What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

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December 2011 Archives

December 2, 2011

A great rant to start your weekend right

A good rant, like good music, can make you smile. It can keep you smiling all day, quoting bits of it to yourself. Herewith I share with you the first paragraph of a highly intelligent and apt rant from way back in 1991:

This is a book that contradicts itself a hundred times; but that is not a criticism of it, because its author thinks contradictions are a sign of intellectual ferment and vitality. This is a book that systematically distorts and selects historical evidence; but that is not a criticism, because its author thinks that all interpretations are biased, and she regards it as her duty to pick and choose her facts to favor her own brand of politics. This is a book full of vaporous, French-intellectual prose that makes Teilhard de Chardin sound like Ernest Hemingway by comparison; but that is not a criticism, because the author likes that sort of prose and has taken lessons in how to write it, and she thinks that plain, homely speech is part of a conspiracy to oppress the poor. This is a book that clatters around in a dark closet of irrelevancies for 450 pages before it bumps accidentally into its index and stops; but that is not a criticism, either, because its author finds it gratifying and refreshing to bang unrelated facts together as a rebuke to stuffy minds. This book infuriated me; but that is not a defect in it, because it is supposed to infuriate people like me, and the author would have been happier still if I had blown out an artery. In short, this book is flawless, because all its deficiencies are deliberate products of art.

The author of the review is one Matt Cartmill of the department of Biological Anthropology and Human Anatomy at Duke University. The postmodernist book he so justly skewers is called Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science and is by Donna Haraway.

I understand she's a stand-up feminist philosopher.

(HT: Esteemed Husband.)

The Greatest Generation

While we're on the topic of great rants, Stephen Masty at The Imaginative Conservative takes on the "greatest generation" in his latest post:

America’s so-called Greatest Generation is great only in comparison to the rubbish that followed them, which frankly and literally they begat. The rest is mostly sentimentality, projecting onto an entire generation what we may more rightly respect about our own dear relations.

While it may sound ungrateful to the veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, from where did these ghastly Boomers come? Did they spring like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, fully-armed with credit cards, neuroses and BMW motorcars? Or did they have parents?

The so-called Greatest Generation created Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society that metastasized welfarism and made permanent the culture of entitlement. They created or enabled the Permissive Society that shattered millennia-old values leading to the decline of marriage, a level of narcotics-abuse never seen before in a developed country, an epidemic of sexually-transmitted diseases and the industrial-scale production of bastard children. They ran America when Roe-v-Wade opened the floodgates to 50 million abortions since.

Too nice to argue and too weak to put their foot down, they spoilt their offspring with the kind of good-natured generosity and blind tolerance that is far more harmful than parsimony and even cruelty.

Having inherited a work-ethic from their parents who fed them through the Great Depression, they built America’s post-war economic surge but then wiped the cultural hard-drive, hoping to free their creepy kids from what the “Greatest Generation” saw as a work-a-day encumbrance and we now see as a missing ingredient of national strength.

In that sense, they were hopeful ideologues of materialism as much as any of Chairman Mao’s acolytes were ideologues of communism. If they had religion in their fox-holes and bomb-craters, they failed to pass it on to many of their progeny.

Continue reading "The Greatest Generation" »

December 4, 2011

First Premise

Purely physical causes can have profound psychological/behavioral effects.

Yes? No?

Just in case anybody's inclined to answer "no," I suggest that he or she drink a fifth of bourbon and then get back to me.

Admittedly, this is a mysterious phenomenon.

But I think it's a real one.

Or am I missing something?

December 5, 2011

Gender-bending at Southern Oregon University

In the midst of conservative, rural southern Oregon is the People's Republic of Ashland, a picturesque university town that has long been a hotbed of left-wing nuttiness and social experimention. Which tends to be the norm for small university towns. If recent developments at SOU are any indication, the next generation of college graduates isn't going to be friendly. Behold, America's future leaders:

Continue reading "Gender-bending at Southern Oregon University" »

Second Premise

One of the purely physical causes that can have profound effects on one's psychology &/or behavior is one's genotype.

Please note that, when it comes to cats, dogs, pigs, pigeons, and all other non-human animals, nobody even pretends seriously to dispute this point.

December 6, 2011

Third Premise

Depending on environmental circumstances, some behaviors are more likely than others to contribute to the survival and reproduction of oneself and of one's kin.

December 7, 2011

Jefferson Rising

JeffersonBorderPatrol.jpg

One of the most powerful acts of quiet resistance in 21st century America is simply to love your own place. Hang the television, the internet, the corporate monoculture, the federal behemoth, and the priorities of distant capitols and rediscover your own backyard. Cultivate those regional loyalties and affections without which it is impossible to fulfill the commandment "love your neighbor".

Towards that end, things are really heating up in northern California. On October 22 a new organization called "Defend Rural America" hosted an unprecedented panel of eight local sheriffs who proclaimed their loyalty to the people who elected them - and to the Constitution - over and above the destructive encroachments of federal and state governments. According to one report:

Continue reading "Jefferson Rising" »

Regrettable

Since the post I'm going to criticize here has been around for a couple of years, though recently re-posted, it's possible that some readers will recognize the quotations and know who wrote it. If so, try to do the thought experiment of pretending that you don't know. If you don't know, don't look ahead to the end. Just read the quotations and this post first. It's also entirely possible that some readers who do get to the end won't be at all struck by the name of the author. Protestants, especially Protestants who follow the blogosphere, are more likely to have heard of him than Catholics. (Yes, it's a "him." That doesn't tell you much.)

Okay, let's get down to it. Suppose that you read the following, but didn't know who had written it and had no special reason to think of this writer as a conservative or even a very sensible person:

Jesus has AIDS.

Just reading that in the type in front of you probably has some of you angry. Let me help you see why that is, and, in so doing, why caring for those with AIDS is part of the gospel mandate given to us in the Great Commission.

[snip]

[W]hat we’re often likely to miss is that Jesus has identified himself with the suffering of this world, an identification that continues on through his church. Yes, Jesus finishes his suffering at the cross, but he also speaks of himself as being “persecuted” by Saul of Tarsus, as Saul comes after his church in Damascus (Acts 9:4).

Through the Spirit of Christ, we “groan” with him at the suffering of a universe still under the curse (Rom. 8:23,26). This curse manifests itself, as in billions of other ways, in bodies turned against themselves by immune systems gone awry.

[snip]

Some of you are angered by the statement I typed above because you think somehow it implicates Jesus. After all, AIDS is a shameful disease, one most often spread through sexual promiscuity or illicit drug use.

Yes.

Yes, but those are the very kinds of people Jesus consistently identified himself with as he walked the hillsides of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem, announcing the kingdom of God. Can one be more sexually promiscuous than the prostitutes Jesus ate with? Can one be more marginalized from society than a woman dripping with blood, blood that would have made anyone who touched her unclean (Luke 8:40-48)? Jesus touched her, and took her uncleanness on himself.

AIDS is scandalous, sure. But not nearly as scandalous as a cross.

At the crucifixion stake, Jesus identifies himself with a sinful world (including the scandal of my sin). He was seen to be cursed by God (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13). This is why it seemed so reasonable to the shouting crowds to curse him as a false Messiah, because only those rejected by God would ever be hanged on a tree. And that’s why the apostle Paul had to repeatedly insist that he was not “ashamed” of the cross. At Golgotha, Jesus became sin (though he never knew it himself) by bearing the sins of the world (2 Cor 5:21). Now that’s scandalous.

[snip]

And so, if we love Jesus, our churches should be more aware of the cries of the curse, including the curse of AIDS, than the culture around us. Our congregations should welcome the AIDS-infected, and we shouldn’t be afraid to hug them as we would hug our Christ.

Go below the fold to read the critique. I won't reveal the name of the author until close to the end of the post.

Continue reading "Regrettable" »

December 8, 2011

Fourth Premise

Genes that have psychological and/or behavioral effects which promote the survival and reproduction of oneself and one's kin in a particular environment will, over time, tend to spread in that environment, while genes that detract from same will tend to die out.

Once again, I don't think that this proposition is seriously dubitable - and it's really all one needs to get evolutionary psychology off the ground. Obviously, it immediately raises all sorts of questions: what particular psychological and/or behavioral effects can be attributed to genetic causes, which such effects promote or detract from inclusive fitness in what particular environments, and so on. Answering such questions is, of course, what the field of evolutionary psychology is all about.

Now I think it's fairly clear that the sorts of psychological and/or behavioral variations that can be linked to genetic causes are going to be of a pretty general character: things like openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, general intelligence, and so on. But these are extremely interesting and important things. For example, differences in ancestral environment may well help to explain group differences in intellectual ability and criminality in ways that are wholly at odds with decades of public policy. If so, then that's a big deal.

Blanket complaints about the "poverty" of the whole field of inquiry because it can't offer us detailed explanations for every aspect of what was going on in Edison's mind when he invented the lightbulb or in Beethoven's when he composed the Grosse Fuge strike me as just silly. And complaining that it can't explain the origin of consciousness and solve the mind/body problem strike me as even sillier. Those are jobs for biographers and philosophers, respectively.

December 9, 2011

Deception and the definition of an "abortion procedure"

As Leon Wolf aptly puts it at Redstate, this is the face of evil. A nurse in a lawsuit over conscience rights claims that she was told, "You just have to catch the baby's head. Don't worry, it's already dead." The hospital pretends that it is respecting nurses' conscience rights and that they are merely being asked to do routine care for patients before and after the abortion procedure, as if it were any surgery. In fact, the hospital even claims that nurses are not required to be in the room while the abortion procedure is going on.

Really? Is catching a dead baby a routine part of non-abortion surgeries? Obviously not. So we have a few options. 1) The hospital is deceiving or lying outright. 2) The nurse is lying outright. I'm having trouble coming up with other options. I suppose there might be a 3) The "catch the dead baby's head" order was not part of the normal working of the hospital's policy and won't be allowed to happen again.

There is no independent evidence for #3. I just made it up. The hospital certainly hasn't said anything of the sort.

Myself, I plump for #1. Under "lying outright" we would have simply forcing nurses to be in the room for the whole abortion, and that's that. Under "deceiving" we would have the abortionist doing some baby-killing thing--a poison shot to the child's heart, perhaps--followed by calling in the conscientious objector nurse to clean up the "detritus." As one commentator at Secondhand Smoke pointed out, in some abortion procedures this might be taking place over a fairly long period of time during which the woman's cervix was dilated after the child was killed by a lethal injection. That would make it somewhat easier for the hospital to pretend that it is respecting the nurse's conscience rights. Hey, it's the next morning after "the procedure." So of course catching the dead baby is just "post-abortion patient care."

And that's deception. By the way, where does "training" come in if we're talking about routine nursing skills that are the same for patient care before and after all surgical procedures? Wouldn't the nurses already have this training? But of course, it might take special training to clean up dead baby parts.

One other point that I don't know if anyone else has made about this: Think about the implications of giving pre-surgical care to a woman about to undergo an abortion. Even if what the nurse does really is in that case just routine medical stuff, here are two real people interacting. The nurse is not just a machine. And she knows that this person is about to have the life of her baby taken. At a minimum what is presumably being demanded is that the nurse say nothing to try to dissuade the mother at this last possible moment. Considering the hard work pro-lifers do to try to get an opportunity even to speak with abortion-minded women and suggest that they pursue other avenues, this is asking a lot and has major ramifications for the conscience of the nurses. Whatever conversation goes on (and patients and nurses do converse), how can the nurse in good conscience appear to approve of what the woman is about to do? What if the woman shows fear or second thoughts spontaneously? Is the nurse allowed to pick up on that and try to persuade her otherwise? What if the woman makes leading comments seeking to justify her action? Even "routine medical care" has enormous implications prior to a "surgical procedure" that is murder.

No, the hospital isn't respecting the nurses' conscience rights. What will happen next is anyone's guess. Legally, the situation is a bit odd. The nurses are evidently suing for alleged religious discrimination. This is smart, because it gives them standing. Their lawyer, however, is bringing up federal conscience protection laws, and in a similar suit elsewhere a federal judge ruled that federal conscience protection laws don't allow the individual to sue. Only Health and Human Services can enforce such laws if it feels like doing so. So I'm not sure exactly how the federal conscience protection laws will be brought in here. But more power to the nurses and to their lawyer. This is the face of evil, and it must be fought.

Diversity Office Becomes Scrooge

A large entity that I do a lot of work with has a Diversity office, which sent out the following message for the employees:

The Diversity office has received calls and inquiries about holiday decorations and practices that cause some employees to feel isolated and excluded. Often employees are reluctant to raise concerns because they know others enjoy the decorations and festivities. While it's impossible for the Diversity office to prescribe a list of appropriate holiday decorations or practices, please plan holiday events and displays in common work areas with the knowledge that not everyone shares and observes the same holiday traditions.

Make choices that do not reflect a single way of commemorating a holiday; broaden displays to include other holidays that others may observe or choose themes that reflect a seasonal motif rather than a religious one.

Plan office parties, receptions, or open houses using terms that include, rather than exclude, such as inviting employees to celebrate the holiday season, the winter break, and a season of lights or peace.

Organization-related observances should welcome all employees to share in the spirit of the winter season - a time for joy and celebration. Take the time to reflect on and gain knowledge of the diverse cultures within the Organization.

I have a question, aimed particularly but not exclusively at the left wing of our readership: If you take the religious sources of festivity away from December, and are left with the "spirit of winter", isn't that spirit (a) cold, (b) dark, (c) slim food pickings, (d) colds and other illness, and (e) extra work (cutting fire wood, shoveling driveway and scraping ice off windshield)? Don't they even realize that the "spirit of December" that we are used to is completely rooted in religious holy days?

And my general question is: is the above message in violation of employment laws, for example because by it the employer informs his employees who wish to take note of a religious theme to the holidays that their perspective is not welcome, while he welcomes other themes? Does it matter who the employer is?

December 10, 2011

Stoicism!

Just finished grading the final exams & term papers for my Fall '11 introductory courses on ethical theory.

So here was my big surprise: everybody wanted to talk about stoicism!

Well, not everybody, of course - I'm exaggerating. But lots & lots of people - way more than I would have expected.

I'd never taught Epictetus, before, and hadn't even read Marcus Aurelius. And, at first glance, I thought it might be an uphill battle to explain to American kids today whatever appeal their extremely fatalistic views might once have had - geared, as they were, to a harsh and brutal human landscape long since gone.

The more fool I! Apparently, the sense that one is a plaything of the heartless gods, and that salvation lies in passive acceptance of their will, is alive and well, and needs no defense from me.

December 11, 2011

Sunday Verse

EUROZONE HUBRIS BLUES APPROXIMATELY*

When one sad day and desperate not long from now
A tidy Teutonic bureaucrat presents his furrowed brow
In the halls of Athens, Madrid, Lisbon, Dublin or Warsaw;
When such as these must at last endure that tidy visage raw:
Entrusted with a duty most stern, hardly undertaken pleasurably,
To deliver to some city of the Eurozone periphery
Word of submitting finally to Franco-German yoke:
Real austerity for a hundred thousand folk
From public payrolls and security cut off;
A million more their pensions made measurably more soft.

When one forlorn and dismal day from Brussels does depart
A delegation whose message, couched in technical terms of art,
At base bespeaks of taking not the scalpel but the axe
To venerable welfare budgets until little is left intact:
When this dreary spectacle so long feared is observed,
And talk of Germanic conquest no longer sounds absurd;
Then ‘round the world shall ring
That Common Currency is no longer king
But Teutonic sovereignty imposed,
And any retreat from imperial Europe foreclosed.

When on that drab day Frankfurt central bankers consummate
This decisive blow for their mantra “We will not inflate!”
Will integration and finance capitalism, bereft now of disguise,
Be free to strut about at length and discard emollient lies
And dare for once declare its true principle:
“Private creditors must always be made whole”?
Or will a reckoning break in upon the public mind
Which issues in a realization, long tenaciously denied:
“We can have a generous dole funded by steady economic growth
Or we can indulge our envy — we cannot have both”?

When one dim and darkening day, as whispers have long foretold,
No German balance sheet, no synthetic neo-deutschmark sold
By even the cleverest rocket science modeling risk probabilities
Can avert the crack of doom, can calm the quaking knees
Of financiers and securitizers stalking every trading floor
In Paris and in London, faraway Dubai and Singapore
Nor sparing Basel, Frankfurt, New York or Reykjavik,
Every last bank integrating capital, the globalization trick;
Liquidity and margin calls, swap spread, three-party repo:
Mystique of technicality like any human hubris is laid low.

When some distant gloomy day a streak of light obtrudes,
When delusion and entitlement give way to a saner mood:
The predicament will be found at bottom not fiscal or monetary at all,
But rather a crisis of spirit, a loss of faith and enterprise withal.
For at back of any promise out of public treasury to provide
Security from want and comfort in retirement besides
Is the assumption of procreation of the productive class of men
Whose industry and ingenuity rewards not only them;
No less than the assumption of procreation of the laboring type
Whose hard work by small increments stores up the nation’s wealth and might.

When one far off happy day restoration of health draws near
When society is again a partnership beyond the now and here
A partnership across the generations, from long dead to unborn
From the toughest capitalist to the humblest family’s lowest born
Democracy of the dead, alive and well
Its truest form, noblesse oblige, upon our progeny fell
Nobility obliges. Above all to the least of these
The Creed of the Cross, the yoke that frees
And then at last our society’s contract will find it will not fail:
The one institution against which hell’s gates shall not prevail.



________
* Apologies to Bob Dylan

The reduction of masculinity

I read The Crescat blog fairly regularly. The Crescat is very Catholic, and I'm very Protestant. The Crescat is a salty writer, and I'm exceedingly careful about language. The Crescat just the other day said something negative about the song "Mary, Did You Know?", and I like both the song and the music type. But I enjoy reading her blog.

She has recently put up a particularly insightful post. (Language warning, however.) It's about the reduction of masculinity to anatomy.

Her simple, undeniable point is this: Feminism, by vehemently rejecting a broad and praiseworthy concept of masculinity in the name of promoting equality, implicitly reduces the meaning of being a boy or a man to the possession of certain organs. After all, we can't say that masculinity has something to do with chivalry, with being protective and strong. We must make men and women equal, which means we must make them the same in all respects we can manage, which means the only difference we are allowed to admit is the stark difference of anatomy. Once masculinity has been given this feminist reductive treatment, it should come as no surprise that men raised with these ideas are overly focused on sex and lacking a sense of their own, and others', human dignity. And it should be no surprise that girls, taught the same general message that the only difference between men and women is their (supposedly, unimportant) anatomy, also become hyper-sexualized.

Such a simple point, such an obvious one, yet a point that feminists and their fellow travelers never get or maybe just don't care about. We can see, then, how feminists, who supposedly are committed to empowering women and making women valued for their minds and their humanity, have actually been complicit (wittingly or unwittingly) in reducing women to sex objects and men to beasts on the lookout for women to use. If human sexuality is stripped of all its distinctly human aspects such as romantic love, male protectiveness and female trust, and lifelong commitment it will, at least in society at large, be reduced to the level of the animals. This is what we see all around us. This is the consequence of, inter alia, feminism. Congratulations, girls. Thanks a lot.

(Readers, I count on you to stick to my language and discussion norms, despite the sexual nature of the post's content.)

December 12, 2011

David and Goliath

Picking up on a fact introduced by Lydia in an August post, I find from Catholic Vote.org that Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina is taking HHS to court over those new regulations mentioned by Lydia, which are a consequence of the Affordable Care Act. Why they are a consequence I don't know. Are the regs in the Act, or does it demand that such regs be drawn up at some future date now upon us? If so, it would have been nice if someone had noticed. In any case, what they require is that religious employers "pay for contraception, sterilization and drugs that probably cause abortions." Failure of said religious organization to cover these costs will further require that the organization's employees be kicked off their health insurance plan. And a lot of them will fail because the religious exemptions are so narrow that no Catholic school, hospital, or charity can possibly measure up.

Continue reading "David and Goliath" »

December 13, 2011

The Free Market: Seeking Common Ground

Perhaps it's best to pursue an idea from this discussion in a new thread.

Why is a free market economy a good thing? I propose that it is a good thing because a free market allocates capital, labor, goods and services on the basis of legitimate human needs and desires. That is to say: the free market accurately reflects legitimate human needs and desires, and successfully allocates capital, labor, goods and services accordingly.

Conversely, then, to the extent that the free market does not reflect human needs accurately, or does not reflect legitimate human desires, or does not successfully allocate capital, labor, goods and services in accordance with legitimate human needs and desires, the intervention of public authority becomes necessary.

If you agree with the foregoing, then we have the basis for a conversation.

December 14, 2011

I got a bridge to sell ya'

...if you believe this outcome was decided by a fair and random lottery.

Let's see: Twenty-one spots put up by the city of Santa Monica for "holiday" decorations. Thirteen people applied to decorate them. The rules say that one person cannot win more than nine spots. Two people, both atheists, won eighteen of the twenty-one spots (nine apiece). Of the remaining three, two were won for Christian displays and one for a Jewish display.

The only way I can think of for this to be done actually "by a lottery" would be this: Thirteen names in a hat, one pulled randomly for the first spot. The name pulled is replaced and the process is repeated until and unless some one person's name is pulled nine times, at which point that person's name is not replaced and the odds for the others go to one in twelve. That goes on until and unless a second person maxes out, at which point the odds for the others go to one in eleven for any remaining draws. Drawing takes place twenty-one times. If you can think of a different fair lottery procedure, please share.

Now, I'm a lazy bum. I simply don't have the energy or motivation to calculate, in detail, the astronomically low probability that any given two individuals in that process, done fairly, will get nine slots apiece. Besides, I doubt that my calculator has enough spots for all those zeroes on the screen. (If the drawings were all fair, these are independent probabilities, and since the twenty-one results could come in any order, the combinatorics get a bit complicated.)

A different explanation that, shall we say, springs to mind is that two atheists were deliberately given eighteen of the slots and that the remaining three slots were appointed, perhaps by lottery, among the remaining eleven people after atheists were guaranteed eighteen display spots. (The atheists fill up the displays, when they bother to do a display rather than just leaving them empty, with pontifications about various "myths.") There are other non-random ways it could have been done. For example, some set-aside drawings could have been done among all and only atheists (if there were more than two). Or some non-atheist applicants could have been taken out of the pool for some of the drawings. Lots of complicated ways to do it non-randomly, but the simplest is just simply to hand out eighteen spots to two atheists.

It would be even more interesting if those were the only two atheists applying; the story doesn't say. It would tend to explain why the results weren't made more plausible in appearance by allocating the eighteen among at least a larger number of atheist individuals.

The news story says churches are "crying conspiracy." Well, no, it needn't be a conspiracy. The story doesn't bother to tell us how many people were involved at City Hall in allotting the spots. Maybe it was only one person, and we're being asked to take his word that he gave out the spots by lottery. But, honestly, even if we had to have a "conspiracy" involving several people in the Santa Monica city government, perhaps one to "do the lottery" and another couple to keep a straight face and accept and register the results, this wouldn't strain credulity all that much. Small potatoes compared to what happens in Chicago or Detroit.

One wonders whom they think they're fooling. Do liberals who read this story really believe these eighteen out of twenty-one spots just happened to be awarded to two atheists by chance? Or do they defend that proposition in public while simply not caring whether it's true? Or do they convince themselves that it must be true by something like the following syllogism:

Christian conservatives will believe that this was not the outcome of a fair lottery.
Christian conservatives are bigoted fools, and anything they believe is probably untrue.

Therefore, probably,

This was the outcome of a fair lottery.

Such are the mysteries of the liberal mind.

December 16, 2011

TCR

The current issue of The Christendom Review is now online. It was delayed by a bout of illness in our webmaster's family, for the good health of which entity I would ask you all to say a few prayers. In this issue we have Todd's own beautiful photography, the poetry debut (I believe) of a talented young woman out of Bryan College (something good's going on up there), Elena Lee Johnson, and of the essays I'd particularly recommend Lydia McGrew's "Epistemology, Miracles, and the God Who Speaks," in which she deconstructs the logical irrationality of certain argumentative strategies employed by atheists against Christians. Her offerings always sharpen the believer's intellectual armament, and in this regard she is a treasure. So read it.

In the Letter from the Editor, Rick Barnett takes note of the passing of Marion Montgomery, who was his personal friend. Mr. Montgomery - novelist, philosopher, cultural critic and Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia - was also a friend to Flannery O'Connor and most of the major Southern writers of the 20th century. He was 86.


"... ye have done it unto Me."

Here at W4 we've been discussing, rather clinically, the virtues of a free market economy and the need for "non-market interventions" when the mere price of things fails to account for certain human realities. Despite some disagreements, I think we would all prefer that private organizations were capable of filling the gap, and that public assistance were much less necessary.

This morning I delivered a pick-up load of discarded family clothes to a place called The Well Ministry of Rescue in Chico. This is a local organization that helps men recover from homelessness, incarceration, and various addictions while learning valuable job and life skills. It gives them a place to live for one full year, and operates several businesses in which the men work and receive training. If needed, the ministry also provides for the men's children and their children's mothers, who live in a separate facility. The men are required to abstain from alcohol and drugs, maintain the buildings and grounds, and attend certain mandatory religious activities.

I've been taking our family automobiles for regular service to one of these businesses for a couple of years, and I'm always impressed at the staff's professionalism, clean-cut appearance, and uninhibited Christian faith. Some will indeed make terrific employees once they leave the program. The ministry partners with local businesses to transition these men to full-time employment in the community.

The Well Ministry of Rescue is now in danger of losing its housing facility due to a loss of state funding. I spoke with one of the managers this morning, and he indicated that the situation is grave. They are not giving up, however, and are hopeful that increased support from private citizens will keep the program going.

I just wanted to let W4's readers know about this worthy organization. They are doing things right: personal accountability, daily work, skills training, and an important spiritual component. I've seen the hope it gives these men and their families, and pray this good work will be permitted to continue. My friends, they need a miracle this Christmas. If you are able to help them financially - perhaps even with a monthly commitment - please get in touch with them. May God reward you.

Christopher Hitchens, RIP

Of esophageal cancer, with which he was diagnosed in 2010. Vanity Fair's In Memoriam. More links on that page to Hitchens' work.

A 2007 piece in which Hitchens commemorates the death of an American soldier in Iraq.

December 17, 2011

The Two Best Buys in Rome

(1) Museo Nazionale Romano

This is a museum with four branches scattered around the central historical area, all devoted mostly to antiquities. Regular admission is 7 Euros for a cumulative ticket good for three days.

Taken together, their holdings are fully comparable to those of the Musei Capitolini (regular admission 11 Euros) and the Musei Vaticani (regular admission 15 Euros). But they're not nearly so well known - so you never have to wait in line, and, during the off-season, you're very likely to find yourself entirely alone, wandering among the most amazing treasures of Western Civilization, superbly presented, without even a guard in sight.

(2) Kebabs

Kebab vendors are everywhere. Many prominently advertise their "halal" status. I guess maybe that should bother me, but, honestly, a cheap kebab only costs 3.50 Euros, which is about half what you'd pay for a cheap pizza. And, believe me, the average cheap kebab around here is better than the average cheap pizza.

4th Sunday of Advent Christmas Guessing Game

It's Advent. You're entitled to a few distractions from the supposedly serious matters of life. This is one of those. Distractions, I mean. The following Christmas song is sung by one of my favorite female voices of all time. Who is she?

Oh. No cheating, such as clicking on the "watch on youtube" link. I know this will be difficult for some of our liberal readers, but if it's any help against temptation, just know that I'm praying for you.

December 19, 2011

The Best of W4: To Face Unafraid

This post was first published just over four years ago, and I thought it was worth bringing back. Some of you may not have been reading W4 in 2007.

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I'm sure all of you are already sick of "Winter Wonderland."

Oddly, I'm not. At least not if I can listen to Bing Crosby sing it instead of somebody less talented. I notice this year, as every year now, one particular line of that song: "Later on we'll conspire, as we dream by the fire, to face unafraid the plans that we made walkin' in a winter wonderland."

Isn't that at least a little bit striking? Why do those plans require "facing unafraid"? Well, they're going to get married. (That's the bit about the snowman and Parson Brown.)

I once tried rather awkwardly, and probably not very convincingly, to explain to an unmarried friend that getting married and, especially, having children, are part of growing up. He was rather offended. He took me to be implying that single people cannot be grown up, which wasn't what I meant.

Continue reading "The Best of W4: To Face Unafraid" »

Downsizing federal lands

The federal government owns 85% of Nevada, 57% of Utah, 53% of Oregon, 45% of California, 42% of Wyoming, and 37% of Colorado. That's just for starters. Federal lands add up to 30% of the territory of the United States. The Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service combined manage 446 million acres, or 70% of the total. Both of these departments should be gradually eliminated. Their lands should be divided and disbursed to state governments, county governments, and thousands of private homesteaders with generous conditions.

This sounds radical, but it's the most conservative thing in the world. Massive federal land ownership in the western states is what's radical. The feds own 65% of the land west of Denver and 2% of the land east of Denver. There is no excuse for it. State and local governments are perfectly capable of managing public lands, when public ownership is necessary, and that determination should be left to the people who live there. But the more important issue is that, due to the federal land monopoly, many otherwise productive and intelligent citizens are denied the opportunity to possess and develop land of their own. Due to this highly unnatural and, yes, unjust arrangement we westerners are treated as aliens in our own country.

But there are signs of progress. Faux "environmentalists" bent on creating a planet unfit for human habitation are engaged in their usual temper tantrums because (among other things) an extremely modest bill in Congress proposes to allow the western states to obtain ownership of 5% of federal lands within their borders. They have yet to explain why a state like Vermont, with 83% of its forested land in private hands, ranks as the "greenest state" in America; or why Connecticut, with federal land ownership at 0.4%, ranks as the 6th "greenest state".

I trust that proponents of political subsidiarity, economic liberty, constitutionalism, and Catholic social doctrine will find themselves allied on this point, no?

December 20, 2011

Troubles With Consistency

A certain man who has devoted his life to preaching the word of God had recent comments about human dignity. He said (with a few ellipses):

people must not be identified with our urges, our flaws, our status, our possessions, our utility, but each seen as a child of God, his creation, modeled in his own image, destined for eternity.

My identity, my personhood ... does not depend on whether or not I have a green card, a stock portfolio, a job, a home or even a college diploma. Nor does my identity depend upon whom I am sexually attracted to, or to race, religion, gender, social status, bank account, passport or health insurance, but on my essence as a child of God.

The doctrine of human dignity dictates the church's position on abortion, immigration and the death penalty, among other topics.

If the preborn baby in the womb, from the earliest moments of his or her conception, is a human person -- an 'is' that comes not from the catechism but from the biology textbook used by any sophomore in high school -- then that baby's life ought to be cherished and protected.

If an immigrant from Mexico is a child of God, ... then we ought to render him or her honor and a welcome, not a roar of hate, clenched fists and gritted teeth in response to the latest campaign slogan. If even a man on death row has a soul, is a human person, an 'is' that cannot be erased even by beastly crimes he may have committed, then we ought not to strap him to a gurney and inject him with poison.

So my question is this: is the speaker suggesting that abortion and immigration and the death penalty bear on the question of human dignity in the same way?

Continue reading "Troubles With Consistency" »

Steyn on our Decline

Got caught in cold drizzle for two hours while hiking around the Etruscan Necropolis in Cerveteri a couple of days ago. Since I don't have the sense to come in out of the rain, I'm now laid up in my hotel in Naples with an awful cold. Fortunately, I brought along some audiobooks, so I'm not entirely at the mercy of Italian television (which, to the very limited extent I'm able to judge, is, per impossibile, even worse than the American variety).

Gibbon's Decline and Fall seemed a bit heavy duty for my present fuzzyish state of mind, so I started with Mark Steyn's latest venture in cheerful declinist fear-mongering, After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. Great fun, and frequently insightful - though there's no denying that he's a bit given to exaggeration; I can personally testify that, as of last Friday night, there were hardly any traces of graffiti at the Trevi Fountain. (His larger point, about the ubiquity of graffiti in Europe and its dispiriting effect, is right on target, though.)

My very favorite bit came in the Epilogue, where Steyn tackles the mawkish letter written by a certain Ty'Sheoma Bethea of Dillon, South Carolina, which Obama invoked in his first State of the Union speech, to general, teary-eyed, applause:

"I think about Ty'Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina - a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom.* She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people setting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, 'We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world...'"

Steyn's riposte, in a nutshell: this kid's idea of the way to bring change to the peeling paint and leaking pipes in her school is to write to Washington, begging for a handout? And we're supposed to be deeply moved and inspired by her aspiration to bring change "to the world?"

And what sort of "change" do you suppose that might be?

Well, let me take a wild stab in the dark: I think it might just possibly involve an even greater diminution of individual responsibility, and an even greater aggrandizement of The State than what we're already stuck with.

Feh.

*A total lie, it seems - the train runs about 300 yards away from the school.

December 24, 2011

Christmas Contributor Omnibus

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(For our Christmas post this year, several contributors have turned in Christmas meditations. Each will be labeled separately with the name of its actual author.)

Paul Cella

Among the chief features of Christmas is a grand paradox: one that overthrew the world. The most vulnerable thing imaginable, an infant new to the world, was the Creator and Judge of the world. The greatness of the Christian creed emanates from this stupendous reversal. There in a manger is the germ of all charity, all sacrificial love, and the brotherhood of man. That any unbeliever ever thought to look sympathetically upon the downtrodden, the lowly, poor, is merely a distant afterimage of that original condescension of divinity to our poor, nasty, brutish and lowly human estate.

Being myself the father of a newborn (pictured below), the helplessness of babes impresses my mind quite directly. The ancient world exposed and slaughtered its infants regularly. The decaying modern world slaughters them as well. The creed of the cross of Christ calls its Savior one.

And it does so on this, our most joyous day.

(And go Broncos!)

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December 25, 2011

Blackout

Hey, would you believe it? The MSM has finally discovered the game of "Knock-out King!"

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/unprovoked-attacks-heart-knockout-king-15227737

Needless to say, the word "black" is nowhere to be found in this ABC "news" story. Nor are the words "African-American."

Nah, the perps are just...ummm..."young people...young men or even boys as young as 12, and teenage girls in some cases...young people...juveniles...adolescent and early adults, largely male...teens...teens...teens...young people...students..."

On the plus side, we do get some of the basic facts:

"...the attacker charges at the victim and begins punching. If the victim goes down, the group usually scatters. If not, others join in, punching and kicking the person, often until he or she is unconscious or at least badly hurt. Sometimes the attacks are captured on cellphone video that is posted on websites..."

And we even get a wink and a nod in the general direction of what's really going on here:

"The exchange was captured on video and posted on a hip-hop site, where it got about a quarter of a million views within two days..."

Ah. A hip-hop site. I see. So that's it.

Shall I explain, since ABC won't?

What's really going on here is that there's a nationwide epidemic of gangs of young negroes, mostly boys, but some girls, too, going around beating up on vulnerable people of other races - just for the fun of it. And it's not going to stop until, at the bare minimum, we can discuss the problem openly and honestly, without having to resort to winks and nods.

December 26, 2011

Why Christmas?

An interesting question came up in discussion at our house a couple of months or so back. Why do we celebrate Christmas as the great time of remembering the doctrine of the Incarnation instead of the Annunciation? (A quick googling tells me that the Eastern Orthodox Church does refer to the Annunciation as the Feast of the Incarnation.) After all, Jesus was incarnate for nine months before Christmas. Yet there is no doubt that liturgically we especially think of "God with us," and "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" in connection with Christ's birth.

And certainly, the angels seem to agree about the importance of Jesus' birth. They came to the shepherds to announce the birth. "Today is born unto you a Savior which is Christ the Lord."

I think the key to the importance of celebrating Jesus' birth lies in one of the major purposes of the Incarnation. St. John says, "No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (John 1:18) And just a few verses earlier, John says, "And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (emphasis added)

This is emphasized in the lovely carol called "Of the Father's Love Begotten." One line says, "And the babe, the world's redeemer, first revealed his sacred face."

Until Jesus Christ was born, only the Virgin Mary had intimate experience with him. And even she had never seen him. It was in being born that he was first revealed to the world and thus began to fulfill the purpose of revealing God to mankind at large. Thus a child was born unto us; a son was given unto us. Unto man and unto the world.

What do our readers think?

December 28, 2011

What we're reading: Children of the Storm by Natasha Vins

Over Christmas break I have had the great privilege of reading a little book I'd never encountered before: Children of the Storm, the (partial) autobiography of Natasha Vins. (Don't confuse it with a suspense novel of the same title by Elizabeth Peters!) The background is that I was looking for books that would give an intelligent child from, say, grade 4 through 8 information about the oppression of Communism that would be clear, engagingly written, but not graphic or unbearably heavy. When I asked for recommendations along these lines, Children of the Storm was suggested by an old college friend.

(In passing, I mention another book that fits the above description and was recommended by another friend but is much lighter and less religious than Vins's autobiography. The other book is Refugee Child, about the Hungarian Revolution and her family's subsequent escape to Austria, by Bobbie Kalman. It's much more distinctly a "children's book," and its worldview is not particularly deep--a "you can fulfill your dreams if you only believe in them" concept. Nonetheless, I'm glad to have read Refugee Child and have passed it on to the kids, because it does give good information, in a form accessible to children, about life under Communism and the difficulty of escaping from behind the Iron Curtain.)

I cannot recommend Children of the Storm too highly. It is suitable for children as well as for adults. I have now successfully badgered nearly every member of my immediate family, down to the youngest, to read it, and we have profited. If you are not a Christian but care about civil and religious liberties, you will find it an interesting and powerful primary document of totalitarian oppression and human courage, written by a person directly connected with the events it relates. To a Christian, it is all of that and much more.

Continue reading "What we're reading: Children of the Storm by Natasha Vins" »

December 30, 2011

Timothy McGrew on the Gospels and Acts as History

In November, my husband had the great opportunity to give a talk "in" Belfast by Skype on the subject of the Gospels and Acts as history. (The world is getting so complicated that we need a new vocabulary. He was giving a talk in Belfast, but he was really not in Belfast at all. This is starting to sound like magic.) The sponsoring organization was Brian Auten's group, Reasonable Faith Belfast. I've been meaning to get the audio of the talk up here but am just getting to it now.

Here is the Youtube. The Skype talk (followed by interactive Q & A--technology is wonderful) originally did, as I understand it, allow the attendees in Belfast to see Tim talking with a bookshelf behind him, but the Youtube "video" is composed entirely of the Powerpoint slides.

If you want just the audio, it's here.

Happy listening!

Recent pro-life news snippets

It's a little late to say that this post is in honor of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, but at least it's in that vicinity in the Church Year. A few recent pieces of news of interest to pro-lifers:

--Good news: Rick Perry appears sincerely to have changed his mind on supporting a rape exception for abortion. I'm so glad he finally confronted logically the question: Why, since he already (one assumes) believes the unborn child is a person with a right to life, should this change if the child was the result of rape? Good for Governor Perry. That leads to another question: How did it become so acceptable for "pro-life politicians" to support a rape exception in the first place? Well, I have a theory about that: I think it started with an ambiguity between, on the one hand, allowing politicians to retain their pro-life credentials while voting for laws that contain a rape exception, provided those laws were an improvement in protecting the unborn over the status quo, and, on the other hand, allowing politicians to retain their pro-life credentials while holding that abortion really ought to be legal in the case of rape. This is a distinction I've been trying to drive home at least since the George W. Bush administration, which is when I think it became unclear in people's minds. Perhaps Governor Perry's conversion on this point will bring some more clarity of thought.

--Two abortionists have actually been arrested for murdering late-term unborn babies. I can hardly believe it. Is it really possible that these charges will stick?

--News has come to light that IVF clinics are donating embryos for destructive embryonic research without getting consent from the biological mothers. Really. These mothers might have believed that all their donated eggs, used to create embryos in vitro, would go for fertility treatments. In other words, they might have justified their egg donation on the grounds that they were helping infertile women. Mind you, that's not a good way to try to help infertile women, but imagine the horror of subsequently learning that embryos created with your eggs were donated for scientific research. I hope someone sues the posteriors off of these clinics.