Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Painful Encounter with the Truth

There is simply no future I can envision in which the left and the right can meet on common ground. It is as though the one is matter, and the other anti-matter: the result when they meet is a spectacular collision, throwing off sparks and lots of energy, but nothing of substance survives; no one (on either side) is the wiser for the encounter.

Witness this "interview", so-called, on MSNBC between its regnant leftist, Rachel Maddow, and first-time candidate for Congress in Oregon's Fourth District, Dr. Arthur Robinson. Ms. Maddow came to her show prepared with little snippets she had carefully excised, some of them more than fifteen years old, from a series of newsletters ("Access to Energy") which Dr. Robinson has been writing since August of 1993, having taken it over from Prof. Petr Beckman of the University of Colorado, who had published it for twenty years before that. (The first twenty-five years of the publication are accessible online, so it is not as though he was making it difficult for her.) She was not interested in the least in asking Dr. Robinson about any of the issues that prompted him to run for office against the Democratic incumbent; she wanted only to cross-examine him about isolated quotes lifted out of context, and having to do with complex issues such as the state of AIDS research in 1995 (never mind now -- it's 1995 that she wants answers on), and hormesis. (You read that right -- Rachel Maddow wanted Dr. Robinson to explain hormesis in a fifteen-second soundbite.)

The result, whether you instinctively lean left or right, is excruciatingly painful to watch, but here it is -- because otherwise you simply could not grasp the gulf between these worldviews from my attempts to describe it:

Rachel Maddow showed again and again in those eighteen minutes that she simply was not interested in finding out more about Dr. Robinson the Congressional candidate. No, she wanted to use Dr. Robinson the newsletter writer of 1995 to make it appear as though the Congressional candidate in 2010 was out of touch with everything she so smugly "knows" to be true: radiation in any dose whatsoever, no matter how dispersed, is harmful to humans (never mind the cosmic rays that bombard us millions of times in a given day, and never mind the radiation emanating from inside the earth itself -- both low-level exposures which we cannot avoid), and AIDS is not a disease that can be linked to a gay or lesbian lifestyle (because she's Rachel Maddow, don't you know).

Welcome to politics in the present age, Dr. Robinson -- which can be described as "the art of the thirty-second smear." The very fact that a man of his caliber would stand for office in these times is witness to just how bad many like him now perceive the state of the Union to be.

Dr. Robinson is a Christian, with a Christian worldview -- which is to say, he accepts the concept that there is such a thing as absolute truth. At the same time, he is a scientist who has devoted his life to the pursuit of scientific truth. The two are not the same, and they are not incompatible -- except in the hands of the secularists, who try to promote scientific truth into a secular form of "absolute truth." Rachel Maddow is an avowed secularist, and evinces the utter inability of such people, for whom humans are the highest life form -- the crowning achievement of random evolution -- to grasp that there is anything superior to, or beyond, human knowledge. For her, "absolute truth" is what she read last week, and a little bit of it changes every month as she reads about new discoveries and advances, filters out what she does not agree with, and forms new opinions compatible with her lifestyle and worldview.

For Dr. Robinson, it is science's understanding of the natural world that changes with each new advance, while absolute truth -- the truth that is from God, eternal and unchanging -- remains ever the same. Our own understanding of that unchanging truth may evolve, as well, as we learn more and more about the world in which we live, and about the past which led to the present. We are limited in our ability to understand eternal truth by our capacities at the moment at which we find ourselves existing. It is supercilious in the extreme to look down on our forebears for worshipping spirits and pantheons of divinities, and to think ourselves "superior" by comparison. (Indeed, it is rather like asking a candidate for office in 2010 about something he wrote in 1995, or about a black magic ceremony she once, long ago, attended as a college student.)

Someone like Rachel Maddow, who worships the ephemeral spirit of now, is completely flummoxed when she comes up against someone who refuses to meet on the playing field she lays out. Her cheap shots and attempts at smearing such a person ring hollow to any fair-minded observer. (I would love to see, for contrast, her "interview" of Dr. Robinson's opponent.) The reason they do so is that she cannot even conceive of the world she thinks she is attempting to enter. "I just want to get to know you," she keeps on repeating. Oh, certainly -- she wants to "know" Dr. Robinson the way a gopher snake wants to get to "know" a mouse. Her self-deprecation is smarmy, and her profession that she "learned" something at the end of the encounter is about as sincere as was W. C. Fields' protest that he was "very fond" of children.

The secularist worldview is headed for a thumping (as Bush 43 so colorfully put it) at the ballot box next month, and the secularists do not like it one bit. Indeed, it appears they are already trying to stuff the box, by hook or by crook. Now is not the time to be apologetic for having a Christian worldview. Like Dr. Robinson, we should face the secularists unflinchingly, and keep calling them to account for their manifold lies and smears. They do not appreciate what truth is, since in their view it keeps changing. But truth -- the real thing -- has this funny way of getting through to all sorts of people. Indeed, it's as though it was "written on their hearts."

Keep speaking the truth, and know that as you do so, you honor the God who made you in His image.


  1. "There is simply no future I can envision in which the left and the right can meet on common ground."

    I agree.

    "It is as though the one is matter, and the other anti-matter: the result when they meet is a spectacular collision, throwing off sparks and lots of energy, but nothing of substance survives; no one (on either side) is the wiser for the encounter."

    Not a bad analogy really, but I learn something and become wiser when the foolishness of the Liberal Left is exposed to the Light.

  2. Bravo for Dr. Robinson for refusing to be cowed by this faux-journalist Madow.

    I had to chuckle at her obvious frustration with his calm put-down of her ranting and his pointing out how she was taking things out of context, twisting them and distorting them out of recognition.

    She got soundly thumped!

    veriword: sultuad

  3. Dear Mr. Haley,

    Explaining what hormesis is in 15 seconds is actually quite easy. Hormesis is, very simply, the observed phenomenon that exposure to SOME things that are toxic at high levels of exposure are neutral or possibly beneficial at VERY low doses. A simple example is exposure to solar radiation, i.e., sunlight, which can result in serious burns if prolonged, but more moderate exposure is required for the body's ability to produce Vitamin D.

    But I thank you for the article nevertheless, as it has answered my question as to who Rachel Maddow is, without necessitating the discomfort of having to watch her.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

    Comment written from a BP-chartered vessel in the Gulf of Mexico engaged in the collection of sediment and water samples along the Gulf Coast.

  4. Dr. Robinson’s claim that Maddow only wants to talk about the past is belied by the fact that he refuses to speak about the present-day $150,000 anonymous contribution he received–an issue that is also not treated here. He absurdly claims that she’s trying to “smear them” (the contributors), refusing to confront the fact that “they” are unknown. Instead, he uses it as an opportunity to launch into his campaign talking points, regardless of his insistence that he’s not a politician.

    As for the rest of the interview, Robinson consistently refuses to comment on his own quoted statements. A statement such as “…government classification…has kept the numbers of [AIDS] victims at politically necessary levels” does indeed posit that AIDS is, at least in part, government propaganda. The fact that he wrote this in 1995 is immaterial; If Robinson is to represent a state, his constituents deserve to know whether his conspiratorial view of AIDS still represents his thinking. Similarly, New Yorkers deserve to know whether Carl Paladino’s racist and pornographic emails reflect his current thinking, whether they were sent recently or years ago.

    Regarding Robinson’s writing being taken “out of context,” all quotations are taken out of the context of the rest of a given piece, and Maddow hardly has time to recite an entire paper. The implication of “out of context” is that the quoted matter misrepresents the position of the piece. If that’s the case, Robinson should say so and back it up. Instead, he treats Maddow with contempt, believing that to steamroller her is the same as winning an argument. Regardless, the indefatigable Maddow conducts herself with professionalism, refusing to descend into an O’Reilly-style shout fest. The most telling exchange occurs at the end; indeed, it summarizes Maddow’s directness and Robinson’s evasiveness and hostility:

    Maddow: You wrote it, I’m quoting it. Do you no longer believe it?
    Robinson: Madam, I’m not going to discuss… What happened to hormesis..?

    It wasn’t pleasant to start my weekend by watching this exchange again; nevertheless, someone has to be the occasional gadfly to the generally rightward-leaning agreement here. In addition, I was startled by your perspective on what I viewed as Robinson’s disgraceful performance, the casting of the latter as the righteous conservative and Maddow as the valueless lefty notwithstanding. You do, however, prove your opening statement, delivered with your customary eloquence–praise I offer sincerely. The encounter between Robinson and Maddow, as well as our interpretations of it, do indeed evince the unbridgeable gap between the left and right in contemporary America. That is the one perspective on which we are united.

  5. Keith Töpfer, thank you for supplying an illustration of hormesis of the non-radioactive sort, which could not be used to frighten people ignorant of what the term describes. But I daresay most of Ms. Maddow's listeners were not as current as you are on what the term means, and would have been duly horrified by a proposal to disperse some of our radioactive nuclear waste harmlessly in the ocean. Had Dr. Robinson engaged Ms. Maddow on this point, as he well could foresee, she would have kept him tied up for the whole "interview" in the intricacies of a subject which had zero to do with the position of a Congressman from the Fourth District of Oregon.

    Thank you for using some of your own scientific research time to comment here. May you enjoy many of the fruits of the Gulf while you are there -- I understand that, contrary to conventional wisdom, they were not all exterminated, or rendered inedible.

  6. Jeff Tone, you are indeed a gadfly here, but a welcome one, because you are always courteous and respectful as you apply your stings.

    I am not sure what points to engage you on -- let the following suffice, and others may find different ones for discussion.

    On the anonymous $150K contribution: what more could he have been expected to say? He knew nothing about the source, or the reasons (or motives, if you will) for the contribution, and he admitted that in the first answer he gave. Should he have condemned anonymous contributions, on principle? Why? If the giver remains anonymous, he, she, or it deprives themselves of any ability to influence the donee -- so shouldn't we be grateful about the contributor remaining anonymous? And what, pray tell, could getting into an argument over the merits of anonymous campaign contributions have told the voters about what really was at stake in Oregon's Fourth District? Ms. Maddow attempted to draw him into a dispute not of his making, and from which he could produce nothing usable for those who need to decide whether he should get their vote. He asked her about his opponent's known large donors, but she declined to go there -- so he was justified in not engaging her further on the point.

    And I'm sorry, but an argument over government classifications of AIDS in 1995 would not have enlightened anyone about the merits or demerits of these particular two candidates. You may say she was justified in throwing up snippets of his writings at him, but consider, please, that the snippets represent less than 0.00001% of all that he has written over the past eighteen years -- most of which is available online. Her technique was about as fruitful as if she had cross-examined William Shakespeare on his line from King Henry VI, Pt. 2: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

  7. Most, if not all, of the Gulf fisheries closures caused by the spill were re-opened more than a month ago. Peculiar how it was so many orders of magnitude less important to our news media than the event itself, no? And while the oil spill didn't directly benefit any organisms other than the unicellular ones that consume the oil, it doesn't appear to have caused very much damage.

    That is probably the result of several factors. First, the amount of oil released was an extremely small amount as compared with the volume of even just the Gulf of Mexico. As best I can remember the actual calculation which I heard was more like putting a drop of 3-in-1 Oil™ in one's olympic sized swimming pool—the shore biota likely suffered more than the oceanic biota. Second BP rather quickly injected dispersant into the oil issuing from the ruptured well head. The result of this is that by the time I went out on my first deployment (just before the well was successfully capped) there were no droplets of oil in the water column large enough to (a) float, or (b) be detected by bouncing a laser off of them, looking for reflection or fluorescence, at any depth down to 2000meters, nor to show any volatile hydrocarbons using gas chromatography analysis. Third, what we did see in the direction that the current models suggest the submerged dispersed oil had traveled, were lows in dissolved oxygen in the seawater, which is generally interpreted by the scientists familiar with such things as evidence that the microbes had been feasting on the oil and reproducing.

    Two observations about that last item:

    • If the microbes were available to "bloom" rapidly enough to do that, then there must be a regular source of similar nourishment in the vicinity to preserve a reasonable but modest population of them when there isn't a spill in progress.

    • The oil is now dispersed in such small droplets that it will be very difficult for it to contaminate significantly any area or population of marine organisms.

    We need to remember that oil is "dripping" into the ocean at many points around the world all the time, independent of any leaking oil wells. The reason there have been oil wells off the coast of Southern California since the late 1920s or early 1930s is that the producers didn't have to do extensive prospecting—they looked on the beaches around Santa Barbara and noticed the "tar balls" washed up on the beach. Those weren't transported to those locations by humans, but by ocean currents, the oil coming from natural "seeps" in the seafloor above natural reservoirs of crude.

    And, actually, I am not involved directly in any research. As I believe I may have shared with you, my normal sea time each year on the hydrographic survey ships is four to eight weeks in the aggregate. This year one of our two ships has been in a major overhaul (not surprising, really—I visited her when she was just a few years old, that was in 1975) so the opportunities to deploy had not occurred and along with it the opportunity to earn some overtime. This is my second deployment on the Deep Water Horizon project. The first was about 6 or 7 weeks ago on a NOAA vessel standing sonar watches and assisting in water sampling. The current trip is aboard a BP-contracted vessel, and I am serving as a "Federal Trustee" observing sediment sampling and summarizing the progress and issues that arise. Not actually acting as "data police" but providing a summary report of any issues so that the Federal government has an observer on the scene. I will be onboard for about a week in total, returning home on the 13th or 14th of the month.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  8. Re the right and the left, it reminds me of a quote I've used to draw a parallel with the Anglican Communion:

    "For a long time, only two real forces have existed in Europe–Revolution and Russia," the poet-diplomat Fëodr Tiutchev had written then. "No treaties are possible between them. The existence of one means the death of the other." (R. Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon)

    And we all know how that came out.

  9. I did not think he handled very well the issue of the old quotes from his newsletter. When she asked if he still held to a particular position, he could have said, yes, no, or simply that it was an issue that he had not looked into recently and therefore did not want to state an opinion because circumstances had likely changed. This could have defused here questions and let the interview proceed.

    It did not seem to me to be particularly Christian for him to impute evil motives to Madow, even though they were probably correct, something he did several times.

    He should have been more upfront in simply saying that he was not concerned about the $150k anonymous advertising contribution and let the chips fall where they may. That would have let that whole part simply disappear quickly. It was a mistake to try to wiggle out of it by comparing that to what the opponent was spending.