January 2010 Archives
January 1, 2010
Positively Wall Street
Francis Cianfrocca lays it out bluntly:
2009 was one of the very best years in history for the financial industry, with over $50 billion in profits for the top half-dozen firms alone. Forget for a moment about the fact that this industry was literally saved from death with taxpayer dollars. The real question is, what are they there to do?
The short answer to that question is that the financial industry exists to make capital available, and to allocate it efficiently to productive uses in the real economy.
Instead, what did the financial industry do to make its money? The Wall St. firms ran proprietary trading programs as never before, and they raked in huge fees underwriting issues of debt by the largest corporations, who used the money to improve their balance sheets but not to invest in new productivity.
Read it all.
Yes, finance capitalism deserves blame.
January 2, 2010
Descent Into Hell, the Internet, and the prison of the self
I have been recently reading and making notes on Charles Williams's novel Descent Into Hell for a home schooling senior literature class.
The theme of the novel is what Williams dubs Gomorrah, which is self-love. Self-love in the book is meant to include, implicitly, auto-eroticism in the ordinary sense, though Williams treats that subject delicately and never alludes to it directly. Instead, Williams's self-damning character, a military historian named Wentworth, conjures a succubus out of his own vanity and refusal to accept his rejection by a much younger woman. Williams being Williams, he suggests that the reader think of this succubus as in some sense or other physical, though we are not supposed to inquire too closely as to what is meant by that; for example, the story implies that most people besides Wentworth cannot see her.
Having now read the book twice recently with close attention, I have decided to place it right up there with All Hallows Eve as one of Williams's best. Williams is a frustratingly erratic author, and most of his work is just too obscure, pointlessly macabre, and self-consciously literary for me to rate it very highly qua literature. (Even in Descent Into Hell, the occasional attempts to imitate T.S. Eliot's poetic style are unintentionally funny.) But these two books are well worth reading.
The sobering point of Descent Into Hell is that we all want things and, especially, people to be different from what they are, and we are all tempted--through self-isolation, rejecting friendship, shirking undesired interpersonal duties, scholarly dishonesty, and a host of other means--to try to make the facts different from what they are. Sin, then, is quintessentially a rejection of reality and an attempt to impose our own reality on the world, which is of course impossible. The soul on the way to damnation responds to this impossibility by retreating more and more from truth and from the real world into himself and a world of his own making. Damnation is imprisonment within the self, the final rejection of Fact, and a severing of the mind from contact with reality, which in the end is no longer voluntarily reversible. Lovers of C.S. Lewis's work will recognize here an oft-repeated Lewisian theme. Lewis's dwarfs, trapped in an imaginary stable in the middle of Heaven in The Last Battle, and Uncle Andrew, unable to hear the animals talking or the voice of Aslan in The Magician's Nephew, are two fairly gentle Lewisian examples of this same phenomenon.
The bailout of globalization
With regard to particular assets — say, mortgage securities or Italian bonds — each bank knew only its own exposure to Long-Term [Capital Management]. Goldman Sachs had no idea that Salomon might be financing a similar trade; J. P. Morgan would not have known that Merrill Lynch was duplicating Morgan’s loans. So in theory, each bank had no notion of how big Long-Term was in any particular trade. But in practice, the banks were in a good position to estimate. The world of bond arbitrage is relatively small. Certainly the banks knew enough to ask for more specific disclosures. And of course they could have declined to do business with Long-Term if satisfactory answers were not forthcoming.
But the banks were fighting to do more hedge fund business, not less. Five years into a bull market, the banks were awash in liquidity, and the hedge fund trade was a lucrative way for Wall Street to employ its surplus capital. The banks accomplished this by a practice known as “renting out the balance sheet” — literally, transferring their enormous borrowing power to hedge funds with lesser credit ratings,* a service for which they charged mere pennies on every $100 of credit. Long-Term, which was easily the Street’s biggest hedge fund customer, was reputed to be throwing off $100 million to $200 million in fees to Wall Street each year, and each of the banks wanted as big a share of the money as possible.
That’s from When Genius Failed, Roger Lowenstein’s very highly-regarded story of the rise and fall of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. What was Long-Term’s business? Well, it carried out investments according to the vision of John Meriwether and his band of academics and traders, who brought to Wall Street in force the analytical subtlety and brilliance of advanced mathematics, wed it to modern computing power, and produced a dazzling new field of “financial technology.” They used their mathematical tools to identify tiny fractional irrationalities in bond markets, and then piled up enormous capital behind their bets through huge leverage.
Into this business banks and other financial institutions poured their surplus capital through most of the 1990s. It continues to this day. “High-frequency trading” and “dark pools of liquidity” the latest terms for this arbitrage of the infinitesimal.
January 3, 2010
Star Gazing update and encouragement
About nine months ago we had a couple of posts on here about star-gazing, one by Paul and one by me, and it seems to me like it's time for another. Because it's so much more fun than talking about health care...
If you can get a clear night these days (and that's the trick, in my part of the country), and if you live in the United States, here is the very amateur star-gazing gist:
The bad news is, the moon is full for a while here. Boo.
The good news is, the sun sets early, so there's an hour or so of full darkness, before the moon gets well up, when you can still see quite a bit on an otherwise clear night. So get out there by about 6:30 to look around before the big moon comes riding up the sky, romantic but intrusive.
Things are getting interesting in the sky. Orion, my favorite constellation of all, is rising. You'll see him rising just a bit before the moon comes up. He's lying on his back with his shield above him. Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, and Rigel are un-missable, as is his belt.
Perseus is well up, somewhat to the east but nearly overhead, by about 7 p.m. I've gotten to know Perseus a little better this year, motivated by the incorrect statement in my daughter's science book that Algol is the constellation's brightest star. Looks like it's actually Mirfak, though Algol is quite noticeable as well.
One of the most brilliant things up right now (if you don't count Jupiter, who has the unfair advantage of being a planet) is the star Capella in the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer. You'll see Capella and Auriga just below Perseus in the sky. Capella is readily visible if you face northeast and look up.
Don't miss Aldebaran and the Pleiades, both in Taurus. You'll find them in the east, above Orion.
Neither of the dippers is visible at the time I'm out at night. Mnemonic from H.A. Rey: Bears hibernate in the winter. Therefore, it's harder to see the Big and Little Dippers (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) in the winter. I'm not counting the star Polaris, of course, at the tip of the Little Dipper's handle, which is always up, being the North Star.
Don't forget to try the Sky Globe software mentioned in the earlier post. It's absolutely perfect for complete amateurs.
I was reading one of Rey's star books for children the other night and learned that Betelgeuse is 500 light-years away. Which means the light from it left it about the time of Columbus--as Rey points out. It could be gone by now, and we'd never know. (But it probably isn't.) Makes you think.
January 4, 2010
How do you spell 'abomination'?
This is how I spell it.
I've been following this case off and on for years, but I had missed the development in which a lesbian ex-partner to a civil union, no relation to the child Isabella whatsoever and with whom Isabella has not lived since she was seventeen months of age, has been awarded sole custody of the seven-year-old child by a Vermont judge. The fairly explicit reason for this grant of custody was to punish Lisa Miller, Isabella's mother--her real mother both biologically and in virtue of having raised her--for having refused to permit additional unsupervised visits with Janet Jenkins, the lesbian ex-lover, after Isabella showed signs of trauma from earlier visits and stated that she had been forced to bathe naked with Jenkins.
This is unconscionable. That the judge should award custody in such a way with such little regard to the child's best interests is beyond crazy. It would be bad enough if this were a real custody case between two parents in which the child had lived with one parent up to seven years of age and were now being arbitrarily handed by the court to the other parent against even the child's own will, simply to punish the present custodial parent. It is even more insane when we consider that Jenkins has no legal relationship to this little girl whatsoever, neither by biology nor even by adoption (and no such adoption should be permitted in any event). Her "parenthood" is entirely an invention of the Vermont court and the Vermont judge, in virtue of a Vermont civil union alone.
Naturally, the gay-rights crowd will whine that this is just like any other custody case, that all custody cases can get messy, and the like. But not only does that ignore the fact that this would be reckless behavior even in a heterosexual custody case, the pretense that this is just like other custody cases arises solely from the pretense that metaphysics can be made up ex nihilo by legal and judicial fiat, that this Jenkins woman can be simply made into Isabella's mother because she had a faux-marriage, a sexual relationship, with Isabella's actual mother at the time that Isabella was born, and that homosexual unions are the equivalent of marriage. Such activists must be fought, tooth and nail. They are trying to destroy our country, and their attempt to remake reality in their own image is an attempt to destroy this little girl for the sake of the arrogance of Ms. Jenkins and her fake "parental rights." Down with them.
May God protect Lisa Miller, who has disappeared with Isabella. And above all, may God protect Isabella.
And by the way, next time somebody mentions civil unions to you as being no big deal, as though the only thing for conservatives to fight is homosexual "marriage," point him to this case. Civil unions are marriage in all but name. And the Vermont judge is playing by that playbook.
January 6, 2010
The ethics of property
My article “Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation” has just appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Social Philosophy and Policy. It is apparently available online for free, in both PDF format and HTML (follow the links from the table of contents). You will find in it a fairly detailed exposition of classical natural law theory and its underlying metaphysics, and an account of how certain natural rights (and certain limits on those rights) follow from natural law, of how a right to private property in particular follows from it, and of what this entails vis-à-vis taxation and related issues. This is the most up-to-date and complete statement of my current position on these topics, and supersedes my earlier writings on property and taxation. As you will see, though I have repudiated the libertarian position of some of my early publications, I am still utterly opposed to socialism, social democracy, and egalitarian liberalism. The article aims to spell out what a genuinely conservative approach to property and taxation should look like.
January 7, 2010
In the light (or all-devouring darkness) of the financial crisis, the following advertisement seems most condign:
Via John Médaille.
January 8, 2010
Is there hope for the C. of E. after all? John Derbyshire notices this op-ed wherein George Carey, retired Archbishop of Canterbury, calls, oh so cautiously, for limits on the influx of muslim immigrants into England:
"Last year nearly a million votes were cast for the British National Party. We cannot ignore the fact that such far-right groups exploit genuine concerns about both overpopulation and the ability of this nation to integrate new communities whose values are sometimes very different, even antithetical, to our own.
"In Dagenham, where I was brought up, there is a very real danger that a white working-class electorate, alienated by far-reaching social change and largely ignored by the mainstream parties, could vote for a BNP Member of Parliament...we play into the hands of the far Right if we do not seriously address [these] concerns..."
A beer commercial wherein a hard-bitten leader in a tough spot rallies his troops with the following words:
"Whites: you gave us freedom and the rule of law!
"Blacks: you gave us our greatest sports heroes and pop music stars!
"Hispanics...Hispanics...you ummm...you ummm...you ummm..."
At which point the crowd break out in cries of "Sod off!" "Yeah!" "Sod off!"
And so the Hispanics creep away, in confusion and resentment, accompanied by the jeers of the mob.
January 9, 2010
A nominalism you must refuse
About some things, I'm a happy nominalist. Whether you consider a sapphire to be a species of ruby or a separate type of thing is, as far as I'm concerned, a matter of indifference and a matter of convention. Whether something is a hill or a mountain is also a matter of convention, as all of us know who have watched a rather boring movie with a rather long name starring Hugh Grant.
But there is one kind of nominalism that must be decisively rejected, and that is nominalism about human beings. Here are some quotes from a classic bit of nominalist nonsense about human beings:
Under this conception, the possession of dignity by humans signifies that they have an inherent moral worth. In other words, because human beings possess dignity we cannot do what we like to them, but instead have direct moral obligations towards them. Indeed, this understanding of dignity is also usually considered to serve as the grounding for human rights....If all human beings possess dignity–this extraordinary moral worth–we need some explanation of what it is about the species Homo sapiens that makes them so deserving. When we start looking at particular characteristics that might ground dignity – language-use, moral action, sociality, sentience, self-consciousness, and so on – we soon see that none of these qualities are in fact possessed by each and every human. We are therefore left wondering why all human beings actually do possess dignity....Obviously, given controversies over abortion, stem cell research, genetic interventions, animal experimentation, euthanasia and so on, bioethics does need to engage in debates over which entities possess moral worth and why. But these are best conducted by using the notion of ‘moral status’ and arguing over the characteristics that warrant possession of it. Simply stipulating that all and only human beings possess this inherent moral worth because they have dignity is arbitrary and unhelpful.
Yeah, gosh. If some individuals of a species lack a particular property, then obviously that property has nothing to do with the nature of the species, and we're just "left wondering" what could possibly bind the members of the species together or why we should treat some species differently from others. It's a poser, all right.
But of course, it isn't a poser. It's a no-brainer. If I say that man is a rational animal, of course that doesn't mean that I think every single human individual is a rational animal. It means that it's of the nature of man as a species to be rational. A human being who hasn't yet developed rationality or who has lost consciousness due to illness, age, or injury is still a member of the species whose nature it is to be rational animals when fully developed and not suffering privation. This is hard? It's no harder than knowing that a three-legged dog is still a dog. But it's too hard for some contemporary bioethicisists, including the ethicist Alasdair Cochrane, from whose article "Undignified Bioethics" the above quotations come.
Wesley J. Smith, who provides the quotations from Cochrane (only the abstract being available on-line), gets it. Here's Smith:
Those individuals who happen to lack those attributes have either not developed them yet (embryos, fetuses, infants), or have illnesses or disabilities that impede their expression. But those attributes are unique to the human species, they are uniquely part of our natures. That some have not developed, or have lost, them, is irrelevant...[Emphasis in original]
Smith then makes what might seem like a slight argumentative mis-step by bringing practical considerations into the essentialist debate. That is to say, he says that what he calls human exceptionalism must especially be upheld because of the consequences of rejecting it, in particular the return to "the pernicious thinking of eugenics and social Darwinism." One might say that the consequences of rejecting it are irrelevant to whether it is true. But I wouldn't accuse Smith of a mis-step. He understands that this is about the nature of man qua man, and he re-emphasizes this when he mentions "he uniqueness of human beings as the known universe’s only moral species." I think the point about the consequences of rejecting human exceptionalism can be thought of in terms of being given a chance to think again when we find our ideology leading us somewhere horrible. As I pointed out here, there needs to be such a thing as an ethical reductio for ideology. And I think that is Smith's point about consequences.
Meanwhile, color me essentialist when it comes to human beings. Nominalism about mankind is one kind of nominalism you must refuse
January 10, 2010
Sebastian Saw the Face of God
My teenage nephew came back from seeing Avatar, the other day, all afire with enthusiasm.
So I did my best to apply the wet blankets: "ah, I cried: three hours of jejune, Disneyesque, pantheism plus the usual anti-American/anti-white-male/anti-business stereotyping - what's not to scoff at, here?"
So now he's really mad at me. Teenage boys do not like having their passing enthusiasms scoffed at.
* * * * *
But seriously: what is it about gooey circle-of-life nature-mysticism that exercises such a hold on the imagination of modern man (and especially modern youth)? I just don't get it. Is it because so few these days have any actual exposure to the natural "circle of life," which, in all its multivariate horror, might more aptly be called the "circle of suffering and death?"
We were not always so sentimental. Schopenhauer, I'm told, defended his doctrine of the essential evil of existence by inviting us to compare the pleasure of the animal that eats to the pain of the animal that is eaten. Or think of Thomas Hardy's memorable lines:
"A time there was - as one may guess
And as, indeed, earth's testimonies tell -
Before the birth of consciousness,
When all went well...
"But the disease of feeling germed,
And primal rightness took the tinct of wrong;
Ere nescience shall be reaffirmed
How long, how long?"
If there is no God but nature, then I think that Tennessee Williams got things just about right in this - easily one of my top ten choices for Greatest Scene in Movie History:
Alas, it's black & white. So the nephew won't be watching.
A Cornerstone of a Classical Music Collection
... May well be Leslie Howard's prodigious pianistic achievement, recordings of the complete works for solo piano of Franz Liszt. Liszt, a great admirer and promoter of many other composers and their works, transcribed many of his favourite works for piano, including many works originally composed for operas. For those familiar with the original works, hearing the Lizst transcriptions may enable one to hear the original works afresh, and to gain a renewed appreciation for the genius of Lizst, and his titanic contribution to pianistic literature. For those unfamiliar with either Lizst's works or those pieces he transcribed, these recordings afford a window on an entire universe of music: one can listen to a recording of a Lizst transcription, and be led on to realms of music discoveries.
As an example of one such transcription, here is Leslie Howard's recording of the transcription of the Overture for Les Francs-Juges, an opera Berlioz abandoned:
January 11, 2010
My essay in The New Atlantis
In the last two years, the American political economy has undergone extraordinary transformations. The attempt to understand them will surely occupy economists, political scientists, historians, and many others for decades to come; it will be the work of generations. But already from today’s vantage, the shape of what went wrong is becoming clear, and the dangers posed by the U.S. response to the financial crisis are now visible in outline.
To read the rest, subscribe or look for the Fall 2009/Winter 2010 issue on newsstands.
January 12, 2010
“I think we're on the verge of a major philosophical shift in biology”
I have long complained that too many partisans in the debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design theory do not realize that the recognition of teleological processes in nature does not necessarily hinge on whether one is willing to accept the existence of a “designer.” That may appear to be the case if one assumes William Paley’s conception of teleology, but not if one takes instead an Aristotelian approach to teleology. And attacks on the former conception do not necessarily have force against the latter conception.
To be sure, we Thomists do hold that teleology provides the basis for an argument for God’s existence, viz. Aquinas’s Fifth Way. But that argument is very different from Paley’s, and acknowledges – with Aristotle and against Paley and his successors – that the existence of teleology in nature does not directly entail an ordering intelligence. That requires further argumentation. (As the analytical Thomist Christopher Martin has noted, modern philosophers tend to assume that getting from natural teleology to God is easy, but establishing that there really is such a thing as teleology in nature in the first place is hard – whereas Aquinas’s view was that the existence of natural teleology was obvious, and the real philosophical work comes in showing that such teleology really requires an explanation in terms of God, as Aristotle thought it did not. See my book Aquinas for my most extended treatment of this issue.)
The philosopher of biology Andre Ariew is one contemporary thinker outside the Aristotelian-Thomistic orbit who has noted the difference between Paley’s understanding of teleology and Aristotle’s, and acknowledged that Darwinian criticisms of Paley do not necessarily show that there is no such thing as teleology in the Aristotelian sense. Another is physiologist J. Scott Turner, whose recent book The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges From Life Itself argues for the indispensability of the notion of unconscious “intentionality” in understanding certain biological phenomena.
Our friend John Farrell has just posted an interesting Q and A between himself and Turner over at his blog, wherein Turner expresses the view that “we’re on the verge of a major philosophical shift in biology.” Check it out, then go buy the book.
January 15, 2010
It can be a real challenge to penetrate the cloud of cant and catchphrase that envelopes the discussion of the financial crisis. How profoundly this disarray has shaken American institutions is still far from evident to the great majority of people. Thus the allure of the conventional, that pattern of soothing slogans and bromides, which lulls the active mind to sleep, is very strong.
It is therefore always welcome to read fresh, creative analysis, of which the following two articles are exemplars.
First is Francis Cianfrocca’s assessment of China as “the world’s most Keynesian state.” He explains why this is so quite vividly; which in turn helps explain, perhaps, why commentators from Tom Friedman to Bono to the French Foreign Minister have recently given voice to their admiration for Chinese efficaciousness. For all of my adult life, an assumption undergirding the vision of Globalization was that Chinese openness to private enterprise and growth economics would eventually issue in openness to political freedom. In a word, capitalism would inexorably push that country toward liberty. Now it looks more and more as though the reverse may be true. Chinese capitalism, with its distinctly authoritarian bent, appeals to statists everywhere. They look at China and see a neat arrangement where private businesses answer meekly to the dictates of state policy, which includes an impressive range for profit and growth, thus placating the business class while maintaining the despotic structure of the state. The charm of this arrangement to, let us say, an enthusiast of green technology, or a politician in favor of socialized medicine, or indeed anyone sympathetic to what used to be called “industrial policy,” is no mystery.
Second, this column by Anatole Kaletsky in the (UK) Times is a fascinating read. If he’s right, it adds an intriguing new twist to my suspicion that it was a bad idea to allow the investment banks to become public corporations by issuing common stock. Kaletsky is not above a little creative mischief; he characterizes this development in banking in explicitly Marxian terms. Well worth a read.
Let's ditch the criminal punishment model of immigration restriction
What I'm going to write here may seem so obvious that it's not worth saying. I think it is worth saying, because it is worth bringing out into the open tacit assumptions that lie behind liberal actions. Here's the too-obvious-to-bother-with statement:
Not allowing a non-citizen to come to the United States and/or stay in the United States permanently is not analogous to punishing him for a crime.
I know. Why bother saying this?
Well, because I think its denial lurks behind many otherwise extremely strange actions (and refusals to act) on the part of our leadership.
Consider, for example, something noted by Lawrence Auster here and here: President Obama and his advisers apparently think that an embrace of jihadist ideology and associates is not a sufficient reason to put a person on a no-fly list. Rather, the government has to have specific reason to believe that the person is definitely planning to carry out a terrorist attack. Sounds crazy, right?
But it makes a (little) bit more sense if we think of refusing to let someone fly to the United States as a punishment. If the prima facie case is that everyone and his aunt has a right to come to the United States and live in the United States, then we're pretty much at the level of needing a conviction of a crime beyond reasonable doubt before denying someone this right. If it isn't illegal in the United States to believe jihadist ideology, so goes the tacit reasoning, how can we punish a person by not allowing him to come to the United States simply for believing jihadist ideology? He has to be doing something (plotting a specific terrorist attack) we could arrest him for and charge him for, and we have to have strong, hard, evidence of this criminal activity, before we can deny him his prima facie right to come here.
Last week, commentator Jeff Singer expressed, correctly, the negation of the criminal punishment model when he said that if immigrants will not abide by our laws, respect our culture, etc., "...they will not be allowed in our country and/or we will take measures to remove them from our country as they live here not as some sort of human right of all men, but at the mercy of our hospitality."
I have suggested, to the shock of some, that all Muslim immigration to the U.S. should stop. Others will say only that those with jihadist connections (like the Christmas Day underwear bomber) should be kept out of the country. But we aren't going to get any restrictions, however obvious, however minimal, so long as we leave in place the criminal punishment model. At that point it's just a question of how far a given administration takes it. Obama is taking it to the logical conclusion (of a mad premise) by treating people as candidates for flying to the U.S. unless we have direct evidence that they are going to carry out a terrorist attack.
Once we throw out the criminal punishment model, we can argue about what constitutes a sensible immigration strategy that makes use of inductive evidence about Islam, jihad, sharia, and all the rest of it. But we can't get off the ground as long as we treat coming here as a right and not coming here as a punishment.
January 17, 2010
More on evidentialism and Christianity
I have written before about evidence and Christianity. One piece, giving some reading suggestions for Christian young people, is here. Another, on the question of whether a proposition like "Jesus rose from the dead" is a "self-committing" proposition, is here.
Over the weekend, this post by Prof. George Hunsinger of Princeton was brought to my attention. After some internal debate, I decide to write some criticisms of it and have put the long version up at my personal blog here. My post is called "What Not to Tell a Young Inquirer About the Evidences of the Christian Faith," and it is considerably longer and meatier than the light things I most often put up there. If the title is not sufficiently provocative, it includes the sentence, "Hunsinger represents a theological establishment that has lost its nerve."
Despite the fact that I chose to post the entire piece only at Extra Thoughts rather than cross-posting it here, feel free to make comments in either location.
January 19, 2010
Rifqa Bary Update--Good news, though still isolated
I have finally managed to get on Pastor Jamal Jivanjee's mailing list for updates on Rifqa Bary, so I got this hot off the press. Pastor Jivanjee reports that today, Jan. 19, Rifqa was declared a dependent of the State of Ohio. According to him, this will insure that she stays in foster care until she turns 18. I have heard this conclusion disputed elsewhere, but it's definitely a big step forward for her and apparently creates some sort of prima facie case that she will not be immediately returned to her parents. It takes her out of a legal limbo.
Jamal reports that Rifqa had to agree "that she violated rules by fleeing her home." Well, um, yes, in one sense. I'm not sure exactly what this admission on her part amounts to, legally. Pamela Geller is completely caught up in the Scott Brown Senate race but will probably have some thoughts on the legal angle concerning this admission by Rifqa in "exchange" for dependency.
Pastor Jivanjee reports that Rifqa remains isolated from fellow Christians, so the conditions of her imprisonment (and that really is what it amounts to) within the foster system has not changed. She is not permitted visitors or phone or e-mail contact with any of her Christian friends, according to past reports by Pastor Jivanjee. She will not be eighteen until Aug. 10, which is a long time to remain in something akin to solitary confinement and, for a Christian, isolated in the flesh from the Body of Christ.
But now she has hope that she will not simply be abruptly returned to her parents and whisked off to Sri Lanka, and hope will help a great deal.
Also, we know that no Christian is truly isolated, for Our Lord is always with us, and the Body of Christ is with Rifqa in prayer. Continue in prayer for her. I will continue to give updates, especially if I can find out whether she is still being allowed to receive cards and notes of encouragement.
January 20, 2010
The Jihad and an Election
It may be too much to say that Islam threw a senate race in Massachusetts to the Grand Old Party. It may be too much to say that machinations of the Jihad pushed America’s bluest state into a posture of red conservative indignation on the subject of this treacherous war that is being waged against us by the madmen of the Islamic religion.
But it is not too much to say, with Massachusetts’ Senator-elect Scott Brown's top strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, that “National security was a more potent issue than healthcare based on the polling we saw.”
Which is a striking fact that few have noticed, much less examined and digested.
Islam made its presence felt heavily in this election. Bostonians have not forgotten where most of the September 11 hijackers departed from. The Ft. Hood Treason is only two months old. And this MA Senate race started breaking for Senator-elect Brown right around the time of the failed raid over Detroit on Christmas. I would expect that Brown himself will not neglect to adduce terror on his list of what, based on his observations of the folks of the Bay State, is moving the people of America.
What is moving Americans is a thing that has historically been a pretty effective mover of men in all times: the threat of violence, sedition, and conspiracy, organized by sworn enemies for purposes of terror and submission.
It is not yet clear what course our current politicians will take in response to this fact.
January 21, 2010
The APA's new non-discrimination policy--Guest post by Troy Nunley (posted by Lydia)
As of late this past fall, there is a new American Philosophical Association non-discrimination policy. Readers of W4 will remember our coverage of the homosexual activists' attempt to revise the non-discrimination policy so that schools which do not permit members to engage in homosexual conduct will be deemed to be discriminating. (See for example here and here.) The revision does indeed have that consequence.
Here is a post about the new policy by Troy Nunley of Denver Seminary.
The American Philosophical Association has revised its anti-discrimination policy so that it will unambiguously assert that academic institutions which refuse to employ persons engaging in same-sex erotic relations are thereby engaging in an unethical hiring practice. The statement now reads…
The American Philosophical Association rejects as unethical all forms of discrimination based on race, color, religion, political convictions, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification or age, whether in graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate. This includes both discrimination on the basis of status and discrimination on the basis of conduct integrally connected to that status, where "integrally connected" means (a) the conduct is a normal and predictable expression of the status (e.g., sexual conduct expressive of a sexual orientation) or (b) the conduct is something that only a person with that status could engage in (e.g., pregnancy), or (c) the proscription of that conduct is historically and routinely connected with invidious discrimination against the status (e.g., interracial marriage).
Certain philosophers, notably Alexander Pruss, have alleged that the new statement backfires in cases in which it is “normal and predictable” that persons of certain religions will discriminate against homosexuals. I have an altogether different criticism; the current statement is an utter absurdity and should be regarded as such even by those most sympathetic to the motivations which led to its formulation.
January 22, 2010
Roe v. Wade--37 years
Today is the anniversary--if one can use so positive a word for so horrible a thing--of the lying court declaration in Roe v. Wade that a woman has a constitutional right to have her unborn child murdered. Redstate has an excellent post here.
Whenever this yearly remembrance of the atrocity that is Roe v. Wade comes around, I am left without words. I have not always put up a blog post on the day. And I have little to add to the Redstate post or to the words of Fr. Neuhaus (below).
But I do have this to add: As pro-lifers, we must keep our eyes focused on the goal. Our goal is that every child be protected in law and welcomed in life. Our goal is not merely to counter the latest insanity being visited on us by the left, such as abortion funding in nationalized healthcare. Our goal is not merely to reduce the number of abortions, as though abortion were merely some unhealthy activity like eating fatty foods rather than murder most foul.
Our principle is that unborn children should not be legally killed. The legality of their murders, the fact that their murders do not simply happen de facto but are protected de jure, is no small part of the horror that we fight. Pro-lifers believe that women should not have the legally protected choice to kill their babies and that doctors should not have the legally protected choice to kill women's babies. It's that simple. That's what being pro-life means, what pro-lifers stand for.
There are, and always have been, differences of opinion about strategies and compromises within the pro-life camp. Doubtless there will be for as long as this issue remains on the national scene, and probably even if (God speed the day) Roe v. Wade is overturned.
But let us make no mistake: If individual pro-lifers choose to endorse or vote for pro-choice candidates, candidates who openly and entirely oppose the legal protection of unborn children, then that is what they are doing. Such candidates do not magically become "pro-life" by a kind of weird, nominalistic baptism, simply in virtue of being the "lesser evil." If compromises are made, they must be strategic and temporary, yet they will be permanent if "pro-life" becomes a term of radically shifting definition.
On this sad anniversary of an evil judicial act, let us commit ourselves once more to keeping our eyes on the goal--the legal protection of unborn children.
The words of Fr. Neuhaus (and if you have not read the whole speech, you will be refreshed by it, so read it all) speak to us today as freshly as on the day when they were uttered:
Whether, in this great contest between the culture of life and the culture of death, we were recruited many years ago or whether we were recruited only yesterday, we have been recruited for the duration. We go from this convention refreshed in our resolve to fight the good fight. We go from this convention trusting in the words of the prophet Isaiah that “they who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
The journey has been long, and there are miles and miles to go. But from this convention the word is carried to every neighborhood, every house of worship, every congressional office, every state house, every precinct of this our beloved country—from this convention the word is carried that, until every human being created in the image and likeness of God—no matter how small or how weak, no matter how old or how burdensome—until every human being created in the image and likeness of God is protected in law and cared for in life, we shall not weary, we shall not rest. And, in this the great human rights struggle of our time and all times, we shall overcome.
Twilight of the Mad Men
In his recent book 1959: The Year Everything Changed, Fred Kaplan provides a useful and entertaining account of the political, cultural, moral, and technological transformations that paved the way for the revolutions of the Sixties. Here is my review of the book, for the online edition of City Journal.
January 23, 2010
The Jihad and the laws of war.
Reprinted here, with light revisions, is a blog post of mine from June of 2002 on the legal treatment of Islamic terror suspects.
* * *
There has to be a better way of dealing with suspected and accused terrorists than the graceless and inconsistent method hitherto chosen by the Bush administration. Thus far, the pattern established by the Justice Department does not inspire much confidence, and suggests an ad hoc approach propelled more by a desire for successful prosecution than by a deeper desire for justice. The political atmosphere being what it is, one can perhaps sympathize with this, but consider: Josè Padilla*, the suspected “dirty-bomber,” is an American citizen, yet he is being detained by the military, incommunicado, without being formally accused of a crime; meanwhile, Zacarias Moussaoui**, the accused “twentieth hijacker,” and Richard Reid***, the accused shoe bomber, are both non-citizens, yet they are being tried in public court, with full access to a professional defense. One need not be a committed civil-liberties ideologist to perceive grave peril in the precedents set therein.
I fully understand and endorse the reasoning behind treating “unlawful combatants” in war as something else entirely than regular domestic criminals or prisoners of war — something far more dangerous and less entitled to constitutional rights. But several serious problems present themselves immediately, and cry out for assiduous consideration: (1) There has been no formal declaration of war by Congress, which declaration would have automatically initiated the machinery, available in both the Constitution itself and in legal precedents, to accommodate our judicial institutions, at least in part, to the reality of war. The failure of the administration to ask Congress for such a declaration, which it surely would have received in overwhelming if not unanimous votes, was in my view one of its first mistakes. The declaration need not have included anything specific about the enemy; it need only have observed the obvious: that a state of war exists between America and those who attacked her. That simple if unorthodox legislative statement would have struck a mighty blow for political, moral and legal clarity — a clarity which certainly existed already in substance, but was never authenticated in republican form.
January 25, 2010
The difficulties of religious freedom
Here is an interesting article called, more controversially than mine, "The Contradiction of Religious Freedom." It states the paradox that in order for religious freedom to work in a society, there must be a good deal of informal agreement on basic moral principles. So in order for de jure religious freedom not to cause a society to self-destruct, there needs to be a lot of de facto religious homogeneity.
I think this is correct, especially if "religious homogeneity" is understood in sufficiently broad terms. For example, I think that (non-polygamous) Mormons can live more or less in peace and harmony with devout Catholics, though there could still be some tension between Irish wakes and "dry" Mormonism. But that, of course, is as nothing compared to the real conflicts among ethical systems and worldviews that we now see laid out before us in the oh-so-pluralistic West. Mormons, after all, do not issue threats against the owners of restaurants who serve liquor, as Muslims do.
January 27, 2010
Hayek and Keynes bust a rhyme
Yo, check it. (HT: Frank Beckwith)
January 28, 2010
What's Wrong with the World is pleased to announce that the esteemed Mr. Jeff Culbreath, after some importuning from other Contributors, has agreed to unite with us in waging polemical war against all the tiresome oppressions of our hyper-modern age. A Roman Catholic gentlemen of traditionalist bent and paterfamilias of a lively (and undoubtedly very noisy) California household, Mr. Culbreath has been a valued correspondent of mine for going on seven years now. I am honored now to count him a colleague as well.
Like his fellow Calfornian Ed Feser, Mr. Culbreath stands as a living witness to the fact that the Golden State is, as the Brits might say, not dead yet. He writes to us, also, from that fair state's rich and neglected interior: a quintessential American place of family enterprises, local festivals, old churches and old verities, which thrives despite the hungry gaze of collectivist politicians plotting its plunder and subjugation.
Here is the short bio he has supplied for us:
Jeff Culbreath is a married father of five, a bumbling rural homesteader, and a Catholic who attends the traditional Latin Mass. A fifth-generation Californian, he works for a small business located in a tiny farming settlement on the ancient Sacramento River. He is the unworthy patriarch of a family of musicians, his children playing both European classical and American traditional styles of music with eight instruments between them. Mr. Culbreath is happy to be considered a conservative, a liberal, a traditionalist or a radical, according to the prevailing norms of political discourse - but never a relativist, a modernist, or worst of all, a moderate. His political views are strongly influenced by the ideas of Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, John Senior, Wendell Berry, G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and many others, but above all by the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Hate speech against the elderly
"Hate speech" is not a phrase I use often. I want to go on record that I'm not suggesting that such speech be proscribed by law. But there is a particular feeling of revulsion that that over-used phrase is meant to evoke, and in this case, I consider that feeling of revulsion amply justified.
Here is the rather shocking quotation, from novelist Martin Amis:
“Medical science has again over-vaulted itself,” he says now, “so most of us have to live through the death of our talent. Novelists tend to go off at about 70. And I’m in a funk about it. I’ve got myself into a real paranoid funk about it, how talent dies before the body.”
...He is disgusted at the problem of the ageing [sic] population: “How is society going to support this silver tsunami? There’ll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops. I can imagine a sort of civil war between the old and the young in 10 or 15 years’ time.”
Amis’s solution is typically extreme: mass euthanasia. “There should be a booth on every corner where you could get a Martini and a medal,” he says. In fact, he was thinking about it only last year, when his stepfather died “very horribly”, he says. “He thought he was going to get better. But he didn’t. I think the denial of death is a great curse. We all wanted to assist him… It was clearly a lost battle.”
That's the whole of the relevant quotation, so I advise readers not to bother going to the article. I, for one, saw far more information there about Martin Amis than I ever wanted to know.
And to be fair, if that is the right word, Amis doesn't always restrict his insults to people like the elderly who can't fight back. He has also kept up his bad boy, tough guy reputation by insulting Muslims, which I suppose one could say is "brave" in the contemporary UK. I'm surprised he hasn't been visited by the police for that, or by a group of people more dangerous than the police, though I have no expectation that he will be visited by anyone or even chided by anyone for the above undeniable hate speech about the elderly. Then again, he doesn't appear to have advocated that all Muslims be killed systematically in booths on street corners. But evidently advocating killing an entire group of innocent people isn't going too far if it's the elderly we're talking about, especially those with (shudder) dementia.
"... and women rule over them."
After a three hour drive, I am sitting at a desk on the eighth floor of a hotel in San Jose. The valet has my keys: I don't like going about without my keys. The water tastes funny. The view from the window is nice, overlooking the eastern half of the Santa Clara Valley. Everything around here looks like a million dollars. Tomorrow, I hit the pavement in search of dentists. There are 561 dentists within a five-mile radius of the hotel. That's some population density for you.
Back home, there are only three dentists in the nearest town which boasts a population of 7,000 souls. The entire county is approximately the size of Rhode Island, but with a population of only 28,000. The water from our well tastes great. The view is a postcard of purple mountains and green pastures. We don't lock the doors when we leave home. The road we live on gets very little traffic: several hours might pass before you see a moving vehicle. My place of business has no alarm or security system. A little graffiti competition is a crime wave.
The county fits many stereotypes of rural areas. A recent report stated that 46% of housing in our small town is "substandard". Many folks can't afford to maintain their homes by the standards of whomever decides such things. Unemployment is high, there is a dysfunctional underclass with drug and alcohol problems, education levels are low, and many young people leave the county permanently for better opportunities elsewhere.
Settled by Scotch-Irish cattlemen, Portuguese dairymen, Italian olive growers, and now Mexican farm workers and managers, the region has always been a bastion of patriarchy. But alas, radical feminism has finally reached us. It seems that our all-male city council, on the advice of an all-male selection committee made up of law enforcement professionals, just hired a female police chief from outside the county - the first female chief the department has ever had. This, on the heels of the department hiring a female officer. The paper is making much of this "historic first" for our community. I view this as nothing short of a catastrophe.
I doubt that my neighbors are worked up much about it. The county is staunchly Republican. Most of them would make Sarah Palin the Commander-in-Chief if they had their way. But it is highly doubtful that a woman who seeks to be the chief of police is anything but a radical feminist. This isn't just any job: the essence of police work is violence and coercion. The employment of violence and coercion by women - in a way that is habitual or defining for them - turns them into something beastly. A female police chief is uniquely perverse because those whom she will be leading (police officers) and those whom she will be coercing (criminals) are predominantly male. Her position is one of wielding power and authority specifically over men. Tell me, is it healthy for any woman to aspire to this? Does it not indicate some deep spiritual and psychological problems?
Certain kinds of work, too, require male cohesiveness to be effective. This is especially true of physically or mentally intense work in which the stakes are very high. The presence of a woman changes the whole dynamic. The psychological and sexual tensions of a mixed group are entirely counterproductive in such circumstances.
Men also respond much, much better to male authority. As do women, for that matter. Even those who give lip service to feminism bristle under female authority when it is actually exercised. And because it is so unnatural, women in authority often feel like they have something to prove, thus distorting their judgments. A chief of police needs the respect of his officers and the men of the community. A female chief - despite the “gender neutral” attitudes most men will express when asked – just isn’t going to get it.
January 29, 2010
Kerstein on Howard Zinn
Polemical literature has long has reserved a certain tolerance for the ruthlessly critical obituary. The dictum against speaking ill of the dead is not absolute. There is always someone, somewhere who feels very strongly that death should provide no protections against the perfidies committed by so-and-so in life. In other words, the promotion of civility is a very fine thing; but a finer thing still is the promotion of truth, even of the stern and ungenerous sort.
Benjamin Kerstein has penned a memorable entry into this tradition here. His target is the late Howard Zinn, and if I may say so, few writers have deserved it more. My favorite part is when Kerstein notes a certain irony in the commercial success of Zinn’s most famous work:
[An obituary by the Associated Press] pronounces that Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States “was, fittingly, a people’s best-seller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003.” In fact, as the article goes on to state, “his book was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country” meaning, for those who can put two and two together, that the book became a bestseller largely because a generation of professors forced their students to buy it — a fitting metaphor for Zinn’s view of “the people.”
Indeed. Read the whole thing.
January 31, 2010
The Badge of Christian Warfare
Today is Septuagesima Sunday, which of course means that Lent is right around the corner. As this blog is dedicated to "the defense of what remains of Christendom", we might do well to reflect on the words of Pope Benedict XIV and Dom Gueranger as we prepare for the battle:
“The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should men grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.” – Pope Benedict XIV
“It is sad and humiliating to note that as laxities were introduced by the hierarchy and local churches into the laws of fasting and practices of severe penance, the members of the Church have suffered immeasurable spiritual loss – a loss of at least part of the rigor of those sacred times set apart to cleanse their bodies and souls of imperfections and the corrupting spirit of the world. In our modern times, the spread of permissiveness, liberalism, deterioration of morality and the general practices of purity, have led to a spirit of relaxation and the loss of a general effort, on the part of the faithful, to strive for a life of holiness and of union with God through the practices of self-denial, mortification, piety and renouncement of the spirit of the world – a spirit which is opposed to the spirit of a true Christian life and the very possibility of eternal salvation.” - Dom Prosper Gueranger