Thursday, July 29, 2010

Oil-Eating Microbes and Talking Heads

Found at:

Mighty oil-eating microbes help clean up the Gulf

Wed Jul 28, 4:41 pm ET
By JOHN CAREY, environmental writer

Where is all the oil? Nearly two weeks after BP finally capped the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, the oil slicks that once spread across thousands of miles of the Gulf of Mexico have largely disappeared. Nor has much oil washed up on the sandy beaches and marshes along the Louisiana coast. And the small cleanup army in the Gulf has only managed to skim up a tiny fraction of the millions of gallons of oil spilled in the 100 days since the Deepwater Horizon rig went up in flames.

So where did the oil go?

Kent comments:

I thought we were all going to die, and very soon, as a result of the oil spill.  The talking heads have been screaming about for the last 100 days.  But we are not dead, and the oil is disappearing.  What gives?

The article goes on to explain some things that seem (cough, cough) never to have been mentioned in all the hubbub about this event.

1.  “as much as 40 percent of the oil might have evaporated when it reached the surface. High winds from two recent storms may have speeded the evaporation process.”

The talking heads warned us of the great danger of storms in regard to the oil spill.  Who would have thought that the storms would help remove some of the spilled oil, and that the talking heads are idiots?

2.  “The lesson from past spills is that the lion’s share of the cleanup work is done by nature in the form of oil-eating bacteria and fungi. The microbes break down the hydrocarbons in oil to use as fuel to grow and reproduce. A bit of oil in the water is like a feeding frenzy, causing microbial populations to grow exponentially. Typically, there are enough microbes in the ocean to consume half of any oil spilled in a month or two . . Such microbes have been found in every ocean of the world sampled, from the Arctic to Antarctica.”

Interesting, is it not, that the talking heads have had a hundred days to at least mention this, and have not done so.  Perhaps I was a bit harsh in calling them idiots.  Perhaps they are very clever in not doing so.  They didn’t want to spoil a perfectly good disaster about which they could talk.  They are, after all, talking heads.

But, of course, this interpretation makes the talking heads sinister.  Sinister heads, or idiot heads – I wonder which.  You ponder that one.

3. “The controversial dispersant used to break up the oil as it gushed from the deep-sea well may have helped the microbes do their work. Microbes can more easily consume small drops of oil than big ones. And there is evidence the microbes like to munch on the dispersant as well.”

With whom, exactly, was this dispersant “controversial”?  The answer:  the EPA.  Remember the EPA – they are from the government, and they are here to help you.  They want to make sure you can’t afford to drive your car, heat your home, or perhaps even breath too much.  Don’t be surprised if the EPA now tries to limit how many of these oil-eating bacteria can be in the ocean.  Some of them might die and decay, yielding the dreaded poisonous gas carbon dioxide!

Who would ever have thought that there are little critters in the ocean that eat oil?  Apparently, it was no secret.  But the talking heads just didn’t bother to tell us.  Again, why spoil a perfectly good disaster?

Now if only we can find a microbe that eats talking heads and agents of the EPA.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Faith and Fact – Like Oil and Water

From the Biblical Archaeology Review:

“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” This famous line from Pascal’s Pensées draws a wise distinction between religious faith and intellectual inquiry. The two have different motivations and pertain to different domains of experience. They are like oil and water, things that do not mix and should not be confused. Pascal was a brilliant mathematician, and he did not allow his Catholic beliefs to interfere with his scholarly investigations. He regarded the authority of the church to be meaningless in such matters. He argued that “all the powers in the world can by their authority no more persuade people of a point of fact than they can change it.” That is to say, facts are facts, and faith has no business dealing in the world of facts. Faith resides in the heart and in one’s way of living in the world.

Kent comments:

The above is the opening of an article by Ronald S. Hendel about the Society of Biblical Literature.  It is a perfect example of twenty-first century western assumptions about the nature of faith and the connection of faith to reality.

Notice some key points made by the author:

1.  There is a “wise distinction between religious faith and intellectual inquiry.”  These two have different motivations and deal with distinct “domains of experience.”

2.  Because of point #1, faith and intellectual inquiry “do not mix” and “should not be confused.”

3.  There is a “world of facts” which is off-limits to, and has no connection to, faith.

4.  Faith’s domain is “in the heart” and consists of “one’s way of living in the world.”

Several things are worth notice here.  First, the faith/facts dichotomy is simply assumed.  No arguments are presented for it.  This is a fairly significant point, and much of the rest of what the author says in the rest of the article depends upon it.  This is just the sort of point that calls for some kind of justification, but none is offered, or even intimated.  Presumably, no one will question it.

Also, notice how this separation of faith and facts is presented as a kind of moral imperative.  Faith, the author says, has “no business” interloping in the world of facts.  It is not just that faith cannot handle facts, it should not even try.

While there is a sense in which faith “resides in the heart” we are justified in asking why anyone should think that it is only “in the heart” – or exactly what that even means.

Faith is connected to “one’s way of living in the world” but why should anyone think that it is only about this?  For that matter, since the way we live in the world is intimately connected to the facts of the world, this kind of separation seems to border on nonsense.

What is hidden in all these assumptions is this:  since truth (an accurate description of reality) is unavoidably connected to facts, and since faith is presumed to be disconnected from facts, we are driven by this reasoning to the conclusion that faith has no connection to truth.

This is the late twentieth and early twenty-first century prejudice in a nutshell:  faith has no connection to truth.  It can be about anything else you wish (emotions, social conventions, cultural habits, psychological devices, etc.) but it cannot be about truth.

Is it true that faith has no connection to facts or truth?  The historic Christian faith claimed to be inextricably connected to many matters-of-fact.  The most important of these is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  This has made a redefinition of Christianity an important modern project.

The project has been in many ways very successful.  So much so that many now no longer understand Christianity or faith.  That is part of the reason why it is usually just assumed, without reason or argument as in the article above, that faith has no connection to fact.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Was Jefferson Wrong?

"Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread." --Thomas Jefferson, autobiography, 1821

We have been ‘directed from Washington’ when to sow, when to reap, an much more than that for all my life, and part of my parent’s life-times.  (Note:  I’m 58.)  But generally speaking, we do not ‘want for bread.’  Was Jefferson wrong?

I think not.  Here is the short version:  It is impossible, knowledge-wise, for any government to know more than people in the free market what to make, what to consume, what to save, what to spend, and where and when to invest.  You can read the details – the long version – in von Mises’ still-relevant book Socialism.

So again I ask, was Jefferson wrong?  Most people, even the relatively poor ones in our society, seem to have bread, at least.

The mistake – a very common one when people think about such things – is that, economically speaking, it is easy to forget what might have been.  (Bastiat covers this.)  Think we are relatively rich now?  Imagine how much richer we might have been had not the government destructively interfered with wealth creation.  Consider whole societies that are impoverished just because their governments destructively interfere with wealth creation.

There are many contributing factors to poverty, but one key is interference with the production of wealth on the part of governments.  Thieves, gangsters, thugs, and hoodlums can do this locally sometimes.  Governments routinely do it systemically to whole countries for generations on end.

When governments do this, as they so often have done, they become the moral equivalent of thieves, gangsters, thugs, and hoodlums.  And inevitably, poverty increases.  If you are relatively wealthy, you may not notice it as much.  If you are not so wealthy to start with, you might suffer greatly.  But in any case, Mr. Jefferson is correct.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Liberty Loves Company

I have begun to read an interesting little book, Heresies and How to Avoid Them.  One of the editors, writing in the prologue, has this to say:

[T]here is a very good and positive reasons why Christianity has been so concerned about orthodoxy, or right belief.  From its very beginnings, Christianity has said that [details of race, sex, etc.] could ever be a bar to full membership in Christ’s body, the Church.  Anyone could be a Christian . . . What, though, was left to mark a Christian from a non-Christian?  The answer was this:  your faith – what you believed in, as embodied in your practices and confessed with your lips. (p.1)

This most certainly is the case.  Christianity is not ethnic or regional, and thus neither are its boundaries.  This made me think about some parallels with the United States of America.  (I am not trying to suggest some kind of equation of these two, just a particular analogy to make a further point.)

Who can be an American?  The right answer is:  anyone, potentially.  No one here ultimately came from here, as we all know.  (Even, according to most anthropologists, the ‘native Americans.’  But that is another story.)

So what makes, or should make, an American an American?  For too long I think we have slipped into thinking that it is enough just to come here.  I think we need to revise that thinking.

I am no xenophobe.  I think many of the best Americans are ones who came here recently because they loved the idea of liberty, and wanted to explore it and live it.  I have known, and known of, some of these people.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people who have been here for a long time – generations, in fact – who don’t care a rat’s rear end about liberty.  Others, who grew up in American, hate the idea of liberty and work overtime to destroy it.  (Most of the current Congress and Administration come to mind, but they have plenty of allies in the population.)

One deep wish of mine is that those who love liberty would come to America and live it with me.  I would be very glad if many of them were from Mexico and the Middle East.  I don’t really care where they are from if they love liberty.  A companion wish is that those whose families have lived here for a long time but who have grown to hate liberty, or even be apathetic about it, would immigrate far, far from the physical United States.

But in some ways parallel to Christianity, America is a set of ideas.  Perhaps we should say, a set of values.  You cannot think just anything and be an American in this sense.  There are some definite limits to American ‘orthodoxy.’

Those who do not love ordered political/economic liberty may reside here.  They might even be official citizens of the United States.  But they are not Americans.

Those who value coercive social engineering are not Americans.  Those who value enforced collectivism are not Americans.  Those who want the state to be our parent are not Americans.

Perhaps we have too uncritically accepted the idea that, since in a society based on liberty you can say what is on your mind without fear from the government, that all ideas are equal.  But all ideas cannot be equal, not if you value liberty.  Liberty allows anyone to hold his opinion, but it cannot exist if opinions destructive of liberty are imposed on liberty.

This means there must be some parameters of ‘American orthodoxy.’  It could mean that, as free individuals, we have a kind of civic duty to point out, refute, and even denounce heresy in regard to the values of liberty.  This must not be by using the coercion of government – that would violate the values of liberty.  But it could mean refusing to support socially, morally, and especially economically those who seek to undermine ordered liberty.  It could mean socially ostracizing those who dwell among us as aliens to the values of liberty.  It could mean trying, whenever possible, to teach ‘heretics’ to repent and recant.

Liberty is dying, in part I think, because we have become too casual about what it takes to maintain it.  Perhaps it is time to remind ourselves not all ideas are equally valuable, especially in the land of liberty.

It’s Not ‘Broke’ and They Can’t ‘Fix it.’

This morning I was reading an old article in The Freeman (it’s a good entry-level source to get acquainted with the ideas of liberty).  The article was about education in the United States.

The author makes the point that two key fallacies when thinking about government education are:

1. That the government school system is a failure, and

2. That the government can fix it.

You can read the details in the article, but here is the gist:  the government’s school system is doing exactly what it is designed to do, even though to many observers that seems like “failure.”

Then thinking that government could “fix” this is nonsensical.  Government doesn’t see any core problem to “fix.”

These are points well-taken, and it seems they apply to more governmental undertakings than just education.  Many of us today observe our culture and economy, and think that government has made many mistakes.  We also tend to think that if we elected the right people, many of these problems could be “fixed” – or conditions at least improved.

In most cases the projects of our governments are not “broken” at all.  They are doing exactly what those who conceived, designed, and foisted them upon us intended for them to do.  And if we elect a new set of people thinking they will “fix” these problems, we will be disappointed.

The real problem is that governments are doing many, many, many things that governments should not do – should not even attempt to do.  The only way to “fix” such problems is to make sure that governments leave such problems alone.

One good example is unemployment.  Let’s assume that this means that there are a significant number of people who want a job, but cannot find one.  What is the typical governmental response to this problem?  You have heard the current poor excuse for a President, and many others before him, harp on and on about what government will do to “create jobs.”

But other than hiring people to work for the government, governments, and especially presidents, cannot “create jobs.”  The fact that they even talk about such a thing reveals that they are liars.

People who start businesses create jobs.  There are always people around who want to start some kind of enterprise, and they will attempt to do so if the government leaves them alone.

That means things like:  don’t tax, don’t regulate, don’t attempt social engineering.  All the things governments can do to allow jobs to appear are “don’t.”

We have foolishly accepted the idea that things like subsidies of business from governments will “create jobs.”  You must think economically here, but this is a good example.  A governmental subside is the government giving someone some money to, say, help start a business.  While is sounds nice, you have to think through the process to see what is really happening.

Governments help start businesses governments want, not necessarily ones consumers want.  To do so, governments must take money from taxpayers.  However, some or many of those taxpayers would have used the money government took from them to fund some kind of enterprise, which now will not exist.  Whatever it would have been would have been a direct response to what consumers want, not what governments want.

So what seemed like government “help” was really government control of businesses, that is, of people.  This is how government “help” is always government destroying freedom and liberty.

This November it is possible that we will elect all sorts of new people to Congress and local offices.  People have the idea that many government programs are broken and can be fixed.  If we proceed on that basis, we might get a somewhat new government with new ideas of how government can fix things and should “help” us better.  But exactly because of that, if we do it, we will not recover liberty.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

‘God Told Me’

from:  the Christian Standard 
Beyond the Misguided Spiritual Disciplines
Brian Jones

Years ago I used to frequent a Vineyard Christian Fellowship’s Saturday night service. . .

I’ll never forget the Saturday the worship pastor stood up and told the congregation, “In my prayer time this week God told me that we are supposed to begin taking our worship to the streets. So what we’re going to do is rent a huge flatbed truck, put our entire worship team on it, hook our speakers up to a generator, and drive it through the streets playing worship music and lifting our hands to Jesus!”

That’s just wonderful, I thought, because, I don’t know, people don’t already think Christians are freaky enough.

The problem wasn’t the goal. As stupid as I thought the idea was at the time, I appreciated the desire to get out in the streets. And the problem wasn’t the method. While I’m not sure turning 10 artsy people loose on a flatbed truck with microphones was the smartest thing to do, at least they were trying something. The problem was with their definition of worship.

Kent comments:

The most significant problem here (though the definition of ‘worship’ certainly is a problem) is found in the phrase “God told me.”

Far too many people associated with Christianity have the idea that God continues to deliver these individual, personalized messages to everyone, everywhere, all the time.  Some even see it as a mark of some kind of spiritual achievement.  If God doesn’t deliver these little messages to you, then there must be something lacking in your spiritual life – or so the thought goes.

Historic Christianity is a “faith once for all delivered.”  It has no addenda.  It is not all delivered except for that little part God still needs to deliver to you.

The “God told me” folks never seem to think about what would need to be the case if God, in fact, told them something more than what He revealed through the prophets, the Son, and His Apostles.  If you think God just told you something, then you should ask yourself some important questions:

Question 1:  What kind of miraculous sign did God provide to prove He was speaking.  That was His habit in the Bible.  Keep in mind that the sunrise, the birth of a baby, and the beautiful tree in your front yard are not miracles.  (Wonderful, yes; miracles, no.)  In other words, how do you know that the information you think God just told you is, in fact, from God?

Question 2:  Why shouldn’t the things God just told you be added to the Bible?  If God just told you something, then that is revelation.  What makes the revelation that just came to you any less worthy of being scripture than that which came to, say, Peter?

Question 3:  What if God just told me that He did not just tell you the thing you think He told you?  Think about that one very carefully.  What happens when God tells you one thing, and tells me another that is in conflict with yours?  Suppose the “worship pastor” says, “God told me we should get a truck . . . etc.”  Then the “youth pastor” says, “God told me we should stay on the corner of 5th and Elm and sing, etc.”  There is absolutely no way to settle who is correct, which points to the pointlessness of the whole, “God told me” scheme.

There is no good reason to think that God delivers personalized, individualized messages today.  As one songwriter so eloquently put it:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rand, Ron, and the Political Family

Back in the mid-1990s – and it sounds strange to say that – I wrote for a small newspaper. For one edition the editor wanted me to write about Ron Paul. Our newspaper focused on Kentucky, so as a way to make the connection, I interviewed – separately - son Rand (who was then little-known to me), father Ron (well-known to many even back then) and wife of Ron, mother of Rand, Carol.

I was not sure what to expect from them. What I got was some unhurried, down-home, very genuine conversation from which I produced the article that follows.

In 1998 I was invited to attend a rally for a congressional candidate in northern Kentucky at which Ron Paul was speaking. While mulling around this event, my wife and I ran into this very pleasant young fellow who turned out to be Rand Paul. Though it had been a few years since the article was published, when he heard my name he said, “You’re the fellow who wrote that article about my dad and me. I liked it so much I keep it posted on my office wall.”

I was flatered, to say the least. Rand and I had a nice conversation that evening, and his dad gave a rip-roaring speech. Since then Rand Paul has become a prominent political figure in Kentucky and across the nation. So I am posting the old article, unchanged, thinking that it might interest Rand Paul fans. Just in case you are still wondering, I am a big fan of Rand and Ron. We will be blessed if we are able to have Rand Paul as our next U.S. Senator from Kentucky.

Just Your Everyday, Political Family

What happens when your father is a physician who interrupted a booming medical practice to run for Congress, wins unexpectedly, and eventually runs for President? You work with your father in his Washington office while you are a boy, grow up to be a physician, and dabble in politics a bit yourself.

You also wind up in Bowling Green, Kentucky -- at least you do if you are Dr. Rand Paul, son of former Texas Congressman and 1988 Libertarian Party candidate Dr. Ron Paul. The elder Dr. Paul is contemplating another run for Congress in Texas.

Dr. Ron Paul was a gynecologist who, according to his wife, began to realize that he was delivering babies into the world and into debt -- via the ever-increasing national debt. So, at the height of his practice he decided to try to do something about that situation.

Ron says his wife, Carol, urged him not to run for Congress in 1976. "It's dangerous," she said, "you might get elected."

He ran anyway, thinking he could not win against "Santa Claus" (an incumbent bent on bringing home the "pork") but hoping to make a public statement. He won anyway, and he has been involved in politics ever since, though he has never completely given up his practice of medicine.

Son Rand Paul has always had some involvement in this process. Rand took interest in his father's political excursions. "We went door to door in his [father's] campaign," Rand says. "Of five kids, I was more involved. In the summer I worked in his office in Washington."

Father Ron agrees that Rand was the most politically inclined of his children. The elder Dr. Paul reports that his wife always wanted the whole family to show up at political events with him, but he said, "No -- let them go play." But Rand seemed to think politics was at least a little fun.

Rand's mother Carol says Rand was "a quiet young person who did a lot of reading." Rand apparently didn't need his mother's warning to her children, "If you do anything wrong, it will be on the front page of the paper tomorrow!"

Father Ron points out what Rand spent his time reading. "He read Rothbard, von Mises, von Hayek, and Senholtz -- the Austrian economists."

The political Pauls are not always in complete agreement. Wife/mother Carol contrasts the father/son differences. "His Dad is 'a little more to the right' although Rand is to the right."

Rand says he agrees with his father except on some matters of "tactics" and "approaches." "I tend to be more optimistic," Rand reports, "while he is more pessimistic."

The younger Dr. Paul is referring to his father's prognostications about near-future events in America. Father Paul sees the dollar falling apart very soon. "They will have to revamp [our money]. It will be as significant historically as the break down of the Soviet Union."

Although the elder Dr. Paul is happy that the recent shift in political winds has brought forth serious discussions of balanced budgets and tax changes in Washington, he does not think they are going to happen soon. The problem, he says, is a "size of government" problem, and "tinkering" with details of taxing and spending will not help.

Dr. Paul says his son, "thinks the tinkerers will have more success than I think they will."

Yet the father/son duo of political doctors agree on much, differing mostly on how to get where they both think we ought to go.

Concerning his father's Presidential bid Rand says, "When father ran as a Libertarian, it was a highly taxing effort that was mostly for education." Rand has had, and continues to have, his influence on the political scene. But taking a cue from his father's Presidential bid, Rand has used his efforts for political education, rather that political election.

While still in medical school, Rand started North Carolina Taxpayers United. The point of this group was to rate elected officials on fiscal issues -- taxing and spending votes -- so as to inform voters about what was happening to their money at the state level. At one point Rand was the full-time executive director of NCTU. This took Rand out of medical school for a while -- something that did not make father Ron very happy at the time.

During Rand's work in North Carolina, conservatives captured the state house for the first time in many years, due in part to Rand's efforts. With this success in mind, Rand and his wife Kelly started Kentucky Taxpayers United. They hope the North Carolina success can be repeated in Kentucky.

The work of Kentucky Taxpayers United has already had an effect. Several people used their ratings of candidates in the last election. Paul notes that "it became controversial" with some empty legal threats directed at the ratings by a disgruntled candidate.

The elder Dr. Paul's political efforts have been entirely at the national level. "All I want to do is get the Feds off our backs," he says.

The younger Dr. Paul's efforts have been directed mainly at state government for a reason. "When term limits get through -- and they will get through," Paul says, "more power will devolve to the states."

Paul has a dismal view of current Kentucky politics, but great hope for change. "In Kentucky, the few honest state officials -- those not in jail or the few who should not be in jail -- are honestly liberal." Even these "honest liberals" are, according to Paul, "people who believe government should be in every detail of your life."

Because of this, Kentucky has plenty of problems. Paul complains of "stupid taxes" that drive businesses to surrounding states.

But Paul sees Kentucky as a fertile field for conservative politics. "Kentucky is poised for change," he says, "as Texas was ten years ago. Conservative people who have voted for Democrats begin to realize that they have to make a change."