Jul 31 2010

Lower brain functions and music: connected?

Category: musicharmonicminer @ 12:33 pm

Does Classical music move the heart in vegetative patients?

Classical music pulls at the heartstrings of people in a vegetative state as well as those of healthy listeners. If you play music to vegetative patients, their heart rate changes in the same way as that of healthy controls, suggesting that music can affect the neural systems of emotion even when conscious thought is impossible.

Francesco Riganello at the Santa Anna Institute in Crotone, Italy, and colleagues played four pieces of classical music to 16 healthy volunteers while measuring their heartbeats. The team then repeated the experiment with nine people who were in a vegetative state. In addition, they asked the healthy volunteers to describe the emotions they had felt while listening.

The pieces, each 3 minutes long and by different composers, were chosen because they have different tempos and rhythms, factors previously shown to elicit positive and negative emotions.

Riganello found that the music affected the heart rates of both groups in the same way. Pieces rated as “positive” by healthy volunteers, such as the minuet from Boccherini’s string quintet in E, slowed heart rate, while “negative” pieces like Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony increased heart rate.

People are medically defined as vegetative when they have no recognisable behavioural responses to external stimuli, says Riganello. “Generally it is thought that vegetative patients are isolated from the external world, but maybe this is incorrect.”

Interestingly, heartbeat patterns detected in people listening to Boccherini’s music in previous studies indicated that the listeners were becoming relaxed. Riganello suggests that listening to music may have caused “some relaxation” in the vegetative patients.

He believes this reaction originates from the lower regions of the brain, such as the limbic and paralimbic system. These are known to control emotion and autonomic responses and “may remain active after extensive brain damage”.

“It’s a nice paper,” says Ashley Craig, a rehabilitation neuroscientist at the University of Sydney, Australia, who was not involved in the study. He points out, however, that it doesn’t show the vegetative people feel emotions as healthy people do. Although their basic, automatic brain functions are working, “that’s very different” from the higher cognitive processes required to be conscious and feel emotions, he says.

Alan Harvey at the University of Western Australia in Crawley agrees, but finds it very interesting that “music has this way of affecting neural systems that process emotion even in the absence of conscious thought”.

Hmmm…. I’ve written elsewhere about my opinion re: the connection between emotion, communication and music, to the extent that there is one.  The research reported here seems to relate the very lowest level of autonomic nervous system functioning to music. 

I’m afraid I have to agree with Ashley Craig.  This doesn’t prove much of anything about the way people with normal, undamaged brains actually process music, or about the way that music affects them.

It is interesting, though…  and makes me wonder if music affects animals (who share these lower brain function with humans) the same way, so that they might respond the same way as the brain damaged human research subjects did in this study.

If so, I know a particularly hyper dog I might try it on.

Jul 30 2010

Hate speech in action

Category: church,family,gay marriage,Group-think,left,ministry,missions,Scriptureharmonicminer @ 8:54 am

You tell me who is practicing hate speech here.

Imagine if the roles were reversed…

If the speaker was a gay minister, speaking gently of our responsibility to pray for our unfortunately confused brethren who don’t understand that Jesus was for gay marriage, saying that tactics of intimidation aimed at straight people are wrong, and the speaker was being shouted down by conservative bible-thumpers carrying signs saying things like “Gays hate God” or some such, you’d have seen this all over the evening news.

But the intolerant Left almost always gets a pass.

Jul 29 2010

Colonel Cody wasn’t the only one

Category: multi-culturalharmonicminer @ 8:22 am

Buffalo Bill is sometimes charged with the near extinction of the American buffalo, due to his hunting exploits.

But he wasn’t the only one.  A “buffalo jump” was not an athletic event involving leaping over buffalo, some sort of native American rodeo.  It was simply organized mass slaughter of buffalo by native Americans.

Does this sound like they were terribly reluctant about killing animals en masse?

Native Americans also contributed to the collapse of the bison.[28] By the 1830s the Comanche and their allies on the southern plains were killing about 280,000 bison a year, which was near the limit of sustainability for that region. Firearms and horses, along with a growing export market for buffalo robes and bison meat had resulted in larger and larger numbers of bison killed each year.

The common myth of the Native American living in “harmony” with his environment continues to be passed along… but to the extent that it is true, it is because of their lack of the technology to do anything else, not due to some spiritual connection to Gaia.  They were basically stone-age people in most ways until the Europeans arrived.

I suppose the myth of the wise primitive will continue to be promulgated in movies and other media.  But if I had to be captured by someone, I think I would prefer the US Army circa 2010 to the Apaches or Commanches circa 1700.  After all, I also saw A Man Called Horse.

For the most part, primitive people were not/are not wise.  Instead, they were/are typically racist, xenophobic and sexist, not to mention chauvinistic, jingoistic, and ageist.  If you don’t know that, you need to get out more.  Maybe read a book.

This is the ludicrous aspect of multiculturalism.  The people that the multiculturalists would like to lionize are themselves the exact opposite of multiculturalists, by and large. 

I do prefer buffalo to horse meat.  Good ‘ole cornfed black angus beef is even better.

Jul 28 2010

Justice is blinded by politics

Category: government,illegal alien,justice,legislationharmonicminer @ 4:08 pm

Here is the introduction to Andy McCarthy’s comments on today’s Arizona Immigration Decision

On a quick read, the federal court’s issuance of a temporary injunction against enforcement of the major provisions of the Arizona immigration law appears specious.

In essence, Judge Susan Bolton bought the Justice Department’s preemption argument, i.e., the claim that the federal government has broad and exclusive authority to regulate immigration, and therefore that any state measure that is inconsistent with federal law is invalid. The Arizona law is completely consistent with federal law. The judge, however, twisted <the>  concept of federal law into federal enforcement practices (or, as it happens, lack thereof). In effect, the court is saying that if the feds refuse to enforce the law the states can’t do it either because doing so would transgress the federal policy of non-enforcement … which is nuts.

There is much more at the link above, including references to other federal court precedents that the judge seems to have decided to ignore… presumably because they would not have led to the decision she appears to want. (She is a Clinton appointee, and presumably leans left, as essentially all of his appointees did.)

There are other federal laws, laws the enforcement of which requires local law enforcement to be directly involved, and even take initiative, on matters ranging from kidnapping to terrorism to the Mann Act to drugs, literally thousands of laws.

There is no precedent for the federal government to sue to stop a state from enforcing federal law in a constitutional way.  Imagine if local peace officers were not allowed to notice if someone was selling illegal drugs (mostly federal laws), or to stop a kidnapping, or arrest someone carrying a grenade launcher (not illegal according to some state laws, but banned federally for most civilians).  Imagine if local peace officers were not allowed to notice someone carrying a sign advocating the assassination of Obama, or the bombing of a federal facility?

That is the ridiculous position we’d find ourselves in, if the notion that local peace officers can’t enforce federal law ever became consistently applied, and that’s why the judge’s decision is ridiculous.

This was a PURELY political lawsuit, brought by a president who wants to buy off the Hispanic vote in 2012, even at the cost of the congress in the 2010 midterms, a president who cynically believes that Hispanic voters are in favor of illegal aliens in large numbers.

I hope he is wrong in ascribing such motives to legal Hispanic voters.  If he is right, it will be interesting to see exactly how much other American citizens care about this.  How many who usually don’t vote can be energized to get to the polls to avoid amnesty (official or unofficial) for illegals?

Not enough, I fear.

Jul 28 2010

Experience Trumps Brilliance

Category: capitalism,economy,leftamuzikman @ 8:55 am

In case you have not yet read this or if you have been living in a bunker and do not know the name Dr. Thomas Sowell … here is his latest, and quite brilliant commentary.  It should be required reading.

Many of the wonderful-sounding ideas that have been tried as government policies have failed disastrously. Because so few people bother to study history, often the same ideas and policies have been tried again, either in another country or in the same country at a later time, and with the same disastrous results.

One of the ideas that has proved to be almost impervious to evidence is the idea that wise and farsighted people need to take control and plan economic and social policies so that there will be a rational and just order, rather than chaos resulting from things being allowed to take their own course. It sounds so logical and plausible that demanding hard evidence would seem almost like nitpicking.

In one form or another, this idea goes back at least as far as the French Revolution in the 18th century. As J.A. Schumpeter later wrote of that era, “general well-being ought to have been the consequence,” but “instead we find misery, shame and, at the end of it all, a stream of blood.”

The same could be said of the Bolshevik Revolution and other revolutions of the 20th century.

The idea that the wise and knowledgeable few need to take control of the less wise and less knowledgeable many has taken milder forms, and repeatedly with bad results as well.

One of the most easily documented examples has been economic central planning, which was tried in countries around the world at various times during the 20th century, among people of differing races and cultures, and under government ranging from democracies to dictatorships.

The people who ran central planning agencies usually had more advanced education than the population at large, and probably higher IQs as well.

The central planners also had far more statistics and other facts at their disposal than the average person had. Moreover, there were usually specialized experts such as economists and statisticians on the staffs of the central planners, and outside consultants were available when needed. Finally, the central planners had the power of government behind them, to enforce the plans they created.

It is hardly surprising that conservatives, such as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Britain and President Ronald Reagan in the United States, opposed this approach. What is remarkable is that, after a few decades of experience with central planning in some countries, or a few generations in others, even communists and socialists began to repudiate this approach.

As they replaced central planning with more reliance on markets, their countries’ economic growth rate almost invariably increased, often dramatically. In the largest and most recent examples, China and India, people by the millions have risen above these countries’ official poverty rates, after they freed their economies from many of their suffocating government controls.

China, where famines have repeatedly ravaged the country, now has a problem of obesity, not a good thing in itself, but a big improvement over famines.

This has implications far beyond economics. Think about it: How was it even possible that transferring decisions from elites with more education, intellect, data and power to ordinary people could lead consistently to demonstrably better results?

One implication is that no one is smart enough to carry out social engineering, whether in the economy or in other areas where the results may not always be so easily quantifiable. We learn not from our initial brilliance, but from trial-and-error adjustments to events as they unfold.

Science tells us that the human brain reaches its maximum potential in early adulthood. Why, then, are young adults so seldom capable of doing what people with more years of experience can do?

Because experience trumps brilliance.

Elites may have more brilliance, but those who make decisions for society as a whole cannot possibly have as much experience as the millions of people whose decisions they pre-empt. The education and intellects of the elites may lead them to have more sweeping presumptions, but that just makes them more dangerous to the freedom, as well as the well-being, of the people as a whole.

Jul 27 2010

The plain meaning of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution

Category: government,guns,libertyharmonicminer @ 8:48 am

Parsing the Second Amendment

It’s been about a month since the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in McDonald vs. Chicago, a successful challenge to the city’s handgun ban. It was decided on the basis that the 14th Amendment extends the prohibitions of the Bill of Rights to state governments, and thus the Second Amendment applies.

So let’s look at the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

One gun-hater argument is that this does not guarantee an individual right “to keep and bear Arms,” but is some sort of group right that applies only to members of state militias.

But “people” clearly means individuals in the Fourth Amendment, which stars with “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . .”

Further, it’s pretty clear that the Founders supported private ownership of weapons, not just of muskets, but of entire ships laden with cannons.

That’s because the Constitution gives Congress exclusive power to “grant Letters of Marque”, that is, authorization for a private party to engage in piracy on the high seas against the nation’s enemies.

(Beginning in 1856, many civilized nations signed a treaty renouncing letters of marque, but the United States has not, although it’s been a long time since Congress issued one.)

Next, what did they mean by “militia”? From what I can gather, the general belief at the time was that the state militias would be America’s primary military force, mobilizing against invasions, uprisings or Indian attacks. Thomas Jefferson, for one, was opposed to a standing army. His fear was that if you had all these soldiers drawing pay, you’d be tempted to use them, and his agrarian republic would turn into a rapacious empire.

Even so, Jefferson did not abolish the standing army when he became president; indeed, he founded West Point in 1802 to train officers for the standing army.

We do know what the Founding Fathers meant by “militia,” for there is the federal Militia Act of 1792, which defines the militia as “each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years . . . .”

It was not some small group of volunteers, but just about every capable citizen of the day. Gun ownership was a federal mandate, not an option.

“Every citizen . . . shall . . . provide himself with a good musket or firelock . . . or with a good rifle,” along with powder, shot, knapsack and the like. Further, the guns and related gear could not be seized to satisfy unpaid debt or taxes.

But what did “well-regulated” mean? That the militia was supposed to have a lot of rules, as we might understand it today? That inspired me to delve into the English major’s bible, the Oxford English Dictionary, which attempts to track every word in every sense from its first written appearance to the present.

(I’ve long hoped to be rich enough to buy the full 20-volume second edition issued in 1989, but I’ve had to settle for the tiny-print version of the first edition of 1933, issued as a Book-of-the-Month Club premium.)

It provides a relevant definition for “regulated”, “Of troops: properly disciplined” with a 1690 citation and a note that is a rare usage, long obsolete by 1933. But that appears to be what it meant when the Second Amendment was proposed in 1789, that militiamen were supposed to be proficient with firearms, since that was a big part of their discipline.

So you can argue that the Second Amendment is an archaic relic that ought to be repealed, or that it means we should restore regular drills on the village green so that we’ll have a “well-regulated militia.” But there’s no reasonable argument that the Founders wanted the government to have the power to outlaw private gun ownership, especially not when one of the nation’s first laws made it a requirement.

I would add one other point, a fairly important one.

It is the SECOND Amendment, just following free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and the like.

It seems to have been fairly important to the founders, to get such pride of place.

And the Supreme Court has long ago decided that the Bill of Rights applies to state and local governments as well, though it seems to need to reaffirm that principle from time to time.

Jul 26 2010

Misusing Scripture #4

Category: church,liberty,religion,theologyharmonicminer @ 1:05 pm

The last post in this series is here.

I recently heard a Christian speaker saying, yet again, that the “public” thinks Christians are “judgmental” and that we should try not to project that attitude.  You’ll also read in books like unChristian that society in general sees Christians as “judgmental.”  The problem with this, of course, is that “the public,” which I take to refer to that segment of society that is relatively unchurched, gets its attitudes towards Christians from the media, movies, MTV, TV, some amount of reporting in the news (which always gravitates to what it sees as the most extreme examples of “religious people”), etc.  How many of those people with such low opinions of Christians have a relationship with a vibrant Christian who loves the Lord?

It is difficult for the church to overcome the attitudes of people who really have little experience with the church or serious Christians, and who get their information third-hand from biased sources.

I’ve written on this topic of “judgmentalism” before, but I feel the need to add a bit.

Stressing that Christians should not be “judgmental” seems often to mean, by implication, that Christians should not uphold high moral standards and expectations, should not strongly teach traditional moral standards, and so on.  It seems especially common to have this emphasis in the “emergent church,”, or the “emerging conversation,” or whatever they’d like to call themselves these days, especially among authors like Donald Miller, Brian McLaren, etc.  You’re more likely to hear concern about “judgmental Christians” being expressed from these authors than from more traditionally oriented Christian authors.  It seems to me that the “emergent” authors are more likely to be concerned about traditional Christians being judgmental on, say, sexual matters, than they are about “emergent Christians” being judgmental of traditional Christians’ supposed selfishness and social disengagement.  It would seem they believe that Christians should not be much concerned about personal sin and immorality (if there even really is such a thing), as long as people are “taking care of the poor” and are nice to the down and out.

In fact, the “emergent” seem quite willing to be “judgmental” about others whom they view as being “judgmental.”

Why is that?

I believe it is due to an almost deliberate misunderstanding of the Biblical texts dealing with being “judgmental,” a misunderstanding that denies historical context and the rest of the Bible.

“Judging” is not the same as “evaluating.”  To judge is to impose a penalty or outcome of some kind as a result of an evaluation, all done by a person who has the right to do so, or believes he has.  When Jesus told the Pharisees not to judge, he was speaking to people who, in that cultural context, did have the power to impose certain kinds of penalties on other Jews, based on their judgments.

John 18 – New International Version

28Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30″If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

31Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

This shows that the Pharisees and Jewish leaders DID have the legal right to judge and impose various penalties, some quite severe, but they could not impose death as the Romans could.

John 3 – English Standard Version

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

This and other passages show that the power to judge was the power to condemn, meaning to carry out sentence flowing from judgment.  The good news was the the Son had entered the world to help sinful humans escape condemnation flowing from righteous judgment.  In the following passage, we also see the connection of judgment with the power to condemn, or punish.

John 12 – New International Version

47″As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.

On the other hand, there are many passages where Jesus speaks to people quite directly about their sin.

John 5 – New International Version

5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7″Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

8Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

11But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

12So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

I strongly suspect that the Donald Millers and Brian McLarens of the world would accuse any modern person who uttered the phrase, “Stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you,” of being very judgmental, even if that person had just rescued the putative sinner in some way, or fed him, or clothed him, etc.

Jesus did not use people’s sin as an excuse not to associate with them, or to serve them…  but he surely was very up front about it, and there was no ambiguity in him about his position on their sin.

Jesus and the Apostles tell us not to judge.  That is, we don’t have the right to impose penalties on sinners because of our evaluations of their guilt.  We don’t have the right to punish sinners ourselves.

Matthew 7 – New International Version

1″Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Again, it is clear here that judgment potentially involves taking action against the judged.

But when modern writers tell us not to judge, they often use the word as if it means “to evaluate” or “to express an opinion based on an evaluation” or something of the sort.  This is simply not the Biblical meaning of the word.

If we were commanded by Jesus not to evaluate people’s behavior, nor to express our opinions of that behavior from a moral perspective, we would have no explanation for passages such as these:

Galatians 5 – New International Version

19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Matthew 15 – New International Version

19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ “

Read Matthew 23. Doesn’t Jesus sound just a bit “judgmental” here? But he is not being judgmental. He is observing behavior, and predicting its consequences if the behavior does not change. He is not, in other words, doing the thing he instructed others not to do.

Mark 7 – New International Version

20He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ 21For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ “

Even in the case of someone who refuses to end behavior that the entire church finds offensive, we have no right to directly punish, but only to shun:

Matthew 18 – New International Version

15″If your brother sins against you,[b] go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'[c] 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Clearly, evaluation is not judgment. Expressing an opinion based on evaluation is not judgment.

Be careful of those who tell you not to judge, when in fact they may be saying they don’t want you to evaluate someone’s behavior, nor to express an opinion about it.  In particular, I seem often to hear or read of emerging church authors encouraging us not to be concerned about immoral behavior…  as if our very moral standards, and publicly expressing those standards, are what drives people away from Christ.  Of course, they don’t directly tell us “not to be concerned about immoral behavior.”  Rather, they tell us to simply stop talking so much about particular sins that they don’t find particularly troublesome, or else people will say we are being “judgmental.”

I highly recommend I Corinthians 5, a passage from which quotes are rarely drawn by “emerging conversation” authors.

Jul 25 2010

Two views on China’s danger to the USA

Category: China,national securityharmonicminer @ 8:59 am

Here are two views of our possible future in regard to China’s ambitions and intent to expand its influence to control all of Asia, and then possibly to exert influence in the Americas.  I apologize in advance for the length of this…  if you’re not interested in whether or not the US will have to fight a war with China in the next twenty years, find something else to do for the next few minutes.  But this is essential background to understand my comments that complete this post.

First up, Mark Helprin’s piece from the Claremont Review of Books.

Farewell to the China Station

By Mark Helprin

If two locomotives are running at each other on the same track, it is possible that one will derail before impact or an earthquake will disalign their paths, but more likely—here is what is going to happen in the Western Pacific as the United States and China converge on a collision course.

Far sooner than once anticipated, China will achieve effective military parity in Asia, general conventional parity, and nuclear parity. Then the short road to superiority will be impossible for it to ignore, as it is already on its way thanks to a brilliant policy borrowed from Japan and Israel (and which I have described more fully in “East Wind,” National Review, March 20, 2000). Briefly, since Deng Xiaoping, China has understood that, without catastrophic social dislocation, it can leverage its spectacular economic growth into X increases in per-capita GDP but many-times-X increases in military spending. To wit, between 1988 and 2007, a ten-fold increase in per-capita GDP ($256 to $ 2,539) but a twenty-one-fold purchasing power parity (PPP) increase in military expenditures (PPP $5.78 billion to PPP $122 billion). The major constraint has been that an ever increasing rate of technical advance can only be absorbed so fast even by a rapidly modernizing military.

Meanwhile, in good times and in bad, under Republicans and under Democrats, with defense spending insufficient across the board, the United States has slowed, frozen, or reversed the development especially of the kind of war-fighting assets that China rallies forward (nuclear weapons, fighter planes, surface combatants, submarines, space surveillance) and those (anti-submarine warfare capacity, carrier battle groups, and fleet missile defense) that China does not yet need to counter us but that we need to counter it.

We have provided as many rationales for neglect as our neglect has created dangers that we rationalize. Never again will we fight two major adversaries simultaneously, although in recent memory this is precisely what our fathers did. Conventional war is a thing of the past, despite the growth and modernization of large conventional forces throughout the world. Appeasement and compromise will turn enemies into friends, if groveling and self-abasement do not first drive friends into the enemy camp. A truly strong country is one in which people are happy and have a lot of things, though at one time, as Gibbon described it, “so rapid were the motions of the Persian cavalry” that the prosperous and relaxed citizens of Antioch were surprised while at the theater, and slaughtered as their city burned around them. And the costs of more reliable defence and deterrence are impossible to bear in this economy, even if in far worse times America made itself into the greatest arsenal the world has ever known, while, not coincidentally, breaking the back of the Great Depression.

China is on the cusp of being able to use conventional satellites, swarms of miniature satellites, and networked surface, undersea, and aerial cuing for real-time terminal guidance with which to direct its 1,500 short-range ballistic missiles to the five or six aircraft carriers the United States (after ceding control of the Panama Canal and reducing its carrier fleet by one third since 1987) could dispatch to meet an invasion of Taiwan. In combination with anti-ship weapons launched from surface vessels, submarines, and aircraft, the missile barrage is designed to keep carrier battle groups beyond effective range. Had we built more carriers, provided them with sufficient missile defence, not neglected anti-submarine warfare, and dared consider suppression of enemy satellites and protections for our own, this would not be so.

Had we not stopped production of the F-22 at a third of the original requirement (see “The Fate of the Raptor,” CRB, Winter 2009/10), its 2,000-mile range and definitive superiority may have allowed us to dominate the air over Taiwan nonetheless, but no longer. Nor can we “lillypad” fighters to Taiwan if its airfields are destroyed by Chinese missiles, against which we have no adequate defence.

* * *

With the Western Pacific cleared of American naval and air forces sufficient to defend or deter an invasion, Taiwan—without war but because of the threat of war—will capitulate and accept China’s dominion, just as Hong Kong did when the evolving correlation of forces meant that Britain had no practical say in the matter. If this occurs, as likely it will, America’s alliances in the Pacific will collapse. Japan, Korea, and countries in Southeast Asia and even Australasia (when China’s power projection forces mature) will strike a bargain so as to avoid pro forma vassalage, and their chief contribution to the new arrangement will be to rid themselves of American bases.

Now far along in building a blue-water navy, once it dominates its extended home waters China will move to the center of the Pacific and then east, with its primary diplomatic focus the acquisition of bases in South and Central America. As at one time we had the China Station, eventually China will have the Americas Station, for this is how nations behave in the international system, independently of their declarations and beliefs as often as not. What awaits us if we do not awake is potentially devastating, and those who think the subtle, indirect pressures of domination inconsequential might inquire of the Chinese their opinion of the experience.

In the military, economic, and social trajectories of the two principals, the shape of the future comes clear. In 2007, a Chinese admiral suggested to Admiral Timothy J. Keating, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, that China and the United States divide the Pacific into two spheres of influence. Though the American admiral firmly declined the invitation, as things go now his successors will not have the means to honor his resolution, and by then the offer may seem generous. None of this was ever a historical inevitability. Rather, it is the fault of the American people and the governments they have freely chosen. Perhaps five or ten years remain in which to accomplish a restoration, but only with a miracle of leadership, clarity, and will.

In a tongue in cheek title, theorist Thomas P.M. Barnett titles his response to Helprin this way:
China’s rise must be stopped! In fact, our entire military should be shaped to this end!

Here’s a projection from the National Intelligence Council’s 2020 look-ahead report. If you go with the high-estimate line (always a safe bet with such a secretive government), then you come up with a number in the same range as Helprin’s ($115-120B). By 2025, then, we’re looking at a PLA that spends about a quarter-trillion dollars a year.

For comparison, check out US spending over the past decade, by way of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

My point here: our baseline spending grew almost as much as China’s total budget should be in 2025: $220B. Our top-line budget grew $373B, but you have to consider the war-spending as more subtractive than additive, even as it means our military now has a long recent combat experience base while the PLA really hasn’t fought a conflict of any length since the early 1950s, or almost six decades ago.

What are we likely to spend in 2025? Probably in the range of a trillion a year, or still 4X China’s total.

Now, if you follow the great projections on China, you would likely have their defense budget catch ours sometime before 2050, but that stuff gets awfully iffy, because it assumes that China will keep up the build-up despite the stunning aging of their population–to wit, in 2050, we’ll have a relatively young total population of 400m and China will have 400m-plus over the age of 60.

That’s just the background. Now, on to Helprin’s scare-mongering piece.

He says we rationalize our growing weakness relative to China’s growing strength, telling ourselves that we’ll never fight two major adversaries at the same time (our dream of a WWII-redux). Okay, who else are we going to fight at the same time as China? He doesn’t say.

Helprin says we delude ourselves by thinking conventional war is a thing of the past, citing “the growth and modernization of large conventional forces throughout the world.” That line is just pure bullshit based on nothing.

Here’s the SIPRI numbers:

Note two things: 1) It took the world 20 years to get back to the peak spending at the end of the Cold War, and that was across a time period in which wars declined dramatically while numerous great powers rose, a trend that historically results in greater defense spending; and 2) the great growth from the trough of the late 90s to now is about $400B. Well, guess who did most of that additional spending? Duh! The United States. No one is modernizing like we are or racking up huge operational experience at the bleeding edge.

Helprin goes on to say that “appeasement and compromise” isn’t turning our enemies into friends. Really? Seems like we just went through a rerun of the start of the Great Depression and what kind of cooperation did we get from all our “enemies” around the world? Actually, pretty damn nice.

Then we get the usual decline-of-the-Roman-empire stuff. Impressive.

So we’re told that we’ve ceded the Western Pacific to the Chinese, meaning, at the very least, we’re supposed to hold it ad infinitum. Why? Taiwan could be absorbed by China militarily. And if that happens, “America’s alliances in the Pacific will collapse.”

Brilliant logic there. China forcibly invades a country it’s trying to sign a free trade deal with it and you expect the rest of Asia to suddenly want nothing to do with America. Is this guy high?

From that domination of the Western Pac, China will soon begin to dominate all of Latin America, says Helprin–our China station replaced by China’s America station.

Why will China make this supreme effort? I have no idea. China doesn’t seem to have any problem buying whatever it wants from Latin America, but apparently the Chinese people will want this more than environmental cleanups or old age pensions. They will go along with any government push to propel China into constant military standoffs with the US on the other side of the Pacific, because Chinese history is so full of such examples.

Me? I see China logically building a naval presence and power-projection capability in the direction of its energy supplies–i.e., the Persian Gulf. I don’t see them wasting time and money on regions that are stable suppliers. Of course, if China pushes its way into the Gulf military, pretty soon they’ll find themselves involved in all the same Leviathan-SysAdmin work we do there now. And frankly, that would make some sense, given that Asia takes out the bulk of the oil the Gulf provides, while the US can get along without it easily (the PG ranks behind Africa, Latin America, Mexico and Canada, and the US itself as our 5th most important supplier of oil).

And how threatening will a China be that bears this incredible burden? How many costly wars will the Chinese people support in distant lands? Hmm. We shall see.

But this is all silly conjecture on my part. Clearly, the Chinese will do whatever it takes to drive us completely out of the Pacific. Helprin says, we have “perhaps five or ten years” in which we can accomplish a “restoration.”

Get used to this logic. Gates is working hard to get the Pentagon and Congress realistic about what we can and cannot afford in the future. We can either pull out of the world and stockpile our brilliant, uber-expensive Leviathan weaponry in anticipation of getting it on with China or we can be more realistic about our Leviathan hedge given our SysAdmin workload. Mr. Helprin believes we can have it all and do it all, and I think that’s truly nutty.

But again, the quickest way to bog down the Chinese would be to abandon the Middle East and let them manage it on their own. Any takers on that score?

The Chinese give every indication of wanting to secure their trade networks with the world and no indication of being willing to fight for anything beyond that. Hell, they don’t give any indication of wanting even to fight for their trade networks. All they really give as an indication is that they will not tolerate Taiwan declaring independence–their own, whacked-out mania.

We are deep into an age in which our old friends will spend less on their militaries and rising new competitors will spend more on theirs. We can either seek cooperation with these rising powers on mutual economic interests or we can try to hedge against them all, demanding that only America can decide such things.

The fixation with China is convenient for US military hawks, because the Chinese Communist Party will rule in a single-party state, with no serious challengers, for the next two decades or so. Of the other rising great powers, we don’t really fear any of them, because they’re close enough in their political pluralism–save demographically collapsing Russia–to avoid such suspicions on our part. Now, we can pretend that this crew of rising great powers will prefer a world run predominately by the PLA over one more dominated by the US military, but I think that’s a paranoid assumption. I think the alleged Beijing consensus only works so long as China stays out of wars, which is why I’d love to see them sucked into a few.

Mr. Helprin sees a clear and clean route to the top of global military domination for the Chinese. I don’t. I see a surfeit of hidden domestic debts and a public with no stomach for military adventure. I also see a single-party state that could not politically survive a single military defeat, and hence it will risk none. China cannot free-ride its way to the top and then dominate with no resulting exposure to draining wars. To believe in such a trajectory is, in my mind, truly ahistoric.

Helprin likewise sees China’s defense rise as a pure zero-sum—as in, they gain and we lose. I do not. I see the Chinese arriving just in time.

We will either convince the Chinese to cooperate with us on global security or we will cede the burden to them. Either way, China is going to get dramatically bogged down by all its burgeoning global network connectivity. To believe otherwise is sheer fantasy.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. We’ve never gotten one, and neither will the Chinese.

I hope that Thomas P.M. Barnett is right in downplaying the Chinese threat. But I fear he is not. Here’s why.

Barnett’s comparions of overall military spending comparisons between the USA and China aren’t very comforting, for a simple reason. The Chinese are spending most of their money preparing to fight the USA for Asian and Pacific dominance (or to intimidate the USA into not fighting them, which amounts to the same thing).  The USA has global responsibilities, but it is spending that way ONLY in the sense that it spreads its budget around, and NOT enough to truly service those global responsibilities, and the likely future capabilities and intentions of our probable opponents.  Barnett’s argument is like pointing out that any given person’s chance of being a crime victim is relatively small, and so suggesting that a particular individual go take a walk in a high-crime neighborhood without adequate precautions.  Global statistics don’t tell us much about local or regional problems…  and total spending figures tell us little about HOW the Chinese are spending their money, compared to how the USA is spending on its military.

Consider:  we are stretched thin fighting what are really two minor, highly localized wars.  There is no comparison of the Iraq war to the size and complexity of the European theater in WW II, nor is there one between the Afghanistan war and the Pacific War of WWII.  Yet we fought in both theaters simultaneously in WWII.   There are differences, of course.  The entire nation was mobilized in WWII, and it isn’t now.  But, in WWII it was possible to ramp up quickly in war production and training, and produce then-modern weapons in incredible numbers with a relatively short startup period, and train people fairly quickly in how to use them.  That is simply not possible with modern weapons, which are far more complex to make and use, depend on many more production steps, and require specific manufacturing facilities that take years to create.  We can’t stop making F-22s this year, mothball the factories and reassign the expert technicians to other jobs, and then in five years, suddenly build three or four hundred of them that year, along with all their specialized weapons.  It is literally impossible to do, regardless of how much money we threw at it then.  In WWII, we made a quarter of a million warplanes in five years.  Such things are no longer possible.  And the F-22 is only one advanced weapons system that we would need.

Not convinced we couldn’t ramp up quickly?  We went to the moon in 1969.  But with the most optimistic program imaginable, it would take us ANOTHER ten years to go there again, even though we did it before in less time, and even that ten year time-frame would require a very large national investment.  We couldn’t do it the same way we did it before.  Literally, the expertise to do it THAT way no longer exists.  (Much as we couldn’t now outfit a Lewis and Clark expedition with period specific gear, manufactured the way they did it, and expect the expedition to even stay alive, traveling in the same ways they did it the first time.  Quite literally, no one alive now knows how to do things that way.)  Our current tech-base would have to do it the way it does things now.  There are no Saturn boosters or Apollo craft left, and there are no factories to build them, nor experts in the old way of doing things.  We’d literally have to start over.   (Obama, of course, has decided not to try, and to use NASA to encourage Muslim self-esteem.)

So:  if we don’t keep up our production capability for the advanced weapons we’ve already developed (and the ONLY way to do that is to keep producing them…  it really is “use it or lose it”), and if we don’t develop MORE advanced weapons (because we foolishly believe we’ve spent enough, and we’re in the lead, and because we assume our putative opponents, including the Chinese, are going to have their hands full as it is), we will have made the possibly fatal error of limiting our own capabilities to what we hope are the intentions of our opponents, instead of planning our capabilities to far exceed the possible capability OR intention of any opponent.

In other words, we will have abandoned “peace through strength,” and substituted for it, “peace through hope.”

It boils down to this.  China has, for now, limited but specific aims, namely to dominate Asia and the Pacific.  It targets essentially ALL of its spending to that end, and specifically to defeat the weapons systems the USA already has.  It looks to me, even taking Barnett’s optimistic numbers, as though the Chinese ARE outdoing us in the specific area of Asian and Pacific oriented military spending.  The Chinese are smart, capable people.  Only foolish complacency leads one to assume the Chinese can’t simply overwhelm ALL of our carrier defenses if it throws enough supersonic or hypersonic missiles simultaneously.  It is busy building that overwhelming force.  Will a US president be interested in staring down the Chinese over Taiwan when only a nuclear option remains, because conventional options are no longer adequate?

So it seems to me that Barnett hopes for the best in terms of Chinese demographics, internal pressures and foreign intentions, and suggests we plan accordingly.  In the meantime, the Chinese ARE spending much more on methods and means to defeat our Pacific carrier fleet and countering our satellite systems than WE are spending in specifically countering those new threats.  It’s as if a really strong, powerful, skilled fighter, who has big weapons (our carrier fleet, essentially a 1960s concept), has decided he doesn’t have to pay attention to the fact that his opponent is sneaking up behind him with something he hasn’t really planned for, like 3000 hypersonic shipkiller missiles.  Sure, we can perhaps stop many of them.  But unless the Chinese truly fear a nuclear response from us, why should they not destroy our Pacific carrier fleet, or significant portions of it, when they can, consistent with their broadening ambitions?  Only a few such missiles would have to get through, and our ability to project power in the Pacific would be severely degraded.

I am not convinced an American President would, or should, launch even limited theater nuclear weapons in response to even an overwhelming conventional attack.  I AM convinced that I don’t want any American President to ever have to make that decision.

The problem with feckless policies and foolish spending priorities is this:  it is almost always going to be the NEXT administration that will have to deal with the mess left behind.  And the shortsighted public will often blame the administration in which the problem emerges, instead of the one whose policies and spending priorities led to it.

It would be good to pray that Thomas Barnett is correct in his assessment.  But we’d better plan to deal with the possibility that he’s wrong.

Unfortunately, Obama’s foreign policy assumptions seem to be even rosier than Barnett’s about our likely future opponents’ capabilities and intentions.

Jul 24 2010

A brave officer’s story

Category: crime,justiceharmonicminer @ 8:02 am

The next time you see an officer making a routine traffic stop, consider what you’re about to see. If YOU are the one being stopped, be extra nice… and keep your hands in plain sight at all times, just to make the officer feel more comfortable.

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No doubt, some people will criticize some of this officer’s procedure. I’m sure that he would now see things he could do differently.

But the message here is the courage it takes to do the job at all, and the debt we owe to the people who do it.

These two criminals, at least one a twice deported illegal alien, were obviously willing to kill anyone who got in their way… and odds are good that they would have killed someone else had this officer not stopped them, been shot, and reported enough to get the criminals apprehended.

Who knows whose life he saved that night, who is now alive because these killers aren’t now on the loose?

Jul 23 2010

Who is a racist?

Category: race,racismharmonicminer @ 12:36 am

Who is a racist?

Is it someone who has a low opinion or expectation of members of another race, on average?  Is it someone who thinks there are differences of any significance between the races?  Is it someone who views others through the lens of their race more than their personal characteristics?

I hate dictionary definitions of socially loaded terms, but here’s one definition:

“Racist” at Dictionary.com

a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

So, according to definition one, if you think black people are, on average, likely to be better basketball players, boxers, or sprinters than white people, that means you’re a racist.

If you notice that Asians, on average, have higher IQ’s than whites, blacks, or anyone else (except maybe Ashkenazi Jews), and seem to perform in line with that potential when they immigrate to a country where they don’t even speak the language, and in the next generation are doctors and lawyers, that means you’re a racist.

There are many examples of this sort.  This part of “definition 1” is clearly ridiculous.  Are you a racist if you make the medical observation that blacks are more prone to sickle-cell anemia, or that Ashkenazi Jews seem to produce an inordinate percentage of very smart people?

What’s especially interesting in this discussion of the relative abilities of the various racial groups is this: those who cling most fiercely to the dogma of exactly the same potential equality of all the races are those who mock Intelligent Design, and insist that Darwinism is the explanation for every characteristic of every life-form.  These ideas are mutually contradictory.  If there are different races (a matter that some deny), they are biologically distinct.  They split long ago (at least 20,000 years back, probably twice that) in the human family tree.  How can a biological argument be made that they are now identical in all capabilities?  Surely natural selection has done its work, and people descended from different climates and environmental challenges will have arrived at different biological destinations (which means different physical and intellectual capabilities, among other things, especially if you’re a believer in the materialist theory of mind).  If you’re a Darwinist, you can’t avoid this conclusion.

But any Darwinist university faculty member who dares make this obvious point is likely to be looking for work very soon, in today’s politically correct environment.  Of course, non-Darwinist university faculty are likely to face different, uh, professional challenges, since not being a Darwinist is seen to be equal to belonging to the Flat Earth Society, which puts intelligent faculty who’d like to be intellectually honest in an impossible position.  They’re damned if they’re Darwinists, and damned if they aren’t.  Like Socrates, telling the truth to the young about this, from either a Darwinist or non-Darwinist perspective, is equivalent to drinking professional hemlock.

I do resonate with one part of “definition 1,” namely that you are a racist, for sure, if you think a particular race has a right to rule another.   A reasonable extension of that principle is that if you think a particular race should receive legally granted or publicly funded benefits that are not available to all, just because of their race, you’re probably also a racist, because any benefit you receive in such a structure was extracted from someone of another race, who is made to work for your benefit, probably against their will, by an exercise of state power.

What, you say that sounds like I’m saying that affirmative action, preferences, racial set-asides and the like are racist?  Deal with it.  That seems to be the clear implication of Definition #2 above, which is all about using state power to discriminate, to pick winners and losers, to force some people to serve others.

Does it make you a racist if you don’t like most people of a particular race?  I would say no, unless you think your dislike gives you the right to treat them unfairly or unjustly with the backing of legal authority, state power, or even just institutional power (not talking “social justice” here, either).  You are probably a troubled person, from my perspective, if you see race as more important than individual characteristics…  but you’re not a racist if you don’t think you have the right to do anything about it, and so you don’t.

Definition #3, “hatred or intolerance of another race,” really depends on what you think you have the moral right to do about it.  If you hate, but take no action to express it or act on it in some unjust way, the hate hurts you more than the object of your hatred.  If your intolerance expresses itself in enforced segregation on the object of your hatred, that’s certainly racism.  If your intolerance merely expresses itself in your moving to another neighborhood, that is your right, and causes no harm to anyone else.

Are you a racist if you say things about other races that make them uncomfortable?  If so, then every diversity-activist is a racist, because many whites are really, really weary of being lectured to about “white privilege,” especially when they feel that they’ve worked very hard for everything they have, and have suffered themselves.

Are you a racist if you harbor negative opinions (not necessarily active dislike or hatred, merely opinions based on observation) about an entire race?  If so, then Jeremiah Wright is surely a racist, as are most Black Panthers, not to mention the Nation of Islam, along with the KKK and the White Aryan Brotherhood, and many Asian cultures as well.  What if you do your best to make careful observations about average behavior of a particular racial group in a particular society, and then generalize about what you can expect from members of the racial group in question?  If that makes you a racist, then most of the NAACP is likely also racist.

Let’s refocus:  if you have certain opinions of, say, fat people as a group (even if you admit there are individual differences), does that make you a “fattist”?  Only if you think you have the right to do something to or demand something from another person, simply because they’re “fat.”

What about red-haired boys in American culture?  It seems to just be “hot” to be a red-haired girl, but the famous taunt, “I’d rather be dead than red on the head,” is something every red-haired boy hears a lot while growing up.  (It may be partly a remnant of anti-Irish bigotry of an earlier time in America, with red hair as a relatively common Irish characteristic.)  Red haired boys are often targeted for abuse just because of their red hair.  Take it from me.  There were several leading black male actors in TV and films before there were ANY red haired ones…  and there aren’t many now.  Red haired boys are often the victim of “hate speech” and even “hate crimes.”  Are you a “reddist” if you associate certain personality types with red hair?

You’re a “reddist” only if think that your opinion of red-haired people gives you license to abuse them at your whim.  (I knew some people like this, growing up as a red-haired boy.  There may be a reason why red-haired boys seem to grow up either timid or aggressive, but rarely in the middle.)  I’m sure red-haired Vikings were more socially acceptable in their cultural context… but then they were not a minority.

There are all kinds of personal characteristics that people have little or no control over, from the color of hair to a tendency to fat, from a tendency to smallness to a tendency to bigness (think Samoan!).  If you think any of them give you license to do something to or demand something from another person, just because of a characteristic of that nature (including skin color), you are certainly a bigot of some kind.

It is not racist to have a low opinion of a particular racial, ethnic or social group.  We are all entitled to our opinions, and we all have various experiences that shape them, as well as the inputs we get from reading, the media, etc.  If you let your opinion of a group cause you to miss the (far more important) characteristics of individuals, the loss is yours.  None of us “treat everyone the same.”  But if your opinion of a group does not cause you to demand something from or do something unjust to members of that group just because they are members of that group, then you are not a racist.

What has happened in modern political correctness is that behavior, perspectives, or speech that would formerly have been called merely racially oriented (or race conscious in some way) are now called racist, if “white” people do them (though not, apparently, if “minorities” do them).

It is a terrible idea to compare politicians you don’t like to Hitler (even if you think they are evil people who want more power than they should have) because it devalues the extraordinary evil that Hitler personified.  (Overuse of the word “holocaust” is a similar problem.)  Similarly, the meaning of the word “racist” is devalued when you apply it to people just because they have different viewpoints or attitudes than you may wish they had.  If a person is assumed to be a racist for holding the opinion that affirmative action, set asides, preferences and quotas are a really bad idea, what word do we have left for people who thought slavery and state enforced segregation was just dandy, or who were untroubled when the laws against murder were not enforced against killers who lynched blacks?   What word is left for people who think minorities need not apply, because they should have no chance, and who try to make sure that they don’t have that chance?

You are not a racist just because you believe that the “war on poverty” was a terrible idea, that the welfare culture and easy access to abortion are killing African-Americans disproportionately, that affirmative action and quotas (and the smokescreen for them, “diversity”) do more harm than good, and that multi-generational poverty in the USA is a values problem, not any longer a “discrimination” problem.  You are not a racist just because you believe in tax cuts, capitalism, law enforcement and criminal punishment, border enforcement, and the like.  You are not a racist because you think the US Constitution is a pretty good document, and should be followed according to the understanding of the people who wrote it and approved it, as amended (as opposed to the understanding of judges who keep finding new meanings in the wording that were never intended by those who wrote it and approved it).

A racist is a person who thinks and behaves as if they have the right to demand something from another person, or do something to another person, just because of that person’s race, often or mostly using state power, institutional power, or sanction (either explicit in law, or implicit in “wink-nudge” refusal to enforce the law to protect all equally).

“Racism” that doesn’t result in racist behavior or explicit endorsement of it isn’t really racism.  You may have all kinds of  opinions, and you may even express them, but if you do not believe you have the right to take unjust action against people because of their race and do not encourage others to do so, you are not a racist.

Racism is a truly evil thing.  We should not minimize it by applying the word to mere matters of opinion, preference, economic perspective or political orientation.

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