legal fact) before they can take action against us? Why do we tolerate such violations of our basic rights?

Because we are fighting drunk driving? While drunk driving is of course reprehensible and irresponsible, to say the least, is it ultimately justifiable to allow anyone's rights to be ignored simply in a preemptive attempt to prevent crime? Isn't a crime supposed to happen, either in fact or in full view of law enforcement, before it can be addressed? As bad as drunk driving is, why should it get a free pass when questions of our civil liberties are involved?

We may be told that it is in part because driving is a privilege. Well, there's a bit of a moral issue with that. Why isn't driving seen a right as much as working freely within the job or housing markets? It is, you know. Any competent human being, one willing and able to follow the legitimate rules of the road, has the moral right to operate a car. As such, the state, no matter how many of its own rulings or assertions to the contrary, cannot prevent an otherwise free person from driving. It must allow anyone to drive for which there is no compelling reason to keep them from doing it.

From there it must presume, until there is compelling evidence otherwise, that that person is driving well and competently. Anything less is an infringement upon that guy's rights.

This is not to defend drunk driving, though we shall be accused of such. It is to defend law abiding citizens. Isn't that why we have laws to begin with? If so, then we must apply the true spirit and the rule of law properly and equally across the board, no matter how justified we may feel with allowing certain exemptions. If we are not doing that, then we have something worse than drunken drivers staring in our faces. We have nothing short of tyranny rambling towards us on the very roads we hold sacred.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Beautiful People

Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? That is a stance taken by most people when the subject of beauty comes up. Taken at face value, it is meant to say that we all have our quirks and foibles and as such our own opinions on the beautiful. That's fine, too, so far as it goes. Without a bit of individual interpretation an awful lot of very good things might go unrecognized.

Too often, though, it is not taken at face value. It is often intended as a way of dismissing any claim which propriety or objective analysis of art and objects may have against what makes something beautiful. On that level, it at the least makes art valueless. At the most, it is dangerous to our very psychological well being.

Why should there be no standards for beauty? Why should we not be able to know and employ them? We do and know and apply standards to so much else; why should the beautiful be any different? What can we really know about art and beauty if we have no way of judging them anyway? Indeed it can open us up to certain ironies, areas where what think awful may actually be lovely.

I remember a nun back when I was in Catholic schools who couldn't hold a musical note in a bucket: God love her, her voice was terrible. Yet when I hear it now, I realize that it in fact had a certain beauty in it which made it endearing. She belted out those hymns, by gosh, a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord, and it really was a joyful noise.

Aethetics, I believe Aristotle called it. A way to judge the beautiful from the horrendous. It is a subject on which I think we need to spend more time and effort.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Bad News is Still Good

As the November elections closes in on us, there are some interesting movements within the polls. It looks like the race for Governor in Massachusetts is tightening, as is the Kentucky Senate contest. Meanwhile, an Idaho Democrat looks poised to win re-election in what ought to be a solid Republican area. What gives?

The quick and easy answer is that it's little more than the usual mixing bowl of the election cycle at work. Rarely are things as simple and straightforward as we would like them to be. Rand Paul wasn't going to win in Kentucky by 15 percentage points; there are too few Senate contests which result in such statistical blowouts, and we all know it. In Massachusetts, the liberal vote is being split by an independent and the Green Party candidate, who are siphoning off around 15 percent of the support which would be expected to go to Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick.

Then, too, polls themselves do not necessarily give us the most reliable testing of the waters. Polls can be as slanted as the mindset of the pollster: if a poll talks to more Democrats than Republicans, for example, the outlook can be skewed. One of the recent measures of that same Kentucky campaign, done by Service USA, had the Democratic sampling at 51 percent while being made up of 36 percent Republicans. That's bound to affect any predictions based on that particular poll.

As to Idaho, we are looking at a Democrat who actually received an endorsement from a national Tea Party unit. He is virtually certifiable as a Blue Dog, or conservative, Democrat. Should Walt Minnick retain his seat against a virtual unknown without much cash, we should not be shocked. Further, as we mentioned in these very pages just a few days ago, with enough Blue Dogs the GOP may actually gain an effective edge in Congress even without a definite majority.

The bottom line is that even the bad news might be good for the Republican Party. With the overall feeling that Democrats are doomed this November (many pundits are actually coming to believe that 2010 will be worse for the left than '94) a minor setback or two isn't too worrisome for the right. Indeed, they may only serve to spice up what is appearing to be an election already over.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The end of the season

Today marks the end of the home baseball schedule for the Detroit Tigers. My family and I will take in the closer as we almost always have in the last 25 years or so. I think the only one we missed would have been during the 2006 season, when the Tigers made the World Series and it was simply impossible to make the last home game then, for obvious reasons such as inflated cost and heightened demand for tickets. Plus, when the playoffs are involved, you really don't know when the last game will be.

So, we will bundle up as it's only supposed to make it to 61 degrees by game time and watch the game. I made what may end up being a mistake by purchasing tickets on the first base side so that we would be in the shade fairly early, which only now means we'll be colder than if we were in a sunny area. Unpredictable Michigan weather; it was in the mid to high 80s just a couple of days ago and now we see lows in the forties and highs barely breaking the fifties. Go figure.

There is always a bit of sadness when baseball ends. Baseball is America's Game, no matter what those pigskin spikers claim, as evidenced in part by its having virtually no competition during the summer months among the major sports. It is the only game tightly associated with the American Spirit: individual prowess with team play and cooperation each having their stage within the game.

Today we bid it adieu in our part of the country, and begin the all too familiar wait until next year cries. Because that too is part of the charm of the sport. Next year is never really all that far away.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mississippi's First Congressional District

In an area almost universally considered conservative by political pundits, a Democratic incumbent, Travis Childers, faces a campaign for re-elections in what is often described as a toss up district. He has more money than his Republican opponent, Alan Nunnelee, at this moment. Yet more than that, Childers is one the so-called Blue Dog Democrats: he is pro-gun and anti-abortion, for example, positions not readily found among the Democratic elite. What can be learned from this case?

Firstly, that the GOP doesn't necessarily have to take the whole of Congress to gain an effective control of either the House of Representatives or the Senate. There are enough conservative Democrats that a majority of conservatives may exist in reality where they don't on paper. This line of reasoning adds to the woes of the left as November 2nd approaches. Majorities may be formed along philosophical rather than party line.

But more than that. It demonstrates quite readily the lack of true party discipline within the two major parties today in the United States. Why a Democrat should have captured a seat from a solidly conservative bastion of the country shows how little party identification may actually mean in our nation. When you can file as a Democrat or Republican and win a primary election despite having a relatively small direct experience within whichever entity, something which has happened often in our history, then party affiliation be damned. It begins to mean nothing as raw political indicator.

The point is this: look beyond what party a candidate says he belongs to and actually look at what he says. You will have a better idea of who you are voting for, and a clearer view of where the nation is heading. Meanwhile, don't be too quick to use party identification as a bellweather. You will only confuse the issue.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Couple of Quick Comments

The Vatican has been accused of money laundering. Or has it? Is it all really only an overaggressive Italian court seeking to sensationalize a simple clerical error? Our vote is that it's simply another attempt to slander the Church. After all, Christians are the only group left for whom it's okay to be discriminatory.

Sarah Plain may run for President in 2010. Most pundits believe she can't win. But some are now drawing comparisons to here and the poster child of the left, Barack Obama. The difference may be that her supporters are energized while his are not. Mew polling shows that independents has abandoned the President in droves. Hopefully, all that his election in 2008 has effectively done is to serve as a wake up call to the American people about the evils of socialism and government control.

The GOP's new Pledge to America isn't bad, but it also isn't all that good. The Republicans it seems still are not listening to their base; it is the conservatives who can make them the majority party once more, and keep them in power for years. If the Party actually responds to the right. You would think that the primary election season would have been enough to demonstrate that. But some lessons are learned very slowly.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Public Education: No One's Right

An ongoing debate within the political sphere, one which has indeed been carried on since the dawn of the Republic, has been about the extent and nature of public education. it is time that we addressed the issue squarely, by stating unequivocally and emphatically that public education is not a right.

For starters, seeing as education is ultimately the obligation of the individual (if mature enough) or of the parents of young children, then it is up to the person or their moms and dads to see to their learning as much as to their housing, clothing, and food. Society should only step in when the individual or the family needs help, just as it does with housing, clothing, and food. This needs to be said emphatically and forcefully: if you are able to provide for your or your child's education then you should have to provide for it, not the rest of us.

Indeed, with all the blather which the purveyors of teaching at the public trough give towards such ideas as diversity, how much more diverse can you get than to leave education to parental judgment and inquiry? Imagine a world where parents send their kids to schools they like based on their ideas of right and wrong rather than having them indoctrinated by the often errant views of the general society, a society whose 'views' are all too often dictated by judicial and legislative fiat rather of by the rational analysis of the individuals who are more concerned with true education (it is their children involved, you know) than passing fancy? How much more diverse can you get?

Or is diversity not what they truly want? Is their real aim the propagation of erroneous creeds and disreputable acts? To wit, do they want diversity as diversity, which is really only different folks acting different ways with no regard to the value of those acts (something of which even traditionalists should be wary), or do they in fact want indoctrination, the acceptance and living of the acts they, the education elite, deem worthy? Do they really want diversity, or the interpretation of ideas in their own light?

But the bottom line is that education is not a right so much as a duty. When we live up to that, we live well. When we don't, we get whatever comes along. And exactly what we would deserve.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Candidate O'Donnell and the Political Arena

Christine O'Donnell is certainly making waves. The liberals pundits are having a blast analyzing her past: dabbling into witchcraft and comments about homosexuals, condoms, and masturbation have given them much fodder for attacking the Delaware Republican candidate for the US Senate. But how much of it are simply attempts to smear her image, and how much truly campaign fodder?

Some of what she says cannot be dismissed too readily. The debate about the nature of homosexuality must be addressed as our nation wrestles with the impact which active homosexuality may have upon it, socially and morally. Criticisms about her delving into witchcraft are surely unfair, though. If it was nothing but a phase and she is well beyond it, having 'matured in her faith' as she says, then it has no bearing on the race. Isn't anyone truly sorry for the errors and sins of their past deserving of forgiveness?

Questions about her moral positions are nonetheless fair game. They are subject to affecting her potential Senate votes and scrutiny of them cannot be called unreasonable. That she must defend such views can only test the strength and validity of them in the greater social context. The simple fact is that sins, or even a mere lack of discipline, in small, personal areas can be lead to similar errors in larger ones. When your starting point is poor, your mistakes will usually only grow more wrong the father away you move from the start.

This should not be interpreted as saying that all moral areas are subject to legal or criminal prosecution. Masturbation and condom use, though moral offenses, should not be made crimes. If O'Donnell or anyone else should argue that, they ought to be called to task. Some things simply must be left to the individual conscience no matter ho wrong; there are worse ills with which to concern our system of justice.

For now, Ms. O'Donnell is taking the right tack by concentrating on Delaware. Let us hope that her opponents take the moral high road and only question her on the ramifications of what public acts she presumes to support. Attacks on anything beyond that are out of bounds, and would mock the very freedoms the left pretends to support.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Are the Republicans finally heeding the Tea Party?

The GOP is apparently on the verge of a major announcement: something similar to the Contract for America, a masterstroke of political maneuvering which almost single handedly gave the Republicans control of Congress back in 1994. The real question is, why has it taken so long?

Haven't the Republicans learned from the Tea Party movement that the health care debate is far from over, and that average Americans are sick of such massive government intrusions in their lives? Don't they see that the people are sick of high taxes and want them ended? Isn't it obvious that the core of folks most likely to vote for the GOP are those who believe in fiscal restraint?

Some Democrats are deriding the intention as a mere electioneering ploy, seeing as it is coming so late in the cycle. But they would complain anyway, so such criticisms are rather hollow and self serving. They can be dismissed as electioneering themselves. Yet the Republican party, so lacking in a clear vision in recent years, has just about had a platform dropped into their lap. The conservative revolution within its own ranks ought to have served as a clarion call to action. Why has it taken the GOP so long to heed it?

Probably because so many Republicans are wedded to the beltway mentality themselves. That's why you have a Mike Castle in Delaware so reluctant to accept defeat at the hands of Christine O'Donnell, or Lisa Murkowski up in Alaska unwilling to concede that she lost. They're the career politicians, don't you see. they're the truly compassionate leaders, whose job it is to dispense largesse.

That's the real arrogance in our nation today: leaders who look down upon the regular folk. We do not need such inherent disdain from those we elect. We need leadership which understands and respects the common man and woman. If the GOP can include that in any new contract, they will have learned a great lesson. If they do not, then we need more grass roots activists to teach them the lesson in greater detail.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Carbon Footprints: Much Ado, Little Meaning

I have written several times about how unimpressed I am with the recycling fad which increasingly permeates our society. Today, I feel like writing a bit more.

Many of my conservative friends have latched onto the R-Train. "Conservative means conserve, right?" one asked me the other day. Another, holding out his plastic water bottle in demonstration, remarked that he "...didn't want to see this end up in a landfill." I fought the to urge to ask, why not? We were at a party to cheer up a sick friend, and I felt that good taste recommended not pursuing what can become a highly charged topic in such a setting.

But now I ask, why not? At our current rate we will have, in about 300 years, a total landfill area only about the size of Yellowstone Park. I see no landfills producing zombies or adversely affecting the water tables or local agriculture or industry or home life. Why not keep burying the trash?

A large part of conservatism certainly involves conserving various things and ideals. But that cannot mean that there isn't a necessary prioritizing of what we do. Fighting abortion, big government (which is, let's face it, greatly responsible for forcing recycling around our necks, which I think in itself makes the policy suspect), and the myriad factors of liberalism which threaten to tear our social fabric apart. To wit, the critical part of what we conserve must be our well being as a people along traditional lines. What we do with our garbage, while important, pales beside that.

So I say, screw my carbon footprint. There are more important things to worry about than whether we incinerate our debris or put it in a hole in the ground. Unless and until you can prove beyond reasonable doubt that those things are substantially harmful to the human condition, I can live with them. That's conservative environmental policy in a nutshell.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hate Crimes

When someone is beaten up or killed, the attacker is usually charged with a crime appropriate to the situation. A killing may be murder one, or perhaps simply manslaughter, depending upon the circumstances surrounding the act. There are various gradations of many other crimes as well. All of that is fine, so far as it goes. It gives the judicial system the leeway necessary to ensure that criminal acts are justly prosecuted. Any decent approach to criminal justice requires that all things relevant to someone's ill conceived or stupid action be considered. Yet more than anything else, the main reason we have the laws we do is to protect human lives, because each human life is immeasurably valuable.

Yet we have now added to the mix the specter of hate crimes. If the crime someone has committed was driven by bigotry, by a hatred of minorities or, as seems more generally the case, homosexuals, (although depending on the area where the incident takes place there can be many other inclusions within the hate crime arena), then an additional charge is often leveled at the accused. They won't be charged with straightforward murder, if a death is at the stand. They will be charged, essentially and additionally, with hating the attacked.

The first glaring error within such a line of thought is that the motivation for a crime is seen as the same as a crime. But while we recognize that impure and spiteful thoughts of any kind are morally offensive, merely thinking such and such a way can never truly be considered a crime. We would all merit jailing if that were the case, for we all from time to time think things we shouldn't. It is simply Orwellian to make thoughts criminal.

Yet that is perhaps not the worst aspect of hate crimes or, as they are sometimes more benignly called, bias oriented crimes. The most galling aspect of them is in how they, however inadvertently this may be, treat those killed or beaten or robbed without hateful motivation as essentially less human than a homosexual or minority or whomever attacked because of their skin color or sexual preference.

This is nothing less than an insult to the victims of crime who do not happen to fall into one of the hate crimes categories. They are no less human than those people who have the added glory of hate crime given them.

Murder is murder. Period. A irreplaceable human life has been taken. The reason hardly matters, for we have grounds enough to condemn to at least life imprisonment the murderer on that fact alone. To add anything more to that merely because the victim may be of a certain ilk beyond his control is nothing less than making those people more important, well, merely because of incidental circumstance. It truly insults the attacked who had no such special (and it cannot be stressed enough, incidental) extension of themselves while actually patronizing the supposed victim of whatever hate crime is at issue. We act as though a crime against them is worse merely because of who they are.

That isn't justice. That's an immorality upon itself. We must cease to see motive as criminal. Only then shall we truly see a crime as a crime, and only then will all be equal in the eyes of the law.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Religion and Social Upheaval

The Independent, a British journal and website, has posted an article about research by one Frank Dikötter which has concluded that the genocide of Chinese peasants during Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward of 1958-1962 was the worst atrocity of the last century. 45 million people were systematically killed in an attempt to bring the Chinese economy into the then 20th Century. Mr. Dikötter compared the mass murders to the gulag of Stalin and the Russian communists (as well as their other various purges and genocides) and the Holocaust driven by the Nazis. He even alludes to the Leap as on a scale of World War II, where around 55 million were killed.

Toss in things such as the Cambodian genocide of more recent times and even the 37 million killed during World War I and what have we? An awful lot of deaths at the hands of bloody revolutionaries, power mad tyrants, and even some through downright human stupidity. Yet other than the terrible human cost inflicted by the perpetrators of these heinous actions, what do each and every one of horrible events have in common?

The answer is as easy as it is obvious. Not one was committed by the hand or at the order of a religious sect, movement, or leader. They were all set in motion by wholly secular forces. And we have not even delved into the many other yet lesser noted horrific initiatives which occurred during the same era.

Whenever someone tells you how bad religion is for the people, just remind them of the 1900's. Those years alone well display the fallacy of believing in a purely secular and atheistic worldview. God saves. Secularism kills. It's really as simple as that.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thou Shalt Reap what Thy Sow

One of the most fascinating aspects of this year's primary season has been, particularly on the Republican side but to a degree with the Democrats as well (right, Arlen Specter?) has been the tide of 'outsiders' which has become a major story within many of the races. These folks, presumably waifs in the political arena with no real sense of what makes government tick, have upset the apple cart. The question is, what does it all mean?

That question we shall not answer here. November 2nd shall answer it well enough, at least for the current election cycle. More interesting, perhaps, are the lamentations arising from the party regulars. All of those beyond the beltway do-gooders are interfering with their ability to do good. When some tea party maverick knocks a respectable Republican from his seat or prevents someone with the imprimatur of the GOP from getting their shot at the big time, why, they don't understand the game. The establishment is where the good of the people resides, not in mere citizens deciding helter skelter who gets what prize.

But isn't that what's democracy is all about? Aren't we supposed to be able to vote for whom we want? Not only that, isn't this very series of elections a reflection of what exactly the parties have devolved into in the last few decades? With virtually open primaries (not everywhere, perhaps, but very, very frequently) why should Democrats and Republicans be shocked when they find those loathsome outsiders entering their primaries and caucuses and knocking off the anointed candidates? Especially as it has been the political parties acting through the agency of government which have forced open the smoke filled rooms of yore, when parties actually picked their own people to run for the various offices?

The most delicious irony around all this blather is that we actually support smoke filled rooms. Political parties are essentially private entities; they should be able to select for and by themselves who represents them, without public input. Though the electors have the right to freely choose among the candidates for a public office whom they like, the general population does not have the right to pick who runs as a Republican or Democrat. Republicans and Democrats have that right. If you want to have a say in that part of the process, then become an active Republican or Democrat.

Still, that is not how it is done in 2010, to the chagrin of the party elites. To that, we shall only smile and wave. They have done it to themselves.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Pope and the English.

The Pope is heading to England, and the British don't like it. Imagine that.

Yet despite the fact that religious ties between the Holy See and Great Britain have been rather strained for, oh, better than 450 years, it isn't the religious aspect of the Papal visit which is throwing the most sparks. The trouble is the $30 million dollars the trip will cost British taxpayers. You see, unlike John Paul the Great's tour in 1982, this is an official state visit. That means the state pays for it.

To be sure, there will be protests against the Church's views on issues religious and philosophic. Her unwavering stands on the various moral issues sure seem to inflame a European population hell bent on doing whatever it damn well pleases while conveniently and inconsistently demanding that society adapt to them as they are (how is it that one presumed form of dictatorship is worse than a more real, more threatening secular tyranny?) shall always incite protest. Yet the cost of the trip has become the most highlighted question within the issue.

Human rights activist Peter Tatchell laments that figures such as the Rabbi of Jerusalem wouldn't merit such treatment. But he is not a head of state. Benedict XIV, like it or lump it, is. A poll shows that around 80% of Britons 'have no personal interest' in the visit. It would be fascinating to see how many of them would have a personal interest in a state visit from the leader of Panama or Fiji or Luxembourg. Yet they would receive the treatment of foreign dignitaries.

There is not much doubt that the cost of entertaining them wouldn't be near to the costs of protecting the Pope, but so what? How many British citizens have not cared for the visits of US Presidents? Yet the reality is clear: visiting heads of state merit consideration based on their needs. The President and the Pontiff face greater threats than many (if not most) others. They merit the protection.

It is interesting to note that human rights have apparently become so well protected in Great Britain today that the aforementioned Mr. Tatchell has the time to protest the Papal visit as a human rights issue. Aren't there any real tyrants out in the world, or indeed even petty little despots in government offices throughout England, doing far worse to the people than simply engaging in state visits to other sovereign nations?

The upcoming trip certainly does illustrate that these times they are-a changin'. But surely not for the good. Most definitely not for the people of England.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Human Rights

It is not unusual in America today to hear people bandying about their rights. Sadly, this typically involves pressing for rights which do not in fact exist. These are people attempting to expand the sphere of rights into areas where there can be no rational conversation, no logical expansion or existence of whatever type of 'rights' are presumed to exist.

Take gay rights for example. Does anyone really have a right to act in a manner which is incongruent with natural law? No. Likewise, it is wrong to think that an atrocity such as assisted suicide should be allowed. What person, knowing in their hearts that they had no say in being put here on Earth can reasonably conclude, outside of the very noble concept of laying down one's life for family or friends (and such folks are generally not trying to die so much as willing to accept that they might well die in protecting others), can reasonably argue that they have a right to determine when they leave?

Animal rights are another area where rationality is thrown out the window. Not that we have any right to maltreat animals of course. But as an old priest once told me, "You show me an animal with responsibilities and we'll talk about an animal with rights".

This is a statement which puts issues of rights in the proper context. We have no right which does not spring from a responsibility we hold. I have the right to compete fairly in the job and housing markets but I have a responsibility to care for myself and my family. I have the right to choose which schools to send my kids to because I have an obligation to see to their education. I have the right to own property because I have the need to develop a stable environment for those near to me. There is not a right which does not emanate from a responsibility.

Those who argue that they have a right to act on a homosexual impulse simply because they are born that way are being irrational; I have a tendency towards bad temper yet when I act that out I am told, rightly enough, that I need to get over it. Those who argue that animals have rights are talking nonsense: is there any evidence that animals are acting on a thought out moral code, a feeling of obligation, rather than plain old instinct? Do you actually have a right to leave when you were given no option on coming by in the first place?

We are human beings. We have human rights by virtue of that humanity and nothing else. When we are speaking outside of that context we have stepped into a void. It is in that darkness where the faux rights dwell. Quite naturally, there we cannot see properly.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Understanding Islam

How we handle the Muslim world is obviously one of the trickiest tasks we face in the coming years. There is an awful lot of distrust of Islam and no real idea of how to allay the fears of it which many seem to harbor. Yet how we view and work with the Islamic world is nevertheless critical to our safety in the future.

So, how do we view Islam? That is a question which doesn't have an easy answer. The most logical point would be to look towards Muslim teachings for guidance. Yet that brings on a few difficult questions, not the least of which is: who exactly do we go to for answers?

There are many more sects within Islam than most folks imagine. A brief internet search reveals that there at at least five branches of the religion, dominated by the Sunni and the Shi'a with several smaller groups. Within Islam are four schools of thought, any of which are deemed valid to follow.

This rudimentary understanding of Islam really only heightens the problem. When there are many sects of a religion, coupled with the lack of any real hierarchical structure within it, then who actually speaks for Islam? The ones who preach peace or the ones who cry war?

Compare this to he Catholic Church, were we find a highly structured organization which can be approached as to the Catholic stance on such and such a question. We may not like what it says to us, but we cannot doubt what it means to say.

Unless we can find a source of Islam which speaks for all of Islam, can we actually ever know whether it as a movement can be trusted or not? This isn't to say that individual Muslims are bad people. As likely as not, the overwhelming majority of them are fine and outstanding members of their communities struggling with day to day life as most everyone else does. Yet do those folks speak for all of Islam when they speak, or simply for themselves?

Without a final source on what Islam means it will be difficult to understand it more fully. And without such understanding, can the other hurdles ever be overcome?

Monday, September 13, 2010

More NFL rules stupidity

The Detroit Lions Calvin Johnson made a great catch yesterday which should have won the game for his team. But the NFL rule book says that you must have control of the ball through the entire process of the catch, whatever that means, or it's not a catch. The ball touched the ground after both of Johnson's feet hit the turf with control of it. He had control of it even after a knee and elbow had hit the paydirt. But because the ball hit the ground while in his other hand, the refs ruled the pass incomplete.

Football rules simply lack integrity in so many areas. Some of them appear downright contradictory: when running with the ball, the ground cannot cause a fumble. Yet when catching it, the ground apparently can cause an incomplete pass. That's just a dumb inconsistency.

When running with the ball, it's a touchdown as soon as the ball breaks the plane of the goal line. Yet when catching it already inside the stripe, a point at which you would think the plane not merely broken but downright shattered, it's not necessarily a touchdown. Ridiculous.

These interpretations are as bad as spiking the ball to stop the clock while getting no penalty for grounding. The NFL must revise its rule book on these and likely many other areas if football is to have any real integrity. As it is now, it's a joke. It's unfair and unsportsmanlike, and must change its attitude and alter its rules if it is to be seen as a decent sport.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Feelings aren't enough.

This is another response to an atheist. He believes that morality is essentially based on feelings of empathy.

-Charles Martin Cosgriff

Why, my friend, I'm glad we could find some common ground. I agree that humans are intuitive (the Ten Commandments are written on our hearts), but not that morality is about empathy and compassion. For empathy and compassion are mere feelings, and we know that feelings can and do mislead. Alone, feelings may indeed inspire good moral action. Yet they may well lead to bad moral action: it goes without saying that anger can cause much grief. We must judge our feelings as to whether they are for well or for ill. We must look upon them logically, acting upon them only when it is clear that they are properly driven.

But by whose logic do we declare our feelings right or wrong, then? That's where we disagree. For Right Reason, objective morality, the Natural Law, indeed common sense, all of which are the names of one essential reality, is beyond any one person. It is beyond us and we must seek it in order to act within it.

That, in part, is where God comes in. For God is Right Reason, He is that objective morality. He is the Natural Law and the spiritual embodiment of common sense. Without such a guide, even empathy and compassion may effectively lie to us. We may end up feeling compassion for the wrong person, cause, or reason. We must have a way to judge our feelings or they may do us a disservice rather than being a correct impetus to action.

Human action alone is sterile. Yet in concert with the Divine, it is a power above all other strengths. When we accept that, we become good people.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It's Coming...

A new forecast is predicting gains in the House of 50 to 60 seats for the Republicans this November. That would easily give control of the chamber to the GOP.

As President Obama's poll ratings continue to slide amid his childlike swings at the Republican leadership (being treated like a dog? Really, now), the 2010 mid-term elections are taking the shape of another 1994. Couple this with the continued malaise (we love using Carter era terms, especially against his fellow Democrats) of the economy and the state of fear over the health care debacle, along with questions over whether Democrats can handle foreign policy questions (read: terrorism) as well as Republicans, and the right wing must simply be salivating all the more.

Factor in that old and true saw that liberals tend to sit out bi-elections in greater numbers than the voters who truly care about the direction in which our nation is headed (read: conservatives) and the prospects are truly astounding. The positive analysis for the GOP could go on forever.

Yet it won't. It won't have to. Because on November 2nd, 2010, the predictions will end. Fact will reign, and it will shine brightly on the Republican Party.

The Spirit of 94. Pass it on.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reagan's Name in Lights once more?

The incessant Hollywood rumor mill is awash with speculation about an upcoming biopic about one of our greatest presidents, Ronald Reagan. Producer Mark Joseph of The Passion of the Christ fame is apparently heading up the project. He commented that he was glad no one in Tinsel Town likes Reagan, so that he would have the chance to do such a film.

Yet John McCord, the screenwriter, makes no bones about his feelings for the former Chief Executive, calling Reagan, 'At best a bad actor, at worst a clown." It leaves one to wonder if someone with that attitude could ever be fair to the Reagan legacy.

This is the man who was perhaps the driving force towards ending the Cold War. A man whose policies shaped a decade of tremendous growth in America right after Jimmy Carter nearly rent us asunder. Ronald Reagan was precisely what we needed at precisely the right time. He reminded us that if we believed in ourselves and the American Dream, we could indeed make things better. For our nation, and the world.

Like him or not, that is his lesson to us, a lesson we are in danger of failing in light of the recent massive growth of the federal establishment. Maybe, just maybe, a decent and considerate movie about his life would be just the tonic to set us back on the right course.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Burning Books

A group of folks in Florida are apparently planning on burning copies of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. It is intended as a warning to the Muslim world, whatever that means, according to Terry Jones, the pastor organizing the event. Whatever his meaning, it is not a good idea.

There is no need to potentially incite the entire Muslim world. Burning their holy book is far more likely to make things worse than better. Besides, why stoop to such a level? Why not, as Americans, stay above the fray so much as we can?

The military leadership in Afghanistan rightly fears that it may lead to intense retaliation against the troops there. But more than anything else, it appears to be meant to provoke simply to provoke. That is not the basis for any decent reaction to terrorism. It is merely petulant.

We are better than that.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hawking: Ignoring God is Senseless

Steven Hawking, the eminent physicist, has a new book coming out tomorrow which purports to say that God was not necessary for the creation of the universe. Indeed, that many other universes may exist. But does all of this, if true, actually do away with the role God would play in creation?

Hawking and his fellow author Leonard Mlodinow appear to be saying that science alone can explain creation. Yet the scientific view they are trying to espouse is very new, conflicting, already finding ridicule in some scientific quarters. Craig Callender, a philosopher of physics at the University of California, San Diego, says that what the authors are doing is ultimately merely imaginative. It cannot in truth be proven, Dr. Callender says. This from a fellow scientist, it should be noted.

The string theories upon which Hawking and Mlodinow's assertions are based are far from conclusive, according to many in the world of science. Callender himself calls it the 'wild speculation' needed to attract the media. Still, the book apparently does not actually address why God is not needed. Hawking says that our universe began with 'spontaneous creation'. In short, it just happened. That is little different from the big bang theory. What is so grandiosely insightful about it?

Hawking argues that the discovery of many other planets in the galaxy makes it less impressive that one should have sentient life. "If there are untold numbers of planets in the galaxy, it's less remarkable that there's one with conditions for human life," he asserts. Why? It brings to mind the infinite monkeys theory, where we should expect that with an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters one would eventually pound out Shakespeare.

We wouldn't be awed that a theoretically random ape actually did it? Really, now. Likewise, even if there were only one planet with conscious life among hundreds of planets and universes, why shouldn't we be impressed by that? It should not beshocking that when no other life existed, it existed here?

To be fair, Mlodinow does say that they are not arguing that there is no God, but only that one isn't necessary to explain the creation of our own or the potentially other universes they say might be out there somewhere. Still, what they say does indeed reek of philosophy rather than science. We stand by what we have said so many times before: science only explains science, they how things work question. It cannot address the why questions of how it may all have come to be.

What Hawking and Mlodinow have produced is not science then but philosophy. Their work is subject to logic, not empiricism. Perhaps they are right in their scientific theories. But as to their philosophy, it is really just the same old same old from the pop science crowd.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Atheism: Unfair to Religion

Note: This response is directed to Staks Rosch, a Philadelphia atheist.

- Charles Martin Cosgriff

Well, my friend. I have now read your section on Atheism 101 about why atheists should care about religion. The error in it is quite easy to see and comprehend. You quote Hebrews; faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). True enough. Yet you abuse the passage as well as the concept of faith . You are wrong to assert that when someone has faith in something, no amount of logic or evidence can change their immediate view. For anyone of real faith realizes one important fact: faith and reason cannot contradict one another.

A belief in a God is a point of philosophy, not religion. It is a truth readily and conveniently overlooked by many nonbelievers. The history of the Catholic Church is deep with Saints who assert that faith and reason compliment rather than contradict one another. Aquinas, Augustine, indeed any Doctor of the Church says as much. So as philosophy is based on reason, and the existence of a God is a philosophical matter, it follows that faith must be congruent with philosophy. We are, ahem, graced with the ability to reason. No just God (and a just God is again a rational philosophic conclusion) would allow for any type of knowledge to contradict another. Knowledge, being of three basic styles (empirical, rational, and faithful) must be in harmony or it would have no value. The real truths of science, philosophy, and religion must be congruent.

That people, even Popes and Imams, have used religion poorly is without doubt. No human being is perfect; ergo, any human being can err. Yet how many secularists, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, have also done horrible things against humanity (one wonders if perhaps they together killed more and caused more calamity than presumably religiously inspired actions) without the aid of religion? Still, to assert that religion is based solely on faith is a rather hollow claim. It begs the question of whether the accuser actually researched religion or is simply acting knee jerk.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Scare Stories: Why Environmentalists can't be Taken Seriously

This just in: mass extinctions could threaten life as we know it. At least, such is the belief of one John Alroy of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. His findings, after a study of fossil collections, concludes that when there are significant numbers of species extinctions there may be significant changes to the ecosystem. Indeed, it may alter the question of who is or is not the dominant species in any giving environmental arena. His research can be found in the latest edition of the journal Science.

The best initial reaction to this should not be shock. There are no grounds for panic here, despite the fact that it seems the world of science (meant here with the small 's') and the media want to use this as an example of how we humans are mucking up the planet. We are so smug, we humans, that we aren't even considering the possibility that we may advance ourselves from the top spot on the ecological pyramid. We may fall from the predator to the prey, if we aren't careful.

But to the point. It is not, in any way, an earth shattering conclusion that if some things change dramatically other areas may be altered as well. If you remove the key pitchers from the current New York Yankees or Tampa Bay Rays, you would likely have other teams competing for the American League lead in their division. Surely a look into the fossilized remains of 100,000 extinct species, which is what Dr. Alroy and his minions studied, was not necessary to realize that. In fact, it was almost surely overkill for an argument more philosophical than scientific, even if based on scientific data. It was not needed to found a conclusion based more on common sense than as a particularly scientific insight.

So, does this mean that humanity is doomed? No. Especially when the researchers and media types sprinkle their statements with all sorts of vague words and phrases. When we hear viewpoints such as, "Today's rate of extinction may be as great as 100 times the historic norm," as claimed by the people at Life Science, we wonder at what exactly is the threat made by the words may be as great. This followed by the rather astounding assertion of extinction rates 100 times the historic norm.

The columnist George Will famously says that, "If the data don't jibe with common sense, doubt the data." Or at the least, don't overstate its merely potential importance. For indeed that's all we have here: data which may, or may not, mean that we good folks are killing the Earth and ourselves in the process. Yes, of course we should be aware of it and serious consider the prospects to which it may lead. Yet that does not mean we are invariably bound for destruction. For two can play the what if game: what if it means that we are merely increasing our dominance? It may be that we are improving rather than destroying; our actions may be creating a better, and not worse, environment.

In the end, this is only so much more environmentalist fear mongering. If that's all they can bring to the debate, then we should not worry over their worries. It is far more disheartening to see how we hurt one another as people than as how we might, or might not, be affecting the lower species.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What Love Means

We are often told that we are expected to love others unconditionally. It is a good and charitable approach to our relationships with God and man. But what does it really mean? How are we expected to use such a doctrine in our daily lives?

For starters, it surely means that we are to love everyone without reservation. We are called to love everyone as though they were ourselves, to paraphrase a great moral teacher. It is a difficult ideal; loving our enemies is not easy, and sometimes loving our friends and family is a challenge as well. Still, we are expected to overcome this obstacle, and find a way to open our hearts to all.

But there is a great misunderstanding to unconditional love, an error in its application which is at least arguably worse than failing to love everyone around us. Many people believe that unconditional love means loving others up to and including their faults. We are, according to this, meant to love others including their faults, and indeed often embracing them.

This cannot be a good and true interpretation of the standard. It cannot be a useful approach towards dealing with others. We can accept that we must love racists and sexists and criminals; but to love their faults? This is insanity on its face. Do we not want to see people become better people? Do we not want to see our children grow into mature adults? Then we should be instructing and cajoling and beseeching those around us, as they should towards us, to do better than they do, and to be better than they are.

When our children become drug addicts or alcoholics, we do what we can to change them. When our neighbors rob and injure others, we enforce laws to stop them. We can and should still love them, but that does not mean we are obliged to tolerate them.

It is more correct to say that unconditional love calls us to love those around us despite their faults. Because real love does not embrace error. It understands it as a part of us which ought to be altered, and wants to see us move away from the lesser aspects of our being and into better men, women, and children. If it does not want that, it is not love. It is something which facilitates bad behavior; it is a cancer of character.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

James Lee May Not have been Insane

An extreme environmentalist, James Lee, held three employees hostage at the headquarters of the Discovery Channel yesterday in Silver Springs, Maryland. The standoff ended when police sharpshooters killed him late in the afternoon, after they felt he was too threatening to the captives.

Lee's demands included that the long time cable channel rid itself of programs which encouraged overpopulation, such as Kate Plus 8, or war, such as Future Weapons. He had expressed on a website the opinion that human beings were essentially vile creatures bent on merely destroying the planet.

Let us set aside for the moment the questions of how much he may actually represent the overall environmental movement, which does at times appear to believe that humanity is the culprit in all too many (they seem to find quite a few) environmental problems. Because the one thing we must not do is dismiss him too readily as insane, which is an allegation already being heard from many quarters.

He may indeed have been insane. That may be the most likely explanation for his actions. But perhaps he was not, and that is a possibility which cannot be taken too lightly. He may have been someone who really meant what he said, with a full and reasonably complete understanding of what his actions may have wrought. His activity yesterday might actually reflect a mind which understood well enough what was going on and intended everything it engendered, and every idea it expressed was without regret or regard for others.

If we excuse such folks too readily as insane, we, in the long run, grant criminals and anyone else who threatens society or themselves, precisely the excuse they need to take responsibility off of them. We could, over time, inadvertently hand any particular individual the reason they need for committing any act they wish precisely because of insanity. Anyone might very well justify any outlandish action or crime with the excuse, 'Well, I wouldn't even be thinking this way if I wasn't insane'.

If James Lee was insane, the so be it. But if was not, if he meant what he said, then we gloss over a very real criminal act heinous enough that we insult the victims by letting him off the hook too easily. We actually may invite more, and more vicious, crimes when we are too quick to write recent ones off as little more than actions based on the mere rantings of someone forgivably deranged. We may only be protecting the legacy of someone unworthy, while endangering the lives of the wholly innocent.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Suspend Suh

Ndamukong Suh is expected to be the new face of the Detroit Lions' defense. After a questionable play in this past weekend's exhibition win over the Cleveland Browns, it is fair to ask whether it is the kind of face the team should want to wear.

The linebacker grabbed quarterback Jake Delhomme by the face mask and threw him viciously to the ground. The NFL is reviewing the play to see if it merits disciplinary action.

Suh has basically shrugged the whole thing off. He will stay 'aggressive'. "I feel that if I do (tone down his play), then I'm doing a (disservice) to my teammates and not playing to my best ability if I'm thinking about that instead of thinking about getting after the ball and getting after the quarterback and making plays," he said. Basically, his opinion is that its up to the referees to determine personal fouls. He simply plays hard.

What that translates into is that he is a player not concerned with the rules but results. That is hardly sportsmanlike, yet is is an attitude prevalent in football. That should be no surprise, given the kill or be killed mentality bred into so many on the gridiron.

Yet rules are rules and every official, coach, and player has the responsibility to follow them to the best of their ability. That any player would be so flippant about a face mask infraction, the kind of thing that could potentially snap a player's neck, is shameful. Suh ought to be fined and suspended on his cavalier attitude alone. Even if he is, it likely won't result in any backing down from the macho football persona.

Football needs to get rid of its ego and remember that it's only a game. Yet still, games require discipline. That means living up to the responsibility to play by the rules, and especially to not purposely hurt your opponents. Until that happens, the game shall only be mean and mean spirited. It is not a lesson we should be teaching anyone in the guise of sports and entertainment.