Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Back off man, I'm a scientist

"We will restore science to its rightful place..."

When President Obama spoke those words in his Inaugural Address, he must have been hoping to get Dr. Peter Venkman to serve as his Science Czar. Venkman is a scientist's scientist: he can not only intimidate the small-minded, he also faces down total protonic reversal and usually gets the girl—all the while cracking up his research associates with a steady patter of wicked-funny commentary. And he was great in Ghostbusters. Seriously though, why not? Stephen Colbert testified—in character—to the 111th Congress.

If you have ever debated Global Warm—er, Climate Change with a friend, you know how quickly things end up pointing to one's favorite scientist or study (or maybe a book or movie). My own current faves are author Dr. Roy Spencer Ph.D, Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama and astrophysicist/mathematician Piers Corbyn, founder of publicly-traded Weather Action Network in London, England (who famously predicted this winter's snow in London). Both my guys are skeptical of man-made global warming.

You, however, may rely on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, who are believers in MMGW. Or you may even favor Bjorn Lomborg, of Copenhagen's Environmental Assessment Institute who claims to be in the middle. Really.

Regardless, here's my point: this particular debate is only one of many where Americans are being told to shut up and follow orders. In 2005 a Federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that "science had shown, proved, that all life, including human life, is the result of chance, that it is meaningless...", and thus disallowed schools from informing students of a theory proposing that humans were Intelligently Designed. Better that the kids learn to draw Piltdown Man and the Hockey Stick Graph.

It used to be that science was subject to experimental verification. A hypothesis had to be tested and shown repeatable before its premise could be deemed true. Somehow I don't think that's the scientific restoration President Obama was talking about. Unfortunately for him, neither the origin of human life on earth nor man-made global warming can be tested experimentally. They are of a scale and time-frame beyond the capability of the most ambitious longitudinal study. Anybody willing to accept government policies based on supposedly scientific proofs in these two areas may think they're following science, but in fact they're following Dr. Peter Venkman.

My modified Venkman Gambit: "Back off man, I'm a citizen. The debate is not over."

For a more scholarly discussion of
this topic, read Professor Angelo M.
Codevilla's American Spectator piece:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Okay, let's meet at 10:30 over at the free market

Oops. Turns out you can't find the free market on a map or in a phone book. Nobody established it or paced off its borders. It isn't a thing at all. The free market is just a phrase describing the way people interact with each other when exchanging goods and services. That is until the government gets in the way.

Whenever government "regulates" our interactions, we lose a little more freedom. And crucially, we lose a little more of the clarity we need to make good decisions about buying and selling. Alas, nothing on earth comes as close to a perpetual motion machine as an American legislator. Her output is so vast that printed Code of Federal Regulations is now the equivalent of 51 sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica: over 2 million pages long. And it doesn't even include decisions and policies of any of the various Federal Agencies like, say, the Internal Revenue Service or the Treasury Department.

Ever watch Barney Frank run a hearing on banking and mortgage lending? He throws around initials like OCC, OFHEO, OTS, FHA, FASB, FDIC, FFIEC, SEC and even some famous names like the Federal Reserve, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These are all agencies charged in some way with "regulating" the exchange of money for houses. 

So how, with nearly a dozen agencies and both houses of congress watch-dogging the housing and mortgage industry, did the housing debacle happen right under our noses?  "Lack of regulation" is the answer from Barney Frank and Chris Dodd—and stated with a straight face (pun intended). Please. 

I worked a couple of years at a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company, where I was paid very well to create page upon page of "compliance documentation" to satisfy the FDA and the DEA. The amount of regulation needed just to run a drug warehouse is truly mind-boggling.

I am not an anti-government hyper-libertarian. I believe in law enforcement—particularly in the areas of fraud, theft and breach of contract. But I am really tired of self-serving Big Government legislators telling me we need another batch of alphabet-soup agencies to sit on their thumbs until it's time to point their fingers at somebody else for screwing up yet again.

Whatever we have operating in the USA these days, it can hardly be called a free market.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Who drove the analogy into the ditch?

"...they drove the car into the ditch... now [Republicans] want the keys back. No. You can't drive."
 - Barack Obama, May 13, 2010

The President's illustration spawned all manner of expansions, rejoinders and revisions... "Republicans can ride along, but they have to sit in the back seat." and "If Bush drove us into the ditch, Obama is taking us over the cliff." and "Republicans also rolled it, totaled it and refused to repair it!"

Very quickly people from all corners of society drove this metaphor so hard and so far in so many different directions that it ran out of gas as a useful analogy. This doesn't mean it was a bad metaphor—on the contrary, the sheer volume of debate using the car/ditch scenario tells me this was a great word picture. People got it. 

Here's my lesson from the flame-out of Obama's little story: analogies have their limits. No matter how vivid a metaphor, illustration or parable may be...you can only take it so far. One of the most pervasive and longest-lasting tales in this arena must surely be WWJD.  

Did you know the full original title of Charles Sheldon's 1896 novel was "In His Steps, What Would Jesus Do?". If you've read the book, you know the premise is a small-town pastor challenging his congregation to not do anything for a whole year without first asking “what would Jesus do?” The book has sold over 30 million copies to become the 19th-ranked best-seller of all time. There was recently a major resurgence of this saying abbreviated onto plastic WWJD bracelets.

The idea of stopping to consider Jesus during our daily activities is never a bad thing. And when a simple concept like this is introduced to teenagers—who are just becoming responsible for making independent decisions—it is probably indispensable. But after a few years of living as a devoted Christ-follower, you will have peeled back the top layer of this simple maxim to understand that the question isn't really what Jesus would do, rather...if I am serious about my Christian faith here in 2010, what am I going to do?

This isn't just semantics. I mean, try this thought question: after he had cheated and then lied to cover it up, what would Jesus do? Come on, in some really crucial ways, Jesus was utterly different from you and me—and not just in his uncreated person or his sinless life. Jesus Christ had a singularly unique mission, which was based on his exalted position towering above the entire universe (which he created). 

Look, when Jesus saw somebody sick, he healed them with a touch. When Jesus saw hypocrisy in a place of worship, he kicked over the furniture. When somebody died, Jesus raised them from death. Are you doing those things?

I myself had driven into the metaphorical ditch. Jesus forgave me and restored me and gave me his Holy Spirit to comfort and keep me on the straight and narrow. The scripture reminds me that I now have the mind of Christ. So the non-metaphorical question really should be: "What Will Wayne Do?" 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Have you not cut YOUR spending?

Greece, Ireland and—to a lesser extent—the UK have just demonstrated to the world the inevitable fruits of running a modern social democracy. Living safely under the protective umbrella of the U.S. military since WWII, these countries have turned themselves into "nanny" states, promising to banish every last pea from beneath every last pillow. Plus they handed out lots and lots of new pillows. Alas, as Margaret Thatcher remarked about Europe's socializing instincts, "eventually you run out of other people's money."

And they finally have. No longer can these countries offer lavish pensions for truck drivers. No longer can they pay two-thirds of their children's college tuition. No longer can they bail their bankers out of moral hazards. And their citizens react to spending cuts exactly as expected from folks who feel entitled—they throw a fit.

But what about us here in the USA? Have you continued to spend unabated this past year? No. You've made real, concrete reductions in your disbursements—even if your income held steady. When great numbers of us—I dare say all of us—decide to tighten our belts due to conditions in the land, we are literally exercising common sense.

So what about our government? Why they've increased spending, of course. And I don't mean just the so-called "stimulus" of early 2009—two-thirds of which was transfer payments to rescue state and local governments from themselves—I refer to everyday, garden-variety federal departments like Agriculture and Energy.

My current favorite plan (CATO) would cut $1 trillion per year from the U.S. federal budget, which sounds pretty drastic until you realize even that won't yield a balanced budget. The co-chairs of Obama's  Deficit Commission called for cuts just half that size—but couldn't get their own commissioners to go along.  Still, I am confident Americans will not follow their European cousins off a cliff. We have time to avoid their fate by holding our politicians accountable to make deep cuts.

So here's my modest suggestion to save $100 billion in one fell swoop: finally get rid of Jimmy Carter's needless, intrusive and wasteful boondoggle—the U.S. Department of Education. We got along just fine for 204 years without it, and I feel certain parents in cities and states across the fruited plain are smart enough to teach their kids without any expensive "help" from Washington, DC.

Who's with me?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Those who stand for nothing fall for anything

I first heard the quote above in the late 1970s from a friend, the author/preacher Leonard Ravenhill. Unlike Alexander Hamilton, who first penned those words in a political context, Ravenhill was speaking about Biblical knowledge...and I got a firm grasp on Christian theology (Arminian) in my late teens and early twenties thanks to him and many other terrific authors and teachers.

But being young and swept up in the Jesus Movement, I paid scant attention to politics. Besides, I couldn't vote because we were living in a foreign country, and the Nixon-Ford-Carter era featured very little debate about political philosophy. And, perhaps most importantly, we didn't have children yet. So there I was,  politically adrift "like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind...double-minded and unstable." I recall watching a 1980 Jimmy Carter campaign ad on TV and actually wondering if it might be better to re-elect him rather than taking a chance on Reagan. 

Until I recognized and acknowledged my conservatism, I was among the 40% of folks in America who were "undecided" about the epic struggle between liberal statism and limited-government conservatism. But even after deciding I was conservative, I knew I needed to base my civic views on more than just gut-instincts. I was up against artfully-worded editorials in the New York Times, and smug articles in Harper's and The Atlantic...not to mention the urbane assertions of Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel on TV. 

Swimming against the tide required me to figure out why conservatism was right. I had to understand how my intuitive preference for lower taxes and my natural opposition to abortion fit into a systematic political philosophy. So I read a lot conservative books. The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek, The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Restoration by George Will, The Housing Boom and Bust by Thomas Sowell, Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg,  Meltdown by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin.

But by far the most important book I read was Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators by David Chilton--a rebuttal of Ron Sider's 1977 Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Chilton demonstrates in great detail why Statism is unbiblical and why it saps initiative, enslaves the poor and corrupts morality. I have never read a better, more scriptural explanation of how everything governments do beyond basic maintenance of law and order tends to corrode individual responsibility and societal well-being.

We live in a consequential time.  The post-WWII wealth built by the Greatest Generation is gone--and the phrase "full faith and credit of the United States" has become a John Stewart joke. Our governments have racked up a debt so high that the next straw on the camel's back could make the housing bust look like a picnic. America will surely have to pay the piper, but if our governments will humble themselves and turn from their spend-crazy ways, we may yet avoid a financial tsunami.

If you really think the $787 billion stimulus was too small; if you really think unemployment benefits are the best way to boost the economy; if you really think government confiscating more of your employer's income will cut the deficit; if you really think that envy- and class-based politics can uplift the downtrodden...then I urge you to honestly look for the roots of your beliefs to discover the system you are endorsing.

And even if you don't believe those things, my challenge to you is this: figure out where you stand and why. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Did TSA confiscate my Citre' Shine in vain?

In September 2006 I showed up at the Nashville airport packed exactly as I had when flying earlier that summer. Yes, I'd heard that 25 young Muslim men had just been arrested in the UK for plotting to use liquid explosives to blow up planes bound for America, but our life was very busy and I didn't think to check the TSA website prior to packing...I mean, who does?

Well. Losing a bottle of cheap Walgreens shampoo was no big deal, but the Citre' Shine hair gel by Schwartzkopf & Henkel really hurt. It's not cheap and it's not available locally. I had just purchased this bottle online--and it was full. It would've lasted me a year-and-a-half. Arrgh.

When I walked over to the big trash barrel, it too was full--and a TSA employee was hauling over a replacement barrel. She looked to be no happier than I was.

Did you know the TSA had banned cigarette-lighters? I was vaguely aware of it, but since I always keep my lighter in my golf bag--clearly not carry-on baggage--that ban wasn't on my radar. But wait--did you hear that the TSA has now lifted its ban on lighters? It's true. You can look it up.

And when you do, you'll see that in 2006 the TSA confiscated over 20 million lighters, with a peak of 39,000 in one day! And in second place? Knives. One-point-six million knives were confiscated in 2006. This was a full five years after 9/11 and yet the very object used to hijack the planes on that fateful day was still in the possession of 1.6 million Americans lining up to board commercial airliners. 

So here's what struck me: Americans had always carried knives onto airplanes. Before the 19 young Muslim men used knives on 9/11, no traveler on an American airliner had ever used a knife to hijack a plane. And, of course, they never blew up their shoes, or shampoo, or underwear either. 

TSA's 2006 scoreboard: 20 million lighters, 1.6 million knives, countless millions of bottles of water, of shampoo and hair-gel. So...how many terrorists did TSA catch that year? Zero. How many terrorists had they caught in 2002? Zero. 2003? 2004? 2005? Zero. Zero. Zero. Untold billions of our tax dollars have funded the TSA since its inception, but as of December 1st, 2010 the agency has never, ever caught a terrorist. Not one. Of course they're not looking for terrorists--they're looking for hair-gel. And they've gotten really good at it. 

But evidently not good enough. TSA just installed expensive full-body scanners nationwide to boost their annual take of knives and shampoo. And if you'd rather not be irradiated, they'll gladly fondle you from head-to-toe. Janet Napolitano must have a wager with Michael Chertoff that she can beat his record-setting 1.6 million annual knife harvest.

My modest suggestion: that the TSA scrutinize young foreign-born Muslim males--call it perpetrator profiling if you like. They could then dramatically cut down on time-consuming and humiliating screenings for 80 year-old Anna Nordquist from Bemidji, Minnesota or 3 year-old Olivia Collins from Tucumcari, New Mexico. And think of the hair-gel savings!