Monday, December 26, 2005

Giving Is Good, Being Pestered About It Is Not

I feel like I’ve been very blessed in this life. I don’t have all of the things and trappings of luxury, but I guess I don’t put that great of a priority on those things anyway. There are many things I would like, but don’t have. Still, my family and I have everything we really need plus a lot of other stuff as well, even if we do drive old cars and don’t wear the latest fashions.

It is partially for this reason that I feel a need to help the less fortunate. Considered objectively, that means the vast majority of other people on this planet. I’m not here to toot my horn about this. Jesus was clear about not liking that kind of thing (see here). I like to consider myself generous in the giving of time and solid resources, but I probably fall very short of C.S. Lewis’ measure of Christian behavior when he wrote, “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” (Mere Christianity, 1996, Touchstone, New York, p. 82)

I like to give time when possible, but I also give food, clothing, money, etc., because many needs simply cannot be met through donation of my time. Over the years I have donated to a broad variety of causes. Lately, however, I have been narrowing the number of causes to which I donate for several reasons.

For starters, I have discovered that it is very important to be fully aware of the nature of the recipient organization/cause. Who runs it? What do they really do – how do they spend the donations? How effective are they? What percentage of the donation actually gets to those in need? Is the aid being given truly helping achieve worthwhile results or is it promoting more social ills?

A few years back I was donating to an organization that I understood was helping to properly care for hiking trails. I was chagrined to later discover that most of its donations were actually spent lobbying politicians and agencies to implement anti-human environmental policies.

One of my pet peeves is the incessant in-your-face pandering for money, even by respectable organizations. I can’t say how thankful I am for caller-ID and the do-not-call listing. Years ago we decided that we would make no donation in response to telephone solicitation. We have politely informed many callers about this, asking that they send us a mailing so that we can consider their worthy cause in light of our family budget. Since many of these nice folks are telemarketers that get paid for getting a donation on the spot, we often never hear from these organizations again.

But it really bothers me when I am repeatedly hounded by organizations I have deemed to be worthy of my donations. Outside of our church or special situations, we usually donate to an organization once annually. It burns my hide, however, when organizations that do much good, like the American Red Cross haunt me with direct mailings up to 20 times throughout the year. How much of my donation do they waste asking me for more money?

It might be better to give anonymously, but that requires a lot of thought and work in our modern financial system. I’d have to get cash (which I usually don’t have in my wallet) and physically drop it off at some place that collects donations for the target organization. There would be no tax deduction, but it might be healthier for the spirit.

I’m afraid that I have been mostly taking the easy road. Organizations that make nuisances of themselves by repeatedly pestering me for funding are cut from my list. I don’t give less in total because the funds are then channeled to fiscally responsible organizations that are more circumspect in their requests for donations. There are even some worthwhile organizations that I know will never solicit from me directly, such as LDS Humanitarian Services.

I truly do want to help others that are less fortunate than me, but I want to make sure that what I do is actually helpful, and I don’t want to be endlessly harangued about it. The boards of charitable organizations should take the nuisance factor into consideration when planning their solicitation campaigns. Otherwise they will lose donors. I imagine that I’m not the only one that dislikes wasteful solicitation tactics enough to quit giving to an organization.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Should Republicans Act More Like Democrats?

In an earlier post I discussed Dick Armey’s call for Republicans to return to the basic principles of “lower taxes, less government and more freedom.” But Armey is from the Reagan era. Some Republicans are calling for outright abandonment of those principles, arguing that a party built on the ideology of limited government is ill suited to preside over the expansive government we actually have.

Ross Douthat (an associate editor at the Atlantic Monthly) and Reihan Salam (formerly a writer for the New Republic), writing in the Nov. 14 edition of the Weekly Standard have a provocative article entitled the Party of Sam’s Club, where they make such an argument.

Douthat and Salam begin by sounding like Democrats bashing Pres. Bush, but from an insider’s view. “President Bush's domestic policy looks less and less like a visionary twist on traditional conservatism, and more and more like an evolutionary dead end.” They run through a laundry list of what they see as failings of the President and the Congress. They then present their grand plan for breathing new life into the flagging party.

They base their ideas almost wholly on the results of polls. Remember that Dick Armey warned against governing by polls (here), saying, “You can't get your finger on the problem if you've got it in the wind.” Douthat and Salam say that polls show that among those that supported Bush in ’04, few of them are interested in limited government, preferring to use government as a tool to achieve their desires.

Douthat and Salam believe this empowers Republicans to “take the "big-government conservatism" vision that George W. Bush and Karl Rove have hinted at but failed to develop, and give it coherence and sustainability.” They then embark on a lengthy discussion of several programs they believe will steer the government behemoth toward conservative ends and ensure that the Republican Party remains firmly in control.

The suggested programs are breathtakingly socialistic. They include:
  • Paying mothers to have children and rear them at home.

  • “Market-friendly health care reform,” which would require everyone to have health insurance and would eliminate some of the bottlenecks in the existing system.

  • Subsidies to working class men to make “them more desirable marriage partners,” thereby keeping them off the welfare rolls and encouraging them to become responsible fathers.

  • Targeted tax cuts and targeted tax increases that would achieve conservative social engineering goals of more stable families.
Not all of the authors’ suggestions are bad. They make some very good points and are serious about addressing serious social issues. They correctly point out that the decline of the traditional family is a slow train wreck in the making. They offer suggestions for re-ensconcing the traditional family and promoting policies that would strengthen that unit of society. They conclude with this call:
“So today's Republican party should be in favor of helping recent immigrants get ahead and slowing the flow of illegal labor--in favor of providing a helping hand to the hard working poor and cutting subsidies to the idle and shiftless--in favor of a tax policy that favors the working class and the productive rich. Above all, it should be in favor of limited government, and in favor of using government's considerable power to shore up the institution that makes a limited government possible--the beleaguered but resilient American family.”
While that sounds all mom and apple pie, Douthat and Salam’s suggestions will stun many Republicans, especially those that lean Libertarian. Government seems like the least likely entity to do well at these tasks. Nor is it certain that the actions Douthat and Salam suggest will achieve their targeted goals. I’m not sure, for example, that making working class men wards of the state will make them feel more responsible or make them more desirable marriage partners. Nor am I sure that socialist programs will make for limited government.

Douthat and Salam argue that polls show, in essence, that Reagan’s principles are as dead as he is, so the party had better get with the program and do what polls show most people want. Somehow that sounds a lot like Aesop’s fable of the Man, the Boy and the Donkey. No matter what you do you can’t please everyone. But it goes beyond that to abandoning the party’s basic principles.

I would counter that what the polls actually show is a lack of adequate leadership on the party’s basic principles. Douthat and Salam call for “steal[ing] a page from the Democrats' playbook,” but I think Armey is correct, when he says, “When we act like us, we win. When we act like them, we lose.” Prior to Regan becoming president, while many in the GOP used the argument of limited government to bash the Democrats, few in the party power structure actually held it dear to their hearts. However, once Regan achieved control of the party and began to clearly articulate his vision, it was amazing how many were converted – not just within the party, but among the general populace.

Right now Republicans don’t have a strong leader preaching the gospel of limited government, so the ideology lies dormant among the masses. The party needs many of what Armey calls the “Young Turks” to stand up and stir things up. I argue that rather than becoming more like Democrats, Republicans need to become more like Republicans. I’m not arguing for a Reaganesque messiah, but for a return to basic party principles among the leadership and elected officials – and encouraging those officials that aren’t converted to move along. When these principles are articulated strongly and well, the people will respond.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fear of Success

Eminent neo-conservative writer Norman Podhoretz has written an article that seeks to expose the truth about our situation in Iraq.

Reflecting on the current anti-war conundrum, Podhoretz recalls the quintessential 1776 Thomas Paine essay that became the first in the American Crisis series. It was written in a season of immense panic about the state of the war. We have a similar panic occurring today, but there is a stark difference. “In that early stage of the Revolutionary War, there was sound reason to fear that the British would succeed in routing Washington's forces. In Iraq today, however, and in the Middle East as a whole, a successful outcome is staring us in the face.”

Podhoretz is puzzled by the “increasingly frenzied” anti-war rhetoric. He documents how the MSM coverage of the war stands in profound contrast to the actual state of affairs. He notes the clever ploy of brazen hostility against the military under the guise of feigning concern for the lives of American soldiers. He discusses the antiwar rhetoric in a fair amount of detail. His writing is actually fairly entertaining as well as enlightening.

Podhoretz takes each of the most favored anti-war arguments one by one, and without the filter sensational emotionalism reasons through each one to show that each is in reality a paper tiger. He includes the multiple mistakes that have been made in Iraq, but concludes that by any historical standard, these “amount to chump change,” and have not substantially prevented us from making historically unprecedented progress.

Citing the continual positive feedback from multiple close-range observers outside of the MSM, Podhoretz says that our nation building is going rather swimmingly, despite “the persistence of major problems” and the fact “that we still have a long way to go before Iraq becomes secure, stable and democratic.”

The dichotomy between the way things really are and the “increasingly desperate” reporting of the MSM causes Podhoretz to assert that the antiwar crowd is actually fearful of American success in Iraq. He coins the phrase “the Vietnam syndrome” to put a name to the military-detesting “religion” of the Left. He says that success in Iraq could deal a fatal blow to this religion. He argues that the increasing panic on the Left is because they can see the writing on the wall, and they hate the fact that military actions they despise are delivering “better things … than are dreamed of in their philosophy.”

As I read the article, I was reminded of a discussion I heard between Michael Medved and an articulate antiwar activist. Mr. Medved pinned the activist down on every single of the antiwar crowd’s favorite talking points, demonstrating that there was essentially nothing behind them. The activist had no substantive answer for any of the (strongly ignored) evidences of success in Iraq. The activist finally fell back on an extremely bigoted argument that essentially stated that the people of the Middle East are irredeemable – that even if they do vote democratically, it will be bad because they will select leaders not bearing our government’s stamp of approval.

Podhoretz concludes by calling on Americans to “take pride in the nobility of what the United States, at whose birth Tom Paine assisted, is now, more than 200 years later, battling to achieve in Iraq and, in the fullness of time, in the entire region of which Iraq is so crucial a part.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Make a deal with the devil and you're the junior partner

Dick Armey, who was a Republican congressional representative from Texas for 18 years and served as the House Majority Leader from 1995 to 2003, has written a scathing article aimed at his own party. To understand Armey’s focus, you have to remember that he was one of the major role-players in the Republican takeover of Congress and in the Contract With America, that aimed to seriously limit the growth of government. Armey is a strong believer in Ronald Reagan’s statement that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The main thesis of Armey’s article is, “Why are Republican leaders governing like Democrats?”

Armey cites three principles that he calls “Armey’s Axioms.” They are as follows:
  • Make a deal with the devil and you're the junior partner.

  • You can't get your finger on the problem if you've got it in the wind.

  • When we act like us, we win. When we act like them, we lose.
I have written previously about my disgust for the runaway spending habits of the current administration and Congress (see here – has links to other prior posts). Armey carries the argument further than the financial side of the equation, and discusses the importance of limiting government growth and government intrusion in our lives.

I have to admit that I have long appreciated Armey’s homely charm. When the whole Monica Lewinsky affair hit the fan, he responded to a reporter’s question about if he would resign if he were in President Clinton’s place by saying, “If I had been in the President's place, I would not have gotten the chance to resign. I would be lying in a pool of my own blood hearing Mrs. Armey standing over me saying 'How do you reload this d****d thing?'” (see here)

Armey’s first point is that when Republicans cut deals that go against the basic principles of “lower taxes, less government and more freedom that got them elected” they are making a deal with the devil. The result is that constituents everywhere are saying, “I can't tell a dime's worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats.”

Armey’s second point is that Republicans should govern according to their basic principles rather than adhering to poll numbers. He says that “good policy is good politics for Republicans,” but “when we let politics define our agenda, we get in trouble.” He cites the “embarrassing spectacles” of the recent highway bill and the Medicare expansion.

Armey understands why right leaning politicians somehow find it easy to end up leaning leftward.
“As the party of smaller government, Republicans will always have a more difficult job governing than Democrats do. Government naturally wants to expand. It is always easier for politicians when both you and your political base truly believe that there is a new government program to solve any problem, real or imagined. We will always have to work harder and be more entrepreneurial than our political opponents when it comes to implementing reforms.”
Armey’s native bluntness comes through as he discusses the Republican’s inability to pass meaningful Social Security reform. “I've never quite understood the bed-wetters' fears when it comes to personal retirement accounts. How could you possibly lose by saving future retirees--our children and grandchildren--from another broken government promise?”

Armey says that while the challenges ahead of congressional Republicans are great, they are not insurmountable. He believes the party’s underlying principles to be sound and cogent, while “the "ideas" of the left are bankrupt.” Of course, people on the left say the same thing about conservative ideas.

Armey’s final point is that unless Republicans align their behavior with their basic principles, voters will fire them next November. He points to the recent elections as a harbinger of that event, and asks, “What will happen to Republicans if … freedom-loving, grassroots activists don't show up for work next fall?” Hence, his warning that, “When we act like [liberals], we lose.”

Can Republicans pull out of their left-leaning funk (4+ years in the making) in time for next November’s elections? It will take the reintroduction of serious backbone and near-religious adherence to conservative principles. I’m not sure they have it in them.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Heretics Today

In 1633 Galileo was sentenced to life imprisonment for advocating the scientific theory of heliocentrism (the sun as the center of the Universe). This theory, which Copernicus inaugurated among medieval Europeans, was strongly opposed by the Catholic political establishment of the day. The official doctrine was geocentrism (the earth as the center of the Universe), although, a number of individuals in the establishment were open minded about heliocentrism.

A study of the legal and political events surrounding Galileo’s trial shows that the main reason for establishment opposition to helicentrism was the belief that it would diminish political power and authority. The actual scientific merits of the theory were never really an issue.

We now know that some of Galileo’s conclusions were flawed, even by the scientific standards of the day, but his observations made it impossible to support geocentrism. However, the establishment prohibited even the dissemination of Galileo’s observations, let alone his conclusions. The message to others was clear: don’t even think about challenging geocentrism.

This episode is often cited to support the idea of religious contempt for science. However, taken in a broader view, it is a classic example of suppression of competing thought by an establishment of power.

Fast forward almost four centuries. In our enlightened era, an establishment of power is doing everything possible to prevent serious debate of a particular theory accepted as scientific. Most of our schools are prohibited from even discussing certain observations, while the officially sanctioned doctrine is proclaimed to be unassailable fact. As in Galileo’s day, the establishment is less concerned about actual science than it is about losing power.

The firm entrenchment of Darwinist theory in our educational industrial complex is receiving some unwelcome competition from the heretical theory of Intelligent Design (called junk science in this link). The establishment’s opposition to questioning Darwinism smacks of the same stuff as the suppression of Galileo.

Tom Bethell points out here that the establishment’s main argument against Intelligent Design (ID) is that the theory is not scientifically verifiable. That is, there is no acceptable test currently available to determine whether it is true or false. But Bethell points out that supporters of Darwinism necessarily cut off the branch upon which they are sitting with this argument, because there is also no actual test available to determine whether Darwinism is true or false, either.
“Darwin's claim to fame was his discovery of a mechanism of evolution; he accepted "survival of the fittest" as a good summary of his natural-selection theory. But which ones are the fittest? The ones that survive. There is no criterion of fitness that is independent of survival. Whatever happens, it is the "fittest" that survive — by definition. This, just like intelligent design, is not a testable hypothesis. As the eminent philosopher of science Karl Popper said, after discussing this problem that natural selection cannot escape: "There is hardly any possibility of testing a theory as feeble as this." Popper was the first to propose falsification as the line of demarcation between theories that are scientific and those that are not; both intelligent design and natural selection fall by this standard.”
Scientist John P. Pratt takes a parallel vein here, where he discusses how public application of science has been twisted away from the actual scientific method. He says that a couple of lies have been very successfully perpetuated in our society. One is the secular myth that “[n]othing exists which cannot be observed.” The truth, of course, is that “science is the study of everything that can be observed, but true science makes no claim that it is the study of everything that exists.” Otherwise, we would have to conclude that atoms did not exist before they could be observed via a verifiable test.

Pratt says that those that use the shield of science to promote a secular or atheistic agenda use the sleight of hand trick of “focusing on the past and on the future, which are both areas beyond direct observation of the present, the realm of science.” This allows the “fabricat[ion] all sorts of complete nonsense about the origins of the universe, the solar system, the earth and all of the creatures that live on it. None of these theories can be tested, but that does not stop [them] from [being] proclaim[ed] as absolute truth.”

The National Center for Science Education represents the establishment view that Darwinism is an irrefutable fact. It has a humorous project called Project Steve, which attempts to show that scientists overwhelmingly believe that a Darwinist form of the theory of evolution is unquestionably true. Did you get that? They are counting scientists that *believe* that Darwinism is true. Perhaps they arrived at their conclusions by observing the scanty fossil record, but Hugh Nibley discusses here how easy it is to misinterpret the record and how established points of view influence conclusions. We have many examples in history of many people being wrong together while mutually supporting each other’s beliefs.

The fact is that there is *no one* on the face of the earth that can satisfactorily demonstrate macroevolution a la Darwin. There is no procedure currently in existence that can test the theory for success or failure. What we are teaching as solid truth in our schools is nothing more than the strong belief of people comprising the power structure of our education establishment. And exactly how is this basis superior to that of ID? Both systems require faith.

I’m not suggesting that we begin teaching ID in our schools. I am advocating that we take a serious, objective, rigorously scientific look at evolution as it is taught in our schools today and develop a rational policy without regard to the existing education power structure, the religion of secularism or any other religion. But we should not continue to disingenuously teach as scientific fact a theory that cannot be demonstrated as such.