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February 2009 Archives

February 2, 2009

Whose souls condemned and dying were precious in thy sight

An update on Martha Samuel, whose story I'd already mentioned here. She is out of jail for the moment, and it appears that so are her children and husband. But she is by no means out of the woods. She is charged with "forging identification documents," because she identified herself as a Christian on her identification documents when she was attempting to flee from Egypt to (believe it or not) Russia.

The "judge" has said he'd like to stab her. We should continue to pray for her. You can check out of Islam any time you like, but you just can't leave.

(The title is an allusion to this hymn.)

The Politics of Tiger Woods

It is a curious fact that you rarely find more brassbound political folly and ignorance in a newspaper than on its Sports page. Open it up the News or Metro section and chances are you will encounter some run-of-the-mill stupidity, hardly worthy of note. An ill-equipped reporter will have comically bungled some point of Christian theology or ethics. A political commentator will misrepresent some long-standing point of Conservative principle in a commonplace way, or reach for a worn-out catchphrase of abuse. The typical unexamined assumption will form the basis for some mean and uninteresting piece of claptrap. You will hardly think twice about it.

It is only on the Sports page, it seems, that the really outstanding asininity appears. It is only there where a commentator will reach for a worn-out catchphrase with all the exuberance of creativity, as if he had invented it. It is only there that you will stumble upon some throwaway line about Republicans being the party of greed with their tax cuts for the rich, and in a shock of understanding you will realize that the writer thinks he has discovered these terrible crimes all by himself.

Among the more striking pieces of this peculiar stupidity is the long-running annoyance that liberals in the sports media have with Tiger Woods’s consistent silence on politics. Even when attending a celebrity-filled event for the inauguration of President Obama in Washington, D.C., the golfer gave a muted speech about American heroism, not words of passion and support for the new president or his policies. That Mr. Woods will not take the media advice and become a political activist in the Leftist mold disturbs and exasperates them. And so we are treated to innuendo and invective along these lines: “I understand why Woods takes few firm positions. Having a stance is risky. It takes stones. It causes people to get angry. When you take some out of their comfort zone, it frightens them, and they react unkindly, even violently.” In short, “Woods has guts on the course. Off of it … Not so much.” That is an actual quotation from a writer examining Mr. Woods’s low-level participation in some of the Obama Inauguration festivities.

Continue reading "The Politics of Tiger Woods" »

The Wager

I have marveled in recent weeks at the steadfastness, in opposition to the Obama administration's stimulus proposal, of the GOP rump caucus. It isn't that I necessarily admire that steadfastness, or that I despise it; indeed, I don't much care, to be honest, either way. The GOP is correctly interpreting the fundamental political incentives contained in the present configuration of power, and this is neither to be praised or blamed. It simply is: If the GOP lends some measure of support, through the defection of some of its members, to the stimulus proposal, and that proposal proves efficacious in reviving the economy, or, at a minimum, halting its slide into the the abyss, then the American people will laud the Democrats, as the party in power, for the success; whereas, if the GOP opposes the stimulus to a man, and that measure fails to revive the economy, or, still worse, exacerbates the recession, the GOP stands to benefit from the foreseeable public disaffection with the Democratic majority and administration. It is this calculus, and this calculus alone, which has led the GOP to oppose the stimulus, a fact reinforced by the profligacy of the GOP under the Bush regime; principle has not been rediscovered, for that it is not how this GOP rolls, but naked self-interest has been awakened. If this rediscovery happens to coincide with the perceived interests of GOP supporters, all the better for the party - potentially - as this rediscovery will be something of a novelty in light of recent history.

It must be observed, however, that the GOP probably lacks any consciousness of the magnitude of the wager being made. If the stimulus, again hypothetically, at least halts the slide in the economy, it is probable that the American people will not only reward the Democrats for presiding over (the appearance of) prosperity, but will punish the GOP for its acts of obstructionism, and for its anachronism, acts certain to be noted in campaign advertising by the Democrats. In view of the potential downside, therefore, the GOP must be supremely confident that the stimulus will fail, and fail utterly - and, apropos of this, it should be observed that, even if the stimulus fails, the Democrats might be rewarded for at least the appearance of concern and engagement, and the GOP dismissed for its monomania, its positing of the One Thing as the answer to all political problems. The GOP is increasingly perceived as obsessed with tax cuts, and in its articulation of tax cuts as a universal palliative, subverts its own credibility. Tax cuts cannot be the answer to every political or economic situation, whether the government is running a surplus, or the nation is flirting with Great Depression 2.0. The categorical political imperative is an ideological fiction.

The GOP, therefore, confronting plummeting party identification and an electoral map affording not even the slightest margin of campaign error, is making a tremendously risky wager, one which, made wrongly, won't necessarily doom the party to the (richly merited) fate of the Whigs, but will herald a fate nearer to that of the Whigs than any GOP partisans, I am confident, are consciously acknowledging, in the still hours of the night.

Continue reading "The Wager" »

February 3, 2009

Pledging allegiance to Beloved Leader in Nevada

Via VFR comes a link to this story from the Las Vegas area: According to the parent who the parent who got the story on-line, in his child's school several teachers are flipping on the overhead just before the pledge of allegiance to the flag, displaying at the front of the room a very large picture of Barack Obama. Since the flag is in the corner of the room, the children are facing B.O. more squarely than the flag while they pledge allegiance. Also, of course, turning on the picture for the pledge of allegiance connects the two pretty directly.

Naturally, this was not being done with a picture of W. prior to the inauguration of Beloved Leader.

I have sent this as a news tip to CNS News, and I hope they take it up, though I haven't heard anything back. Someone should be the first news outlet to send a reporter to check it out. What it needs is boots on the ground and some investigative reporting: Who authorized this? How did it come about? Is this the choice of individual teachers or is it required from higher up?

In Which I Agree With Will Wilkinson; Or, Economists are Political Philosophers Who Write Bad Prose

Will Wilkinson on the war of the economists, between supporters and detractors of the stimulus proposal, each faction having its own incommensurable methodologies and models:

When I see Delong more or less indiscriminately trashing everyone at Chicago, or Krugman trashing Barro, etc., what doesn’t arise in my mind is a sense that some of these guys really know what they’re talking about while some of them are idiots. What arises in my mind is the strong suspicion that economic theory, as it is practiced and taught at the world’s leading institutions, is so far from consensus on certain fundamental questions that it is basically useless for adjudicating many profoundly important debates about economic policy. One implication of this is that it is wrong to extend to economists who advise policymakers, or become policymakes themselves, the respect we rightly extend to the practitioners of mature sciences. There is a reason extremely smart economists are out there playing reputation games instead of trying to settle the matter by doing better science. The reason is that, on the questions that are provoking intramural trashtalk, there is no science.

I'd hypothesize that the reason for this is that economics is not merely not a science, but that any given school of economic thought or tradition of inquiry and research merely reifies the circumstances and conditions of a previous era, policy framework, or set of conundrums, whereas all of these things are much more circumscribed, historically speaking: things work, or don't, until they don't, or do, and the permutation space of possible Lessons of Economic History is rather smaller than anyone wishes to believe.

(HT: Jim Manzi.)

Shouldn't Dawkins now say that Darwinian evolution has been refuted?

I'm referring to this quotation from Dawkins:

If there were a heaven in which all the animals who ever lived could frolic, we would find an interbreeding continuum between every species and every other. For example I could interbreed with a female who could interbreed with a male who could . . . fill in a few gaps, probably not very many in this case . . . who could interbreed with a chimpanzee. We could construct longer, but still unbroken chains of interbreeding individuals to connect a human with a warthog, a kangaroo, a catfish. This is not a matter of speculative conjecture; it necessarily follows from the fact of evolution.

And I'm putting it together with this recent announcement: Animal/human cybrids aren't working. They don't produce embryos. What this means in practice is that (to some scientists' dismay) animal eggs cannot be used to fix the human egg shortage for all those cloned embryos they want for research. Aw, shucks.

Not Black Enough

Tiger Woods reacted to the election of Barack Obama with these words:

"I think it's absolutely incredible, to have basically, he represents America...He's multi-racial, and I was hoping it would happen in my lifetime, my father was hoping it would happen in his lifetime. He didn't get to see it, but I'm lucky enough to see a person of color in the White House."

Well. One might think that these enthusiastically race-conscious words would be enough to satisfy the ubiquitous race-hucksters of the left. But one would be wrong:

Continue reading "Not Black Enough" »

February 4, 2009

Eluana Englaro to be dehydrated to death

For a while, the clinics in Italy refused to dehydrate this woman to death, despite her father's obtaining a court's permission to do so. In fact, the Italian health minister had "warned" clinics not to participate in her dehydration. Some who advocated her dehydration were disturbed to think that he might "have to" take her abroad to be killed, while others more militantly suggested that some hospital should be court ordered to kill her (which is what has been done in the United States).

But not to worry, a clinic in the city of Udine has stepped up to the plate.

It appears that the health minister's warning may have applied only to national health care clinics. The clinic in Udine where Eluana will be killed is private, and that may explain their willingness.

As of Tuesday, when the transfer took place, Eluana's long dehydration process was scheduled to begin in about three days. There is evidently a good deal of high feeling in Italy against this, as witness the stand of the majority of clinics and also some protests against Eluana's transfer (some protesters even tried to stop the ambulance transporting her). But what we are seeing here is the leadership of the courts. The courts have declared that this should be done, that this is "helping" Eluana to die, and many (including her father) believe that this is a matter of her autonomy. I had thought that perhaps the health care profession would stand firm until an actual court order was made to a facility, but apparently not.

Let us pray for Eluana and for her father, too, who desperately needs to repent.

HT to Todd, who sent me the most recent story.


Please pray for Amy Welborn and her family, who have suffered a terrible loss.

February 5, 2009

We Have All This to Look Forward To...

(With apologies to Violet Venable for cribbing her line!)

Kevin DeAnna, writing for Taki's, visits Iceland, and catches a glimpse of our own future:

Continue reading "We Have All This to Look Forward To..." »

A different view of St. Michael


Given my earlier comments about preferring pictures of angels that make them look masculine, I couldn't resist posting this.

I got to the new LOLSaints web site via Dawn Eden. I think several of them are hilarious. I particularly liked this entirely deserved mockery of a dreadful piece of modern religious art, and the caption on this one ("Yes, my nails are painted") absolutely cracked me up.

February 6, 2009

More prayers

If you would, please spare a moment of prayer for the family and friends of Mark Kilmer, my friend and colleague at Redstate who lost his battle with cancer this week.

He was a man of humor and insight, who served the Lord Jesus Christ in word and deed. Several years ago we learned of his throat cancer, and received a regular series of profound and moving email updates on his ordeal with that illness, which he eventually conquered. But the cancer returned this year, and, with shocking speed, he was gone.

May those who knew and loved him find comfort in the assurance that the promises of Christ are true. Even in our grief we may cry, boldly, defiantly, with St. Paul, "O Death, where is thy victory?"

Eluana Englaro update--faint hope

Eluana Englaro is scheduled to begin being dehydrated to death today. The Italian government passed an emergency measure that would have saved her, but the President refused to sign it. (I can't help wondering--so go ahead, call me a bigot--if the fact that he's a former Communist Party member has anything to do with this, even remotely.)

I'm unclear as to what hope there is now. The LifeSite News article states that any attempt to override this refusal to sign (a pocket veto, I guess we would call it in the States) would take 20 days, by which time of course Eluana will be dead. But the (otherwise highly biased) MSM article says that the Prime Minister, who appears to be on the side of the angels on this one, swears he will get it passed very rapidly as a regular bill, in time to save her.

There is some weirdness going on with the notion of "48 hours." This article implies that somehow she cannot be saved if she isn't rehydrated within 48 hours of the beginning of her dehydration. This is nonsense. On the other hand, the confusion may have arisen from urgent statements to the effect that permanent damage of some sort will be done after 48 hours. That may be true, but if it's coming from the pro-life side here, I hope they tone it down before their enemies take it up and imply that her slow execution "has to" be completed if it isn't stopped before 48 hours have passed.

I owe HT to several sources. Todd sent me one of the articles and another came through the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, while yet another is linked from Secondhand Smoke, which is now on the case.

February 7, 2009

Liberalism and the Anarchist Tyrant

I was recently observing a discussion in which a self-professed anarchist was arguing in favor of the suppression of hate speech. One commenter expressed puzzlement over how a self-professed anarchist could at one and the same time argue in favor of a micro-managed tyranny over something as fundamental as speech.

I thought it worth noting that an incoherent tyrannical anarchy is the natural end state of liberalism. The whole modern project revolves around avoiding the question of what is substantively right and wrong, instead mediating every political action, that is, every assertion of authority which actually binds, through the expressed will of free and equal modern supermen; free and equal supermen who have transcended history, nature and tradition; supermen who are self-created through reason and will, defining the meaning of existence for themselves. In order for that project to work everyone has to be equally able to say anything, independent of the substantive content of his speech and even independent of substantive judgments over what it means to “say” something (see flag burning, pornography).

As we have discussed a number of times, the whole project is ultimately an incoherent self-negation. The essence of authority is to discriminate: to make substantive judgments between claims, to pick the winners and losers in conflicts, and to morally bind those subject to that authority to act based on these determinations. Liberalism is ultimately a conception of authority which justifies itself on the premise that authority must be abolished; that free and equal emancipated man must be able to choose, in an assertion of his own will and reason, the ultimate meaning of his own life for himself. It is no accident that Marxists see politics as a kind of interim and rationally necessary tyranny exercised in bringing about the right state of affairs, after which authority simply disappears: as a 'dialectical' offshoot of liberalism, Marxism solves the paradox of forcing people to be equally free by making the disappearance of authority into a kind of parousia.

Because the whole liberal project is ultimately unnatural and incoherent (folks should read Jim Kalb’s book The Tyranny of Liberalism), the end-state liberal is quite naturally an anarchist tyrant. This is not surprising but rather ought to be expected; and it is only incoherent because the underlying liberalism is itself incoherent.

February 8, 2009

NOT The Onion:

"The other night I dreamt of Barack Obama. He was taking a shower...and then he was being yelled at by my husband...for smoking in the house..."

Oh, um, smoking, was he? And in the house, too!

Well. No doubt in this case the cigar was only a cigar. But continuing:

"I launched an e-mail inquiry...Many women...were dreaming about sex with the president...There was some daydreaming too, much of it a collective fantasy about the still-hot Obama marriage. 'Barack and Michelle Obama look like they have sex. They look like they like having sex,' a Los Angeles woman wrote to me, summing up the comments of many [emphasis added]. 'Often. With each other'...

"One woman wrote that when she couldn’t get to sleep at night, she 'lay in bed and thought about...Barack and Michelle...spooning together in bed...'

"Another Washington woman, a global health care consultant...'dreamed [she] was an Obama girl. I had a chance to be in the same room with him for the first time. There were dark velvet chairs and he was standing there with all this dark and mist around him. His lips so purple and sensuous as if to be otherworldly...I moved gently toward him...”

Believe it or not, it gets worse.

Sometimes I just have to pinch myself to be sure that all this is really happening.

Hat tip to Steve Sailer.

February 9, 2009

Eluana Englaro has passed away

This just in: Eluana Englaro, the Italian woman whose starvation and dehydration began last Friday, died today even as lawmakers were racing to pass a bill that might have saved her. (The legal situation is unclear.)

I find this surprising, as usually a death by dehydration of this sort takes something in the neighborhood of eight days or more.

May God have mercy on her soul and even more on that of her father who had sought this outcome, saying that she would not have "wanted to live" in her present state.

February 10, 2009

Against a Universal Franchise

Proposition: It is far more important that the electorate be of outstanding moral character, prudence, and wisdom than it is to extend the franchise to as many people as possible or to insure that every conceivable interest group is formally represented by voters who are members of that group. Other things equal, it is better to live in a good polity without the right to vote than it is to live in a tyrannical, decadent polity with the right to vote.


The Newspeak of the moderns

In 1642, the Senate of the University of Utrecht issued a condemnation of the new Cartesian philosophy, which was intended by Descartes to replace the Aristotelianism of the Scholastics. Among the charges made against the new philosophy was that:

it turns away the young from this sound and traditional philosophy, and prevents them reaching the heights of erudition; for once they have begun to rely on the new philosophy and its supposed solutions, they are unable to understand the technical terms which are commonly used in the books of the traditional authors and in the lectures and debates of their professors. (Quoted in John Cottingham, Descartes, p. 4)

Continue reading "The Newspeak of the moderns" »

The Anarchist Tyrant and the Unprincipled Exception

Liberalism is inherently incoherent and anti-human. The more liberals attempt to be fully self-consistent, the more incoherent and anti-human their demands become: thus the anarchist tyrant as the liberal pseudo-telos.

But liberalism has an additional feature, the unprincipled exception (a concept explored in some depth at Lawrence Auster's blog View from the Right), which prevents it from immediately self-destructing.

Illiberal principles are not permitted to assert explicit authority in the liberal order. But because liberalism is incoherent and ultimately self-destructive, something has to keep things from falling apart: something has to assert a stabilizing authority in order to hold things together. This thing, this assertion of illiberal authority which is not permitted to be explicit but which nevertheless has effect, is the unprincipled exception. Unprincipled exceptions are often asserted as an appeal to common sense, an assertion that to take things to the rational next step clearly demanded by liberal principles is "silly", etc. But unprincipled exceptions are never permitted to explicitly challenge liberalism itself. They exist to dampen the advance of liberalism enough to keep it from self-destructing. As a form of parasite liberalism is incapable of existing on its own, and unprincipled exceptions, originally vestiges of the moral core of Christendom rendered mute but still in effect through appeals to common sense or some other euphemism tantamount to "shut up", have been what has kept liberalism - ultimately an authoritative assertion of the illegitimacy of authority, which is the same as asserting the free and equal superman - in power.

Continue reading "The Anarchist Tyrant and the Unprincipled Exception" »

February 11, 2009

‘Too Christian’ for academia?

Here is a piece I wrote for National Review Online about the political correctness controversy brewing over Wiley-Blackwell’s Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization.

UPDATE: The Catholic News Agency interviews George Kurian, the encyclopedia's editor. The Telegraph comments on the story. First Things sums it up: "This encyclopedia is too on topic"!

UPDATE 2: The Guardian and The Times have picked up the story.

I Told You So

I told y'all back in early October that the TARP was promised to the financial public to stop an in-process computerized bank panic which would have destroyed the entire world's financial and political systems within a matter of days.

If they had not done that, their estimation was that by 2pm that afternoon, $5.5 trillion would have been drawn out of the money market system of the U.S., would have collapsed the entire economy of the U.S., and within 24 hours the world economy would have collapsed... It would have been the end of our economic system and our political system as we know it...
I think the danger of this has mostly passed, but without Paulson's promise it would all have been over but the shouting by the afternoon of September 18. And Congress's failure to immediately and unequivocally back up that promise remains one of the absolutely most insane things I have ever personally witnessed.

If the mood ever strikes you to buy Stanislav Petrov a drink, make sure you buy one for Henry Paulson too.

February 13, 2009

Kill the Messenger

Truer words were never spoken. Lawrence Auster and Ruth Wisse on liberalism:

Liberals cannot admit the existence of real evil, of an enemy beyond the reach of reason, of an unappeasable Other. The result is a fatal collusion "between the aggressor, who wants to conceal his intention in order to execute it effectively, and the liberal fundamentalist, who has to deny aggression so that he can continue to believe that humans were created in his image."

And bang on cue comes the news that Britain has barred Geert Wilders from entering England. For "hate speech," of course. As Melanie Philips says,

The British government allows people to march through British streets screaming support for Hamas, it allows Hizb ut Tahrir to recruit on campus for the jihad against Britain and the west, it takes no action against a Muslim peer who threatens mass intimidation of Parliament, but it bans from the country a member of parliament of a European democracy who wishes to address the British Parliament on the threat to life and liberty in the west from religious fascism.

But the above quotation makes it all fairly clear: To the liberal mind, it is the messenger who tells us that we face an enemy who is the real Enemy. The liberal believes, in the face of the most incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, that we could all live in peace and harmony if only it weren't for those evil hate-mongers who raise even mild questions (for my impression is that Wilders is not one of Islam's harshest critics) about our ability to live together in peace and harmony. Thus, for reasons that are still partially obscure to me, liberalism is wilfully suicidal.

When Theo van Gogh was murdered and, shortly thereafter, I heard that police had sandblasted the words "Thou Shalt Not Kill" off a nearby wall because it might offend the Muslim community, I said that that was the sound of the key turning in the lock on Holland. That was it. That was the line crossed. Holland could never turn back. But perhaps I was wrong about Holland. It looks like England may be further along still on the way to self-destruction.

HT to VFR for various links.

Brin on conspiracy theories

Science fiction writer David Brin offers some sympathetic criticism of my recent piece “The Trouble With Conspiracy Theories” (originally posted here, and reprinted at Counterknowledge.com). Brin suggests that:

there are ways that a tight-knit “inner conspiracy” of a few fanatics could control much larger groups who did not consciously think of themselves as committing a betrayal. (Suppose, for example, just half a dozen blackmailed/suborned men held the highest offices in a nation; they could then appoint fools and delusionally partisan rationalizers into lower positions, who could then achieve high levels of damage without the ever becoming aware that they were doing so. The same effect can be achieved through clever use of prodigious amounts of cash.)

Continue reading "Brin on conspiracy theories" »

February 14, 2009

Population control Nazis in the news again

This story came out a couple of weeks ago, and it was so bad that I couldn't think of anything to say about it. (That does happen sometimes.)

Of course, anyone with sense knows that the "global warming" spin is just the latest excuse. In the 1970's, before anyone had ever heard of the global warming scare, the population controllers were preaching the same gospel: Having babies is "irresponsible," and government must do something or other about it.

And in third-world countries, they have. Western aid groups have aggressively pushed population control, with the cooperation of foreign governments. (I recommend the Population Research Institute for much documentation.) China's one-child policy is only the most infamous of these initiatives. PRI has documented aggressive and coercive population control in South America and Africa as well.

What is noticeable about Jonathan Porritt's evil screed (with its specific lament about women whose pregnancies are "brought to birth" and its explicit call for abortion as a means of population control) is that he's a government functionary in a Western country and appears to be calling for some sort of government-pushed population control in Britain itself.

So I finally thought of something to say. More specifically, to ask. How successful is he going to be?

Continue reading "Population control Nazis in the news again" »

February 15, 2009

In the Beginning...

...there was the Notre Dame School:

Continue reading "In the Beginning..." »

February 16, 2009

The Low Man

We've discussed before how modern anti-anthropology views humanity: as radically autonomous individuals, self-created through reason and will; and how this anti-anthropology results in a politics of abstractly equal freedom, in which substantive right and wrong, good and evil, are replaced by what is willed or chosen by the free and equal new man. When this anti-anthropology encounters the real world one result is the untermensch, the Low Man, chained to nature, history and tradition, standing in the way of the full emergence of the free and equal new man. While liberalism claims to be radically opposed to authoritative discrimination, in the real world politics or government just is authoritative discrimination. Human authority which discriminates, binds us to its discriminations, and enforces its discriminations legitimately is essential to, is virtually a definition of, politics and government.

So we can see that the requirements of reality, nay of basic rationality, are set radically in opposition to liberalism. Because liberalism is a political doctrine, and despite its genuine and absolute commitment to political equal freedom, liberalism must itself act as an authority: it must authoritatively discriminate between different conceptions of the good. Because it at one and the same time must authoritatively discriminate and must deny the legitimacy of authoritative discrimination, there is in liberalism necessarily an anthropological bifurcation or splitting of humanity into "high men" who are free and equal supermen to whom the anti-discrimination rule applies absolutely, and "Low Men", the untermenschen, who are not fully human. The Low Men are those against whom liberalism must discriminate authoritatively; and because it must do so, and at the same time it is in liberalism's view inherently illegitimate to authoritatively discriminate between differing freely chosen substantive conceptions of the good and the meaning of life, it is simply incorrect to view the Low Men as fully human in the pertinent, politically authoritative sense.

Continue reading "The Low Man" »

February 17, 2009

More on the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization controversy

I have a follow-up piece posted today at NRO’s The Corner. Inside Higher Ed ran an article on the story yesterday. It seems to me that there are serious questions to be raised about Wiley-Blackwell’s official statements on this matter, questions which are not being asked by others who have commented on this story so far (including the Inside Higher Ed piece). I raise them in my article.

February 18, 2009

TLS on radio

New Jersey readers and podcast listeners everywhere might be interested to know that I will be on The Jeff Whitaker Show Thursday at about 3:35 pm Eastern time to discuss The Last Superstition. Tune in and see if I can boil down 2,500 years of philosophy into 25 minutes, including commercials. With a head cold.

February 19, 2009

How to fix the schools

Steve Sailer is suitably scathing on Obama's hopelessly ridiculous (or is that ridiculously hopeless?) plans for education reform.

Please read the whole thing.

But he concludes his piece with a good question: "Enough sniping...Please help me...come up with ideas that might actually improve education."

So here are my ideas:

Continue reading "How to fix the schools" »

February 20, 2009

Conservatives and tradition

A left-of-center friend of mine recently complained to me that conservatives are “guilty of appealing to tradition when it suits [them], and not when it doesn't.” This is a common charge, but not a fair one. There is not, or need not be, anything arbitrary in the fact that conservatives uphold some traditions but not others. For no serious conservative, nor indeed any unserious conservative that I can think of, has ever said that traditional practices and beliefs are always good, or ought always to be preserved. The conservative attitude to tradition is far more nuanced than that.

Continue reading "Conservatives and tradition" »

Berlin 1953

Continue reading "Berlin 1953" »

February 21, 2009

"Settling" is for Losers

It is a popular meme among Christians who have sold out to the pro-abortion movement that we must "settle for what we can get". The statement is both true and false at the same time. That is, what we do is in fact constrained by what is moral, and by what is achievable. But the word "settle" says more than that: it says that we should set our sights low, we should not work too hard to achieve "the impossible", we should compromise with mass murdering pro-abortion nazis to try to "reduce the number of abortions", etc.

I call baloney. "Settling for what you can get" is for losers. Nobody has ever accomplished anything important by "settling": indeed, the very word "settling" implies taking your eye off the end goal, giving up on the important thing and taking something less, like table scraps thrown to the dogs.

Winners never "settle". Winners take every hill and position along the way, accomplish everything that can be accomplished without compromise and without relenting, and never lose sight of the end goal.

The end goal in the legal fight over abortion is abortion outlawed in every jurisdiction, every outlaw abortionist swinging from a gibbet. There are many other important non-legal goods to be pursued, many important goals in terms of supporting women and children in distress, to be sure. But this notion that in the legal fight over abortion pro-lifers should "settle" is the siren song of Hell.


Wiley-Blackwell responds

In response to my second National Review Online piece on the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization controversy, Wiley-Blackwell representative Susan Spilka has posted the following statement:

Continue reading "Wiley-Blackwell responds" »

February 22, 2009

UK social services persecute teen convert from Islam to Christianity

This story came out at Jihad Watch a few weeks ago now, but it should not pass without a comment here at W4. In the United Kingdom--an ostensibly free even if not ostensibly Christian country--a teenager who converted to Christianity was ordered by social workers not to attend any church activity for six months. The social workers fired her foster mother because the girl had been baptized, at her own insistence, without previously undergoing "counseling to ensure that she understood the implications, especially as such conversions are dealt with harshly in some Muslim countries."

In other words, in the United Kingdom, social workers attempt to manipulate and discourage Christian converts and to uphold as far as they are able the Muslim prohibition against conversion to Christianity.

Worse, after the foster mother was fired (for allowing a teenager in her care to become a Christian), the young lady was returned to "members of her family," who have "not been told of her conversion." It is unclear which members of her family she has been sent to live with. She was originally placed in foster care because her father beat her repeatedly and threatened to take her to Pakistan and force her into a marriage there. Given the extreme clannishness of Muslim families, for her to have to live with any members of her family following her conversion could be quite dangerous for her. The foster mother said, of the girl's decision to be baptized, "I couldn’t have stopped her if I had wanted to. She saw the baptism as a washing away of the horrible things she had been through and a symbol of a new start."

At sixteen, teens in Britain are apparently allowed considerable latitude as to where and how they will live their lives. Contrast the control-freakish behavior of social services concerning a Muslim girl's conversion to Christianity with this story of a young girl who suddenly left home to live with her adult school teacher. The social worker showed up at her parents' house only to tell the girl's mother that she had "explained her rights" to the daughter and to take the daughter's clothes to the adult teacher's house.

In any event, the now-17-year-old Christian convert (whose name is not being released) certainly needs our prayers.

February 23, 2009

Liberalism, Abortion, and Community - a Note

Thomas Fleming, the editor of _Chronicles_ and president of The Rockford Institute, has posted a new column flaying George Weigel, noted cafeteria Catholic as regards Just War doctrine, over the latter's commentary on Pope Benedict's chastisement of Nancy Pelosi, noted cafeteria Catholic as regards virtually everything. Fleming's argument may be adumbrated as follows: Natural law, as evidenced by the diversity of interpretations throughout history, and particularly by the inferences drawn by those who stand at the headwaters of the tradition, underdetermines the natural status of acts of abortion; critics of abortion, therefore, who maintain the contrary, and who postulate a universal duty to prevent acts of abortion, not only conflate Kantian universalism with both natural law and Christian ethics, but demonstrate an impoverished historical understanding.

Assuming that those reading my words will have, after the foregoing paragraph, skipped over to acquaint themselves with Fleming's argument, I would like to offer two considerations, apropos of that argument.

Continue reading "Liberalism, Abortion, and Community - a Note" »

The church of Liberalism sends out a new encyclical

Zippy has put up a number of really interesting posts about liberalism, and he and I have kicked around our different perceptions of liberalism in another thread here. To tell you the truth, I can't always tell how much we disagree. I know we agree about a lot about liberalism, and sometimes I think we're saying the same thing in different ways.

But I could not not link to this story, which definitely seems pertinent to the subject.

In the UK, a new pamphlet is coming out from the government's "children's minister" that tells parents that they should not try to convince their children about sexual ethics when discussing sex with them. Says the pamphlet,

Discussing your values with your teenagers will help them to form their own. Remember, though, that trying to convince them of what’s right and wrong may discourage them from being open
That's really helpful. Gee, I never thought of that. Of course, my kids are going to fornicate like crazy regardless of what I say, and even so much as trying to convince them of what's right and wrong might have the unintended effect of preventing them from telling me about their fornication. What I'm supposed to do about what they tell me I cannot imagine, since surely I'm not supposed to stop them from acting on their own "values" in this area. Perhaps it might make it harder for them to get condoms if they aren't "open" with me because I made so bold as to try to convince them of right and wrong in a discussion. Yeah, that must be it.

But all is explained by a word of wisdom from one Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist:

We do not know what is right and wrong; right and wrong is relative, although your child does need clear guidelines.
Okay, I get it now. Thanks for making that clear.

The article's author appears not to be entirely sympathetic to the pamphlet, so maybe it is with malice aforethought that the final paragraph of the article begins, "Labour’s attempts to cut the rate of teenage pregnancy through education are showing signs of faltering."

HT Secondhand Smoke

February 25, 2009

Ashes to Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday. National Review Online has posted a symposium on the meaning of Lent, to which I have made a brief contribution.

February 26, 2009

The Last Superstition radio podcast

The podcast of my interview on The Jeff Whitaker Show from last Thursday is now available for your listening pleasure. My segment begins a little more than halfway through the show. Jeff slightly mispronounces my name. It's not "Fess-er" but "Fay-zer," like the phasers of Star Trek fame. (As a student once put it on a kind end-of-semester evaluation: "Set your phaser to fun!" Been trying to live up to that ever since.)

Infanticide and the hog-tied prosecutor

The story I am about to tell you is already several years old and received a shockingly small amount of attention at the time that it occurred. It is back in the news now because of a civil lawsuit.

In July, 2006, an 18-year-old young lady went to an abortion clinic in Hialeah, Florida. She and another witness allege that the baby was born alive and was moving and gasping for breath. A subsequent autopsy confirmed that the child was born alive. The estimate in the stories I have seen is that the child was 22-23 weeks' gestation. The witnesses state that a clinic staffer later identified as Belkis Gonzalez put the baby into a red biohazard bag and zipped it up. The police found the infant's body eight days later hidden in a cardboard box at the clinic.

The deputy police chief was very determined that homicide charges should be brought, but they never were. In fact, no criminal charges have been filed at all. Why not?

Continue reading "Infanticide and the hog-tied prosecutor" »

February 27, 2009

Counterpetition up and running

There is now a counterpetition available here on the subject Frank blogged about here and here. The counterpetition speaks for itself, and I will not recreate its points here. It urges that the APA continue its long-standing practice of accepting ads (without any special derogatory mark, either) from institutions that ask their faculty to refrain from homosexual acts. I urge all philosophers who agree with the counterpetition to sign it.

The counterpetition now has signatures from well-known philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga, Alasdair MacIntyre, Jay Budziszewski, and William Lane Craig. (I can attest to personal communication with Alvin Plantinga and Jay Budziszewski about the petition in which they stated that they signed it. Anyone who wishes to allege fraud in any of these cases, as one commentator at Brian Leiter's blog has done, is welcome to make contact with the philosophers in question and ask them if their signatures are genuine.)

Signatures are not limited to APA members but only to professional philosophers. The petition states, "All professional philosophers, including those affiliated with academic institutions or think tanks, independent scholars, and graduate students, are invited to sign." So if you possess a publication record or an institutional affiliation in Philosophy (including graduate student affiliation), you are a philosopher on this definition, even if you are not an APA member. If you are definitely not a philosopher, it would be better for you not to sign. Please, however, do pass on the information to any philosophers you believe will sign.

A word on anonymous signatures: I myself know or have been able to infer from personal communication who several of the "anonymous" signatories are. It is not correct simply to subtract these as if they did not exist; these are real individuals. My own very strong preference would be for people to sign with actual names (and institutional affiliation, if you have one) rather than as "anonymous." I understand however that vulnerable people in the profession are (ahem) concerned about professional reprisals from those who set up the original petition. If you insist on "signing" as "anonymous," I ask at least that you a) put information about yourself making it clear that you are a real person in philosophy in the comments section, and b) consider stepping forward and identifying yourself later since it is alleged that anonymous signatories are mere sock puppets and not real, separate, people.

Socialism and the crisis of usury.

A massive transformation in the character of the American political economy is taking place right now, unlike anything since the New Deal. When all is said and done, the state is going to swallow up another 10 or 15 percent of the private sector, and profoundly change the strategy of what remains. Socialists are in the saddle, and ride America.

More worrisome even than that is the pall of cold antipathy toward private enterprise that the Great Usury Crisis of 2008 has ushered in. Among my own personal friends and relations it has been really remarkable and disheartening to observe the bitterness these past six months have engendered. Wall Street's terrible excess, its flight over this last decade into reckless and wanton usury, has discredited not only investment and commercial banking, but the free enterprise system itself.

Usury? you say, what is this antique word? Why, it is the process by which a home worth $100,000 rises in value to $250,000 almost wholly on the back of a series of securitizations by which dozens and perhaps hundreds or thousands of investors are able to chase down a few extra basis points of yield. It is the abstraction of property into engineered mathematical finance. A mortgage (already an abstraction of debt-for-ownership) gets bundled with a mass of other mortgages, some high-quality, some middling quality, some risky; it is then sold off to banks, hedge funds, etc. as an instrument called a collateralized debt obligation, which is a fancy word for the complex new mortgage-backed bond. This bond, with its three tranches of riskiness and three tranches of yield, may be traded as any other bond. It may also be short-sold via the mechanism of another exotic security: the credit default swap. We now know that credit default swaps, derivatives on the abstraction of property, became the foundation for whole new fields of speculation. Their revenue streams were converted into new piles of bonds, which mimicked the mortgage-backed security market to produce vast new paper assets with which to trade and speculate. They became the basis for a formula by which most investment risk was measured: Ten years of market activity with this exotic security (for the credit default swap was literally invented in 1997) -- this alone became the data-set for the world's primary financial risk model. To speak this truth is to realize the depth of our folly.

And all of this frenzied speculation operated upon the assumption that property values in the United States could never fall.

Then there was the so-called shadow banking system. (Note the past tense. This system is now gone -- unless, God help us, the Treasury and Federal Reserve manage to revive it with public capital.) Normal banking, of course, finds its foundation in the individual deposits (and other short-term, low-risk savings instruments) of individual customers: the banker holds the savings of individual citizens in trust, and uses that capital to loan out to other individuals and businesses. He borrows short-term and lends long-term, and makes his profit on the difference in interest rate. Shadow banking leaves the depositor out completely, operating in securitized debt alone. The difference is a crucial one: with standard banking, the source of the deposits is by and large income from productive activity; in shadow banking the source of the short-term borrowing is simply debt securities, commercial paper, for example.

Usury. It was a vast system of usury, value conjured from the fractional increment, skimmed off the top, and inflated by means of engineered abstraction. There was little productive enterprise behind all this usury; this was not legitimate interest on productive activity or innovation. It all depended on the conversion, or pretended conversion, of physical property into mathematical abstraction -- which, quite conveniently, proved much more susceptible to manipulation than the real thing.

It is hardly a mystery that when the consequences of the Great Usury Crisis detonated into public view last fall, it would produce anger and bitterness. The tragedy of it is that the crash of a false system of wealth-generation, a false capitalism if you will, is going to have destructive ramifications for what remains of our true capitalism. Truly productive enterprise, wherever it remains, is about to get squeezed, and squeezed hard. Innovation is going to grind to a halt, or flee for fairer climes. Innumerable good ideas, with the potential to truly create jobs and wealth, will suffer strangulation in the crib.

After the jump you will find a sample of the kind of emails I'm seeing on one of my email lists. This list includes several active businessmen. Not Wall Street usurers (one of these guys has stated, firmly and repeatedly, that Wall Street is basically a parasite), but men who have spent their lives building productive enterprises, funding great ideas, turning great ideas into businesses, expanding wealth and generating jobs: capitalists in the finer sense of the word. Their analysis is not for the faint of heart.

Continue reading "Socialism and the crisis of usury." »

Liberalism, Abortion, and Natural Law - Following Up

Purely for the sake of clarifying an earlier post, in which I objected to a rather vehement critique of a neoconservative's commentary on abortion, I would like to offer an observation about two rival visions of ethical and political thought, at least as they implicate the abortion question.

There is a tendency or school of thought, with which I have a fair measure of sympathy, according to which highly abstract, deontological ethical systems are not merely methodologically flawed, proceeding as they do (or are thought to do) from the assumption that ethical thought is a deductive science, a spinning out from a few axioms articulated moral schemes (thus, in a sense, that they are ideological and reductive, in the invidious sense familiar to most intelligent conservatives), but that such systems yield undesirable and false consequences when applied to to concrete human relations, in all of their complexity and nuance. Obviously, a moment's reflection will show that these two criticisms are related in practice, but in polemical uses, one often observes shifts between them suggestive of indecision, as though a writer cannot quite decide what he finds most objectionable - his opponents methodology, or his conclusions. It is not always clear that the answer to this question is, "both", and we are all doubtless familiar with instances of polemic in which a position is rejected, ultimately, because someone simply disapproves of the use made of it. The methodology is rejected, not so much for its own sake, as because someone has gone and done something daft with it.

That said, there is a rough distinction to be drawn between a sort of abstract, deontological, rights-based ethical theory and an old-fashioned, natural law/casuistry approach in which the natural law is explicated by means of painstaking attention to the concrete relations and circumstances in which ethical questions arise. Anyone who has read The Morality of Everyday Life, or is conversant with some of the debates between various natural law traditions will know what I'm talking about. However, it seems to me that this debate has absolutely nothing to do with the abortion question, except to the extent that the discourse of rights, tainted as it is by voluntarism and various modern mythologies of will and consent, carries associations and atmospherics adverse to the intentions of abortion opponents. It is a category error to introduce this methodological question - with the exception of the caveat already given - into the discussion of abortion and the ontological/moral status of the unborn child. This dispute would be relevant to the question of abortion if and only if the normative outputs of the different approaches would differ: In other words, if and only if, in the case of a more casuistic approach, there exists a possible relational state or set of circumstances such that, where and when it obtains, abortion becomes licit. However, on an old-school natural law approach, there is no such relational state or set of circumstances, no contingency which negates or trumps the ontological relation of parent and child, no defeater for that primal obligation, and thus, no real possibility that abortion becomes licit. There exist differences of terminology - some of which are convertible, but leave that aside - but no real differences in the underlying intuitions and moral norms, at least in the case of abortion.

The only reasons I can perceive for confusion on this point are a misunderstanding of the different approaches and how they arrive at their conclusions w/r/t abortion, sheer animus against a commentator, and a rejection of the categorical nature of a prohibition. In the case at hand, given the evidence, we can definitively exclude options one and three.

Will Somebody Please Think of the Children!?

The deficit has once again shouldered its way into the national conversation, at least in the rhetoric of Republican Congressman adamantly opposed to, well, anything that President Obama proposes to do. Press the average member of the GOP for a rationale for his opposition to the policies of the new administration, and, to the extent that there is a semi-cogent rationale, it will probably boil down to the deficit, to the tremendous burden we are compelling our children, grandchildren, and remoter descendants still, to shoulder, to the end that we might live more sumptuously - or at least refuse to own our own profligacy, to admit our errors - in the present. Charitably, we have a duty towards posterity, that we not impoverish them in order to live large in the now.

Continue reading "Will Somebody Please Think of the Children!?" »

February 28, 2009


Imagine, that is, a conservatism that was actually, and not merely rhetorically, concerned about the deficit, and you would imagine a conservatism striving mightily to dismantle the Empire, the National Security State, and the Military-Industrial Complex. The seeming impossibility of thinking this thought is really a false aporia of sorts, the consequence of presupposing - because this is the cultural default position in our society - that an "energetic foreign policy" is conservative and trying to imagine conservatives opposing it, or of the acceptance of the argument that abolishing this foreign policy would be conservative, combined with the assumption that its supporters are in fact conservative. But there are no incompatible plausibilities in play here; neither the Empire nor its voluptuaries are conservative, and thus the support for it is perfectly logical, as is the unconcern about the deficit.