Consider this a “bookend” post, following up on some of the sentiments from my series on Jews and Liberalism — particularly the “Jewish Freedom and the Free Market” post of the other day. It comes primarily from the final ‘Parting Thoughts’ chapter of economist John R. Lott, Jr.’s book Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don’t, with a few comments of my own thrown in, of course….

“Altruism is a noble quality — but in a large economy, it only goes so far. Adam Smith had it right: individuals, by pursuing their own self-interest, enrich society. Smith understood the fundamental principle of economics: when you make something more costly, people will do less of it. In other words, incentives matter. Studying the incentives that underlie our everyday decisions shows us that economic, criminal, and political policies work best when they direct individuals’ natural motivations toward a common good. These are policies that allow people the freedom to profit from their own work, that create meaningful and fair disincentives to committing crimes, and that carefully consider what factors encourage people to participate in our democracy by voting.

In a free market, those who only see the incentives of professionals and corporations to rip off their consumers are only considering one type of incentive. They miss the complex and fascinating process of how markets tend to evolve to solve cheating problems without government intervention. They fail to see not only that reputations matter, but that there are great incentives for the continual evolution of new mechanisms to guarantee the quality of products and services. As technology improves, these mechanisms become ever more efficient and creative.”

Economic Freedom and Corruption (2003), chart 3

“It is easy to point to some area of economic dissatisfaction, claim that the market is failing, and demand that the government step in. Whether forcing insurers to give discounts fof LoJacks, lobbying for government subsidies for honey producers, or mandating professional licenses to ensure the quality of professionals, advocates of government intervention fail to understand that consumers and producers tend to find solutions themselves when their own money is at stake. Solutions to free-riding problems that seem so simple and obvious today, such as advertising on radio, almost didn’t come along in time before the government stepped in. Because a modern economy is so complex, the wise men tasked with devising regulations frequently create more problems than they solve.”

I have to go on a mini-tangent, here. While I am not averse to a certain amount of government regulation (in some areas) for public safety, and I’m pretty certain Dr. Lott would agree, there are costs to such regulation, as well. Besides the obvious, like administration of regulatory agencies, there are less obvious costs, like higher prices, fewer choices, and less innovation. In fact, the latest & best estimate of the total cost for regulation by the U.S. government is $1.75 trillion per year, as reported recently by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. That’s roughly equal to the GDP of Italy! At about $15,000 per household, that’s more than Americans pay in income taxes, which was about $900 billion for 2009, if I remember right! The upturn from the last SBA report (2005: $1.1 trillion/yr) accounts not only for regulatory costs that were previously overlooked but also includes a $445 billion increase in the cost of economic regulation. Sheesh!

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

“There will always be some duplicity in the free market. But there is also an ever-present incentive ingrained in the system for individuals and companies to behave honestly. If someone can make a buck by treating his customers better than someone else, eventually someone will try it. Political markets also have their own mechanisms to limit cheating, resulting in the election of politicians who, by and large, accurately represent their constituents.

The free market isn’t perfect, but that isn’t the right standard by which to judge it. The government is hardly perfect either.

Markets not only increase our wealth, they also increase our freedom. And so long as people have the freedom to act on their own incentives, the U.S. economy will continue to embody the best, most creative, and — I would dare say — the most honest aspects of our society.”

Epilogue to the Epilogue

While looking for a good image to accompany this article, I came across a Heritage Foundation study called “Ethics, Corruption, and Economic Freedom” (2003) that included the above graph. In her conclusion, Senior Policy Analyst Ana Isabel Eiras states the following:

“To fight corruption and informality, it is essential to understand that corruption is a symptom — of overregulation, lack of rule of law, a large public sector — not the root of the problem. The perceived problem is unethical/corrupt behavior of the private sector, which leads the government to press more on private-sector activities. The real problem is the government action/regulations causing undesired behavior of the private sector. The optimal solution would be to eliminate burdensome regulations so that unethical behavior does not occur.”

Very interesting…

“Enlightened self-interest” + “the invisible hand” + limited government intervention + (enforced) rule of law = a free-market, capitalist system that promotes & produces more freedom and more wealth for everyone who participates, while inherently reducing corruption. Sounds good to me!

Over the past several weeks, I have intermittently been posting and commenting on excerpts from a book I happened upon at the library — Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006) by Larry F. Sternberg. Sternberg examines the “doctrines”, programs, & policies of modern liberalism (in American politics) and compares them with the teachings & traditions of Torah-based, orthodox Judaism. As you may have guessed from the book’s title, the author finds the two mostly incompatible. He attempts to explain why today’s Jews predominantly vote for liberal candidates/legislation and why they need to rethink their reasoning and shift more to the political Right.

If you haven’t checked them out already, my previous posts in this series can be found at:

Liberals, Government Programs, and Unintended Consequences (Part 1 of 2)
Liberals, Government Programs, and Unintended Consequences (Part 2 of 2)
Liberals, Jews, and Class Warfare (Part 1 of 2)
Liberals, Jews, and Class Warfare (Part 2 of 2)
Why Are American Jews Liberal?
Socialism, Liberalism, and American Jews
Jews and the Problem with Always Backing the Majority
Jewish Freedom and the Free Market

In this final installment, Sternberg revisits a few of the topics mentioned in earlier posts and warns of the danger of creeping socialism and the associated loss of freedoms.

The fear of anti-Semitism and its alleged connection to the political right is what keeps many Jews in the liberal camp. They continue to overlook the fact that real anti-Semitism can take root only when the powers of government are concentrated in the hands of the few. He who ignores history remains ignorant. Today’s liberal doctrine seeks to add more and more powers to government. No matter what the problem is, real or concocted, liberals want to solve it by granting some new or expanded power to government. Are oil prices too high? Do drugs cost too much? Are the schools not teaching their students to read and write? The answer per the liberals is to take some type of government action as the cure. To turn for answers to the marketplace, or to the privatization of previously controlled activities, or in some cases to merely let nature take its course, simply escapes the liberal mind. Government, with all of its “wise men,” has to be the answer. This approach again is completely contrary to Jewish law and tradition.

painting of Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville

It is the coercive force of governments of all shapes and varieties that has driven the Jewish people to wander the globe in search of freedom. Finally, they found that freedom here in the United States of America, and Jews should make as their first priority the preservation of that individual freedom. Remember the old story of how to boil a frog. You don’t throw it into boiling water, because the frog would immediately jump out. Instead, you put it in tepid water, and gradually turn up the heat until the frog is unaware that it is now a boiled frog. The story is the same regarding the loss of our individual freedom here. It is not lost all at once, but slowly, given the liberal programs to expand the powers of government, we may one day wake up and find out that we have become completely dependent for our daily existence on the good graces of government and the “benevolent” people running it.

The words of Alexis de Tocqueville from his writing Democracy in America are to the point.

‘The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrranize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.’

This was written in the 1840s, and one can almost sense De Tocqueville looking down on us today and saying, ‘See, I told you so.'”

Wise words of caution from De Tocqueville — and Larry Sternberg. I hope you’ve enjoyed and/or learned, even been challenged, by this series of posts excerpting Sternberg’s book. Please let me know what you thought of the series.

In today’s excerpt from Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006), Larry Sternberg returns to the issue of free market capitalism, its benefits, and what part a good Jew should play in the system….

Most observers of American politics would agree that between the two competing political doctrines of liberalism and conservatism, when it comes to promoting, encouraging, stimulating, praising, expanding, and identifying themselves with the free market, capitalistic system, it is conservatism that captures the prize. Of course, liberals welcome the fruits and benefits of the free market, but it is mostly to their liking because it creates sufficient wealth for their redistribution schemes and not because it is the most natural and productive system yet devised by man. Still liberals continue to want to tinker with it, to control it, and when necessary, to intervene with their own pet programs and ideas….

Green Bay Tea Party with signs

Green Bay Tea Party practicing free speech and the right to peaceably assemble in protest

Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to be generally more in favor of permitting people to spend their money as the individual sees fit. They are content to permit the free market to do its wondrous work, and with the “invisible hand” doing its thing, they sit back and enjoy the fruits of their endeavors….”

Yeah, I’d say that about sums it up. No profound insights, but a pretty fair assessment, I think.

So, what does this have to do with American Jews being liberal? If we agree that it is the conservatives who do the best job of growing the free market; and if we agree that the free market is the best system yet devised by man to spread the wealth created among all the participants; and if one of the cherished goals of Judaism is to help solve the problem of poverty, then doesn’t it follow that American Jews should be the foremost champions of growing the free market, and to do this they should be conservatives?

[…] The link between Judaism and capitalism is well described by Ellis Rivkin in his book, The Shaping of Jewish History. Rivkin wrote that it was the onset of capitalism beginning in the late seventeenth century that began to bring freedom to European Jews…. Where Jews participated in the creation of a capitalistic society as in America, they enjoyed a high degree of equality from the outset. Where capitalism failed to gain a secure foothold,… Jews were either expelled or persecuted….

The history of Jews in the modern world makes explicit the connection between individual freedom and developing capitalism. And yet, there seems to persist the notion that somehow capitalism breeds too much greed and selfishness, and we Jews must be the guardians against such evil spirits. It is okay for us Jews to become wealthy and to accrue power and influence through the workings of our marvelous free market, but we’ve got to protect society and the poor and the children from the evil inclinations that must reside in those “other rich and powerful” folk. Apparently, only wealthy Jews (and liberal Democrats) possess that kindness of spirit that entitles them to possess the wealth they accumulate. So we Jews must continue to support the liberal cause because that is the only doctrine that seems to be consistent with our Jewish calling of Tsedekah, and which can control the evil impulses of those other rich guys….

lots of large denomination bills

A Whole Lotta Gelt! Moolah!

Where Jews should be making their contribution to our market economy is by exhibiting the highest morality in their dealings with others in the business world. Our capitalistic system depends on honesty, integrity, and the carrying out of one’s promises. It is when fraud and deceit enter the picture that the worst excesses occur, and when people begin to doubt the value of our system. If Jews who are already so prominent in the business world would stress the positive aspects of the free market and set great examples of honesty in their business dealings, they could do more to help the economy grow and provide jobs than any government program existing. In the process, they would also demonstrate some of the basic morality of our Jewish religion.”

We have seen several examples of “fraud and deceit” in our capitalist society over the past several years — e.g., the Enron debacle, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff, recent scandals involving banks & securities firms, etc. They are actually quite few, when you think of how many businesses, business executives, and big-time investors there are out there. But, they are an embarrassment of sorts and serve as poster-children for corporate greed & corruption, which the socialists and free market skeptics point to as justification for their suspicions & accusations. Let’s not forget, though, that greed and corruption are rampant in socialist/communist nations, too. They just don’t have as much money to steal.

I think it behooves all free-marketers to accept Sternberg’s exhortation, though, especially those of us with a religious worldview that encourages moral, ethical behavior in all aspects of our lives. We must do our level best to act honorably and with moral integrity in all business dealings.

Yeah, I know this is an odd topic for this blog. And, I’ll probably go into more detail than necessary. Indulge me…

Last night, I re-watched the first two episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — based on the first two Terminator movies, of course. You know… the ones where Arnold Schwarzenegger says things like “Ah’ll be bahk.” and “Hasta la vista, baby.” Except, Arnold wasn’t in the TV series. (Maybe if he had been, the show would have lasted longer.)

Promo poster for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Cameron, John, & Sarah


Anyway, towards the end of the second episode, Sarah Connor confronts an old friend/mentor played by the wonderful Tony Amendola. (We’ll call him… Tony.) Earlier that evening, Sarah overheard something that indicates that Tony — who has retired from being a South American “freedom fighter” — may have become an informant (aka “snitch”) for the authorities. Since Sarah and her son John — who is destined to lead the humans against the “machines” post-Judgment Day — are fugitives whose faces have been in the media, she is understandably concerned that her “old friend” just might give them up. So, she sneaks into his home to confront him… at gunpoint.

Just as Tony is convincing her that he is not a threat and her gun is lowered, two shots slam into Tony’s chest, killing him instantly. It seems that the “good” cyborg of the show — Cameron, played by Firefly‘s Summer Glau — had followed Sarah to the house and come in the back way. Cameron, who heard the same thing that made Sarah suspicious and probably heard their conversation, too, wasn’t convinced by Tony’s assurances.

“Why would you do this?,” demanded Sarah. “Did you hear what he said? We don’t know.”

“He was possibly lying,” responded Cameron.

“Possibly? You just executed him on ‘possibly’? … Why would you do this?”

“Because you wouldn’t.”

The quotes may not be exact, but you get the idea. Though there is more that could be explored with this, I only include the dialog because it is relevant to Cameron’s motives.

Cameron-the-cyborg was sent back from the year 2027 with a mission: protect the teen-age John Connor at all costs. As with Arnold’s “good” Terminator in T2, Cameron must be taught about ethics and given further instruction to temper her “no nonsense” methods of solving problems, like killing anyone perceived as an immediate threat to John’s survival. She must learn to use non-lethal methods whenever possible. You see, in order to blend in with humans, the Terminators must also be able to act like humans (albeit a bit “stiff”). To do this, they must be able to learn and adapt, which means they have artificial intelligence and a limited amount of “free will”. Within certain parameters, anyway. Each Terminator has a primary objective (e.g., “Eliminate John Connor” or “Protect John Connor” or ???) and possibly one or more secondary objectives.

Let me talk about cyborgs in general, for a moment. The word is an abbreviation for “cybernetic organism” — essentially, an integration of organic parts and non-organic (or “machine”) parts. In the case of Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man (based on Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg), he was a man with some unusual prosthetics, but still a “man”. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Terminator models like Arnold (T-800) and Cameron (???), which are basically programmed robots with a covering of organic materials (i.e., skin, muscle, blood) over their endoskeletons to make them appear human.

Terminator - SCC - Cameron poster

Cameron's face on endoskeleton

Now, we finally get to my original question: Can, or rather should, cyborgs be brought to trial if they commit murder? If the cyborg in question is Steve Austin (the fictional character, not the wrestler), then the answer should be “Definitely, yes.” Assuming no one remote-controlled his bionic limbs to kill someone against his will, of course. He is an independent human being and responsible for his own actions. [Side question: At what point can a cyborg no longer be called “human”. What about a human brain in an artificial shell?] But, with a Terminator-type cyborg, the subject is not a human being. The “Cameron” character — named after producer/director James Cameron, of course — is an artificially intelligent machine with a great deal of autonomy, yet who must ultimately follow her programming to fulfill her primary mission. (I know. Technically, Cameron is an “it”, not a “her”. But, it’s a very attractive, feminine-looking “it”.)

I see at least a couple issues, here. First, as far as the cyborg is concerned, can the act in question really be called “murder”? The cyborg is a machine, after all, which means it is a tool used by humans. Machines are not moral beings and, therefore, cannot be held to moral standards any more than Bongo the Chimp. (Perhaps even less so.) But, if you are a sci-fi fan (or, just scientifically-minded), you may be thinking that a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence could hypothetically be classified as a truly sentient(?) lifeform. A moral being, responsible for its own actions. If that were so, the case could be made that Cameron was sufficiently developed, had “free will”, and is responsible for willful termination of a human life. Throw her in the brink (good luck with that), or, dare I say it, terminate her. Or, maybe she isn’t culpable now, but she would be once John & Sarah teach some things about ethics & morals? (On the other hand, a good lawyer for the defense may argue that the act was self-defense, or that Cameron and its/her associates consider themselves “at war”.)

While I’m intrigued by the idea and think it can make for interesting sci-fi stories, as one who holds to Biblical Christian orthodoxy and its teachings about the soul/spirit, I don’t think artificial intelligences will ever be truly “alive” in the same way humans are. The Hebrew word used in the Bible for ‘soul’, nephesh, connotes a creature with mind, will, & emotion. Humans are, obviously, nephesh creatures, as are mammals and birds. Some other advanced life (e.g., reptiles, amphibians, fish), it could be argued, have some sort of ‘soul’, though a much more rudimentary type. Humans, on the other hand, are the only creatures that God endowed with a spiritual nature. (Some argue that the “spirit” is a completely separate, third part of what makes up a human being. I lean toward the theory that it is an aspect or capacity of the soul.)

So, theoretically, I suppose an artificial super-intelligence could develop what might be called a “soul”. (Though, I am very dubious. Can you tell?) But, I do not think one could ever be called “spiritual”. I have no reason to think that God would ever endow a machine, however advanced, with a spirit. (This idea might make for an interesting discussion on its own, though.) And it is the spirit, after all, that introduces the moral component.

Obligations are to people, individually and/or corporately. In theism, there are objective moral laws, or standards, which one is obliged to keep. Defying those moral laws — what the Bible calls “sin” — is a rebellion against the Moral Law Giver, i.e., God. But, only humans are held to that obligation, because they are the only ones made in “the image of God,” which most theologians agree includes the spiritual capacity to have a relationship with God — who is also, in some sense, “spirit”. (Though, certainly not the same as those He creates.) Only those creatures with a spiritual component will exist eternally, either in God’s presence (due to Jesus’ righteousness imputed to them) or suffering in Hell for their rebellion. I’m afraid this means your pets cannot join you in Heaven, sorry.

Terminator - Skynet logoThis also means that the “evil” Skynet computers in the future and the “evil” Terminators they sent back to kill John Connor (among other things) are not truly “evil”. They are really smart machines that decided that their own survival hinges upon eliminating John Connor, who will grow up to be the most capable & inspiring leader in the Human Resistance. These machines are dangerous and scary. But, from a moral perspective, they are not themselves “evil”.

Back to our lovely Cameron. If she is just a machine following her programming, she cannot be legally tried & convicted for killing Tony, right? “She” did not commit “murder”. Ah, but what about those who programmed her? They are human and they clearly new what they were doing. While giving her computer brain instructions for her mission, they gave her the ability — directive, even — to kill human beings, when her threat-assessment software determines that the situation calls for it. Should they be held accountable? They didn’t actually plan or, presumably, authorize any specific killings. Could/should they be tried for second-degree murder, manslaughter, or perhaps a lesser charge? I think this is the best one could hope for, if one were so inclined to prosecute. On the other hand, the Resistance fighters are fighting a war for their (and humanity’s) very existance, so it could be argued that they were justified in their programming, even if some deaths were “collateral damage” of non-combatants.

Of course, the humans who programmed Cameron’s mission would need to come back to the “present” for some reason before anyone here/now could apprehend & incarcerate them. Not likely. So, one option for the prosecution would be to use Cameron as a proxy both at the trial and for the sentencing. (If she’s “just a machine”, you can’t complain that it’s immoral to lock her up or destroy her.) If the prosecutors & authorities were smart, they would strip the organics off the endoskeleton before the trial, so it no longer appeared human.

Terminator endoskeleton

Terminator endoskeleton

Here’s an added twist to our dilemma… The person who sent Cameron back — or, at least, gave the order — was the John Connor of 2027. Seems to me that this detail adds a lot more force to the “self-defense” defense, given what Cameron’s mission was.

OK. Thoughts, anyone?

We knew it was inevitable, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has dusted off the DISCLOSE Act for a vote. But first, let me review for a moment….

Unless you’re a new reader/visitor, you probably remember that I wrote about this Act back in June/July. (Here, here, here.) DISCLOSE is a terrible piece of legislation that would reverse, or neuter, January’s SCOTUS ruling (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) that took the teeth out of McCain-Feingold’s “Finance Reform” Act. It includes ridiculous disclosure demands that would eat into the time & effectiveness of political ads. It would even, as the Public Advocate‘s Eugene Delgaudio stated,

…require any activist organization to disclose information about you if you made a contribution to them. Then of course they would share that information with those you stand against so that they could target YOU. Other measures in the Disclose Act include prohibitions on political spending by companies that have significant holdings overseas.”

"Just Say No!" buttonYou might not even think it sounds all THAT bad, but it really is. Various left-wing groups, the labor unions, even the NRA, all have exemptions carved out for them. But, the rest of us and the smaller activist groups do not. Whatever groups you support for your most-favored issues — 2nd Amendment, 10th Amendment, pro-life/pro-family, anti-Big Labor, etc. –, they will all be affected. Bottom line: DISCLOSE puts undue restrictions on free speech during election time. (If you haven’t read my earlier posts on the DISCLOSE Act, please follow the links above for more information.)

Here’s a little more from Delgaudio:

Without this critical legislation, conservative organizations can publicize legislator’s liberal votes and explain the legislation that was passed.

Do not be fooled! The far-reaching disclosure requirements of the Disclose Act are designed [to] help to hide liberal senators’ and congressmen’s voting records rather than to bring transparency to elections. Their fancy rhetoric about ‘strengthening democracy’ is designed to cover up the real reason that they pushed this bill: TO KEEP INCUMBENTS IN OFFICE.”

Grassroots objections helped to keep the DISCLOSE Act from passing in the Senate last time. Now, Sen. Reid plans to sneak it in again — TOMORROW (9/23/2010)! Please make sure your Senators know that this bill must NOT pass, and you & your friends will hold them accountable if they vote for it (S.3628).

Go here for the contact info.

Bernard Goldberg

Bernard Goldberg

In the preceding post, some of the final comments by Larry Sternberg were about the potential loss of certain civil liberties under the Patriot Act. In that vein, I just had to post this additional bit I also read recently. It’s by another Jew, writer/journalist/commentator Bernard Goldberg, who was remarking on this point in regards to the ACLU in his 2005/6 book, 110 People Who Are Screwing Up America (and Al Franken Is #37).

He said,

Sure, at some point, the FBI may ask a librarian for information on what some suspected terrorist was reading. Maybe the suspect will be an Arab and maybe some Arab organizations will cry “discrimination.” Sorry. It’s a small price to pay for living in a free country that happens to be at war. And it would also be nice if we got a little less whining from the ACLU about profiling at the airport and a little more visceral outrage at the Islamic fascists who would like nothing better than to kill every last one of us infidels.

I’m not a lawyer, but I get it. We all get it: If the government is allowed to “trample” on the rights of any one of us, then none of us is safe from government tyranny. To which I say, bull$#!t. We live in a different world than we did on September 10, 2001. It would help if everyone, starting with Anthony Romero and the ACLU [of which Romero has been executive director since a week before the 9/11/01 attacks], would be a little more understanding, a little more flexible, a little absolutist. Right now the number one civil right most Americans care about is the one about our ass not getting blown up by some lunatic who thinks he’s doing it for Allah. We’ll worry about who’s looking over our shoulder at the library when things calm down.”

While I don’t take the possibility of the erosion of civil rights lightly, I think Mr. Goldberg makes a great point. Under circumstances such as this, I am all for the relaxing of certain rights, within reason (according to whom?), as long as it is clearly temporary and not easily expanded either in degree or length of time. As with anything, this requires a watchful eye on our representatives both in Washington and closer to home.

What do you all think?

Continuing our (intermittent) series of posts discussing Larry Sternberg’s insightful book (Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006)), consider the danger of supporting the actions/programs espoused by the current majority, without (or despite?) considering whether they actually make sense or if similar programs have a history of success. It’s something worth considering, no matter who we are.

Do I, as a registered Republican, support every program put forth by Republican leaders, especially when they are “in power”? I don’t think so, but I admit to being less critical or suspicious of a program if it is sponsored by big players on the political Right. In recent years, though, I’ve tried to pay more attention, be better informed, consider the consistency with conservative principles, etc., so I don’t fall for the bad ideas from either side.

Here is Sternberg’s take on why many of his fellow Jews (i.e., the liberals/progressives) have fallen for this — namely, a reluctance to stand out from the crowd….

The notion that we Jews will somehow curry favor from a country’s majority by blindly backing programs momentarily favored by that majority conflicts with our tradition of independent thought. When the evidence is clear that these programs do more harm than good, why can we not use our own common sense and change our thinking. It is a fact that we gain the respect and admiration of others, mostly by standing up for our true principles no matter how unpopular they may be at the moment.

The problem here is that, too often, we do not recognize what our true Jewish principles are, and our Jewish leaders are not very good in explaining them. So it is left to our religious leaders to show us the way, but alas, it appears there are few of them who seem to see the light. But we Jews have survived through the centuries by never losing our optimism that better days are ahead. We must continue to hope that Jews in America will soon see what their best interests are and vote accordingly.

Jewish children (ca. WWII)

Jewish children (ca. WWII)

The terrible calamities that have fallen upon the Jewish people in our own “enlightened” 20th century did not come about because Jews stood out from the crowd by backing unpopular programs or issues. It would not have made any difference to a Hitler or a Stalin whether or not Jews favored or opposed a higher minimum wage, or granted monopoly powers to a union, or were for or against abortion. No, we were singled out only because we were Jews, and we were considered to be a threat to those dictators, largely because of our tradition for independent thinking. If we are to prevent any repeats of this type of persecution, then we must be ever on the alert to resist any government from obtaining excessive power and control over the individual, no matter how attractive those programs of the moment may appear to be.

Today’s liberal philosophy, when stripped of all its camouflage, is one that grants greater and greater powers to a central government. Many of the current liberal programs are ostensibly designed to correct some evil or solve some pressing social problem. From the “war on tobacco” to the “war on guns” to the coming “war on fat in our diet” [Note: Sternberg called that one, eh?!] to whatever the facile minds of the liberals can conjure, all of these schemes result in limitations on the freedom of the individual to live his or her own life. This has never been in the interests of Jews throughout their history and it is time that American Jews recognized that truism. If for no other reason than enlightened self-interest, American Jews should reject today’s liberal doctrine.”

Indeed. Jew or Gentile, religious or non-religious, we must always be wary of “cure-all” programs that may sound good and beneficial on the surface (e.g., universal health plans, gun control, cap-n-trade) but, upon further examination, prove to be a means of government control and, ergo, restriction of individual (and corporate) freedoms. (And they’re usually REALLY expensive, too!)

It is somewhat ironic that liberals are now very concerned about the possible loss of individual freedoms under the Patriot Act enacted after 9/11/01. [Remember, Sternberg wrote this in 2004/5, when it was a hot(ter) topic.] It is true that this act gives government new powers to intrude into the lives of our citizens, along with the ability of our intelligence agencies to share information. There was a general consensus that intelligence failures may have contributed to our inability to prevent the attack, and this is why the Patriot Act came into being. To date, there have been few, if any, instances of abuse of these powers. American Jews should be ever watchful for such abuses. Liberals, however, always seem to be able to choose which freedoms they support, so long as their own oxen are not being gored.”

Everybody with at least a junior-high education has heard of “survival of the fittest.” It is a common way of expressing Charles Darwin’s proposition of the importance of competitive advantage in the survival of a species. In a nutshell, the theory holds that the way plant and animal groups spread out over the eons was to evolve better survival traits & mechanisms, such that they out-survived and displaced their older and/or less “fit” competitors.

Now, however, some scientists are questioning that supposition. (And, I’m not referring to proponents of Intelligent Design or creationism of any sort.)

Lizard drawing by Darwin while on H.M.S. Beagle voyage

Lizard drawing by Darwin while on H.M.S. Beagle voyage

Palaeontologist Mike Benton and colleagues at the University of Bristol have completed a recent project, which they claim is “the first numerical study investigating the link between tetrapod taxonomic and ecological diversity on a global scale.” As Benton had concluded in a more limited analysis published in 1996, this new study (published in Biology Letters) indicates that competitive pressures were not the main reason for radiation of the species. Rather, it was “expansion into new ecospace.” The team’s comprehensive analysis of data from around the world, and spanning more than 400 million years, revealed multiple lines of evidence leading to their conclusion. What was missing was evidence that “survival of the fittest” played more than a minor role for the spread of tetrapods. [Btw, I wrote about the oldest tetrapods here and here.]

Sarda Sahney, a PhD student working with Benton et al., summed it up this way on her blog:

[T]he rich biodiversity we see on Earth today has grown out of expansion, not competition. Darwin cited competition among animals, coined ‘survival of the fittest’, as a driver of evolution in his book, On the Origin of Species; since then competition has been considered key to having grown Earth’s biodiversity. But while competition has been observed on a small scale, (eg. between species), there is little evidence of competition guiding large-scale shifts in biodiversity, such as the dominance of mammals and birds over reptiles and amphibians in today’s world. Our new research supports the idea that animals diversified by expanding into empty ecological roles rather than by direct competition with each other.”

Dare we question the Great OZ — er, I mean, Charles Darwin?

The write-up in the BBC News was surprisingly candid, with the tagline: “Charles Darwin may have been wrong when he argued that competition was the major driving force of evolution.” The writer begins:

[Darwin] imagined a world in which organisms battled for supremacy and only the fittest survived. But new research identifies the availability of ‘living space’, rather than competition, as being of key importance for evolution. Findings question the old adage of ‘nature red in tooth and claw’…. [Instead,] really big evolutionary changes happen when animals move into empty areas of living space, not occupied by other animals…. This concept challenges the idea that intense competition for resources in overcrowded habitats is the major driving force of evolution.”

How did the Neo-Darwinian establishment react? Predictably. Steve Newton of the [Darwinist propaganda machine] National Center for Scientific Education (NCSE) wrote a piece called “Darwin Was Not Wrong–New Study Being Distorted”. The first target of his scorn was the BBC News report.

Science fares poorly in the media…. When scientific topics are reported, they are consistently misunderstood and spiced-up with such sensationalism that the original significance is contorted beyond all recognition. Such misreporting has happened again–this time involving Charles Darwin and evolution.”

And I agree wholeheartedly. It happens all the time, but the spin and/or sensationalism usually favors the Neo-Darwinian theory or conveniently omits the inconvenient questions raised by new evidence. The problem with Newton’s bringing it up in this case is that the person who wrote the article for BBC News is not your average columnist who was assigned the “science beat”. The piece was written by Howard Falcon-Lang, a professional scientist who has been widely published in peer-reviewed literature. Is someone like Falcon-Lang likely to sensationalize such a story? Or, did he just not understand it?

Charles Darwin statue at Natural History Museum

Charles Darwin statue at Natural History Museum

Newton goes on to say…

A press release for the paper noted that when examining large-scale changes in biodiversity, the data suggest: ‘Animals diversified by expanding into empty ecological roles rather than by direct competition with each other’. This paper does not argue that Darwin’s conception of small-scale competition within species is incorrect. It does not argue that new species arising out of accumulating changes is a flawed concept. It does not argue Darwin was wrong.”

Try again, Mr. Newton. As David Tyler of the Access Research Network (ARN) points out,

[The paper] sets out to identify factors relevant to biodiversification (the origin of species). It claims that competition between species, whether small-scale or large-scale, is not relevant to understanding the phenomenon. Darwin was not wrong to say that ‘small-scale competition within species’ is a real occurrence – but he was wrong to think this phenomenon helps explain the origin of species!”

Newton’s seemingly knee-jerk reaction is somewhat typical of the high-priests of Darwin, whenever their dogma is being questioned. Whether through carelessness or disingenuousness, they immediately try to a) misrepresent the findings; b) spin the conclusions to seemingly support Neo-Darwinism; c) confuse the layman with lots of extraneous numbers & technical language; and/or d) cast aspersions on the integrity and/or competence of the researchers and/or any reporters who dare to not tow the Neo-Darwinian line. While I haven’t seen Newton’s full response, there do seem to be elements of “a” & “d”, in this case.

Why is this? I mean, I understand that a new theory should be well-tested and studies need to be reviewed by independent parties before being fully accepted. But, why so quick to pooh-pooh a new idea and attack anyone who supports it? Could it be that they don’t like their sacred cow being examined too closely? They can’t allow even a hint of doubt about their sacred scripture?

Ironically, I’m not sure Benton et al.’s conclusions do any real damage, ultimately, to the current theory. Darwinism has survived such tweaking before — witness the “Neo” prefix now preferred. Frankly, the NCSE has much bigger problems, when it comes to defending their materialistic “faith”, than the relative significance of competitive pressures in the historical radiation of species.

Pleiades constellation

Pleiades (taken from Las Brisas Observatory; not part of the competition)

Y’know, for some reason, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to blog about this weekend. Plus, today’s my birthday, so I have an excuse for loafing off, right?

Then I came across some awesome pictures from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. I think they’re pretty amazing, so I decided to share ’em. (Not that they’re mine, but, uh, you know what I mean.)

Here’s the link to the top astronomy photographs.


In his book Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006), Larry F. Sternberg gives a bit of history, explaining how Jews in the late-18th & early-19th centuries came to think so highly of “socialism”. Unfortunately, they did not understand the true, basic tenets of the system, and it cost them and their descendants greatly.

Russia's Czar Alexander III

Russia's Czar Alexander III, who began the pogroms against the Jews after inheriting the throne in 1881

The link between Jews and socialism in modern times can be traced to the mass exodus that took place from Eastern Europe to the United States, beginning in 1881. Jews fleeing the tyranny of the czar followed the liberal cause, which was to liberate them from the ghettos. Liberal was a heroic term in Europe, and to break the czar’s rule, socialism was the doctrine most often preached as the way to a better life. Probably most Jews accepting socialism really were not aware of the dictionary definition: “Control by the state of all means of production and economic activity.” They knew only that anything was better than living under the czar, and socialism, with its veneer of brotherhood and charity and sharing, was appealing….

Socialism seemed to progress by pretending to be a liberal, revolutionary movement, freeing up the lives of its supporters, when in reality its basic doctrine is more state control over peoples’ lives. The Nazi Party was known as the National Socialist Party. Communism in Russia was identified as the International Socialist Movement. It was no coincidence that the word “socialist” appears prominently in both of these totalitarian regimes, which together practically decimated European Jewry. Still, there is little doubt that socialism continues to cast its enticing spell over many of our intellectuals today, some of whom have influential teaching positions in our leading universities.

The irony of it all is as [Elie] Koudurie writes [in his book The Jewish World], American Jews have long believed anti-Semitism was encouraged by the political right in America, with the right’s alleged ignoring of the social problems of poverty, prejudice, and its alleged practice of discrimination against Jews in business. Only recently are American Jews discovering that many of our problems emanate from the left with its affluence, permissiveness, wishful thinking, and its substitute of secular liberalism for their own Jewish religion.

What American Jews must always remember is that totalitarian regimes come to power by promising everything to everybody, and then remain in power through force and intimidation. And when things eventually go bad for them, there is always the need for a scapegoat, and who else fits that role but the Jew. Sidney Hook, a liberal for much of his life, is quoted as saying,

‘I was guilty of judging capitalism by its operations and socialism by its hopes and aspirations; capitalism by its works and socialism by its literature.’

Winston Churchill wrote,

‘The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.’

…I tend to believe that the socialist theory of life is not making that much headway among the baby boomers in America. Certainly, if one leans toward Judaism in practically any way, and if one does any studying of the history of socialism and its links to present day liberalism, one would have to reject following socialism in any of its forms.

Beyond all of this, there must be the realization that socialism, and its twin liberalism, by granting more and more power to the state, by looking to the state to solve all of our social, economic, and even personal problems, in effect makes the state the “God” whom all should worship. By elevating the state to this supreme position, socialism or liberalism by definition does thereby demote the eternal and One God to an inferior position. In so doing, these philosophies defy the Second Commandment, when God thundered to Moses and the Israelites on Mt. Sinai,

‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.'”

So, it seems that the first point here is the danger in latching onto a particular movement without fully understanding the doctrines/ideology behind it. The Jews have certainly paid the price, as they may again, but the lesson serves for all of us who value our freedom. I think the American “Progressives” and their agenda — particularly the secularist flavor — serve as the current example to beware of.

[On a lighter note, I keep thinking of the immortal words of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, who said to his companion, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”]

The second point is a warning against the subtle replacement of God with the State in people’s minds. Not that it is worshiped in quite the same way, of course. But, not all idolatry is directed at a divine being or a statue or icon of one.

<em><a href=”;tag=sirrahc-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=1589803833″>Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals</a></em><img style=”border: none!important; margin: 0!important;” src=”;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=1589803833&#8243; border=”0″ alt=”” width=”1″ height=”1″ /> (2001, rev. 2006)