October 2011 Archives
October 3, 2011
Pray for the persecuted church
In particular, Christians, please pray for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who may (indeed, it appears probably will) be executed for being a Christian under Iranian apostasy laws.
It appears that Pastor Nadarkhani never even practiced Islam (though this shouldn't matter). Because his ancestors were Muslim, he is considered Muslim and, as I remarked elsewhere, once a Muslim government regards you as Muslim, you can check out any time you like, but you just can't leave.
It is our responsibility as Christians to pray earnestly for Pastor Nadarkhani's release or, if that is not the Lord's will, for strength and a sense of the presence of God through his martyrdom and God's mighty use of his death.
May God give us all strength to bear any trial for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Link HT: Gina Danaher
October 5, 2011
You can't say that
This is a slightly touchy subject: Professorial control over in-class language. But I'm going to broach it anyway, and in perhaps an unexpected area.
A bit of language reported to me as having been used by a student in a college class lately (not one of Esteemed Husband's classes, in case anyone is wondering), during a discussion of personal identity: "Well, suppose you were in an accident, and after that you were just a carrot..."
I'm guessing that most professors would not allow students to use the n-word in class. Just guessing. I want to recommend that, in that same spirit, professors (and GA's, etc.--all teachers) put the same ban on referring to a fellow human being in the utterly degrading way that that student did.
Given the topic of class discussion, and given the current status in our society of the student's views, I suppose the teacher had to treat it as in some sense acceptable for the student to opine that a person in a long-term comatose state is a lesser human being. Frankly, I'm quite open to the position that in a better society it would be unacceptable in polite company to speak of any living human being as life unworthy of life. Another bit of student talk reported to me from a college class lately, approving of the proposal that a physically healthy "bum" be killed for his organs: "Well, he's not doing any good to anyone now, so at least then..." Presumably if a student showed up in class and said, "It would be okay to cannibalize a black person for his organs as long as he was going to be used for a superior race. That would be doing more good to society," his view would be treated with open horror and disgust by everyone else in the class, including the teacher. But teachers, even those who are horrified, apparently feel that they have to be "professional" when it is only "bums" or the severely cognitively disabled whom their students speak of as sub-human.
Well, okay. I guess.
But at a minimum, if a student is going to express the hateful view that some humans are sub-human, he should have to do so in precise and non-disgusting language. No "carrot" talk. For that matter, no referring to another human being as "a vegetable." It is most unfortunate that the adjectival form, "vegetative," has entered our medico-legal lexicon and is actually used in law. But even there we see a very slight shying away from the outright contempt of the noun form. The noun form should be out of bounds. As Wesley J. Smith says in comments at his blog, "We don't use the v-word around here."
If you teach a class where these subjects come up, I encourage you to adopt these standards. If a student speaks of another human being--hypothetical or real--as "just a carrot," simply look at him and say this: "Justin, this is an interesting discussion, and you are free in this class to express your opinion that some living human beings should be thought of as sub-human. I disagree strongly, and we can have a discussion about it. But you may not in this class refer to a living fellow human being as 'a carrot', anymore than you may in this class refer to a fellow human being as 'a nigger'. I hope that is understood. Now, try restating your position in other terms."
Heavy-handed? Too bad. If any language is unacceptable in class, this should be.
October 7, 2011
"Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in ..."
When was the last time you heard about the religious conversion of an entire nation? A region? A city? A neighborhood? A family? In reading contemporary missionary literature, one does occasionally come across the conversion of whole families, and even more rarely, of entire clans. But these conversions take place in cultures deemed to be “primitive”, offering little hope to us in the “developed” world.
The fact is that Christendom was built on the conversion of groups, not individuals. And these conversions flowed hierarchically from the top of society to the bottom, not democratically as a “grass roots” movement.
In the most recent issue of the Saint Austin Review (if you are not already a subscriber, I hope you’ll rectify the situation and subscribe immediately), dedicated to “Religion and Politics”, you will find the following gem by the renowned historian Christopher Dawson:
October 11, 2011
This fellow needs to be beaten with a large breviary
Have mercy! We Catholics tolerate a lot of nonsense these days, but we absolutely draw the line at sneaking corporate advertisements into NASCAR invocations!
October 12, 2011
"I am a girl"
We are assured that "one of the first things Thomas [Lobel] told [his adoptive
guardians] when he learned sign language aged three - because of a speech impediment - was, 'I am a girl.'"
This odd claim of his is lovingly cited by those who favor his pre-adolescent gender reassignment - as if it were some sort of clincher.
But what are we to make of that claim?
If what he meant was that he's got two X chromosomes, or that he's physiologically female, then wouldn't we just conclude that he was straightforwardly mistaken? and that there's no more reason to cater to his mistake then if he claimed to be Napoleon, or a hobbit, or a Klingon, and wanted plastic surgery to assist in his masquerade?
If what he meant was that he has typically feminine tastes and interests (dollies instead of tin soldiers, dresses instead of dirty jeans, primping instead of fighting, etc.), then wouldn't we conclude that he was the victim of musty old stereotypes? and that he needed to reject those sterotypes and to affirm his identity as an "effeminate" boy?
Or is there something deeper going on, here? Is there some sort of Female Essence, transcending biology and culture alike, in which he claims to participate, as a triangle crudely scrawled on an uneven surface participates in the Platonic Form of Triangularity?
IMHO, if you're not prepared to defend some version of that last "essentialist" claim, then you have no excuse for defending what's currently being done to Thomas Lobel.
October 15, 2011
Bring back the British empire (okay, not really)
This appalling story is so bad that it leaves one, as a blogger, in the all-too-familiar position of feeling that one ought to blog it but not knowing what to say. It seems that the only excuse for burdening other people with the knowledge that child sacrifice for purposes of bringing prosperity has made a comeback and is now a huge problem in an African country, now, in this very day and age, and that the police aren't doing anything about it is that one has something at least mildly interesting to say about it. I'm not sure that I do, plus I'm working on a technical paper. But one wants a break occasionally from a technical paper, and what better break could there be (blogger sarcasm) than writing a blog post about child sacrifice in Uganda.
The linked story speaks for itself, but if you don't want to read it, here are some brief facts. In Uganda, witchdoctors and their henchmen kidnap children, chop them up, and bury their bodies in places dictated by clients who purchase the service in hopes that the sacrifice of a child will bring prosperity to their businesses. The problem has gotten so bad that the police have been pressured and have started an Anti-Human Sacrifice Police Task Force (not sure why it isn't "human sacrifice," but it's allegedly to address the problem of child sacrifice), but the task force's own numbers of child sacrifices taking place are suspiciously low, and all in all it looks like window dressing over a situation of corruption and indifference to the kidnap and ritual murder of children. In one case, a child actually survived and has identified one of his would-be murderers, a local witch doctor named Awali, but the police claim his eyewitness testimony isn't good enough and won't arrest Awali. An undercover news organization sent a group to pose as potential customers. Awali bragged of his child sacrifice service to them. They reported it to the police, but he remains free. People have called on the government to "regulate witch doctors" in the country, whatever that might mean, apparently without effect.
The first thing that struck me about this story was the nightmarish concurrence of ancient darkness with modern jargon. A child sacrifice police task force??! Worse, an ineffective child sacrifice police task force? Everything old is new again, and when it's new, it gets the bizarre patina of the bureaucratic state, which makes it look like a satiric situation in a dystopian future novel. Regulating witch doctors? Does this mean we want child sacrifice to be safe, legal, and rare? Okay, I admit, it probably means they want the witch doctors confined to sacrificing only goats, but you have to admit that the very notion of regulating witch doctors who are presently engaging in child sacrifice (as opposed to executing them all, for example), makes one feel that one has entered a crazy and unreal world. (To be clear, the news story reports that a pastor very concerned about this horror is calling for the police to regulate witch doctors. That may be the BBC's own phrase. If it's accurate, though, this seems to mean that "regulation" of some sort is the best the pastor can hope for from the authorities.)
The second thought that came to me was the title of this post. No, I don't mean it seriously. Nor do I think that there is any other country, especially not Britain, who at this time would rule Uganda in such a way as to put a stop to this or even very seriously curtail it. If we decided to add Uganda to our empire (and who would want it?), our soldiers would probably have to undergo sensitivity training, led by Awali and his cronies, on how to accommodate indigenous religious practices. But if it were possible to bring back the old British empire and hang Awali, should anyone be crying? Slightly more seriously: Granting that the point is practically moot, and granting all the problems for the country holding the empire of holding an empire, could there never be a real-world situation in which it would be better for all concerned if a very dark country were ruled from outside in such a fashion that the dark impulses and practices of its native culture were suppressed?
The third thought is this: We should maybe be looking askance at immigration from Uganda. And "native religious leaders" (by which I mean leaders of native, non-Christian religions) should absolutely be prohibited from immigrating to the U.S. Yes, this is discrimination in immigration. Bully for discrimination in immigration. Do we really want a Child Sacrifice Police Task Force in Omaha, Nebraska? Worse, do we really want an ineffective Child Sacrifice Police Task Force in Omaha, Nebraska?
October 16, 2011
Occupy Wall Street
Yeah, I know - the OWS'ers are, by & large, a bunch of spoilt brats, professional protestors, and assorted other misfits & goons.
Still, I can't help thinking that what passes for the organized right in this country is playing this phenomenon exactly wrong, when it enters the lists on the side of Wall Street.
I mean, look: they've got a legitimate beef, haven't they? By all accounts, Wall Street & Washington cooperated in a gigantic gambling spree, which nobody seems fully to understand, but which very nearly destroyed the international financial system - along with their job prospects. And, so far as anybody can tell, no-one has been held to account for this.
In fact, pretty much all of the same people still seem to be running pretty much everything.
It's way past time that some heads got mounted on spikes on the city gates - so to speak.
The only question is, whose heads?
October 18, 2011
Down with Free Trade!
The theory goes like this: if trade barriers are imposed to protect American industries, then foreign countries will retaliate, closing off markets for American products, thereby harming the American economy which depends on exports. Keep those foreign markets open, and American industry will flourish. Besides, if American companies can't compete with foreign companies, they don't deserve to survive anyway. "Free trade" has been the reigning orthodoxy since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose economic acolytes effectively won the argument. So far as I can tell, there has been a decades-long consensus in American politics on this point. American liberals like the openness to all things foreign; neo-conservatives like a system where money is the highest good; and everybody's happy.
Turns out that free trade theory hasn't worked out so well. Turns out that "free trade" is just another term meaning "cheap is all that matters":
Spoons and forks, the metal flatware that everyone uses, are no longer made in the United States. The last factory in an industry stretching back to colonial times closed eight months ago in Sherrill, N.Y., a small community in the foothills of the Adirondacks, and 80 employees lost their jobs ...
Losing an industry or ceasing to manufacture a particular product, in this case stainless steel flatware, has indeed become a fairly frequent event. Just in the last few years, the last sardine cannery, in Maine, closed its doors. Stainless steel rebars, the sturdy rods that reinforce concrete in all kinds of construction, are now no longer made in America. Neither are vending machines or incandescent light bulbs or cellphones or laptop computers.
I can't be too hard on the free traders. I was one of them for a very long time. Any country needs an economic philosophy, and global democratic capitalism had some brilliant minds behind it. But here's the thing: foreign trade has tremendous potential to both enrich and impoverish nations. It can impoverish a nation by creating economic dependency and vulnerability, ruining a peoples' ability to do necessary things for themselves. That's precisely what is happening to us. Trade on that level is not merely a private exchange with a few externalities: it's a public act with far-reaching social consequences, and must therefore be regulated for the public good.
Even if you don't believe that free trade has anything to do with our economic woes, surely you will admit that full exposure to the tender mercies of predatory global capitalism is probably a bad idea until we begin to recover our manufacturing base.
October 20, 2011
Securities are different
Is there something particular about the securities trade that justifies more careful scrutiny by regulation than other classes of trade or commerce? To this pregnant question I answer in the affirmative, for several overlapping reasons:
(1) Securities are supremely dependent on both an intricate structure of property and contract law and a stupendous architecture of technological sophistication, both of which, in turn, evidence a peculiar susceptibility of plutocratic concentration. Commerce in these tradable financial instruments, as it grows in importance and complexity, is a sure path to that socialization of costs and privatization of profits which featured so prominently in the financial crisis of 2007-08. Both law and custom grew ever more reliant on the assumption that certain asset classes (i.e., particularly important securities) would retain value and supply stability in pricing; and the lawyers and financiers whose business was grounded on this postulated stability grew ever more influential in American politics; until we reached a point beyond which no resources of government, or of central bank intervention, would be spared to preserve that stability in the face of market panic. That few Americans really grasped the character of this plutocratic shift in no way confutes the observation; the shift was indeed consummated a full decade before the 2007-08 crisis began.
(2) Commerce in securities under modern conditions unites the brittle abstraction of academic refinement with the brash adventurism of Alpha male competition. And then, at back of that bizarre amalgam lies a coddling welfare state apparatus. Perhaps some financiers flatter themselves with tales of cowboy risk-taking, where the winners are the toughest, the meanest, the sharpest; we know now that when the going gets tough, the toughest, meanest and sharpest run to the Fed and Treasury for help. Most likely these toughs have themselves held positions at the Fed or Treasury. Not infrequently, when they run to the Fed, they find there men who were recruited from their own firms to run these institutions. Whenever I read some conservative holding forth with tales of the poor beleaguered bankers, pushed around by congressmen and regulators, I want to spit.
(3) Investment banks, securities firms, broker-dealers: like it or not, these are public institutions no less than commercial banks. Large portions of their business resemble utilities. As primary dealers, they are the counterparties of the Federal Reserve and other world central banks. Together they operate the nation’s payments system: which is why a very real fear in autumn 2008 was the collapse of that system, with the immediate and unthinkable consequence of hundreds of millions of American paychecks bouncing like basketballs. Recall that for months the Fed became the indispensable lender behind the commercial paper market for such emphatically non-financial firms as Harley-Davidson and McDonalds. (As I have intimated before, one intriguing idea for reform is whatever regulatory regime would force investment banks back into private ownership, which would amount to a direct and unmistakable blow against the doctrine of Too Big to Fail.)
The foregoing considerations (which are hardly exhaustive) comprise a set of rational grounds for arguing that the securities trade merits unusual attention from the statesman concerned with the liberty and prosperity of his country. For conservatives they comprise a set of prudential grounds, in this particular context, for setting aside, or at least balancing with more wary or suspicious treatment, the usual embrace of free enterprise.
October 22, 2011
Poor? Lonely? The Dutch have a (final) solution
I've commented here before, rather passionately, on the unpleasant equation of being lonely with having a worthless or futile life. In particular, I've commented on these quotations from Roger Scruton, which make exactly that frightening mistake:
A world in which increasingly many human beings are without affectionate relations with their kind, persisting as burdens to be carried rather than companions to be enjoyed, will be a world in which human life seems far less precious than it seems to us today.
The critical question is longevity itself, which has brought about a situation in which we all have something to fear worse than death, namely the living death of the loveless.
(There is a lot more at the linked older post, including more from Scruton and much interesting discussion.)
The word Scruton didn't use, instead of "the loveless" is "the unloved." That is, of course, what he's really talking about. It would have made a big difference to the meaning of the sentence had he done so--placing the blame for the situation at least not entirely on the elderly who live "too long" and at least somewhat on those who fail to love them. Another word, also beginning with L, that he could have used instead of "loveless" is "lonely."
And now, the Dutch have become practical about this. They have expanded the definition of "suffering" in connection with doctor-assisted death to include "non-medical factors such as income or loneliness." Here's a longer list:
As people age, many suffer from a complex array of gradually worsening problems, which can include poor eyesight, deafness, fatigue, difficulty in walking and incontinence as well as loss of dignity, status, financial resources, an ever-shrinking social network and loss of social skills. Although this accumulation of ailments and diseases is not life-threatening as such, it does have a negative impact on the quality of life and make[s] the elderly vulnerable or fragile.
Well, hey, if you're vulnerable or fragile, if you're impoverished or lonely, you might be in "unbearable suffering." How about dying, old chap? But let's not rush to judgement. If those factors are included, other "specialists" are to be consulted before the person is actually euthanized. I feel so much better.
Addendum: If you haven't previously read this well-written excerpt from a book by Thomas E. Schmidt--about a woman who might well have been said to be "persisting as a burden to be carried" and all the rest of it--it's worth a read. Please note that the blogger who posted the excerpt is not the author. I say this partly because Schmidt (inexcusably, especially in a Christian author) uses the "v-word" for two of the people in the nursing home he was visiting, and I wouldn't want the blogger who posted to be blamed for using the word. Despite that, Schmidt sees, at least in the case of Mabel, that the loneliness of the ill and the vulnerable is a challenge to the rest of society, not a sign that their lives are valueless.
What the Dutch case shows us, terrifyingly, is how easy it is for people who are presumably, by and large, as "nice" as most people, to come to hear words like "fragile," "vulnerable," and "lonely" not as calls to action, not as calls to active love and compassion, but as calls to kill. God preserve us from that change in our own hearing.
October 24, 2011
But for Wales (Redux)
Here is my other "But for Wales" post. The allusion, of course, is to Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons.
The Devil doesn't play fair, does he? Again and again we see it: An individual or an institution sells his, or its, soul and doesn't even get the world in return. Sometimes the return on investment is zero.
So it is in this case. A hospital that previously wasn't Catholic became affiliated with a Catholic non-profit. So it stopped providing abortions on-site. Okay so far. But out of deference to all the pro-aborts out there and to the supposed grave need to make sure women have access to the ability to slaughter their young, it accompanied this with a brand spanking new affiliation with a nearby Planned Parenthood (!) at which its doctors are happily allowed to perform abortions. By the way, is it just my imagination, or did it used to be that Catholic hospitals denied physician privileges to doctors who performed abortions elsewhere? That is certainly my impression. Well, that's out the window here. And an express affiliation with Planned Parenthood! Not good.
Well, it's getting them nothing. Nada. Zilch. The usual suspects are just as outraged as they would otherwise have been. They're "putting women's reproductive health in danger" and all the rest of it.
It's quite possible (in fact, I'd almost prefer to think it) that the powers that be at this newly "Catholic" hospital are no more Catholic than they are pro-life and that their whole goal here was simply to pacify their new non-profit affiliate while maintaining their commitment to abortion on demand. But what I fear is that this will become the new normal for actually Catholic hospitals, hospitals that have been Catholic all along. After all, Catholic hospitals must realize that it's only a matter of time before the government attempts directly to force them, perhaps on pain of loss of public funds without which they can't operate, to perform abortions. It would be pretty tempting to see if they can split the difference: Don't actually have abortions on-site but affiliate with a Planned Parenthood just down the street, where your doctors are encouraged to practice, to provide abortions. (To the women: "And you can keep your own doctor for the abortion!") Make the faithful think you're taking a "principled stand" while trying to feed the pro-abortion Beast enough to shut it up.
Let's hope that the reception of this hospital's attempted compromise will put paid to any such idea. It won't satisfy the pro-abort Beast. Good Lord willin', it won't satisfy the local Catholics, including the local Bishop, either.
Compromise on fundamental principles never pays. Sometimes, it doesn't even seem to pay.
Update: Upon re-reading the story, I see that it's even worse than my first post draft stated. The hospital is establishing a new abortion clinic in cooperation with planned parenthood. They are obviously doing this to "replace" their own services somewhere close by. This is disgusting. Providence--the non-profit org.--should definitely sever their connection with them over this. I don't care if it's a new connection or not.
October 25, 2011
Pensions and the usury crisis
Proper reflection on the crisis of finance capitalism must always keep in mind public sector pension plans. Not merely are these blundering investment funds laying waste to state and local budgets: they also comprise a formidable chunk of the buy-side for debt securities. In other words, in the vast brittle architecture of bond markets, pension funds generate a very considerable portion of the demand for products. Moreover, with these plans grounding their actuarial calculations on 8% annual returns (if not more), the chase for exotic debt securities, riskier and thus bearing higher interest yield, grows ever more intense and reckless.
This hair-raising New York Times report examines the dire straits in which the state of Rhode Island finds itself. The situation is grim indeed.
And then — as always — the other side to this story:
For all the pain here, one important constituency — Wall Street — seems satisfied enough. To reassure its bond investors, Rhode Island passed a special law this year giving them first dibs on tax revenue. In other words, bondholders will be paid, whatever happens.
So we return to the principle of plutocracy: private creditors shall take no losses.
October 27, 2011
Between emergency and melioration
Your policy with regard to an emergency must evidently differ at least slightly, and may well differ markedly, from your policy of melioration after the emergency has passed.
It is exceedingly rare that the sort of hurried stopgaps and improvisation that men deploy to answer an emergency likewise comprise their recommendations for reform and repair once the dust settles. When NASA engineers (as depicted in the fine film Apollo 13) scrambled to assemble air scrubbers out of the extremely limited collection of available gear, thus by remarkable ingenuity saving the astronauts from certain death by asphyxiation, they never imagined that their jury-rigged design to fit cube-shaped canisters into cylindrical sockets would be emulated in later missions. The idea of that design as a permanent blueprint would have been perfectly absurd to them.
It follows that an emergency policy must be approached and analyzed differently from non-emergency ameliorative policy.
Sharia and the Marines
I find this fairly shocking, despite many warnings that should perhaps have mitigated the sense of shock. Our Marines in Afghanistan are being trained as follows:
Mubarak also said the Marines should never spit or urinate to the west, the direction of Mecca that Muslims in Afghanistan face when they pray.
In addition, when sharing a base with Afghan army troops, Marines shouldn't sleep with their feet pointed west, because that also is considered offensive, he said.
I hope I'm not the only one who reads that and says, "What???!"
This is outrageous. Our men in uniform should not be being forced to comply with the ridiculous sharia requirements in the tiny details of their lives concerning not facing toward Mecca when doing this or that. It's like we're trying actively to undermine morale and turn our military into a clown circus, while meanwhile risking lives. And risking lives specifically in this very search for cultural sensitivity:
Afghan compounds of tribal elders are always neutral ground, Mubarak said. There is no need to wear protective vests, because the custom is that any person inside the compound will have the full protection of the Afghans who live there.
In this post I said that empires are bad for the countries that have them. This is an example. An extreme one, to be sure, and one that isn't a necessary consequence of our having troops abroad. We could be sane rather than insane. We could refrain from training our Marines (as if they have nothing more important to think about) to worry about what direction they are facing when they sleep or commune with nature. Yes, it is buffoons in the military who are forcing our men to do this.
Nonetheless, it is a consequence of, inter alia, our never-ending quest for something-or-other by means of having troops all over the globe. I can't help thinking that a Marine being forced to use the bathroom in a sharia-compliant manner might prefer being deployed to deal with drug dealers invading the Mexican border. At least that would be a meaningful job.
October 30, 2011
A rad idea or two
Okay, legal eagles, prepare to be shocked. This is a little exercise in fantasy legal-land for my education.
To begin with, what would happen if some state actually did enforce a law flatly at odds with Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, and all the rest? You can parse out the exact details of the hypothetical state law here in a number of ways. Rather than take time to do that, I'll just say that we should surmise that at the end of the process--in which the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the state all had to cooperate--some abortionist has been tried, sentenced, and is in jail for performing an abortion that Roe and company "don't allow" states to prohibit.
What happens? Well, obviously, at some point along the way the abortionist's lawyers bring suit in federal court, and I think we can assume that the federal court issues a court order to the state to release him. Suppose the state officials refuse. What then?
I'm guessing (but this is one place where I'll accept well-supported correction) that the federal court orders federal marshals to go to the state and enforce the court order that he be released. Correct?
If that's correct, then try this question out for size: What would happen if, at that point, the President of the United States ordered the federal marshals not to go? After all, enforcement powers are supposed to lie with the executive branch, are they not? It's not as though the judicial branch just has a standing array of guns at its direct disposal, is it? Would it or would it not lie within the powers of the President to order that no such court order be enforced? If the court doesn't order the marshals to go but expects the President to do so, then things are even easier. He can just refuse to do so.
Wouldn't it be interesting if a candidate for the Presidency promised to do one or the other of these and, in effect, to nullify Roe v. Wade by refusing the power for its enforcement against the state?
Probably you don't like that idea. Probably even some of my more conservative commentators don't like that idea. Okay, how about this one, which would require more people to be involved. Congress controls expenditures. What if Congress wrote into a budget bill an express provision that no funds could be used to enforce any federal court orders to states to release any abortionist from jail? Presumably the federal courts would declare such a bill unconstitutional, but what if Congress ignored that and refused to pass a new bill taking out that language?
Just a few, shall we say, creative thoughts on overturning Roe from the federal level, but without passing a constitutional amendment.
October 31, 2011
Steve Jobs' last achievement?
"Death didn’t happen to Steve, he achieved it." - Mona Simpson
"Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
rescue me from fires undying!" - Dies Irae
I hesitate to comment too freely about the death of any person, as dying is the greatest and most intimate trial that most people will ever endure. But I never cease to be amazed that not even death manages to humble the worldly. The one thing that is unmistakably, undeniably, unquestionably beyond man's ability to prevent - the eventual death of the body - must be considered as something "achieved" by a man who was, in this life, a great achiever. The brazen denial is stunning when you think about it.
"Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
all my shame with anguish owning;
spare, O God, thy suppliant groaning!"
Death is a punishment. Yes, death is also the gateway to eternal life, an inscrutable mercy, perhaps a moment of overwhelming grace, melting the heart and inciting contrition, turning the soul towards God - but it is a punishment first. Death is imposed on man, by God Himself, against man's natural will, as a punishment for sins original and actual. It cannot be "achieved" by man in any sense, except indirectly by breaking the Fifth Commandment, which is an easy thing for anyone sufficiently depraved - hardly another feather in any man's cap of worldly achievements.
Nothing reveals man's ultimate dependence and powerlessness like death. That is as it should be. The idea of man "achieving death" is outrageously arrogant. Unable to achieve physical immortality, despite great scientific and technological progress, in desperation modern man claims to achieve what his Creator has inexorably decreed. Without being too hard on Ms. Simpson in her mourning, let's hope that Steve Jobs achieved not his own death, but only a final "yes" to God - a surrender - and that his last words were uttered in awe at the divine mystery.
Pessimism into American optimism?
When a reliable pessimist turns discernibly optimistic it is worthy of note. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is such a one, in his recent column on “the American phoenix.” His adducement of the stirrings of a natural resource boom in the United States is abetted by reports from various sources.
Consider some samples:
He suggests that “the China-US seesaw is about to swing the other way. Offshoring is out, ‘re-inshoring’ is the new fashion.” He cites a report, “Made in America, Again” out of Boston that alleged “Chinese wage inflation running at 16pc a year for a decade has closed much of the cost gap.” Nothing to sneeze at. Labor’s comparative advantage switches rapidly. Indeed, “China is no longer” what we might call “the default location” for firms seeking “cheap plants” to supply the US.
Such industries as “computers, electrical equipment, machinery, autos and motor parts, plastics and rubber, fabricated metals, and even furniture” approach a “tipping point.” The evidence: the “gap” (economist-speak) “in productivity-adjusted wages” for China “will narrow from 22pc of US levels in 2005 to 43pc (61pc for the US South) by 2015.” What’s more, “shipping costs, reliability woes, technology piracy” conduce to an state of affairs where “advantage shifts back to the US.”
Should that prediction come true, we can thank Ben Bernanke and his helicopters for the revival of American manufacturing industry. The dollar fell against the yen to a record low today. This indicates that, especially in Asia, companies selling from dollars into Asian markets are benefited, ceteris paribus, by the currency environment.
The list of “repatriates” is growing. Farouk Systems is bringing back assembly of hair dryers to Texas after counterfeiting problems; ET Water Systems has switched its irrigation products to California; Master Lock is returning to Milwaukee, and NCR is bringing back its ATM output to Georgia. NatLabs is coming home to Florida.
One consistent point of my amateur analysis of world political economy since the shock and crash of 2008 may be summed up as a spellbound awe at the capacity of fact to lay waste to theory. Facts are pulverizing; human predictions are easily ground to bits. Perhaps this weak-dollar trend will reverse and labor parity vanish from discourse. But if it does not, we’re in for some theory-busting facts to roll through this place. We could devalue our way out of this debt mess; and then check that risk by emancipating the ingenuity of America to exploit the valuable resources right under our noses, which we’ve only begun to discover. Look at the facts, again:
“The US was the single largest contributor to global oil supply growth last year, with a net 395,000 barrels per day (b/d),” said Francisco Blanch from Bank of America, comparing the Dakota fields to a new North Sea. Total US shale output is “set to expand dramatically” as fresh sources come on stream, possibly reaching 5.5m b/d by mid-decade. This is a tenfold rise since 2009.
So there is a positive policy toward recovery: weak-dollar and a natural-resource boom. We’ll grow out of this usury crisis: we'll do it by empowering our merchants, particularly our energy merchants. I offer it in that spirit of skepticism that I have indicated behooves us regarding all predictions which ground policies.