What’s Wrong with the World

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June 2008 Archives

June 1, 2008

On letting parents teach their kids pernicious ideas

I have an exceedingly controversial post on my own blog about the FLDS fiasco, Palestinians, and Lord Acton. (If that doesn't make you curious, I don't know what will.) Given the several different angles from which what I say there is controversial, not to say outrageous, I've decided for now merely to redirect from What's Wrong with the World. Please comment over there.


A Florida kindergarten teacher prompted her students to vote out a fellow student who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. Alex Barton, as all rational human beings would expect of a 5-year old, particularly one coping with an autism-spectrum disorder, is traumatized:

Alex hasn't been back to school since then, and Barton said he won't be returning. He starts screaming when she brings him with her to drop off his sibling at school.

Thursday night, his mother heard him saying "I'm not special" over and over.

Barton said Alex is reliving the incident.

The other students said he was "disgusting" and "annoying," Barton said.

"He was incredibly upset," Barton said. "The only friend he has ever made in his life was forced to do this."

Of course, there is always another side of the story. The horrors for which the teacher though it licit to traumatize a sensitive boy? Fighting? Stabbing with scissors? Bullying? No:

“I asked (Alex) what the students said, and he said the students said he eats paper, picks boogers and eats them on top of the table and bites his shoelaces,” the report said. “He told me Mrs. Portillo said, ‘I hate you right now. I don’t like you today.’”

Alex was made to endure a scarring humiliation for being goofy and a little gross. Talk about disproportionality.

I couldn't care less for the teacher's rationalizations - that Alex had to be made to understand "how his behaviour made the other children feel" (the treacly language of therapeutics, as is often the case, here invoked to justify cruelty), and that the vote was only intended to keep him out of class for one day. While a child with an autism-spectrum disorder may not be suited to the routines of a standard kindergarten classroom, this form of discipline - hazing, really - is utterly inappropriate; I can attest from personal experience that the callousnesses of teachers inflicted at that age leave enduring marks on the psyche. Somehow, moreover, given a legal system in which, rightly or wrongly, education is posited as a right, I don't believe the democratization of this decision would fly. In a just world, ie., one in which teachers' unions were somewhat less powerful than they are in this one, the teacher would lose her job. Were I Alex's father, I'd have to settle for slapping her with a civil suit and hoping that it proved financially and socially ruinous.

June 2, 2008


There has been an interesting back-and-forth over at Taki's Magazine (which, by the way, ought to be daily viewing for any conservative dissatisfied with the Bush administration) concerning the "anti-anticommunism" of John Lukacs.

It all came up because of Lukacs's hit piece on Patrick Buchanan's recently published book, Churchill, Hitler, and The Unnecessary War - which has led to a lot of sound & fury, in the past few days, which I will not even attempt to recount.

Anyway, the most interesting response to Lukacs' review, to my mind, came from Richard Spencer. And the most interesting response to Richard Spencer came from our own Daniel Larison. Please do read both - I think you'll find it worth your while.

Continue reading "Anti-anticommunism" »

June 4, 2008

Bible preaching forbidden in Birmingham, England in Muslim areas

In the name of giving yet more fodder to hypothetical unsympathetic readers who might think concern among W4 authors about Muslim activities is exaggerated (and also, in passing, getting out some information that seems to me rather important), I present this story.

In the UK, in Birmingham, a Muslim police officer tells two Christian preachers passing out Christian literature and trying to speak to Muslim young people that a) they cannot preach where they are, because it is a "Muslim area," b) he is going to take them to the police station for their activities (presumably, if they don't go away), c) trying to convert Muslims to Christianity is a hate crime, and d) if they return to the area and get beaten up, they "have been warned." He summons two other policemen, presumably non-Muslims, one of whom backs him up at least to the extent of ordering the two Christians to leave the area and not return. The Christians complain, and the only action taken is that the department defends the Muslim as "acting with the best of intentions." They say that they have offered him "guidance" on what constitutes a hate crime and on "communication style." What that guidance is, we aren't told, nor whether it contains the unequivocal statement that preaching the Gospel is perfectly legal in Britain and that there are no special "Muslim areas" where sharia law obtains and preaching Christianity is illegal.

Continue reading "Bible preaching forbidden in Birmingham, England in Muslim areas" »

June 5, 2008

A Miscellany of Aggravation, II

Just a handful of random aggravations that occasioned minor perturbations of my mental tranquility this morning:

First, I wrote, back in January, that one of the principal purposes of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism was philosophical surveillance, the attempt to stigmatize dissenters from the fusionist orthodoxy of the mainstream conservative movement, which marries libertarian-ish economic dogmas to an indifferent cultural conservatism, giving obvious preference to the former in practice. The assertion, though not unique on the paleo right, was not uncontroversial. However, Goldberg yesterday posted commentary by a reader of his book, with approbation, that includes the following:

What you've accomplished is, I think, to show that the real poles of political discussion are not left vs. right nor liberalism vs. conservatism but fascism vs libertarianism or classical liberalism.

Yes. Any movement away from the pure pole of libertarianism or classical liberalism is a movement towards fascism; there is no conception here of the complex multidimensionality of the permutation space of political thought. Ah, sweet taste of vindication.

Second, David Frum critiques one line from Thomas Frank's commentary on Fareed Zakaria's new tome, The Post-American World. Frank, remarking upon the weaknesses of the neoliberal narrative, observes:

In point of fact, the rise of China and India – Mr. Zakaria's own paradigm cases – was possible only because those countries shunned global commercial credit markets in the 1970s, allowing them to avoid the interest-rate shock of the early '80s.

To which Frum responds:

It's rare for a columnist to manage to cram historical illiteracy, economic incompetence, political authoritarianism, and utter disregard for human suffering into a single sentence. But Frank manages it here! Surely that calls for some kind of prize? Maybe the Journal could arrange for him to experience for himself what so many millions of Chinese were involuntary compelled to undergo in Franks' idealized Maoist era: a nice long solitary stay in a village hut, wholly isolated from the appalling ravages of credit, commerce, and trade?

Which response is about as putrified a red herring as one could imagine in such a discussion. Frum's comments regarding the tyranny of Maoism do nothing whatsoever to answer the particular point Frank made, which happens to be correct: the relatively modest international capital flows, and the various development aid packages offered to the third world in those years, often did little to promote economic development (they typically produced imbalanced development unsustainable by the wider economy of the recipient country, white elephant projects, or political corruption, or various combinations of the three), and, given the structural logic of international finance pre-neoliberalization (ie., before outsourcing & the removal of many trade barriers), often resulted in apocalyptic indebtedness, which was obviously problematic once the West decided to clamp down on inflation. The point about developmentalism was argued even during the Seventies, and the latter point concerning the effects upon the third world of the transition from the Keynesian era to the era of neoliberalism is also well-attested and analyzed. Given the geopolitical and geo-economic contexts of the late Seventies, China and India were beneficiaries of the fortuitous coincidence of their respective economic openings and the advent of neoliberalization in the West; they avoided the indebtedness that paralyzed Latin America while profiting from Western outsourcing.

Continue reading "A Miscellany of Aggravation, II" »

June 6, 2008

The EU and the American Conservative Establishment - A Remark

Lawrence Auster, commenting upon the heartening news that opposition to the EU's Treaty of Lisbon, itself merely a repackaging of the constitution rejected by the French and Dutch, is surging in advance of the Irish referendum, observes of the conservative establishment:

I've said this before but I have to say it again. Could there be anything more despicable than American "conservatives" who constantly bleat about FREEDOM, saying that FREEDOM is the greatest thing in the world, that FREEDOM is what America is all about, that we must constantly be on guard to defend FREEDOM, that we must have mass non-Europen immigration to show our belief in FREEDOM, and that we must spread FREEDOM everywhere, even to alien peoples completely unsuited for it, yet who have remained STONE COLD SILENT about the onset of a totalitarian superstate in the cradle of our own civilization?

While there have been occasional voices of opposition to the European Project, and that in most of the mainstream organs of conservatism, it cannot be gainsaid that political conservatism, in deference to the political and foreign policy establishments of the country, within which elite conclaves support for the EU is regarded as akin to support for the Voting Rights Act or something similar, has simply gone along to get along. Much could be said about the reasons for this, but I prefer, at this time, to be oblique: the European Union stands as an invincible proof that economic and political inefficiency are indispensable prerequisites to the survival, not merely of traditions of liberty in the West, but of our broader civilization itself.

June 9, 2008

Ratifying My Undying Contempt

A few years ago, a friend of ours married the interpreter who acted as a sometime intermediary when my future wife and I first met in Kiev. It so happened that, for whatever utterly inscrutable reasons, they enjoyed watching Sluts Sex and the City, a program I have loathed, from its inception, on account of its superficiality, nihilism, moral corruption, and tendency to promote the most insipid banalities as the very apogee of wisdom. On my personal Scale of Detestation, the program probably ranks up there with all things Quentin Tarantino, which is to say that it is a celebration of the Nothing, and that its popularity is a certain harbinger of The End.

That said, I have found that the smartest take on the new film adaptation of the series is that of Helen Rittelmeyer, who, in a brief comment on the film, manages to encapsulate virtually everything that has inspired my loathing:

Having decided that marriage is not the right lifestyle choice for her, Carrie ends the movie with a question: “Why is it that we’re willing to write our own vows but not our own rules?” That’s right, girlfriend! Marriage is just a bunch of rules that other people made up, and buying into it will only obscure the Inner You. Never mind whether those other people might have been wiser than you are, or whether the transformation might be an improvement.

Or take Samantha, whose life philosophy is summed up in the line “I love you, but I love me more.” She abandons a man who loves her and whom she loves because she can’t stand not to be the center of her own universe. Even the ladies’ four-way friendship, supposedly the show’s moral center, involves so much confessional self-reflection that one is tempted to conclude that relationships with other people are only interesting insofar as they enable self-discovery. Strange—I always thought it was the other way around.

How hackneyed is the sentiment Carrie expresses! Making up your own rules! Why, such moral daring the world has never seen before. One might be tempted to think that modern America was as fully prudish as the most severe stereotype of Victorian Britain; but this would be an hallucination so profound that not even a reactionary could experience it while overdosing on mescaline or LSD. I don't want to dwell on this theme, I really don't. Anyone who imagines that the problem with our world is that people have been following tired old traditions instead of conjuring their own rules, their own conceptions of the meaning of the universe, clearly has been hitting the controlled substances.

As for the matter of friendship, well, yes - those who instrumentalize sexually intimate relationships as voyages of self-expression, self-discovery, and so forth are bound so to instrumentalize friendship as well; if one first acts as though one is not a body situated in social and relational contexts, but a gnostic Self striving to realize its own True Being in a world of indifferent or malign stuff that must be forged into instruments of the Self, then there is no reason for this to halt at the boundaries of friendship. Why would it? The idea that it might is merely an expression of the idea that sex is somehow special, unique; but the reduction of sexuality to gnostic animality strips it of its uniqueness; and if something considered so critical to personal identity is nothing more than desire objectifying the other, why should friendship be immune? It will be little more than a sounding board for the Self: a chorus of approbation for those who have 'dared' to 'write their own rules' and negate the world actualize the Self to the uttermost. The gnostic Self is a universal corrosive.

The Revolution, Like a Zombie, Still Stalks the Earth

From Slavoj Zizek's most recent tome, In Defense of Lost Causes, the concluding passage, in fact:

It is easy, from today's perspective, to mock the "pessimists", from the Right to the Left, from Solzhenitsyn to Castoriadis, who deplored the blindness and compromises of the democratic West, its lack of an ethico-political strength and courage in dealing with the Communist threat, and who predicted that the Cold War had already been lost by the West, that the Communist bloc had already won, that the collapse of the West was imminent - but it is precisely their attitude which was most effective in bringing about the collapse of Communism. In Dupuy's terms, their very "pessimistic" prediction at the level of possibilities, of linear historical evolution, mobilized them to counteract it. We should thus ruthlessly abandon the prejudice that the linear time of evolution is "on our side", that History is "working for us" in the guise of the famous mole digging under the earth, doing the work of the Cunning of Reason. But how, then, are we to counter the threat of ecological catastrophe? It is here that we should return to the four moments of what Badiou calls the "eternal Idea" of revolutionary-egalitarian Justice. What is demanded is:

{Note: what follows is pure philosophico- (black) comedic gold}

Continue reading "The Revolution, Like a Zombie, Still Stalks the Earth" »

June 10, 2008

Fox News Jumps the Shark*

Apparently, Obama and his wife performing the celebratory 'pound' might be suggestive of terrorism, according to an anchorette on Fox News:

There followed, or so I hear, a conversation with a "body-language expert", which sounds a bit like a pseudo-discipline to me. Who knew that a plausible construal of an action I perform with my toddlers is some sort of sympathy with, or emulation of, terrorists?

In any event, anchorette E.D. Hill, whose program might also be characterized as the Fox News Leg Show, has offered a typical apology - of the sort that admits causing erroneous impressions but not poor diction, let alone the bone-headed thought processes that lead to such usages.

* I suspend disbelief, in order to abstract away from the 567,983 previous times that Fox News has jumped the shark.

Joe meets Mike

In one of my very occasional attempts to join the 21st Century, I have committed a YouTube video! Behold:

Continue reading "Joe meets Mike" »

June 14, 2008

Betraying Free Speech.

Canada persecutes Mark Steyn for writing that Islam is a threat to the West. The New York Times, having ignored that drama for months, takes the opportunity to dilate tendentiously on the uniqueness of American tolerance for Free Speech, implicitly comparing Steyn to Nazis, and naturally burying his response in the last two paragraphs of a long article. The few European politicians and thinkers with the guts to stand up to creeping Islamization, find themselves betrayed and denounced in America, and likewise compared to Nazis and fascists, by prominent bloggers. Readers will recall the pitifully tepid response from the West to the beleaguered Danes during the Cartoon Jihad.

And now we have this, as reported by Josh Trevino: In Kuala Lumpar, at the Third International Conference on the Muslim World, three prominent Muslim leaders called on the West to renounce Free Speech in order to accommodate Islamic sensibilities; and the three Westerns who spoke uttered not a word of protest.

Continue reading "Betraying Free Speech." »

An American Politboro

The Supreme Court has issued its ukase ruling in the case of Boumediene v. Bush, finding that the 2006 Military Commissions Act, in its provision in section 7 for alternative legal procedures for 'enemy combatants', is unconstitutional. This, because those alternative mechanisms, as explained by Glenn Greenwald in his gloss on the ruling, were found by the majority to be an inadequate substitute for habeas corpus. Much ink and many pixels have been spilled in praise, and denunciation, of the decision. Not wishing to add needlessly to the choruses singing loudly on either side of the opinion, I hope to suggest that the potential implications of the ruling are perhaps more interesting than those teased out by partisans and detractors. However, first things must come first.

Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution bestows upon the Congress to make such exceptions to the jurisdiction of the judiciary that it deems fitting:

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

Arguably, the status of Guantanamo detainees having been removed from the jurisdiction of the Court, the Court lacked even the authority to take up the case, let alone to rule, in the words of the immortal Tony Kennedy, that exempting this class of cases from the jurisdiction of the Court would "permit a striking anomaly in our tripartite system of government, leading to a regime in which Congress and the President, not this Court, say 'what the law is.'" Logicians may wish to ponder the implications of such stentorian nonsense, as it quite clearly entails that the Constitution is anomalous with respect to itself. Quite to the contrary, recognizing that detainees deserved some form of due process, Congress established a regime of military commissions and removed them from appellate jurisdiction, which determination, fully in accordance with the Constitution, the Court declined to recognize. We must be plain about what this ruling actually entails, namely, that certain provisions in the Constitution create "anomalies", and are, in consequence, unconstitutional. Acting upon or appealing to them is unconstitutional. Succinctly stated, the Constitution is unconstitutional. Once more, logicians and Critical Legal Theorists may find something to ponder in all of this; the rest of us can simply ignore it as an attempt to say that A is equivalent to non-A.

However, there is, in my estimation, more at stake than - as Leon Wolf characterizes the matter, "a court which recognizes no limits on its authority". In fact, the entire episode stands as an illustration of the failure of our Constitutional architecture, for all three of the branches of government have covered themselves in obloquy.

Continue reading "An American Politboro" »

June 15, 2008

All Hail the Irish!

In times such as these, I am honoured to trace my ancestry to two European signs of contradiction, Poland and Ireland; though my pride is these heritages cannot be delimited by purely political considerations, in an age dominated by malign political ideologies and their votaries, political considerations are bound to factor more highly than they would in healthier times. Poland catalyzed the resistance to Communist domination in Eastern Europe, and Ireland, in rejecting the Treaty of Lisbon, itself merely a treaty intended to bypass the popular opposition that felled the Euro-Constitution, have shown themselves unwilling to go into that long night without resistance. While I harbour a suspicion that Lawrence Auster is correct in predicting that the Eurocrats will decree that EU treaties cannot be subjected to referenda, this defiance must not go unrecognized. If those of us who purpose to defend the heritage of the West, and the separate heritages of her constituent nations, must walk toward defeat, let us at least do so with eyes open, commemorating each victory wrenched from between the teeth of defeat as a noble triumph. There is nobility in such defiance; there is but shame in submission.

Nonetheless, in an intemperate outburst worthy of a commissar whose prerogatives have been denied, Morning's Minion denounces the opposition to the European Union, insinuating in the process that such opposition is contrary to the Christian religion:

So what went wrong in Ireland? As I said , people didn’t understand it. As they have in the past, people used it to protest against the government in an environment of increasing economic uncertainty. And the “no” campaign was particularly effective with its scaremongering tactics. The Irish were told that the treaty would force them to raise their tax rates. They were told military neutrality would be jeopardized. They were told abortion would be introduced in Ireland. All lies. In the end, every single mainstream political party and social partner supported the treaty. Its opponents were a rag-tag group of Marxists, ex-terrorists, hard-care nationalists, the extreme Catholic right, and a shady unknown businessman with ties to the US defense industry. (Snip)

Ah, but they have already spoken. Completely oblivious to the voice of the Irish church, some US Catholics (the usual suspects) laud the no vote, the the grounds that Ireland has given the finger to “Brussels elitists”. As always, they are reflecting their own political and ideological biases onto Europe. They see the debate through the eyes of the kind of Enlightenment-era liberalism that prizes the liberty of the individual over the common good and solidarity (notice the whole comment is about economics- when the Irish bishops say that is exactly the wrong way to look at it). They are also wedded to a form of nationalism that elevates the role of the nation state above any supranational cooperation. Clearly, the dream of Erasmus and Thomas More for a united, peaceful, Europe was misplaced then…

Well, yes. Erasmus was a self-promoting crank, and Thomas More's Utopia is just that: a work of utopian fiction. Besides, sainthood does not entail the infallibility of each of the saint's utterances. We are not bound to truck with universalist redemptive schemes on the grounds that St. Gregory of Nyssa's theological thought inclines in that direction.

Continue reading "All Hail the Irish!" »

Nationalism and Universalism Again

Daniel Larison's exchange with Richard Spencer which I mentioned earlier has continued here, here, and here.

In his latest, DL argues that, contrary to first appearances, communism was no more "singular and monolithic for the purposes of general discussion and definition" than nationalism. He plays down the unity of communism: "communist movements were not part of an undifferentiated whole, but differed according to national character and reprised old national rivalries among themselves." And he plays up the unity of nationalism: "[o]f course, every nationalism is different in certain ways and bears the characteristics of the people who espouse it, but nationalists tend to have many basic assumptions in common that allows us to describe them as nationalists" - assumptions that he goes on to list.

Trouble is, there's an equivocation here on what sort of unity he has in mind. On the one hand, an historical force can be more or less "singular and monolithic" in the way it acts in the world. On the other hand, it can be more or less conceptually "singular and monolithic."

In the passage just quoted, DL moves too glibly from the one to the other. He points out, quite rightly, that, in practice, communists were not always unified - precisely because of the persistence among them of atavistic national differences and rivalries. Then he observes, again quite rightly, that the word "nationalism" means much the same thing, from case to case.

All true - but so what? Let's compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. On the one hand, is communism more, or less, "singular and monolithic" than nationalism in the way it acts in the world? On the other hand, is communism more, or less conceptually "singular and monolithic" than nationalism?

Continue reading "Nationalism and Universalism Again" »

I Did Not Know That

Andrew Cusack at Taki's [paleo-conservative] Magazine quotes a fascinating old article from The History News Network concerning the attitude of American conservatives toward the bombing of Hiroshima in the aftermath of World War II:

"...[two days after the bombing of Hiroshima] former Republican President Herbert Hoover wrote to a friend that "[t]he use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul."

"Days later...the conservative owner and editor of U.S. News...argued that Japan's surrender had been inevitable without the atomic bomb. He added that justifications of 'military necessity' will 'never erase from our minds the simple truth that we, of all civilized nations...did not hesitate to employ the most destructive weapon of all times indiscriminately against men, women and children.'

"Just weeks after Japan's surrender, an article published in the conservative magazine Human Events contended that America's atomic destruction of Hiroshima might be morally 'more shameful' and 'more degrading' than Japan's 'indefensible and infamous act of aggression' at Pearl Harbor.

"...A 1947 editorial in the Chicago Tribune, at the time a leading conservative voice, claimed that President Truman and his advisers were guilty of 'crimes against humanity' for 'the utterly unnecessary killing of uncounted Japanese...'

"A steady drumbeat of conservative criticism continued throughout the 1950's. A 1958 editorial in William F. Buckley, Jr.'s National Review took former President Truman to task for his then-current explanation of why he had decided to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima...

"...a 1959 National Review article matter-of-factly stated: 'The indefensibility of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is becoming a part of the national conservative creed.'"

(I am cutting all kinds of equally interesting stuff - there's much more at the links.)

Continue reading "I Did Not Know That" »

June 16, 2008

The Nation-State Writ Large

Morning's Minion offers a spirited defense of the European Union project, characterizing it, essentially, as an attempt to rectify the historical mistake of the nation-state:

But let me raise a rather basic issue here: what attracts me most about the European project is what many Christian Democrats (such as the Bavarian CSU's Edmund Stoiber) dub the "Europe of the regions" -- a loose supranational federation with much power devolved to the regions. What gets taken out is the nation state, which I consider an ugly step-child of the Enlightenment. For the modern nation state usurps powers that rightly belong to subsidiary mediating institutions and wipes out a traditional network of overlapping loyalties in favor of a direct relationship between the individual and the state (how delightfully Protestant!). Now, there are tendencies in Europe that go against this conception of Europe, but these tendencies are highly influenced by nationalism. And here is the rub: so many American critics of the EU are themselves deeply wedded to a nationalist conception of the USA. After all, the idea of a pan-European army would repulse me, and yet we think of the existence of a US army as beyond question (even glorifying it)-- why?

Particular points in the discussion have hinged on the intervention of the Irish Catholic bishops. I intend to prescind from that discussion, inasmuch as I am Orthodox. Suffice it to state that, on my interpretation of what the European Union is, and will become, I regard the bishops as either profoundly misguided or treacherous. My view, which is fairly common, even prevalent among the Orthodox - though I do not think it contrary to Catholic doctrine, either, notwithstanding the disagreement surrounding it - is given expression in a famous parenthetical aside from Solzhenitsyn's Nobel lecture:

In recent times it has been fashionable to talk of the levelling of nations, of the disappearance of different races in the melting-pot of contemporary civilization. I do not agree with this opinion, but its discussion remains another question. Here it is merely fitting to say that the disappearance of nations would have impoverished us no less than if all men had become alike, with one personality and one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, its collective personalities; the very least of them wears its own special colours and bears within itself a special facet of divine intention.

Continue reading "The Nation-State Writ Large" »

June 17, 2008

Yes, He Did

Rod Dreher links to this story of indescribable evil, which I'll not attempt to describe or even name. Note Dreher's headline for the blog entry. In an update at the end of the entry, Dreher explains:

Let me explain this. I am against the death penalty, not because I believe that murderers have the right to live, but because I don't trust our criminal justice system to determine guilt with unfailing accuracy. (Snip) This case in Modesto, though, was a clear example of a killer carrying out an especially brutal murder, and being caught in the act of so doing. I can't pretend that I'm not more satisfied that the cop had no choice but to take that child-killing monster out than to subdue him some other way. Maybe that makes me a bad person. But I really don't care.

Continue reading "Yes, He Did" »

You, Too, Can Play Budget-Buster

M. Z. Forrest links to this interesting NPR interactive game, which enables the user to try his hand at balancing the budget while attempting to garner honors in several fields of policy. I succeeded, according to the program, in balancing the budget and extending the date of financial meltdown all the way to 2054. It is, however, impossible to win plaudits in the policy fields while simultaneously staving off the apocalypse. In this respect, the program has considerable merit; given the definitions of success accepted in our political system, the two goals cannot be realized together. The most obvious failing of the program is the weighting of defense-related decisions: the default "pro-defense" position seems to presuppose the imperial architecture; "defense" cannot mean "defending America", but must include the massive commitments to which we've become accustomed. In the end, however, the game is valuable as a demonstration of the incoherence of American politics: we desire big government, but expect it to be cheap, and to go on forever.

Strong Brew and Weak Tea - Updated (See Below)

Michael Brendan Dougherty and Daniel Larison go after Matt Yglesias' defense of liberal internationalism, which includes an exercise in special pleading, an attempt to distinguish good liberal interventionism from the bad, neoconservative, Iraq-war starting kind, with hammer and tongs. Interventionism of the calamitous sort is not new with neoconservatives and the Bush administration. Respectively:

What about the Korean War or Vietnam? I suppose these aren’t “Iraq-scale,” being that they are much, much larger and helped to discredit the Truman and Johnson administrations respectively. (Snip) We might also consider the much longer list of recent (smaller than Iraq-scaled) blunders supported by the same establishment: the first Gulf War–the sanctions regime and the decade-long bombing campaign that followed there–Somalia, Haiti, and our intervention against Slobodan Milosevic. Can any of these be judged a success? The Iraq War was relaunched. Somalia saw the humiliation of American forces and taught bin Laden a few lessons. No one can explain what has been accomplished in Port au Prince. And Kosovo is in a state of near anarchy and has been linked to every post-9-11 terrorist attack in Europe. Yet Yglesias has the stones to frame Iraq as an isolated freakout? A one-off after decades of uninterrupted, unimpeachable successes of the establishment.

On neoconservatism, Yglesias knows better. Neoconservatism was not some “fringe right-wing position.” The intellectuals that formed that movement were not gathered around totems of extreme conservatism. No, they leapt forth from the heads of center-left Democrats Scoop Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Neoconservatism is a variant of the same establishment foreign policy that Yglesias claims to champion.

Continue reading "Strong Brew and Weak Tea - Updated (See Below)" »

Legal addendum on California Home schooling case

As those who have been following the case already know, the California court that declared home schooling (and all school-connected satellite study programs) illegal under California law has agreed to rehear the case, voiding its earlier ruling. It's going to get plenty of help this time in the form of amicus briefs.

In my most recent copy of HSLDA's magazine for members, I came upon an important legal point on this subject that I had forgotten about.

Continue reading "Legal addendum on California Home schooling case" »

The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem

Some Years ago, the United Nations published a lengthy and thoroughly documented report on "The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem."

Here is part I.

And Here is part II.

The report is frankly one sided: relentlessly pro-Palestinian & anti-Israeli.

But it can't just be dismissed. In fact, it presents the strongest case for the Palestinian cause that I've yet come across, in my internet travels. So it's something that partisans of Israel, like me, need to read and digest.

We should consider it a sort of "trial by fire."

June 18, 2008

The Winner Should Be Christian Civilization

I know, I know - Christian civilization is dead and buried, the corpse having passed through the stages of putrefaction and decay, and now all that remains of the remains is a pile of dry, old bones. Humour me. At a minimum, we could refrain from urinating on the grave.

All of which is a way of stating that, while there must be an hypothetical societal structure lying behind this lamentation, which appears to suggest that a) Public citations of biblical teaching on homosexuality, and b) Public rumination upon the incompatibility of Islamic and Western cultures, are offensive, and derogate from the dignity of homosexuals and Mahometans, and that perpetrators should be liable to torts - I have yet to discern it. Whatever it might be, it appears to overlap functionally with the managerial lifestyle/multicultural leftism that is the public religion of the West, though its first principles must diverge from that leftism.

We may dwell in a post-Christian epoch, and labour under wholly post-Christian cultures, governments, and societal structures, but I perceive no necessity of cooperating with them.

Weak Tea, Part II

Ross Douthat responds to Daniel McCarthy's critique of Douthat's earlier defense of a chastened, more cautious interventionism:

I think my disagreement with the non-interventionist point of view comes down to the question of whether the benefits that flow from the Pax Americana that's been created by America's quasi-imperial role in the world are worth the blunders that more-or-less inevitably accompany it. (Snip)

As for the secondary point of whether it's vain to hope for the sort of caution I'd like to see in foreign policy without a purist non-interventionism as our north star, I'm afraid I don't agree. There have been plenty of reckless decisions undertaken by American leaders over the last half-century, but there have also been plenty of leaders who proceeded with an admirable caution in committing American troops abroad, without being anything close to purist non-interventionists in spirit or in practice. (Snip) ... George H.W. Bush refrained from occupying Iraq in 1991 (though of course that created other problems down the road), Bill Clinton refrained from intervening in Rwanda (wrongly, in my view, but that's an argument for another day) and from committing ground troops to the Kosovo War...

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Soviet Religious Liberty Comes to America

This will be short and bitter. Rod Dreher links to a fascinating NPR story by Barbara Bradley Hagerty on the clash between gay 'rights' and religious liberty. No prizes to those who divine the tendency of the conflict.

Ponder, though, for your edification, these expressions of fulminant turpitude and stupidity, from Dreher's comments section:

Next time somebody asks, "How can gay marriage hurt anybody else?" -- well, here's one answer. You discriminate against law-abiding individuals who live in a way you don't approve of, your church, synagogue, mosque or religious institution will pay a price. You can't deny it.

Some, apparently, not only perceive the trajectory of the law, but positively exult in the coercive possibilities: we will be coerced into modifying our religious practices and doctrines, and should we resist, they intend to drive us to ruin. The thought of legal and financial autos-de-fa for dissenters from the established orthodoxy causes them to experience frissons of sheer ecstasy.

In that sense, it's no different from 1960 and the society deciding whether it is appropriate to discriminate against blacks and interracial couples based on religious belief. Should believers be able to discriminate with impugnity in violation of laws enacted by legislatures? That's the bottom line, and it has nothing to do with gay marriage.

These cretins need to get their agitprop straight. Is behaviour ontology, or is it an act of self-creation, a discovery by the individual of his own private meaning of the mystery of existence? It cannot be both. If the former, then those who oppose homosexual marriage are equally as determined as those who claim homosexual identity; if the latter, they are equally as engaged in the project of self-creation; and in neither instance is there a rational basis for rank ordering the outcomes of the deterministic chain or the projects of self-creation. In truth, no one much cares one way or they other; for these are merely ideological battering rams, employed not to establish the truth of the matter, but to assail the crumbling citadel of Christian morality and mores. In other words, it does not matter whether sexual orientation is heritable or chosen, or in what degrees between them; rather, a rival moral claim is asserted, and these arguments are merely the exoteric means by which the esoteric goals, already proclaimed by the would-be commissars, are to be realized: we are to be repressed, and they are to exercise power.

They'll still be able to preach their beliefs, hire and fire according to their beliefs, unless its publically funded, and say no to whoever they want if doing otherwise would go against their beliefs.

Except... no, they won't, which is the entire burden of the article. Are businesspeople fined for refusing to serve lesbians, which decision was made on religious grounds, free to "say no to whoever they want if doing otherwise would go against their beliefs"? God Almighty, we cannot simply be governed by the evil, they must also be stupid, so stupid that they could not even pass a grammar school reading comprehension test, malignantly, skull-splittingly stupid.

And so it comes to pass that the old Soviet doctrine of religious liberty comes to America: we will be free to profess whatever creeds it so pleases us - between our ears, and no further.

Why? Because, Without Beauty, Life Is Void of Meaning

I know that the objection will be raised that the piece is being played prestissimo. This is one of the points of contention between partisans of period instrumentation and performance, and the skeptics, as some scholarly evidence suggests that pre-romantic tempos were faster. Nevertheless, the performance seems a good one, and the Allegro of Bach's fifth Brandenburg Concerto features what may be the first cadenza in the keyboard repertoire. To this day, twenty years after first hearing it, it enchants me; it retains the capacity to startle and delight with its inventiveness and novelty. It was, perhaps, a small thing in its time, but it was far in advance of that time.

June 20, 2008

Today's Syllabus.

Here are some of the fascinating, perplexing, gratifying, disturbing or otherwise interesting things that have crossed my inbox or browser of late:

American Murder Mystery,” a well-written, if occasionally tin-eared essay on some alarming trends in urban and suburban crime. Who knew that Memphis was such a hellhole? Who knew that Florence, South Carolina leads the country in crime rate?

The Skeptical Inquirer,” a brilliant evisceration of the sand-pounding stupidity of this new faction of chirping halfwits; more than that, it is a fine elucidation of a very old subject.

China in Africa,” a disquieting report on the ruthless imperialism of China in Africa.

Finally, two essays from the indispensable Claremont Review of Books, the first, “Thoughts and Adventures,” on great Englishman Churchill, who has also been the subject of some considerable contention over at Taki’s Magazine, and the second, “Macbeth and the Moral Universe,” which exhibits Harry Jaffa at his best.

The Dark Triad

Hat-tip to the one & only Razib for noticing this fascinating New Scientist report:

"Bad guys really do get the most girls"

"...two studies have confirmed it: bad boys get the most girls. The finding may help explain why a nasty suite of antisocial personality traits known as the 'dark triad' persists in the human population, despite their potentially grave cultural costs...

"The traits are the self-obsession of narcissism; the impulsive, thrill-seeking and callous behavior of psychopaths; and the deceitful and exploitative nature of Machiavellianism...

"...being just slightly evil could have an upside: a prolific sex life, says Peter Jonason at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. 'We have some evidence that the three traits are really the same thing and may represent a successful evolutionary strategy.

"Jonason and his colleagues subjected 200 college students to personality tests designed to rank them for each of the dark triad traits. They also asked about their attitudes to sexual relationships and about their sex lives, including how many partners they'd had...

"The study found that those who scored higher on the dark triad personality traits tended to have more partners...

"James Bond epitomises this set of traits, Jonason says...Just as Bond seduces woman after woman, people with dark triad traits may be more successful with a quantity-style or shotgun approach to reproduction, even if they don't stick around for parenting. 'The strategy seems to have worked. We still have these traits,' Jonason says.

"This observation seems to hold across cultures. David Schmitt of Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, presented preliminary results at the same meeting from a survey of more than 35,000 people in 57 countries. He found a similar link between the dark triad and reproductive success in men..."

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June 22, 2008

Something right with the world--Spotlight on Lilies Apparel

I had thought of burying, er, posting this only over on my personal blog, but then I thought that I could put a W4 spin on it by billing it as something right with the world. Which it is.

Most of my audience members here are guys, and I realize that. But I also know that several of you have daughters, some even young daughters, and lots of you have wives. So...

Are you looking for beautiful, classic-style, modest dresses? Are you willing to pay a bit more than Wal-Mart prices? Have we got a show for you.

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June 25, 2008

Let's play, "Count the Usurpations."

Today the Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution forbids capital punishment in all non-homicide crimes, excepting a couple specific “offenses against the State” like treason. The immediate case in question involves the horrifying story of an 8-year-old Louisiana girl viciously raped by her stepfather, who was subsequently convicted and sentenced under a recent (1995) statute which allowed prosecutors to seek the death penalty for the crime of aggravated rape of a child. That statute, along with all others like it, is deemed by the Court unconstitutional.

To get to this conclusion, Dear Leader Mr. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy begins with a rather striking paragraph:

The Eighth Amendment, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that "[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." The Amendment proscribes "all excessive punishments, as well as cruel and unusual punishments that may or may not be excessive." Atkins, 536 U. S., at 311, n. 7. The Court explained in Atkins, id., at 311, and Roper, supra, at 560, that the Eighth Amendment's protection against excessive or cruel and unusual punishments flows from the basic "precept of justice that punishment for [a] crime should be graduated and proportioned to [the] offense." Weems v. United States, 217 U. S. 349, 367 (1910). Whether this requirement has been fulfilled is determined not by the standards that prevailed when the Eighth Amendment was adopted in 1791 but by the norms that "currently prevail." Atkins, supra, at 311. The Amendment "draw[s] its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Trop v. Dulles, 356 U. S. 86, 101 (1958) (plurality opinion). This is because "[t]he standard of extreme cruelty is not merely descriptive, but necessarily embodies a moral judgment. The standard itself remains the same, but its applicability must change as the basic mores of society change." Furman v. Georgia, 408 U. S. 238, 382 (1972) (Burger, C. J., dissenting).

Depending on your view of the Incorporation Doctrine, there are 5 or 6 usurpations of legislative authority in that one paragraph.

The opinion goes down here from there, as Redstate’s Dan McLaughlin demonstrates. Justice Kennedy should be impeached.

Consent Does Not Determine Justice

The saying goes that the just powers of a government derive from the consent of the governed.

That, not to put too fine a point on it, is complete poppycock.

A just power is an exercise of government authority which one is morally required to obey. "Give unto Caesar" is an archtypical example for Christians. One is morally required to give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. One cannot excuse onesself from this moral requirement by claiming that Caesar's powers do not as an historical matter derive from the consent of the governed.

Under the hood the 'consent of the governed' narrative is designed to replace the natural law with consent: to equate what is good with what is willed. It is of a piece with the modern revolt against God and nature.

June 26, 2008

Just Like Tony Kennedy's Blues

On Tuesday, the buzz from the Supreme Court was Chief Justice John Roberts’ quotation of Bob Dylan in a dissenting opinion (page 36). On Wednesday, that amusing fact was instantly overshadowed by Justice Kennedy’s latest usurpation of legislative authority. I propose that Kennedy follow the Chief Justice’s example instead of his usual trope of sweeping assertions of judicial supremacy. I have just the Dylan quotation for him:

I started out on burgundy
But soon hit the harder stuff
Everybody said they'd stand behind me
When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to bluff
I'm going back to New York City
I do believe I've had enough

— “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” Highway 61 Revisited, 1965.

June 27, 2008

One tendentious opinion away.

A quick read of this article will surely leave you outraged. The story is simple enough: a neat amalgam of barbarism and PC bureaucracy, the sort of anarchy compounded by oppression that Liberalism so excels at producing.

A former British soldier endures as his neighborhood terrorized by a pack of feral young thugs (“yobs,” as they call them over there) for several days. He calls the police; they never come. He looks for an officer; finds none. Coming home one day to find his wife in tears and terrified, he finally has enough, and goes out to execute a citizen’s arrest, dragging one of the thugs into house and calling his mother. Thereupon the police arrive with the mother — and naturally arrest the homeowner.

This is justice under Liberalism.

Let it be noted that there was a somewhat similar case in Illinois five years ago, where a man who fought off an intruder in his house was charged with a handgun violation. State Sen. Obama voted against bills to remedy this manifest injustice twice.

Yesterday we all sat around in worried anticipation, hoping the Supreme Court would manage, this time, to maintain the plain meaning of the words of our Constitution and restore to us our self-government. The outcome was a good one — barely. But the tyranny of the Court is still in place. The four Liberals very frequently succeed in persuading Justice Kennedy to join them in their usurpations. They care not one whit about the plain meaning of the Constitution. They do exactly as they please.

Here in America, packs of feral youths exist in appalling abundance, just like in Britain. But most of them are well aware that their potential victims may be armed. On that fact, friends, much of our liberty hangs.

And we are only a tendentious opinion from one of the Liberal Usurpers on the Court, or their creature Kennedy, under the spell of the New York-DC elite adulation — one tendentious opinion citing foreign law, or sweet mystery of life, or mystical evolving standards, away from the same tyranny that would send the homeowner who defends his wife against thugs to jail, while showering the thugs with sympathy.

Not the Common Good

Justice Scalia's majority opinion in Heller was a tonic for those of us, as Paul notes, waiting in various states of anxiety to learn whether the Robed Masters, ever inclined to practice the techniques of deconstruction upon law, precedent, and both the grammar and syntax of the English language, would again dabble in the black arts. It is, in a word, pathetic - pathetic that this is what the Republic has come to, pathetic that more of us are not prepared to - if the phrase may be pardoned - man the barricades of self-government against such grotesqueries. We have become acculturated to a regime in which each branch of government routinely disgraces itself, so much so that most mistake dysfunction for vitality.

Not everyone, though, was so well pleased by the ruling. In point of fact, it has even been argued that the proscription of the private possession of firearms is integral to the common good, and that opposition to gun control has its origins in Enlightenment theories of individuality, asserted over against the common good. I'll note, in passing, that Feddie of Southern Appeal, who has written an excellent synopsis of the logic of Heller, dispenses with this argument within the span of a few dozen comments in the extensive thread, at least as a legal matter. Rather, however, than descending into the slough of political philosophy in order to demonstrate the errors of assimilating gun control to the common good, and of equating firearms possession with invidious Enlightenment individualism, I'd prefer to make a simpler demonstration.

In 2005, the Court handed down its decision in the case of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, a case which had its genesis in the failure of a police department to enforce a "shall arrest" restraining order against an estranged husband, who proceeded to kill his three daughters after abducting them from the home of his wife, and subsequently was killed in a shootout with police. Gonzales filed suit, claiming violations of substantive and procedural due process rights, and the Tenth Circuit found in her favour, albeit only on the procedural basis. The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Tenth Circuit, on the grounds that a mandate for the enforcement of the order would not generate an individual right to its enforcement, but that, even if it did generate such a right, such a right could not be considered property under the due process clause. The decision was, though controversial, in accord with established precedent. Even more philosophically, the notion of an individual claim right upon the protection of the authorities cannot be sustained, inasmuch as, the authorities lacking omniscience and omnipotence as powers, many crimes would still occur, generating liabilities on the part of the authorities and their officers. One cannot be held liable for a failure to perform the impossible. The very notion, off at the end, would render governance impossible.

The upshot of the case, therefore, is that there obtains no individual right to protection provided by the authorities from malefactors.

According, moreover, to the detractors of Heller, neither is there an individual right to the most effective, equalizing means of self-defense. In fact, self-defense is apparently a dubious concept only tenuously connected to the common good.

Hence, in this equation, one has no claim right to protection provided by the state, and one has no effective right to self-defense. The common good itself stipulates powerlessness before the random criminal evils of this world. Manifestly, this is absurd, a species of utopianism - at best, the fantasy that the elimination of all implements of violence, along with the alleged "root causes" of criminality, will produce a peaceful society - and at worst, a piece of anarcho-tyranny, by which the lawful majority are to be bludgeoned into submission by both crime and petty proscriptions, the better to impose some whackaloon scheme of social reconstruction. In this instance, it is obviously the former, though I suspect many on the left fall into the latter category. It is, in any event, a violation of the common good for the fundamental units of society, families, to be left bereft of defenses against predation and savagery.

Which is why the Second Amendment, and the rights it enshrines, are in fact integral to the common good, and not contrary thereto.

June 29, 2008

Serious questions about brain death in new article

Whenever I say anything on the Internet on the subject of brain death, I'm always looking, or even pushing, in two directions at once.

On the one hand, it's overwhelmingly important to resist the misuse of the term 'brain dead' by the media and ill-informed people to refer simply to a lack of mental consciousness and as roughly synonymous with what is called a "permanent vegetative state." The intent in diagnosing brain death is to diagnose physical death, not any degree or type of lack of consciousness per se, and the inability to breathe on one's own (to give just one example) is an absolute sine qua non for the diagnosis. People in a so-called "permanent vegetative state," on the other hand, are usually breathing on their own and are not in any sense whatsoever physically dead. If we do not hold that line and correct the sloppy terminology, we will have people saying that living, breathing, moving human beings are 'dead', which is a very bad thing indeed.

On the other hand, when I say all of that, I worry that it will give the impression that I think the diagnosis of whole brain death is straightforward and unproblematic, whereas in fact I don't think that at all.

And my reservations about the diagnosis of brain death have recently been strengthened.

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"Stuff White People Like"

I'm given to understand that this site has enjoyed a certain vogue, lately, and has even given rise to a forthcoming book with the same title.

Personally, I find it pretty weak tea. I mean, where are oreos?