Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review of "Cloud Atlas"

I was looking for an innocuous movie to take my 86 year-old mother to. She’s a Bridges of Madison County kind of movie fan, but she’d already seen Trouble with the Curve, which was the closest thing to a mom-flick out there. So, when I checked the listings for the Birch Run Cinema and saw the ad for Cloud Atlas, I thought, aha, Tom Hanks . . . Jim Broadbent . . . Hugh Grant. It had innocuous written all over it. Plus, it looked interesting. So I said, let’s go. I knew I’d made a mistake long before the scene where the pretty South Korean replicant girls are being slaughtered and hung up, steer fashion, to be recycled. I think I got my first clue with the flogging of an African slave on some Pacific atoll. 

            But aside from the fact that you might not want to take your mother to see this movie, was it any good? Yes and no.

            Cloud Atlas is very ambitious and works extremely hard to be spiritual and profound. It interweaves six narrative lines set: 1) somewhere in the Pacific 1849; 2) in Cambridge around 1918 (if I remember right); 3) in 1973 San Francisco; 4) in present day London; 5) in a very far future Seoul; and 6) way way out in the future on an island—possibly the same one as in the 1849 line.  (I haven’t read the novel this movie is based on.) One of the assumptions of the movie is that reincarnation is part of the scheme of things, so the main actors appear again and again throughout the movie. The ethical point is that one’s crimes and acts of kindness resonate through time, affecting the future and possibly even the past—a very karmic thought and also a very Charles Williams kind of thought (read Descent into Hell).

            The issues dealt with are various forms of human exploitation, in plot order, as follows: slavery; persecution of homosexuals; evil oil companies rigging nuclear power plants to explode so you’ll buy more oil; a comic parody of the other plots wherein Jim Broadbent shines as a publisher whose vindictive brother has had him committed to an nursing home; slavery again, this time of human beings grown in vitro; finally, a tribe of nice, kind peaceful islanders being slaughtered by the descendents of the rock group, Kiss.

            The plot lines not only use the same actors—and identifying them is part of the fun—but the same situations of capture and escape. The point seems to be the same as in Ground Hog Day, where people have to bang their heads against the same ethical problems until them get the right—or don’t.

            Now, all this to me would be an intriguing recipe for a good movie. I like fantasy and I like big movies, so the 2 hour and 44 minute running time was not an initial problem. By far the best story lines were the present day Jim Broadbent bit, as the captured publisher, paying for past sins, and the future Seoul, in which the beautiful Chinese actress Xun Zhou just steals the show—and there are some great action sequences in that part, by the way.

            The evil oil company is such a cliché, it’s a failure of the imagination to run it again, but it gives one of my favorites, Hugo Weaving, plenty of chances to shoot at people and Halle Berry her best innings. James Sturges and David Gyasi have a good gamble in the first plot of a runaway slave and the lawyer who keeps him in his cabin as a stowaway. Ben Whishaw, who played a rather soppy John Keats in Bright Star is the star of the second plot line; he’s a gay composer who gets a piece of music “given” to him from beyond, and this becomes the “Cloud Atlas Sextet” which echoes through the movie as the underlying bit of celestial harmony that holds the world and the movie together. It’s supposed to be the most beautiful piece of music imaginable, but unfortunately, they have to keep playing it, and it isn’t. I liked the piece--better than average soundtrack here--but it ain’t Bach or Beethoven; still, the plot needs the music of the spheres, and what you can get away with proclaiming in a novel was more than could be reproduced for a movie.

            My reservations about Cloud Atlas are not serious, but here they are. First, Cloud Atlas busts a gut to be “important,” and going “big” is often a mistake in this regard. This movie goes big. Second, from my Catholic point of view, it just reinvents the wheel while sedulously steering clear of any Christian reference whatsoever. The main point of the movie is that self-sacrificing love is an objective force in the universe. Amen to that fair prayer, say I. There isn’t a more Christian thought in the world, but mainstream Hollywood is allergic to that recognition. It goes the expected syncretistic route. The bigger problem is that this movie didn’t make me feel the reality of the self-sacrificing behavior I saw on-screen. It was a bit comic bookish, a bit reheated. As W. H. Auden says in "Musee des Beaux Arts," there's always some horse in the background scratching his ass while the crucifixion takes place or Icarus plummets into the sea. This movie needed some ass scratching. The last plot line is close to a Mad Max movie, so that adds a second clichéd plot. The two plots that worked effectively were undercut by those that did not.

            On the other hand, I’m going to read the novel.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Chris Matthews' Devastating Critique of Obama and His Administration

The disillusion that Matthews expresses here seems to me to be utterly compelling in light of Bob Woodward's book, The Price of Politics.

What is scary about this clip is that it is from a year ago. There is nothing that Matthews says here that shouldn't completely explain the first presidential debate to him.

For me a vote in a presidential campaign is rooted as much in whether I trust or respect a candidate, and in the general direction they'd take the country, as in their policy arguments.

Although I don't think either candidate is being candid about what needs to be done to tackle our immense financial difficulties, I have two things against the Democrats in this regard that I think the Republicans will improve. First, the Democrats went on the most irresponsible, insane spending spree in history in the first two years of the Obama administration. It stimulated nothing and only made our situation far more dire. Second, they had a responsibility, as the party in power, to propose a plan to deal with the problem. Chris Matthews, in an astoundingly truthful clip, nails that they did not propose such a plan. I see no commitment or capacity in Barack Obama to do the immensely difficult work that reducing the deficit will require.

Neither does Chris Matthews.

Barack Obama went from being an unremarkable state legislator in Illinois to being President of the United States in four short years. An utterly undistinguished four years as a U. S. Senator, in which he seldom even voted for or against a bill, intervened. On this scant experience--and no experience as an executive--he was given the highest office in the land and arguably, the most powerful and important job in the world. He always hated legislative work and has been out of touch with Congress for his entire presidency. What were we thinking?

America is beginning to wake up from a mass delusion, and historians are going to be studying, for a long time, how desire, propelled by almost the entire mass media, could have so trumped realistic expectations or assessments of Barack Obama's abilities. He was bored as a U. S. Senator, which is, to me, astounding. He goes from being no one, to U. S. Senator, and the job isn't big enough for him. Now he's bored with being president. Maybe Emperor?

addendum: for application to foreign policy, see today's WSJ editorial by Dorothy Rabinowitz: "The Unreality of the Last Four Years": Rabinowitz, October 22, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Alexander Vilenkin Tufts Lecture

Alexander Vilenkin's Tufts lecture arguing that the universe had a beginning:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Al Smith Dinner Speeches 2012

The Alfred Smith Dinner is given annually, but every presidential election year the candidates are invited. It's a Catholic affair, in New York. This year, these were the candidates speeches:

Romney went first

Then Obama

"Scientism and God's Existence," Fr. Robert Barron

Last Saturday I went to the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology to hear Robert Spitzer, S.J., talk about his book, New Proofs for the Existence of God, which I've read a couple of times, excluding the one incomprehensible (by me) chapter written in the language of math.  It has long seemed to me that very good arguments could be made for God's existence--good enough to convince a reasonable person, and that Spitzer makes some of the most interesting ones, which hinge on time. Spitzer argues that time cannot be taken infinitely backwards according to any cosmological theory we've got, including multiple universes or string theory. If you agree that the universe / multiverse had a beginning, and also agree with the proposition that things which have beginnings must have causes, it suggests a beginning cause that had no beginning itself.

Spitzer also argued that physicists like Stephen Hawkings who posit the beginning of the universe never start from nothing--they always got some beginning state that is "something." I've read the last couple books that try to make the argument of a universe from "nothing," including Hawkings, and I think Spitzer is right. It still leaves open the question, where did that initial something--even if it's just a fluctuating gravitational state--come from?

Thomas Aquinas approaches the proof from contingency in two different ways. In the one that Spitzer focuses on, the line of causation is through time. But another way of looking at it has nothing to do with time, but rather with levels of reality. If you start with a cat, for instance, and next level might be organs, and then cells, and then molecules; protons, neutrons, elections; subatomic particles, to the very end. Finally, it seems, something is holding it all up, some causeless cause--otherwise, it's tortoises all the way down.

At any rate, leaving aside whether "proofs" for the existence of God are utterly convincing, I see no conflict between physical science and metaphysics or religion, as Fr. Robert Barron explains in the video below. That's good enough for me. I don't expect any human being to be able to explain with geometric precision the origin, meaning, or destiny of human life, whether they are Aquinas or Dawkins.

(Scientism and God's Existence)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Holes in Obama's Libya Narrative

That the mainstrream media is not involved in investigative reporting on the Benghazi attack is scandalous. Like it or not, Fox is about all there is.

(October 12)

Time Line for Libya Events

For a print version of the Benghazi time-line, from February until October 17, see this link:

From Debate Moderator to Debate Participant: Crowley's Big Gaffe

Candy Crowley made a big mistake during last night's debate. She injected herself as fact-checker on the Libya embassy issue, which was way beyond her brief as moderator. Here is the exchange:

MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, I — I certainly do. I certainly do. I — I think it’s interesting the president just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed.
MR. ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.
MR. ROMNEY: I — I — I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.
MS. CROWLEY: It — he did in fact, sir.
So let me — let me call it an act of terrorism — (inaudible) —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? (Laughter, applause.)
MS. CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.
One of the most stunning things about this exchange is that Crowley obediently responds to President Obama’s request to repeat what she said.

Like so much "fact-checking" this actually offers an interpretation and a particularly loaded one, as Crowley got a laugh from the crowd for correcting Romney. But Romney was arguably right.

(President Obama Speak on Attack on Benghazi, Sept 12.)

President Obama never calls the attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi specifically a "terrorist act," and for two weeks thereafter, nothing that came from the White House called it a terrorist act. At the end of a long speech, the President makes a general
statement “And we want to send a message all around the world — anybody who would do us harm: No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world, and no act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America." He refrains from putting the Benghazi attack specifically into either into the category of "act of terror," or "terrorist act" or "terrorism." Instead, he's cagey. He leaves whether Benghazi fits into this category hanging. This makes a difference--and it certainly was not up to Crowley to correct Romney on a mistake he did not even make.

President did mention terror and acts of terror in context with the Benghazi attack on several other occasions without ever quite saying that the Benghazi attack was a terrorist act, and it was always mixed up with crowds and the video, with much more emphasis on the later. This was Susan Rice's focus. The best you can make out of this is that the State Department was in a fog about what had actually happened and was therefore putting out appropriately foggy language, not wanting to say it was a terrorist attack, not wanting to say it wasn't--but given that State was in real time contact with the Embassy for six hours during the attack, why would there be this ambiguity? Why the non-specific language and the narrative about the crowds and the video? And why two weeks of this? That is a question that needs to be addressed.

After the debate, Crowley seemed to recognize herself that she'd crossed from debate moderator to debate participant:

Jason Chaffetz (Republican, Utah), in the panel discussion with Crowley, below, nails the problem; Crowley is giving an interpretation of Obama's speech--and this is not her place.

(See Rep. Jason Chaffetz starting at 3:40 into this video)

When Crowley interviewed John McCain a few weeks ago, she was clearly generalizing about the White House narrative about Benghazi in the same way that Romney did in the debate. McCain has more insight into Benghazi than anyone than anyone I've listened to yet; see the video with Crowley at this link: Protest in Response to Video?

I do not agree with John T. Bennett, below, that Romney made a "Rose Garden Gaffe." Nevertheless, Bennett goes to the heart of the issue: this really is a coverup:

"In a letter sent this week to Obama by Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican asked several straightforward but important questions: “Mr. President, were you informed of these attacks on our Libyan consulate? If not, why not? Did you consider these serious events? If you were informed, what action was taken to protect the consulate?
"Did we get any answers to those questions? Not one."
Beyond the Rose Garden Gaffe: No New Details on Libya Attack

For a full review of the consistent refusal of the Obama administration to call the Benghazi attack a terrorist attack / act of terror / terrorism--pick your label--is made fully clear in the Fox News review in the blog entry entitled "The Holes in the Libya Narrative" on this blog.

Asked and Unanswered: The Libya Question

In last night's 2nd Presidential Debate, a man named Kerry Ladka asked the following question:

Q: This question actually comes from a brain trust of my friends at Global Telecom Supply in Mineola yesterday. We were sitting around talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?
Here was President Obama's answer:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me, first of all, talk about our diplomats, because they serve all around the world and do an incredible job in a very dangerous situation. And these aren’t just representatives of the United States; they’re my representatives. I send them there, oftentimes into harm’s way. I know these folks, and I know their families. So nobody’s more concerned about their safety and security than I am.
So as soon as we found out that the Benghazi consulate was being overrun, I was on the phone with my national security team, and I gave them three instructions. Number one, beef up our security and — and — and procedures not just in Libya but every embassy and consulate in the region. Number two, investigate exactly what happened, regardless of where the facts lead us, to make sure that folks are held accountable and it doesn’t happen again. And number three, we are going to find out who did this, and we are going to hunt them down, because one of the things that I’ve said throughout my presidency is when folks mess with Americans, we go after them.
Now, Governor Romney had a very different response. While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release trying to make political points. And that’s not how a commander in chief operates. You don’t turn national security into a political issue, certainly not right when it’s happening.
And people — not everybody agrees with some of the decisions I’ve made. But when it comes to our national security, I mean what I say. I said I’d end the war in Libya — in Iraq, and I did. I said that we’d go after al-Qaida and bin Laden. We have. I said we’d transition out of Afghanistan and start making sure that Afghans are responsible for their own security. That’s what I’m doing.
And when it comes to this issue, when I say that we are going to find out exactly what happened, everybody will be held accountable, and I am ultimately responsible for what’s taking place there, because these are my folks, and I’m the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home, you know that I mean what I say.

 The first thing to notice is that Mr. Ladka's question was never answered. The question wasn't whether security at other embassy's was beefed up after the attack. It was, "Why did the State Department refuse additional security after the embassy had requested it?" We can only hope that the main stream media starts to do its job and repeat that question until it gets answered. And if the media doesn't do its job, which is only too possible, that Romney keeps asking the question.

I wish that after the Obama response Romney had just asked Mr. Ladka to repeat the question, because it would have become quite clear that the "answer" had just evaded it. This is a question we all want the answer to.

Here was Romney's response, which wasn't all that bad, but could have been much better:

MS. CROWLEY: Mr. President, I got to move us along. Governor?
MR. ROMNEY: Thank you, Kerry, for your question. It’s an important one. And — and I — I think the president just said correctly that — that the buck does stop at his desk, and — and he takes responsibility for — for that — for that — the failure in providing those security resources, and those terrible things may well happen from time to time.
I — I’m — I feel very deeply sympathetic for the families of those who lost loved ones. Today there’s a memorial service for one of those that was lost in this tragedy. We — we think of their families and care for them deeply.
There were other issues associated with this — with this tragedy.
There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration or actually whether it was a terrorist attack. And there was no demonstration involved. It was a terrorist attack, and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people. Whether there was some misleading or instead whether we just didn’t know what happened, I think you have to ask yourself why didn’t we know five days later when the ambassador to the United Nations went on TV to say that this was a demonstration. How could of we not known?
But I find more troubling than this that on — on the day following the assassination of the United States ambassador — the first time that’s happened since 1979 — when we have four Americans killed there, when apparently we didn’t know what happened, that the president the day after that happened flies to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser, then the next day to Colorado for another event, another political event, I think these — these actions taken by a president and a leader have symbolic significance, and perhaps even material significance, in that you’d hoped that during that time we could call in the people who were actually eyewitnesses. We’ve read their accounts now about what happened. It was very clear this was not a demonstration. This was an attack by terrorists.
And this calls into question the president’s whole policy in the Middle East. Look what’s happening in Syria, in Egypt, now in Libya. Consider the distance between ourselves and Israel, where the president said that — that he was going to put daylight between us and Israel. We have Iran four years closer to a nuclear bomb. Syria — Syria’s not just the tragedy of 30,000 civilians being killed by a military, but also a strategic — strategically significant player for America. The president’s policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour and pursue a strategy of leading from behind, and this strategy is unraveling before our very eyes.
Romney is certainly right. Unfortunately, he got detoured in what followed next into a much less important question: whether the attack on the embassy had been characterized by Obama as a "terrorist" attack. Even an attack by a mob might, by a stretch of the word, be considered "terrorist," and this is how the issue got muddled, because President Obama, in the Rose Garden, did say generally, after the attack, that the United States would not put up with terrorism.

But Romney was right in saying that we were told, for 12 days after the attack, that it was spontaneous mob action in response to a video. Susan Rice, our UN Ambassador, when on five TV shows the following Sunday just to emphasize that story again and again. We now know that the attack was a very coordinated military assault that went on for about 6 hours--and that the State Department was listening in in real time! See this link: Murder and Lies in Libya and Washington. So the next important question which Romney rightly raises is why were we not told the truth? Did the State Department not know what happened? If it didn't, why didn't it, given the information they got as the assault took place? If it did, why the story? Was the State Department negligently ignorant, or lying?

Here is some of what Susan Rice said the Sunday after the attack on September 11. 

Here is how the rest of the debate went on this question:

MS. CROWLEY: Because we’re closing in, I want to still get a lot of people in. I want to ask you something, Mr. President, and then have the governor just quickly. Your secretary of state, as I’m sure you know, has said that she takes full responsibility for the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
Does the buck stop with your secretary of state as far as what went on here?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job. But she works for me. I’m the president. And I’m always responsible. And that’s why nobody is more interested in finding out exactly what happened than I did (sic).
The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror. And I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime. And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.
And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief.
MS. CROWLEY: Governor, if you want to reply just quickly to this, please.
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, I — I certainly do. I certainly do. I — I think it’s interesting the president just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed.
MR. ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.
MR. ROMNEY: I — I — I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.
MS. CROWLEY: It — he did in fact, sir.
So let me — let me call it an act of terrorism — (inaudible) —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? (Laughter, applause.)
MS. CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.
MR. ROMNEY: This — the administration — the administration — (applause) — indicated that this was a — a reaction to a — to a video and was a spontaneous reaction.
MS. CROWLEY: They did.
MR. ROMNEY: It took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a terrorist group and — and to suggest — am I incorrect in that regard? On Sunday the — your — your secretary or —
MR. ROMNEY: Excuse me. The ambassador to the United Nations went on the Sunday television shows and — and spoke about how this was a spontaneous reaction.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Candy, I’m — I’m happy to —
MS. CROWLEY: Mr. President, let me — I —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’m happy to have a longer conversation about foreign policy.
MS. CROWLEY: I know you — absolutely. But I want — I want to move you on.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: OK, I’m happy to do that too.
MS. CROWLEY: And also, people can go to the transcripts and —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I just want to make sure that —
MS. CROWLEY: — figure out what was said and when.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: — you know, all these wonderful folks are going to have a chance to get some — their questions answered.
I hope these "wonderful folks" do get their questions answered. They weren't answered last night.

Mainstream Media, where are you?

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Vice-Presidential Debate and the Abortion Question

Martha Raddatz: “This debate is, indeed, historic. We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.”

A fair question by Raddatz, completely muffed by Biden and partially muffed by Ryan. Biden styles himself as a dedicated Catholic who thinks his religion should play no role in his public position on abortion whatsoever: “I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that—women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor.” Abortion on demand is OK with Biden and certainly supported by the Democratic Party and its line-up of convention speakers.

Ryan’s answer was unfortunately very short because he deferred too much to Raddatz: “The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.” The position is better than Biden’s, but it doesn’t quite answer Raddatz’s question: “. . . tell me what role religion has played in your own personal views. . .”

This would have been a wonderful opportunity to explain to the world exactly why the Catholic Church holds its pro-life position and why this goes to the essence of the human relationship—one’s personal relationship—with God. And this could have been explained very simply, in one paragraph, as follows:

The Catholic Church has a view of the human self which is radically different from that of ‘liberalism’ in the broad sense of the word. The Church holds that people to the core of their beings are creatures, i. e., created by God, oriented toward God, for the purpose of receiving God’s love and returning it in loving obedience. The Catholic belief is that this is the deep pattern of what it is to be human, and that is why human dignity, at all stages of life, is so important to the Church. This understanding goes back to the beginning of Christianity and is reflected in Augustine’s famous insight in Confessions, ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Human beings are created to be actively in search of God, whether they realize it or not, and they are happiest when they are acting in obedience, in response to God’s love, as they were created to do. St. Basil said it succinctly: “The love of God is not based on some discipline imposed on us from outside, but as a capacity and indeed a necessity it is a constitutive element of our rational being.” An attack on human life is, at its most basic, an attack on the deep reason for human life, relationship with God.

Well, I don’t expect a Vice-Presidential candidate to quote St. Augustine or St. Basil, but something on that order, with a finisher by Ryan that this is what he believed, would have made me get off the couch and cheer.

This human being, patterned for loving relationship with God is in relationship with God from conception to death—and of course, thereafter. All of Catholic social teaching and charity grows out of this single premise. It profoundly wrong for human beings to interfere with that relationship at their convenience or to degrade it by holding other human beings in contempt.

Now, if you dismiss the Catholic position as a spiritual fairy tale—then there is no reason not to kill inconvenient people, whether it’s an inconvenient human in the mother’s womb three months after conception, or an inconvenient human three months after birth, or a senior citizen who has become a drag on Obamacare. But if you do believe that human beings are in relationship with God ab ovo, then you cannot kill them: it would be a rejection of the human being, God, and their relationship.

The liberal self came into being in the thinking of Locke, Hume, Kant, and Mill, who together developed a lynchpin of classic liberalism: that people are free agents, morally and personally autonomous, who create themselves and their societies, but have no internal destiny.  God had not made the Lockean human being for relationship with himself and maybe not even for relationship with others. These assumptions, in many ways, carried forward into the social sciences, where we get creatures like “economic man” as either a determined chooser between goods or a rational one, but certainly not as a God-patterned one. The overall social assumption today is certainly the liberal one: however I got here, I now create myself (Satan’s delusion in Paradise Lost, by the way) and my freedom to do so is unquestionable. Sandra Day O’Connor in Planned Parenthood v. Casey voiced the beliefs of the liberal self more eloquently and succinctly than anyone: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

From the Catholic perspective, the idea that human beings can actually define the meaning of their own lives is an enormous metaphysical delusion, and it is a delusion that promotes just the kind of culture defended by O’Connor in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—a culture of death. A person who truly holds the Catholic understanding of what human beings are cannot support abortion or vote for candidates who do. Although there are exceptions for self-defense and the defense of others, we cannot violently end the life of a human being, made by God for relationship with God, in relationship with God, at any point.

Now, explaining all of this, even in brief, might not have been a selling point for Paul Ryan, but there it is.

[Note: I have amended the sentence beginning with "The liberal self . . ." in response to Josh Stein's comment. See below.]

Vice-Presidential Debate Transcript and Video

For a full transcript of the Vice-Presidential Debate, go to this link:

Vice-Presidential Debate Transcript

Here is a video of the debate in full:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Biden's Laughing Game

There was a lot of commentary last night after the debate on Joe Biden's demeanor and there should have been. I was a high school debater in the "Thumb B" league in Michigan, and had any of the kids used the tactics Biden was using, they'd have been smacked around by the judge and their coach: laughing, sometimes audibly, rearing back in his chair, smirking. It was an astounding low point in the history of televised presidential debates--something out of culture that's had too much Jerry Springer and Dr. Phil. 

There was nothing spontaneous about it. This was clearly a planned tactic that went on from start to finish. I don't expect civility from pundits. Chris Matthews, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh--I've given up there. As Jon Stewart said when he was on "Cross Fire," stop, you're hurting the country. But from a candidate for the second highest office in America? That was the example he wants to set? This really does hurt the country, and even if Ryan is wrong on everything, it still hurts the country.

See this link for Tom Brokaw's take:

Link to ABC:

For what the polls are worth, Ryan and Biden split between CBS and CNN, who polled different demographics. Who Won the Debate

What sticks with me about this debate, aside from Biden's laughter, and also from the first Romney / Obama debate, is that there are no Democratic proposals on the table to turn around the economy or deal with the coming bankruptcy of Medicare. You can't even find them on-line. Everyone in both parties knows these are dire issues. The Republicans at least put up proposals, all of which include cuts because cuts have to be made. The Democrats then attack, hoping the public will believe that higher taxes on people and businesses earning over $250,000, will do the job. As Ryan pointed out in one of his best segments of the night, these taxes will not come close, and cuts will have to come:

"Look, if you taxed every person and successful business making over $250,000 at 100 percent, it would only run the government for 98 days. If everybody who paid income taxes last year, including successful small businesses, doubled their income taxes this year, we'd still have a $300 billion deficit. You see? There aren't enough rich people and small businesses to tax to pay for all their spending."

 The Democrat playbook on budget issues--propose nothing, sit back, and attack--is irresponsible politics. If they get another four years, the debt approaches $20 trillion, and we approach debt default, it will be a real Greek-style belly slapper.

An Oldie but Goodie; Jon Stewart on Crossfire:

My favorite line by Stewart: "To do a debate would be great." Yeah.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

7.8% Unemployment?

Last week when the Dept. of Labor Statistics released it's unemployment figure for the last month, it was greeted with some incredulity. The Washington Post characterized it as "a surprising improvement," and left it here. Washington Post. The Philadelphia Inquirer did not embrace the number, and built its coverage around the reaction of a skeptical economist, Mark Zandi, who said "It's more statistical than real." see the article: A jobs stunner.

The Wall Street Journal ran the following video-report on the day the BLS published the statistic,
"Is 7.8% Unemployment Legit?"

.   . 

A month before the election, after a losing debate, the Democrats are trumpeting the good news.

The most controversial response to the 7.8% statistic was Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who tweeted: "Unbelievable job numbers . . . these Chicago guys will do anything. . . can't debate so change numbers."

Welsh has been taking heat ever since. Chris Matthews on Welch:

Today, Welch responded to people who, he said, "would like me to pipe down." See his WSJ editorial at this link: Welch: "I was right about that strange jobs report"

Welch in on Fox Video at this link: Welch on Cavuto

Among explanations I've heard for the number are a statistically anomalous sample and spiking seasonal part-time employment. The last pre-election date for the release of unemployment statistics by the BLS is November 2.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Saturday Night Live: MSNBC Reviews the Debate

Saturday Night Live does MSNBC on the first presidential debate.

Barron: What Faith is and What Faith Isn't

What "faith" is, I think, is a fairly complicated question which I hope to address in the next few weeks. This video by Fr. Robert Barron is a start:

Thursday, October 4, 2012

More Fallout from the Mile High Meltdown: MSNBC

MSNBC and FOX NEWS, more of less in agreement about the first presidential debate:

(The MSNBC reaction)

Rev. E. W. Jackson on Blacks and the Democratic Party

Here's a Black pastor to put on the other end of the spectrum from Jeremiah Wright. This is a viewpoint that we don't come into contact with a lot, and like Wright's, stated very strongly. It gives the lie to the idea that Black Americans form a monolithic voting block for the Democratic Party.

Obama's 2007 Primary Campaign Speech from Daily Caller

This video, from Obama's 2007 primary campaign, surfaced within the last two days. It was published by the Daily Caller. The only publicized version of this speech had been a highly edited transcript by Andrew Sullivan. This speech shows a very different side of Barack Obama, one the media has not wanted to cover. That is why is has taken 5 years for this video to be made public.

For more on the context of this speech, see this link: Video Speech praises Wright

This is another example of the mainstream media not only failing to do its job but actively covering up embarrassing moments in Obama's political life--not delving into his relationship with Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayres, or his educational history. For context, put it the above next to Wright's famous sermon. Wright was Obama's pastor for 20 years: Obama claimed never have heard anything like this.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Liberal Media Turns on Obama

by Craig Bernthal

As I watched tonight’s debate, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Barack Obama is supposed to be eloquent, talented at debate, cool, fast on his feet: at least this is what we’ve been told for years. I never quite believed it, never saw anything that special in him as a speaker. But after being told again and again, for four years that Obama was a brilliant speaker, I questioned my own judgment about his forensic ability. Also I had never seen Mitt Romney in a debate. So tonight I expected, at best, an exhibition of inconclusive jawboning between Obama and Romney.

Instead, what I saw was Mitt Romney dismantle Barack Obama. Romney took control of the debate and Barack Obama, except for a few good moments on Medicare and insurance, was never in it. He seemed unprepared and finally, dazed. I have had those moments, playing high school football, when the other team is beating you, and you just don’t know what to do about it. Obama looked to me like he was in that kind of fog.

Worst of all for Obama were the split screen shots. When Romney was talking, looking straight at Obama, Obama was either smirking or grimacing at the floor, not looking his opponent in the eye. It was Nixonian. He looked like an adolescent being called on the carpet by his father. In contrast, Romney always faced Obama, half-smiling, but not smirking or looking nonplussed.

Romney was confident, enjoyed himself, and was superbly prepared. He made three or four clear points for each of Obama’s. Obama kept saying that Romney had not provided adequate detail about his platform, and yet, Romney’s arguments were far more detailed and well-organized than Obama’s. Using a boxing comparison, Pat Buchanan gave Romney 13 of 15 rounds. Charles Krauthammer, going to football, gave Romney a two touchdown victory. I just thought it was a blowout.

Now, when you are for a candidate, and I am certainly going to vote for Romney, it’s easy to let that sway your assessment of a debate. But there seems to be no doubt in anyone’s mind tonight, least of all that of the liberal pundits, that Obama got creamed, and this is where the story really gets interesting for me. Here are some of the comments:

Bill Maher: “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter,” and “Obama made a lot of great points tonight. Unfortunately, most of them were for Romney.”

Chris Matthews was beside himself--not an unfamiliar posture for him: "I don't know what he was doing out there. . . . I know he likes to say he doesn't watch cable television but maybe he should start. Maybe he should start. I don't know how he let Romney get away with the crap he threw at him tonight about Social Security. . . .Where was Obama tonight?!"  Watch Matthews for yourself at this link: mere quotation does not do him justice: 

Andrew Sullivan: "This was a disaster for the president and for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look. . . . Obama looked tired, even bored; he kept looking down; he had no crisp statements of passion or argument; he wasn't there. He was entirely defensive, which may have been the strategy. But it was the wrong strategy. At the wrong moment. . . . The person with authority on that stage was Romney - offered it by one of the lamest moderators ever, and seized with relish. This was Romney the salesman. And my gut tells me he sold a few voters on a change tonight. It's beyond depressing. But it's true."

Vanity Fair: "Good LORD. Obama wouldn't win a student council election against a chubby nerd with that closing argument."

Adam Nagourney: "Obama closer: 'I think this was a terrific debate.' CALLING THE FACT CHECKERS"

There is going to be more of this as the liberal media--and that's almost all of it--goes into a rage at the idea that it may have backed a loser. Read the New York Times tomorrow. Watch people try to blame it on Jim Lehrer, who apparently gave Obama four more minutes of airtime than Romney, but who will be said to have been dominated by Romney. 

The people who have given Barack Obama a pass, defaulted on investigating Obama because he was their man, the people who screamed about closing down Guantanamo when Obama ran against Bush and then shut up about it once Obama got in and couldn't close the base, those who have created an immense barrier for Romney to even communicate his views--these people were outflanked tonight. They can't spin Obama out of this one. And if Obama has another night like this, watch the press eat its own child.

Addition on October 4: 

Two-thirds of Americans who watched President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney debate Wednesday night thought Romney won, a CNN poll indicated.

Read more: CNN Snap Poll

CBS News and GRK's knowledge panel recruited 523 uncommitted voters to determine the winner of the first presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney. 46% thought Governor Romney won the debate and 22% thought Mr. Obama did. 

Read more: CBS Poll