July 16, 2015

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Identical twins, especially those raised apart, are the subject of much research because of the constant nature vs. nurture argument. An argument, which in many ways, is one of the leading causes of the great divide in our culture. Twenty-six years ago in Bogotá, Columbia, a hospital mixed up two sets of identical twins sending home two sets of fraternal twins. One set was raised in the country and the other in the city. Last week’s New York Times Sunday Magazine tells the story of how this was discovered and what has happened since.


This is 12,000 words long, so except for an item on the Open Championship this weekend, it is all we have. In addition, the twins article does not lend itself to many pull quotes. 

… identical twins have helped elucidate our most basic understanding of why, and how, we become who we are. By studying the overlap of traits in fraternal twins (who share, on average, 50 percent of their genes) and the overlap of those traits in identical twins (who share 100 percent of their genes), scientists have, for more than a century, been trying to tease out how much variation within a population can be attributed to heredity and how much to environment. ‘‘Twins have a special claim upon our attention,’’ wrote Sir Francis Galton, a British scientist who in the late 19th century was the first to compare twins who looked very much alike with those who did not (although science had not yet distinguished between identical and fraternal pairs). ‘‘It is, that their history affords means of distinguishing between the effects of tendencies received at birth, and those that were imposed by the special circumstances of their after lives.’’

Galton, who was Darwin’s cousin, is at least as well known for coining the term ‘‘eugenics’’ as he is for his innovative analysis of twins (having concluded, partly from his research, that healthy, intelligent people should be given incentives to breed more). His scientific successor, Hermann Werner Siemens, a German dermatologist, in the early 1920s conducted the first studies of twins that bear remarkable similarity to those still conducted today. But he also drew conclusions that for decades contaminated the strain of research he pioneered; he supported Hitler’s arguments in favor of ‘‘racial hygiene.’’ In seeking genetic origins for various traits they considered desirable or undesirable, these researchers seemed to be treading dangerously close to the pursuit of a master race.

Despite periods of controversy, twins studies proliferated. Over the last 50 years, some 17,000 traits have been studied, according to a meta-­analysis led by Tinca Polderman, a Dutch researcher, and Beben Benyamin, an Australian, and published this year in the journal Nature Genetics. Researchers have claimed to divine a genetic influence in such varied traits as gun ownership, voting preferences, homosexuality, job satisfaction, coffee consumption, rule enforcement and insomnia. Virtually wherever researchers have looked, they have found that identical twins’ test results are more similar than those of fraternal twins. The studies point to the influence of genes on almost every aspect of our being (a conclusion so sweeping that it indicates, to some scientists, only that the methodology must be fatally flawed). ‘‘Everything is heritable,’’ says Eric Turkheimer, a behavioral geneticist at the University of Virginia. ‘‘The more genetically related a pair of people are, the more similar they are on any other outcome of interest’’ — whether it be personality, TV watching or political leaning. ‘‘But this can be true without there being some kind of specific mechanism that is driving it, some version of a Huntington’s-­disease gene. It is based on the complex combined effects of an unaccountable number of genes.’’

Arguably the most intriguing branch of twins research involves a small and unusual class of research subjects: identical twins who were reared apart. Thomas Bouchard Jr., a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, began studying them in 1979, when he first learned of Jim and Jim, two Ohio men reunited that year at age 39. They not only looked remarkably similar, but had also vacationed on the same Florida beach, married women with the same first name, divorced those women and married second wives who also shared the same name, smoked the same brand of cigarette and built miniature furniture for fun. Similar in personality as well as in vocal intonation, they seemed to have been wholly formed from conception, impervious to the effects of parenting, siblings or geography. Bouchard went on to research more than 80 identical-­twin pairs reared apart, comparing them with identical twins reared together, fraternal twins reared together and fraternal twins reared apart. He found that in almost every instance, the identical twins, whether reared together or reared apart, were more similar to each other than their fraternal counterparts were for traits like personality and, more controversial, intelligence. One unexpected finding in his research suggested that the effect of a pair’s shared environment — say, their parents — had little bearing on personality. Genes and unique experiences — a semester abroad, an important friend — were more influential. …




Even non-golfers are interested in the drama surrounding this year’s Open. Brian Costa writes that Jordan Spieth might have a good chance to complete the third win in the grand slam of golf because he misses putts better than anyone else.

For an exceptional golfer, Jordan Spieth is surprisingly unspectacular. He doesn’t drive the ball especially far. He isn’t uncommonly accurate off the tee. At 21 years old, he won the first two majors of the year with all the panache of a mailman making stops along his route.

But there is one small element of his game that is unsurpassed in professional golf. And it might be the biggest reason to believe he can win this week’s British Open, a feat that would put him one major away from becoming the first golfer in modern history to complete a Grand Slam.

Nobody misses putts better than he does.

This is more of a compliment than it sounds. On average this year, when Spieth misses his first putt, the ball comes to rest just 23 inches from the hole. That is tied for the best mark on the PGA Tour.

From any distance on the green, Spieth can miss with a degree of precision that gives him the best odds of two-putting the hole. …

July 15, 2015

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David Harsanyi says it is odd every antagonist of Israel is happy with the Iran deal that has the ostensible purpose of protecting Israel.

Isn’t it odd how every pundit and politician who’s been antagonistic towards Israel is also super excited about an Iranian deal that’s allegedly going to help protect the Jewish State from the threat of nuclear Iran?

All the peacemongers love it.

“We are satisfied that the solution found is based on the principle of phasing and mutuality which our country has been consistently supporting at every stage of these complicated negotiations,” says Vlad Putin, the leader of the country that made Iranian nuclear power a possibility. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he’s confident his ally in Iran will now step up its efforts to back his “just causes” after the nuclear deal is wrapped up. And really, why wouldn’t it?

The backing of a war criminal doesn’t necessarily mean we have a bad deal. The “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” is a bad deal because it’s the first time the United States has offered extensive concessions to a nation that openly seeks to destabilize our interests. It’s the first time we will be offering an oppressive theocracy (one that still holds American hostages) hundreds of billions of dollars to menace our (former) allies via its proxies throughout the Middle East. For the first time in history a president has legitimatized an openly anti-American state with expansionist aims to help him expand political legacy at home.

We just handed Iran everything it wanted in exchange for a promise to keep the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation it already signed back in 1968. Good work. …

… Turns out everything those conspiracy theorists  were claiming about the president’s policy of generating conflict with Israel was probably right. One point of the deal—or, at the very least, the unintended outcome—is to dramatically alter the balance of power in Middle East. Who do you think Obama believes is a bigger threat to peace in the region? Likud or the Supreme Leader? Put it this way. The Obama administration has called Javad Zarif a patriot and Netanyahu a chickenshit. …




James Kirchick reviews Michael Oren’s new book.

… Today, we’ve come to the point where—as part of a doomed strategy against the Islamic State—the United States has formed a de facto military and diplomatic alliance with Iran, and is even sharing an airbase with Iran in Iraq. Last month, Obama told Israeli television that there’s no military option to stop the Iranian nuclear program, signaling to the Iranians that they have nothing to fear from the US Air Force while explicitly turning his back on statements he has been making to the contrary since he launched his campaign for the presidency.

It wasn’t long ago, Oren writes, that Obama was telling the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, that he’s “got Israel’s back” and “I don’t bluff” when it comes to threatening military action against those countries that threaten the Middle Eastern status quo. Many Israelis were willing to believe that, Oren says, until September 2013. For years, Oren told me, there was “acrid debate” in Israel about whether Jerusalem should preemptively strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, with well-respected figures like former Mossad chief Meir Dagan arguing publically against such a move. “That debate ended on one day,” however: September 4, 2013, when Obama not only failed to enforce his self-declared red line on Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people but denied ever having set one. While many Israelis still believe a solo strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities may be inadvisable, “no one is [any longer] saying that we don’t have to act because we can trust” the United States, according to Oren.

Merely for pointing out these facts, Oren has had to endure a series of withering personal attacks from the White House and its surrogates. “Instead of just trying to explain the policy, they’re trying to delegitimize me,” he says. But he sees this as standard operating procedure for an administration for which “ad hominem attacks are just a way of operating.” When a senior administration official called Netanyahu “chickenshit” and “a coward” last year, it wasn’t just playground antics, it was “dangerous for America,” Oren says, sending a signal to the world that purportedly close American allies can and will be treated with mocking and disdain should they stand in the way of the coming “grand bargain” with the ayatollahs. …




Deroy Murdock says it’s hard to keep up with this administration’s incompetence.

People ask me if I ever lack ideas for opinion pieces. Au contraire: Like a Malibu firefighter encircled by blazing brush, I can’t decide where to aim my hose. I spent most of Wednesday trying to pick which of that day’s Obama-fueled infernos to douse.

I awoke to the news that Obama has fallen way behind on his promise to train moderate Syrians to fight ISIS. After budgeting some $500 million to instruct and equip 3,000 anti-ISIS troops by year’s end, Obama, in fact, has unleashed 60 such combatants. That’s 2 percent down, 98 percent to go. But, hey, what’s the rush?

Even before the advent of ISIS, Obama originally touted this effort as a bulwark against the brutality of Bashar Assad, the dictator of Damascus. “We are particularly interested in making sure that we are mobilizing the moderate forces inside of Syria,” Obama declared at a presidential debate on October 22, 2012. Thirty-two months later, Obama’s moderate Syrian force boasts a whopping five dozen members. …

… Meanwhile, if you like Obamacare and Obamanet, you will love Obamahood. Having wrecked the medical industry and nationalized the Internet, Obama now wants Washington to dictate the socioeconomic and demographic makeup of America’s neighborhoods. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule is a 377-page federal regulation unveiled Wednesday. Federal ethnocrats now will dragoon local communities into adjusting their racial compositions, housing density, zoning, and other matters according to the whims of America’s masters on the Potomac.

Unable to focus on one executive-branch outrage from among the many that arose on Wednesday alone, I remain astonished at how much incompetence, corruption, and hyperactivity Obama can pump out in just 24 hours.




At least we have late night humor from Andrew Malcolm.

Conan: Chris Christie’s campaign slogan is “Telling it Like it Is.” In contrast to Hillary’s slogan, “Explaining Why This Is Not What It Looks Like.”

Meyers: TBS announced plans for a competition show where the winner becomes a weatherman on CNN. And the loser will also become a weatherman on CNN.

Fallon: In a recent interview, Vladimir Putin said the West has “no need to be afraid of Russia.” Although Putin said that as he was petting a tank.

July 14, 2015

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The Smithsonian Magazine ties two sixth century volcanic eruptions to the cooling weather in the middle of the century.

In the summer of A.D. 536, a mysterious cloud appeared over the Mediterranean basin. “The sun gave forth its light without brightness,” wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, “and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.” In the wake of the cloud’s appearance, local climate cooled for more than a decade. Crops failed, and there was widespread famine. From 541 to 542, a pandemic known as the Plague of Justinian swept through the Eastern Roman Empire.

Scientists had long suspected that the cause of all this misery might be a volcanic eruption, probably from Ilopango in El Salvador, which filled Earth’s atmosphere with ash. But now researchers say there were two eruptions—one in 535 or 536 in the northern hemisphere and another in 539 or 540 in the tropics—that kept temperatures in the north cool until 550.

The revelation comes from a new analysis that combines ice cores collected in Antarctica and Greenland with data from tree rings. It shows that the sixth-century tragedy is just one chapter in a long history of volcanic interference. According to the data, nearly all extreme summer cooling events in the northern hemisphere in the past 2,500 years can be traced to volcanoes. …




Mother Jones asks whether everything we know about disciplining children is wrong.

Leigh Robinson was out for a lunchtime walk one brisk day during the spring of 2013 when a call came from the principal at her school. Will, a third-grader with a history of acting up in class, was flipping out on the playground. He’d taken off his belt and was flailing it around and grunting. The recess staff was worried he might hurt someone. Robinson, who was Will’s educational aide, raced back to the schoolyard.

Will was “that kid.” Every school has a few of them: that kid who’s always getting into trouble, if not causing it. That kid who can’t stay in his seat and has angry outbursts and can make a teacher’s life hell. That kid the other kids blame for a recess tussle. Will knew he was that kid too. Ever since first grade, he’d been coming to school anxious, defensive, and braced for the next confrontation with a classmate or teacher.

The expression “school-to-prison pipeline” was coined to describe how America’s public schools fail kids like Will. A first-grader whose unruly behavior goes uncorrected can become the fifth-grader with multiple suspensions, the eighth-grader who self-medicates, the high school dropout, and the 17-year-old convict. Yet even though today’s teachers are trained to be sensitive to “social-emotional development” and schools are committed to mainstreaming children with cognitive or developmental issues into regular classrooms, those advances in psychology often go out the window once a difficult kid starts acting out. Teachers and administrators still rely overwhelmingly on outdated systems of reward and punishment, using everything from red-yellow-green cards, behavior charts, and prizes to suspensions and expulsions.

How we deal with the most challenging kids remains rooted in B.F. Skinner’s mid-20th-century philosophy that human behavior is determined by consequences and bad behavior must be punished. (Pavlov figured it out first, with dogs.) During the 2011-12 school year, the US Department of Education counted 130,000 expulsions and roughly 7 million suspensions among 49 million K-12 students—one for every seven kids. The most recent estimates suggest there are also a quarter-million instances of corporal punishment in US schools every year.

But consequences have consequences. Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom. …


… Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t?

That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it’s actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools. Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber’s sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene’s disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as though they were holy writ.

His model was honed in children’s psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. “We know if we keep doing what isn’t working for those kids, we lose them,” Greene told me. “Eventually there’s this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They’ve habituated to punishment.” …


… Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

“This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency,” says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at IndianaUniversity. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline.

If Greene’s approach is correct, then the educators who continue to argue over the appropriate balance of incentives and consequences may be debating the wrong thing entirely. After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn’t yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?
Will was still wielding the belt when Leigh Robinson arrived, winded, at the Central School playground. A tall, lean woman who keeps her long brown hair tied back in a ponytail, she conveys a sense of unhurried comfort. Central, which goes from pre-kindergarten through third grade, is one of a few hundred schools around the country giving Greene’s approach a test run—in this case with help from a $10,000 state anti-delinquency grant.

Will, who started first grade the year Central began implementing Greene’s program (known as Collaborative and Proactive Solutions, or CPS), was an active kid, bright and articulate, who loved to play outside. But he also struggled, far more than the typical six-year-old, to stay in his seat—or in the room. When he couldn’t find words for what was bothering him, he might swing his hands at classmates or resort to grunting and moaning and rolling on the floor. A psychologist diagnosed him with a nonverbal learning disorder, a condition that makes it hard to adapt to new situations, transition between settings, interpret social cues, and orient yourself in space and time. At the beginning of second grade, Central designated Robinson as his aide.

Out on the playground, she approached the boy reassuringly, like a trained hostage negotiator. “Do whatever you need with the belt,” she told him gently. “Just keep it away from people.” Slowly, Will began to calm down. They walked over to some woods near the school, and she let him throw rocks into a stream, scream, and yell until, at last, he burst into tears in her arms. Then they talked and came up with a plan. The next time he felt frustrated or overwhelmed, Will would tell another staffer that he needed his helper. If Robinson were off campus, they would get her on the phone for him. …


… Will had graduated from Central and outgrown most of his baby fat when I arrived for breakfast at his home one Saturday morning. As he and his brothers helped prepare apple pancakes and fruit salad, he took a break to show me “Antlandia,” a board game he created to showcase his knowledge of insects. Now in fifth grade, he’d made friends at his new school and was proudly riding the bus—something he couldn’t handle before.

Between bites, Will consented to describe his experiences with the teachers and staff at CentralSchool. “When they notice a kid that’s angry, they try to help. They ask what’s bothering them,” he said, spiky brown bangs covering his eyebrows as he looked down at his plate. His mom, Rachel Wakefield, told me later that CPS had trained Will to be able to talk about frustrating situations and advocate for himself. Now, she said, he actually had an easier time of it than his big brother. “It’s a really important skill as they enter into adolescence,” she said.

From Greene’s perspective, that’s the big win—not just to fix kids’ behavior problems, but to set them up for success on their own. Too many educators, he believes, fixate on a child’s problems outside of school walls—a turbulent home, a violent neighborhood—rather than focus on the difference the school can make. “Whatever he’s going home to, you can do the kid a heck of a lot of good six hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year,” Greene says. “We tie our hands behind our backs when we focus primarily on things about which we can do nothing.”




Panda Whale has a piece on the efficacy of fish oil.

For anyone wondering about whether to take a fish oil pill to improve your health, the Web site of the National Institutes of Health has some advice.

Yes. And no.

One page on the Web site endorses taking fish oil supplements, saying they are likely effective for heart disease, because they contain the “beneficial” fatty acids known as omega-3s.

But another page suggests that, in fact, the fish oil pills seem useless: “Omega-3s in supplement form have not been shown to protect against heart disease.

“I can see how you might think that there is some inconsistency,” Paul R. Thomas, a scientific consultant in NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements wrote in response to questions about the NIH pages.

Few issues better reflect the American confusion over diet. …

… American consumers have long had to sort through confusing contradictions over what food is healthful to eat. And the trouble lies partly in the realm of science, where researchers sometimes have developed diet advice that, despite weakness in the supporting evidence, has been urged on the public.

This year, for example, a federal advisory panel recommended withdrawing the government’s long-standing warning about consuming foods rich in cholesterol, decades after scientists began to argue that the warning was wrongheaded.

Likewise, the long-lived admonition that Americans are using too much salt is facing a strong challenge from research published in prominent medical journals.

The dispute over fish oil and its fatty acids known as omega-3s, meanwhile, is part of a long and confusing debate about the role of fats in the American diet. As far back as 1977, the U.S. Dietary Goals, a forerunner of the federal government’s influential U.S. Dietary Guidelines, called for Americans to eat more carbohydrates and eat less fat. That position is now widely regarded as misguided.

A closer look at the fish oil recommendation shows how health authorities first recommended fish oil despite mixed evidence, then let the recommendation stand even as studies suggesting their worthlessness mounted.

The result can be confusion. …

July 13, 2015

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NY Post says NYC might continue its assault on common sense.

Here’s an up-close look at a quality-of-life offense the City Council wants to decriminalize.

This urinating vagrant turned a busy stretch of Broadway into his own private bathroom yesterday – an offense that would result in a mere summons if Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and her pals get their way.

Wrapped in rags and a Mets blanket the hobo wandered into traffic at around 10:30 a.m. and relieved himself as cabs, cars and buses whizzed by between West 83rd and 84th streets on the Upper West Side.

He finished his business at a nearby garbage bin, then strolled back to the front of a Victoria’s Secret store at Broadway and 85th Street, where he camped out for the rest of the day.

Mark-Viverito in April announced plans to decriminalize public urination along with five other low-level offenses: biking on the sidewalk, public consumption of alcohol, being in a park after dark, failure to obey a park sign and jumping subway turnstiles.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton — who in the early ’90s implemented a “broken windows” approach to policing to dramatically cut crime — is against the new plan, saying such offenses lead to more serious crimes.




Speaking of cities, David Harsanyi says “sanctuary cities” are the worst kind of liberal lawlessness.

So let me get this straight: America is thrown into an overwrought political debate about the Confederate battle flag—a relic that has absolutely nothing to do with the shooting in Charleston—but is unwilling to engage in a conversation about the deliberate disregard of federal law that directly leads to the murder of at least one young woman?

That’s basically where we stand. After sending mixed signals, The Hill reports that Democrats will be making a concerted effort to defend San Francisco’s sanctuary laws and killing of Kathryn Steinle along the city’s famous waterfront.  Most Republicans will avoid the matter altogether for the sake of political expediency. Soon enough, I imagine, it’ll be xenophobic to bring it up at all.  One of these conversations, after all, is risk-free, jammed with self-satisfying preening about the right sort of evils. The other, morally complex—especially for the supporters of immigration reform (like myself)—and fraught with electoral consequences.

But let’s set aside immigration politics for a moment and consider a detail that’s often lost in this debate: Fact is, some people in America are free to ignore laws they don’t like, while others are not.  Hundreds of jurisdictions nullify federal immigration law, not because they question the constitutionality of law, but because they find those laws ideologically problematic and immoral.  And when I say “some” jurisdictions, I mean entirely liberal ones.

When Alabama made noises about refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the incident was, rightly, treated as attack on the rule of law. There is simply no way the administration will allow any state to work around centralized control once it’s established. No city in America will be ignoring gay marriage any more than they will be bypassing Environmental Protection Agency control, or making health-care insurance decisions that aren’t dictated by Obamacare (or retroactively whatever Democrats claim they meant in Obamacare), or welfare policy decisions that aren’t dictated by Washington, or housing decisions that undermine the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or education policy that directly conflicts with the wishes of the U.S. Department of Education. And so on. …



John Hinderaker posts on the administration’s efforts to grease the skids for the creation of those sanctuary cities.

In the wake of the murder of Kathryn Steinle–or, rather, the news coverage of her murder–Democrats are back-pedaling from their longstanding and consistent support for “sanctuary” cities. When asked about the issue, Hillary Clinton followed her usual policy: she lied.

Clinton chided law enforcement officials in an interview with CNN, saying the city was wrong to ignore an Immigration and Customs Enforcement request to hold Francisco Sanchez for federal authorities. Sanchez is accused of killing a young California woman along a pier last week.

“The city made a mistake, not to deport someone that the federal government strongly felt should be deported,” Clinton said. “So I have absolutely no support for a city that ignores the strong evidence that should be acted on.”

In fact, the Obama administration which Clinton served for four long years is responsible for destroying the system whereby federal authorities request that state agencies detain illegal immigrants. The relevant law is not at all ambiguous. If the feds ask a state agency to detain an illegal alien, the state authorities are required to do so:

Upon a determination by the Department to issue a detainer for an alien not otherwise detained by a criminal justice agency, such agency shall maintain custody of the alien for a period not to exceed 48 hours … in order to permit assumption of custody by the Department.

Rich Lowry explains how the Obama administration deliberately gutted its own legal authority to have illegal aliens detained: …




Scott Johnson posts on another lawless liberal.

After Dylann Roof murdered nine pastors and churchgoers in the course of Bible study in Charleston, President Obama couldn’t wait to use the occasion for his narrow political purposes. “Let’s be clear,” he said with urgency in his voice. “At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence … doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.” The implication, of course, was that additional gun control legislation was required but that his political opponents refused to see the light.

Now we learn in whose power it was to do something about it, and it wasn’t anyone Obama was talking about. The Washington Post reports: “Dylann Roof, who is accused of killing nine people at a church in South Carolina three weeks ago, was only able to purchase the gun used in the attack because of breakdowns in the FBI’s background-check system, FBI Director James B. Comey said Friday.” The White House, of course, declines to comment.

If there has ever been a smaller man or bigger jerk than Barack Obama holding the office of president, we need to know now.

July 12, 2015

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Mark Perry celebrates Thomas Sowell’s 85th birthday.

Steve Hayward pointed out recently that economist Thomas Sowell shares the same birthday as Frederic Bastiat – they were both born on June 30. To recognize Bastiat’s birthday I shared some of his quotes on CD earlier this week, and I’ll now do the same today for Thomas Sowell, who turned  85 yesterday. Here is Thomas Sowell’s webpage and here is his Wikipedia entry. Milton Friedman once said, “The word ‘genius’ is thrown around so much that it’s becoming meaningless, but nevertheless I think Tom Sowell is close to being one.” And because Thomas Sowell is such a prolific writer and covers so many economic topics, I’ll focus here on ten of my favorite Sowell quotes (and a video) on the topic of Obamacare:

1. From a 2013 Thomas Sowell’s column “An Old ‘New’ Program“:

Like so many things that seem new, ObamaCare is in many ways old wine in new bottles. What is older than the idea that some exalted elite know what is good for us better than we know ourselves? Obama uses the rhetoric of going “forward,” but he is in fact going backward to an age when despots told everybody what they had better do and better not do.

Yet another way in which ObamaCare is an old political story is that it began as supposedly a way to deal with the problem of a segment of the population — those without health insurance. But, instead of directly helping those particular people to get insurance, the “solution” was to expand the government’s power over everybody, including people who already had health insurance that they wanted to keep.

Since there has never been a society of human beings without at least some segment with some problem, this is a formula for a never-ending expansion of government power. …



Perry referred to his post on Bastiat so we include that here too. Pickerhead was fifteen when first discovering The Law by Bastiat. Growing up in the Northeast, and regularly reading the NY Times and the Saturday Review Of Literature, your host was well on his way to becoming an obnoxious liberal. But The Law’s argument about the nature of legalized plunder was, thankfully, too persuasive; “But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.” Here’s Perry introducing Frederic Bastiat; 

Tomorrow, June 30, marks the 214th anniversary of the birth of the great French economist Frédéric Bastiat (born June 30, 1801) whom economist Joseph Schumpeter called the “most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived.” Celebrating Bastiat’s birthday has become an annual tradition at CD, and below I present some of my favorite quotes from the great liberty-loving, influential French economist:

1. One of Bastiat’s most famous and important writings was “The Petition of the French Candlemakers,” which is such a clear and convincing satirical attack on trade protectionism that it often appears in textbooks on economics and international trade. Here’s an excerpt from that famous 1845 essay:

“We [French candlemakers] are suffering from the ruinous competition of a foreign rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival is none other than the sun.

We ask you to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull’s-eyes, deadlights, and blinds—in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses, to the detriment of the fair industries with which, we are proud to say, we have endowed the country, a country that cannot, without betraying ingratitude, abandon us today to so unequal a combat.” …

… Bastiat was truly an economic giant and deserves credit for his many significant and important intellectual contributions to economic thinking that are as relevant today as they were in France in the mid-1800s when Bastiat was writing, including: a) Bastiat was one of the first economists to warn us of the dangers of legal plunder, crony capitalism and trade protectionism, b) he helped us understand the importance of looking at both the unseen and delayed effects of legislation and regulation in addition to the immediate and visible effects, c) he was one of the most eloquent and articulate defenders of individual freedom and liberty who ever lived, and d) he was probably the strongest advocate for the consumer in human history. …




Walter Russell Mead with an essay on the BlackChurch’s contributions to our nation.

… But beyond all the yapping and the buzzing about gun control, the Confederate flag, and whether Dylann Roof was a terrorist or not, a very powerful truth emerged from the horror in Charleston: that the African-American church remains one of America’s great national blessings. Yet again the African American church in the United States bore steadfast witness to the boundless, the infinite, the compassionate love of God. When the families of the murdered, martyred saints told Dylann Roof that they forgave him, when they prayed that he in his darkness might somehow find the light and the love of God, they reminded us what heroism truly is, and they showed us all what it means to follow Jesus Christ.

Too often the worst people in the religious world dominate the headlines: hucksters and hustlers, money grubbing televangelists, preacher-politicians, judgmental hypocrites, and sanctimonious snake oil peddlers. But every now and then something happens to show us what Christianity really is, and when it does the world stops in awe. President Obama was right to make grace the focus of his riveting eulogy; grace is always amazing, and without it no person, no family, and no nation can stand.

Watching the news from Berlin, I was reminded yet again that if the United States can be said to be an exceptional nation, it is the black church that has helped to make us one. Beginning in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, blacks (often after suffering rejection by white churches) organized their own congregations and denominations. Black churches were the first serious social institutions that African Americans were free to shape and control in their own way, and the spiritual and cultural blessings that have come to Americans of all races and indeed to the whole world from the witness and work of the black church are greater than most of us have ever understood.

I could see a little bit of this in my hotel in the former East Berlin last month. Martin Luther King’s life and career made it that much harder for the East German police state to drive Christianity from the public square, and helped keep this center of Christian witness open. The tradition of non-violent protest that he did so much to shape would be crucial as Communism fell; not only in Germany but across central and eastern Europe, non-violent, peaceful protest played the key role in the democratic transitions that have brought freedom, prosperity, and peace to so many people in our time.

But it is America, more than any other country, that has been blessed by the African American church and the vibrant faith at its core. The black church gave generations of enslaved people spiritual comfort and a sense of self worth, comforting the afflicted and affirming the dignity of those the world held in contempt. Slavery was brutal and dehumanizing; the black church was a healing and civilizing presence. It was in the black church that African Americans developed political organizations, traditions of self government, experience managing their own affairs, and a sense of group solidarity and strength that helped these Americans rise and grow despite all the forces that sought to hold them down. …

July 9, 2015

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Jonathan Tobin has interesting ideas about who benefits from the endless Iran negotiations. 

In the hands of a president that was tough enough to mean what he said when he threatened to walk away from nuclear talks with Iran if it didn’t get what it wanted, a negotiating deadline would be an effective tool to obtain the West’s objectives. But over the course of the last two years, the Obama administration has realized that when a deadline loomed they were the only players in the diplomatic standoff that started to sweat. The Iranians quickly learned that faced with the prospect of President Obama’s cherished dream of a new détente with their regime, the West preferred concessions to walkouts and accordingly stiffened their stands on outstanding issues. That’s why the U.S. has treated every such recent deadline as a flexible rather than a rigid concept, a decision that was repeated when first the June 30 date for an end to the talks and then the July 7th date that was regarded as the true end point passed without either an agreement or the U.S. team packing their bags and leaving Vienna. Even many of the administration’s critics see this as not an altogether bad thing since more talking is to be preferred to another Western collapse. But with their hotel reservations now extended until Saturday, the question arises as to who will benefit from the seemingly endless Iran negotiations?

There are good reasons why everyone from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker to many Israelis seem unperturbed by the latest extension of the talks. They are sure that if President Obama thought either the June 30 or the July 7 dates were his last chance for signing an agreement with Iran, Tehran’s intransigence on a number of key points would have been rewarded with American surrenders. They think that because the last two years of negotiations with Iran have been largely characterized by a series of U.S. retreats on uranium enrichment, the retention of the regime’s nuclear infrastructure in the form of thousands of centrifuges, and the drafting of a deal that expired after ten years rather than one that created permanent restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program were largely the result of the administration’s panic. Faced with the choice between no deal and one that favored Iran, the president has always chosen the latter. …



Kevin Williamson writes on Greece.

The Greeks have their Bernie Sanders. What they need is their Chris Christie.

The Greek people spent part of the weekend in the streets celebrating their status as international deadbeat. They spent the rest of the weekend hoarding food, fuel, and medicine in preparation for the manmade disaster they have inflicted upon themselves.

Greek referendum voters overwhelmingly rejected bailout terms offered them by their European patrons. Greece’s leftist prime minister, Alexis Tsipras — think of him as Europe’s answer to Senator Sanders, but with enough discipline to be dangerous — insisted that a popular rejection of the bailout terms would put him in a stronger negotiating position. The European Central Bank (ECB) immediately began to disabuse the Greeks of that notion: The first order of ECB business on Monday was — if you’ll forgive me for eliding the financial gobbledygook — choosing a larger sledgehammer with which to jack up Greek financial institutions should Athens fail to sober up sufficiently for Tuesday’s emergency negotiations. …

… The presence of Greece in the Eurozone is the result of a lie: The Greeks pretended to get their deficits and debt under control, and the Europeans pretended to believe them. That was the first act. In the second act, after the advent of the current crisis, the Greeks pretended to enact fiscal reforms, and the Europeans pretended to believe them. …

… It is not as though Americans are immune to the substitution of temper tantrums for real budgets. Polls have shown that Americans understand, for example, the financial problems of Social Security, and that the program’s imbalances mean that there are essentially three possible remedies: raising taxes, cutting benefits, or some combination of both. Majorities of Americans oppose all three. Chris Christie is running for president as the entitlement-reform guy, rejecting the conventional wisdom about the so-called third rail of American politics: “They say, ‘Don’t touch it.’ We’re going to hug it.”

But will voters embrace such reform?

The situation in Greece illustrates the shocking extent to which citizens of advanced, high-income, democratic societies are willing to see themselves reduced in exchange for a small regular check from the government. It does not inspire confidence. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote a book called “Hard Choices,” has embraced the do-nothing agenda on entitlement reform. That wasn’t a hard choice. But there are hard choices to come, and we’ll either be choosers or we’ll be beggars.




More from John Fund.

… the situation in Greece is growing more dire. Greeks traveling abroad are seeing their credit cards refused, online purchases from sites like Amazon are restricted, many ATMs lack the cash to provide even the meager $66 a day allowance the Greek government is allowing its people and shortages of pharmaceutical drugs are being reported. If Tsipras thinks reforms are more “than ordinary citizens can stand,” how does he think they will handle the current transition of Greece to that of a lesser-developed country?




John Steele Gordon on college costs. 

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning, Senator Lamar Alexander argues that college is not too expensive for students to afford, what with Pell Grants, student loans, college tuition assistance of various kinds, etc. That’s true to some extent, but the fact remains that college is a whole lot more expensive than it used to be.

When I graduated from Vanderbilt in 1966, tuition was $1,100 a semester, or $2,200 a year. Using the CPI to convert to 2015 dollars, which would be a little over $16,000 in today’s money. But Senator Alexander reports that tuition at Vanderbilt today is $43,000, more than two-and-one-half times as much (and much that used to be included in tuition is now charged as separate fees, much like now having to pay to check luggage on airlines). That is true pretty much across the country. …




David Gerlernter, Yale prof, is quoted by Scott Johnson.

… “Students today are so ignorant that it’s hard to accept how ignorant they are. It’s hard to grasp that [the student] you’re talking to, who is bright, articulate, interested, doesn’t know who Beethoven was. Looking back at the history of the 20th Century [he] just sees a fog. Has [only] the vaguest idea of who Winston Churchill was or why he mattered. No image of Teddy Roosevelt. We have failed [them].”



Jonathan Tobin posts on Hillary’s interview on CNN. 

After months of shielding herself from the press via staged events and rope lines, Hillary Clinton finally sat down to talk with a member of the national media yesterday. But anyone thinking that a new more open, honest or humble Hillary would be unveiled in the interview with CNN’s Briana Keilar was bound to be disappointed. Much like her stilted performance back in March when she had a press conference to deal with questions about her email scandal, Clinton’s appearance did nothing to silence questions about either her trustworthiness or her political instincts. Her responses to even the softball questions lobbed into her by Keilar were not merely high-handed and clueless. They were also brazenly false and presented a portrait of an arrogant Hillary Clinton to the country that shows she believes herself to be entitled not only to the presidency but to be treated as if the normal rules of law and conduct don’t apply to her. While this shaky performance may not cause most members of her party to question her inevitable coronation as their presidential nominee in 2016, it should embolden both her Democratic challengers and potential Republican opponents to think she remains deeply vulnerable.

The first thing to be understood about this interview is that it was as favorable a setting as she could have hoped for. Rather than press Clinton to answer tough questions about her emails or the conflicts of interest that investigations of her family foundation have brought out into the open, Keilar largely let the former First Lady get away with murder. At no point did she follow up with pointed rejoinders seeking details or ask about Sidney Blumenthal’s involvement in both her family foundation and Libya policy. Nor did she challenge Clinton on her numerous false assertions, especially where it concerned the emails. Even on policy questions, Clinton was allowed to merely voice generalities rather than specifics and given free rein to take gratuitous pot shots at her potential rivals. …

… She has lived the last 22 years at the pinnacle of American public life lived inside the cocoon of Secret Service protection along with the trappings of the vast wealth she and her husband have accumulated through a supposed charity that operates more like a political slush fund. All this seems to have stripped her of both the common touch but also of any notion of public accountability. From her current frame of reference, the American people are simply not allowed to distrust her or even to question her ethics. She owes them no explanations or apologies even when caught in misbehavior. They must simply accept all criticisms of her as illegitimate.

Given Clinton’s enormous advantages in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, it’s not clear that even several more months of similarly dismal performances would be enough to allow a clearly implausible challenger like Bernie Sanders to beat her. But even her most ardent supporters must today be wondering why she is unable to bend even a little bit when it comes to showing a trace of humility or willingness to admit fault. They must know it all stems from a sense of entitlement that a better politician would be at pains to hide. For all of her natural gifts, Clinton’s demeanor and defensiveness screams vulnerability against a tough opponent. It remains to be seen whether someone so bereft of basic political skills can be elected president.

July 8, 2015

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The administration is sneaking up to a deal with Iran which Charles Krauthammer calls the worst agreement in U. S. diplomatic history. 

The devil is not in the details. It’s in the entire conception of the Iran deal, animated by President Obama’s fantastical belief that he, uniquely, could achieve detente with a fanatical Islamist regime whose foundational purpose is to cleanse the Middle East of the poisonous corruption of American power and influence.

In pursuit of his desire to make the Islamic Republic into an accepted, normalized “successful regional power,” Obama decided to take over the nuclear negotiations. At the time, Tehran was reeling — the rial plunging, inflation skyrocketing, the economy contracting — under a regime of international sanctions painstakingly constructed over a decade.

Then, instead of welcoming Congress’ attempt to tighten sanctions to increase the pressure on the mullahs, Obama began the negotiations by loosening sanctions, injecting billions into the Iranian economy (which began growing again in 2014) and conceding in advance an Iranian right to enrich uranium.

It’s been downhill ever since. Desperate for a legacy deal, Obama has played the supplicant, abandoning every red line his administration had declared essential to any acceptable deal. …




Washington Post Editors smell a rat too. 

IF IT is reached in the coming days, a nuclear deal with Iran will be, at best, an unsatisfying and risky compromise. Iran’s emergence as a threshold nuclear power, with the ability to produce a weapon quickly, will not be prevented; it will be postponed, by 10 to 15 years. In exchange, Tehran will reap hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief it can use to revive its economy and fund the wars it is waging around the Middle East.

Whether this flawed deal is sustainable will depend on a complex set of verification arrangements and provisions for restoring sanctions in the event of cheating. The schemes may or may not work; the history of the comparable nuclear accord with North Korea in the 1990s is not encouraging. The United States and its allies will have to be aggressive in countering the inevitable Iranian attempts to test the accord and willing to insist on consequences even if it means straining relations with friendly governments or imposing costs on Western companies.

That’s why a recent controversy over Iran’s compliance with the interim accord now governing its nuclear work is troubling. …




Andrew Malcolm writes on our ISIS policy.

The president of the United States on Monday allowed two media questions about ISIS, suggesting reporters should be grateful. “I didn’t even plan to do this,” Obama said. “You guys got two bonus questions.”

The questions Barack Obama permitted came after his prepared remarks during a Pentagon photo-op following an alleged meeting on the rampaging terror group 11 months after the president said he had no strategy and 10 months after he announced one that hasn’t seemed to accomplish much.

His performance was classic Obama — full of fudge words, misleading claims, unverifiable assertions and blaming others for mis-calculations. The president even pulled out his tired “Whack-a-Mole” image as an excuse for why the United States is not doing more to counter the bloody spread of ISIS affiliates now far beyond Iraq and Syria. And potentially the homeland.

Maybe you remember how the Nobel Peace Prize winner launched regime-change war on Libya when its dictator threatened to kill civilians? Now that ISIS is bravely executing thousands of bound prisoners, Obama is all about others doing the dirty work with American help. …

… Obviously, defeating ISIS will take time. “This will not be quick,” Obama told patient Americans still awaiting hundreds of thousands of shovel-ready stimulus jobs from 2010.




Jim Geraghty posts on the retirement system in Greece.

You’ve got money in a safe deposit box? Tough luck, the left-wing Greek government declares:

Greeks cannot withdraw cash left in safe deposit boxes at Greek banks as long as capital restrictions remain in place, a deputy finance minister told Greek television on Sunday.

This may seem harsh to the Greeks. But they willingly and knowingly tried to build a society where everyone was allowed to retire early – really early:

Early: “Trombone players and pastry chefs get to retire as early as 50 on grounds their work causes them late-career breathing problems. Hairdressers enjoy the same perk thanks to the dyes and other chemicals they rub into people’s hair.

Then there are masseurs at steam baths: They get an early out because prolonged exposure to all that heat and steam is deemed unhealthy.”

Really Early: “The Greek government has identified at least 580 job categories deemed to be hazardous enough to merit retiring early — at age 50 for women and 55 for men… The law includes dangerous jobs like coal mining and bomb disposal. But it also covers radio and television presenters, who are thought to be at risk from the bacteria on their microphones.”

Really, really early: “In the public sector, 7.91 percent of pensioners retire between the ages of 26 and 50, 23.64 percent between 51 and 55, and 43.53 percent between 56 and 61.” …




Thomas Sowell on slavery clichés.

… Today the moral horror of slavery is so widely condemned that it is hard to realize that there were thousands of years when slavery was practiced around the world by people of virtually every race. Even the leading moral and religious thinkers in different societies accepted slavery as just a fact of life.

No one wanted to be a slave. But their rejection of slavery as a fate for themselves in no way meant that they were unwilling to enslave others. It was just not an issue — until the 18th century, and then it became an issue only in Western civilization.

Neither Africans, Asians, Polynesians nor the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere saw anything wrong with slavery, even after small segments of British and American societies began to condemn slavery as morally wrong in the 18th century.

What was special about America was not that it had slavery, which existed all over the world, but that Americans were among the very few peoples who began to question the morality of holding human beings in bondage. That was not yet a majority view among Americans in the 18th century, but it was not even a serious minority view in non-Western societies at that time.

July 7, 2015

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The Pope again. Joel Kotkin with a long essay on the Green Pope.

Some future historian, searching for the origins of a second Middle Ages, might fix on the summer of 2015 as its starting point. Here occurred the marriage of seemingly irreconcilable world views—that of the Catholic Church and official science—into one new green faith.

As Pope Francis has embraced the direst notions of climate change, one Canadian commentator compared Francis’s bleak take on the environment, technology, and the market system to that of the Unabomber. “Doomsday predictions,” the Pope wrote in his recent encyclical “Laudato Si,” “can no longer be met with irony or disdain.”

With Francis’s pontifical blessing , the greens have now found a spiritual hook that goes beyond the familiar bastions of the academy, bureaucracy, and the media and reaches right into the homes and hearts of more than a billion practicing Catholics. No potential coalition of interests threatened by a seeming tsunami of regulation—from suburban homeowners and energy firms to Main Street businesses—can hope to easily resist this alliance of the unlikely.

Historical U-Turn?

There are of course historical parallels to this kind of game-changing alliance. In the late Roman Empire and then throughout the first Middle Ages, church ideology melded with aristocratic and kingly power to assure the rise of a feudal system. …


… What makes the Pope’s position so important—after all, the world is rejecting his views on such things as gay marriage and abortion—is how it jibes with the world view of some of  the secular world’s best-funded, influential, and powerful forces. In contrast to both Socialist and capitalist thought, both the Pope and the greens are suspicious about economic growth itself, and seem to regard material progress as aggression against the health of the planet.

The origins of this world view back to the ’40s. An influential group of scientists, planners, and top executives voiced concern about the impact of an exploding population on food stocks, raw materials, and the global political order. In 1948, environmental theorist William Vogt argued that population was outstripping resources and would lead to the mass starvation predicted in the early 19th century by Thomas Malthus.

The legacy of Malthus, himself a Protestant clergymen, dominates environmental thinking. As historian Edward Barbier notes, Malthusianism presumes that a culture or society lacks all “access to new sources of land and resources or is unable to innovate,” thus is “vulnerable to collapse.” In his seminal 1968 book, The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich predicted imminent mass starvation in much of the world and espoused draconian steps to limit fertility, which he saw being imposed by a “relatively small group” of enlightened individuals. He even raised the possibility of placing “sterilants” in the water supply and advocated tax policies that discouraged child-bearing.

Ehrlich’s dire predictions proved widely off the mark—food production soared, and starvation declined—but this appears not to have dissuaded the Church from embracing Ehrlich’s contemporary acolytes. …


… This confluence of private interest, public power and the clerical class is suggestive of a new feudal epoch. Bankrolled by inherited money, including from the oil-rich Rockefellers as well as Silicon Valley, the green alliance has already shown remarkable marketing savvy and media power to promote its agenda. Now that their approach is officially also the ideology of the world’s largest and most important church, discussion of climate change has become both secular and religious dogma at the same time. 

What we seem to have forgotten is the historic ability of our species—and particularly the urbanized portion of it—to adjust to change, and overcome obstacles while improving life for the residents. After all, the earliest cities of Mesopotamia and Egypt arose, in part, from a change in climate that turned marshes into solid land, which could then be used for intensive, irrigated agriculture.  

Similarly,  pollution and haze that covered most cities in the high income world—St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Dusseldorf, Osaka, Los Angeles—only a few decades ago has greatly improved, mostly through the introduction of new technology and, to some extent, deindustrialization. In recent decades, many waterways, dumping grounds for manufacturers since the onset of the industrial revolution and once considered hopelessly polluted, have come back to life.

This notion that people can indeed address the most serious environmental issues is critical. We should not take, as Francis does, every claim of the climate lobby, or follow their prescriptions without considerations of impacts on people or alternative ways to address these issues. As we have seen over the past few decades, many of the assertions of environmental lobbyists have turned out to be grossly exaggerated. …




Steve Hayward asks if it is the unabomber or the unapapa.

Anyone remember the good old days when you couldn’t tell the difference between the Unabomber’s manifesto “Industrial Society and Its Future” and Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance? There was even an online quiz you could flunk. (Though to remind everyone once again, both owed more to Heidegger.)

Well, it’s time to rerun that drill with Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment. Which is exactly what Colby Cosh does in Canada’s National Post: …




HNGN.com writes on the Pope’s environmental Rasputin. 

Pope Francis’ canticle, Laudato Si¸ finds its roots in a hymn written by St. Francis of Assisi. The hymn spoke of “Brothers” Sun and Fire, as well as “Sisters” Moon and Water, powerful metaphors that must’ve resonated deeply within the Pope and the saint. Curiously enough however, one of the Pope’s scientific advisors may take the figurative statements of the hymn a little too realistically.

Hans Schellnhuber, a self-professed atheist, is one of Pope Francis’ prominent scientific advisors. What makes him even more remarkable, apart from his disbelief in a universal, omnipotent deity, is the fact that his beliefs lie very close to nature, according to The Stream.

Schellnhuber’s beliefs are most accurately called Pantheism, …

July 6, 2015

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Hillary’s emails have received a lot of attention. Pickerhead is reminded of Hannah Arendt’s memorable phrase -”the banality of evil.” Evil is an over-reach, but the banality of the country’s leadership explains a lot of our current predicaments. Kimberley Strassel is first today with a look at Clinton’s emails.

Clinton scandals have a way of bumping and rolling along to a point where nobody can remember why there was any outrage to begin with. So in the interest of clarity, let’s take the latest news in the Hillary email escapade, and distill it into its basic pieces:

• Nothing Mrs. Clinton has said so far on the subject is correct. The Democratic presidential aspirant on March 10 held a press conference pitched as her first and last word on the revelation that she’d used a private email server while secretary of state. She told reporters that she’d turned over to the State Department “all my emails that could possibly be work-related.” And she insisted that she “did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.”

Not true and not true. The State Department has now admitted that it is aware of at least 15 work-related emails that Mrs. Clinton fully or partially withheld. We know this only because congressional Republicans, as part of their Benghazi probe, required longtime Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal to turn over his correspondence with her. It revealed work-related emails that had not been disclosed.

These don’t appear to be random oversights, but rather emails that Mrs. Clinton would likely have had an interest in keeping from the public. Most appear to be instances of her telling Mr. Blumenthal about State Department business, even though he was a private citizen and was advising a business seeking contracts from the Libyan government. Others appear to contain discussions that might undermine Mrs. Clinton’s or the administration’s public position on the Libyan conflict. …




Then Jennifer Rubin

The latest batch of Hillary Clinton e-mails disclosed by the State Department is perhaps the most interesting. This is not because there is a bombshell; we know she destroyed “personal” e-mails, so we are not likely to find any real nuggets in those she turned over. (In one humorous e-mail previously released, she asked whether the e-mail can be printed out “without identifiers.”) No, this tranche of e-mails is revealing because it shows Clinton to be lacking real authority, surrounded and protected by political hacks, filthy rich and obsessed with political power. In short, this is the real Hillary Clinton.

Observers of the Obama White House know that this president, to a greater extent than any in recent memory, creates and controls foreign policy himself and through close aides in the executive office. Clinton was on the periphery, lacking much influence (as she admits, she couldn’t move the president on Syria) and devoid of creative policy-making abilities. The e-mails reflect that. Comically, Clinton hears on the radio that there is a Cabinet meeting and e-mails to find out why she is not invited. (“I heard on the radio that there is a Cabinet mtg this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?”) She shows up at the White House to find another meeting canceled. She is the third wheel, the least important person in foreign policy making.

She is, however, immersed in a web of cronies and hacks. She solicits Sid Blumenthal for advice, and not just on Libya. …

… And then — this is the supposedly nonpolitical secretary of state whose portfolio is strictly foreign affairs — there is her fixation on news reports, interest in domestic politics and outreach to labor unions. The Wall Street Journal observes: “While serving as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was keenly attentive to domestic political issues—following the gay-rights debate, staying in touch with Democratic allies and keeping tabs on her public image—a batch of emails released by the State Department Tuesday shows. . . [She] received numerous updates from her department advisers about the changing politics of gay rights and activists’ frustration with the Obama administration. . . . The emails show Mrs. Clinton engaged with domestic political figures.” Why is this so significant? Aside from using the taxpayers’ provided office and staff to attend to her political aspirations, it is evident that while in office Clinton was planning ahead, greasing the wheels for her campaign. That puts her receipt after leaving the State Department of outlandish speaking fees and foundation receipts in a clear light: Both she and the donors correctly figured this was cash flowing to a future presidential candidate.

And the e-mails are interesting for what they don’t include. Where is Hillary Clinton the wonk? Hillary Clinton the master of policy? Maybe there will be more of that to come. But she comes across as many critics have long surmised — vain, small-minded and, above all, politically calculating in everything she does.




And in a few short paragraphs, Matthew Continetti sums it up.

… Judged by miles flown and plenary sessions convened, interviews given and appearances made, Hillary Clinton was one of the most “impactful,” indeed successful, secretaries of state ever. Judged by what actions she took or did not take, however, what policies she pursued or was told not to pursue, she was easily one of the worst—a disastrous “reset” with Russia, a campaign against Iran sanctions her administration later pretended to have supported, misguided and dangerous “outreach” to the Muslim Brotherhood, no serious action to end the Syrian Civil War, the rushed and half-handed and disastrous Libya intervention, the failure to renegotiate the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq that led to our full withdrawal at the end of 2011 and, in combination with the breakup of Syria, the rise of ISIS.

Her failures are hard to comprehend, actually—so great is their magnitude, so dismal the state of world order and American deterrence and prestige—it’s hard to face the fact that she is more likely than anyone to be the next president of the United States.

How does she do it, how is she able to flit above the incompetence and dissimulation and money-grubbing, from one benefit and tribute and resume-enhancing post to the next? Valuing political expediency above all surely helps. But there is also her ability to exploit the liberal dissociation of intention and result, her manner of so overwhelming liberals with statements of compassion and resolve and determination to combat inequity that they never end up paying attention to what she actually did with all that power and cash.

“We should create a day,” Clinton wrote to an aide while scheduling the Gelb interview. “Meeting w Webb about Burma, McCain/Lieberman/Graham about Af-Pak, etc. Meeting with Mitchell/Holbrooke etc.” Hillary Clinton creates her own days, planning with meticulous care her schedule of rehearsed interactions and focus-grouped poses in order to give the public the face she wants it to see at any moment. What made these latest emails shocking and powerful was the degree to which they revealed just how complicit the Washington establishment is in her shaping of perception, her fine-tuning of reputation and stature. What Clinton is seeking in the presidency is the opportunity to create many more days, for many more audiences, all with the purpose of furthering her and her family’s already obscene and unmerited wealth. …




Nothing left to do but laugh. Andy Malcolm has late night humor.

Fallon: Hillary Clinton signed a note for a nine-year-old boy the other day, explaining to his teacher that he was missing school to meet her. And this is nice. In exchange, the kid wrote Hillary a note saying his dog ate her emails.

Meyers: An English couple has become the world’s oldest newlyweds at the ages of 91 and 103. The couple is registered at Bed, Bath and the Great Beyond.

Conan: Donald Trump reaffirmed his stance against gay marriage. Trump said, “Marriage is between a rich guy and his much younger third wife.”

July 4, 2015

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The New Orleans statue of Robert E. Lee is threatened by Mitch Landrieu. The Hayride takes exception.

… Landrieu said that taking the Lee statue down would be done in pursuit of “unity,” which is laughable considering who Robert E. Lee actually was.

Yes, Lee fought for the Confederacy. If that’s all you know of the man you are ignorant of American history and unqualified to make decisions about preserving it. You are on the same level as the barbarian goons from ISIS who destroy monuments and historical artifacts not fitting their 7th-century interpretation of Islam, or the Taliban who obliterate the Buddhist statues at Bamiyan.

Or, in a slightly more modernist context, the Soviet-era apparatchiks busily airbrushing the images of the personae non grata from official photos during Stalin’s time.

Robert E. Lee is, for those who aren’t ignorant of the man and his story, a quite unifying figure. Lee could easily have gone out in a blaze of glory, or taken to the wilderness and fight on as a guerrilla insurgent commander piling up bodies and continuing the Civil War to almost endless slaughter. He did none of that, despite having his personal fortune taken away and his post-war prospects limited to penury and shame. He had little personal interest to be served by surrendering at Appomattox Courthouse, but that’s what he did. Why? Because for Lee, continuing the war when it was lost would have been morally wrong. And upon his surrender he pledged himself to reconciliation between North and South.

Reconciliation. Get it? As in, reunification?

Here’s a story illustrating that, unlike the cheap words we expect and are delivered from tawdry politicians like Mitch Landrieu, that pledge was backed by integrity, courage and action


… Lee acted against his personal interests out of a sense of duty and honor. When has Mitch Landrieu, who builds streetcar lines and gets tax breaks for real estate developers, so as to benefit his own bank-book, ever done the same?

America, and New Orleans, is in the deplorable shape it is currently in because our modern society produces Mitch Landrieus when we desperately need Robert E. Lees. No wonder the memories of great men are brought low by the petty hacks from whom we are forced to choose as our leaders.



John Fund reminds us of Reagan’s warning about history interpreted through political correctness.

… In his farewell address before he left office in 1989, Ronald Reagan presciently warned:

“We’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important — why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. . . . I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.”

In the more than quarter century since Reagan issued his warning, the situation in schools has only gotten worse. Luckily, popular books, films, and the Internet offer an alternative way of reaching young people and passing on a fuller appreciation of America. We’re no longer fighting just to get history into classrooms; we’re now fighting for the right to teach history in all its complexity, not merely the PC versions of it that please sanctimonious leftists. Free speech remains a reality only if its practice is allowed, and increasingly, more and more people are letting the censors and bullies have the only say.



Steve Hayward sees the decadence of the liberal mind in one sentence from Greece.

As the Greek economy continues its predictable slow motion collapse, one of the early WSJ account of the inevitable bank closures and capital controls imposed yesterday has one of the funniest sentences I’ve read in a long time, but which is also fully revealing of the decadence of the liberal mind:

‘ “How can something like this happen without prior warning?” asked Angeliki Psarianou, a 67-year-old retired public servant, who stood in the drizzle after arriving too late at one empty ATM in the Greek capital. ‘

No warning? Check.  Retired public servant?  Check.  But, but . . . how can we run out of other people’s money? We still have pension checks left. Hello, Detroit? I think we’ve found your next mayor.



Turning to happier subjects for our holiday, Dave Barry gets a rerun from the Miami Herald. 

This year, why not hold an old-fashioned Fourth of July Picnic?

Food poisoning is one good reason. After a few hours in the sun, ordinary potato salad can develop bacteria the size of raccoons. But don’t let the threat of agonizingly painful death prevent you from celebrating the birth of our nation, just as Americans have been doing ever since that historic first July Fourth when our Founding Fathers – George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Bob Dole and Tony Bennett – landed on Plymouth Rock.

Step one in planning your picnic is to decide on a menu. Martha Stewart has loads of innovative suggestions for unique, imaginative and tasty summer meals. So you can forget about her. …

… Dad should be in charge of the cooking, because only Dad, being a male of the masculine gender, has the mechanical “know-how” to operate a piece of technology as complex as a barbecue grill. …

… When the kids get tired of trying to make ice cream (allow about 25 seconds for this) it’s time to play some traditional July Fourth games. One of the most popular is the “sack race.” All you need is a bunch of old-fashioned burlap sacks, which you can obtain from the J. Peterman catalog for $227.50 apiece. Call the kids outside, have them line up on the lawn and give each one a sack to climb into; then shout “GO!” and watch the hilarious antics begin as, one by one, the kids sneak back indoors and resume trying to locate pornography on the Internet. …



Nautilus tells us fireworks makers have yet to find a formula for the color blue.

Mother Nature can be a handful when she wants to be,” says John Conkling, the former technical director of the American Pyrotechnics Association and a professor emeritus of chemistry at WashingtonCollege. Except he used a stronger, more colorful word than “handful.” When it comes to fireworks, “she just doesn’t want to give you that perfect red color or that perfect green color. You have to work for it.”

But she especially doesn’t want to give away her secret recipe for blue. To this day, a deep, vibrant blue is still beyond our reach, despite the fact that fireworks were invented more than a millennium ago. It’s the holy grail for pyrotechnic experts. …


And here’s a look at fireworks from the inside of the explosion; courtesy of a drone.