What’s Wrong with the World

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August 2009 Archives

August 2, 2009

Rorschach test

I recently saw Watchmen on DVD. Like so many movies today, it is a mixture of superb special effects, solid writing and acting, and unspeakably gruesome and wholly unnecessary violence – along, of course, with an equally gratuitous sex scene or two. (In this it is like the late-1980s comic book on which it is based.) Of course, we are never supposed to criticize such things. “It is Artcausa finita est!” The Coliseum isn’t really evidence of decadence, you see, as long as the gladiators’ dialogue is well-written and artfully spoken.

Anyway, that’s not my theme here.

Continue reading "Rorschach test" »

August 3, 2009

Against gender-neutral language

Here is a good post on the evils of gender-neutral language. Markos, an English prof. at Houston Baptist University, has a lot of good things to say. One of his goals is to stiffen the spines of his readers, particularly his Christian readers, who have bought the line that gender-neutral language is required of them as Christians in order to show their sensitivity.

A few excerpts:

In the Preface to the Contemporary English Version, the editors (in an attempt to justify their censoring of all “sexist” language from their translation) make the following claim:
In everyday speech, “gender generic” or “inclusive” language is used, because it sounds most natural to people today. This means that where the biblical languages require [an important concession that!] masculine nouns or pronouns when both men and women are intended, this intention must be reflected in translation, though the English form may be very different from that of the original. The Greek text of “Matthew 16:24 is literally, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The Contemporary English Version shifts to a form which is still accurate and at the same time more effective in English: “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.”
The assumption that underlies this paragraph is not only radically untrue; it is insincere, manipulative, and patronizing. The literal translation of Matthew 16:24 quoted above is neither unnatural nor ineffective. Even after two decades of gender-neutral brainwashing in our schools and universities, any teen (or even child) would recognize immediately the naturalness of the original verse and would understand that its invitation is made to all people, not just males. The editors of the CEV would have us believe that their gender-neutral translation of the verse is more natural and effective and that it more truly reflects the way “real people” speak. But they are putting the cart before the horse. The true goal of the gender-neutral agenda is not to reflect existing patterns of speech, writing, and thought, but to so radically alter those patterns that people will, in time, really come to think of the literal translation as unnatural.
Many who advocate gender-neutral translations of the Bible (and of the hymns, creeds, and prayer books) do so, so they claim, to avoid offending the more “sensitive” people in the pews. I can’t say I’ve met any of these hypothetical sensitive people, but, if they do exist, they are certainly vastly outnumbered by the people who are genuinely (if silently) disturbed by the co-opting of their scriptures and traditions. (Indeed, I would argue that the majority of those “sensitive” people are precisely the ones who are engaged in neutering the Bible and the prayer books!) And besides, even if there are a significant number of such “sensitive” people, how far are we to go in accommodating their sensitivity? Shall we cease to speak about sin and the need for confession? Such talk certainly offends more people than the types of pronouns used in the service. And how far, one may legitimately ask, is the revamping of traditional language to go?

August 5, 2009

Superheroes and sentimentality

My Watchmen post below generated some interesting combox feedback, much of which I agree with. Thinking about the subject further, it occurs to me that there might be yet another factor at work in the phenomenon I described.

In The Aesthetics of Music, Roger Scruton (building on some ideas of Michael Tanner) puts forward a brief but illuminating account of sentimentality. A sentimental person, according to Scruton, tends to be quick to respond emotionally to a stimulus, will appear to be pained but will enjoy his pangs, will respond with equal violence to a variety of stimuli in succession, will nevertheless avoid following his emotional responses up with appropriate actions, and will respond more readily to strangers and to abstract issues than to persons known to him or to concrete circumstances requiring time, energy, or personal sacrifice. In short, a sentimental person is one whose emotional life becomes an end in itself and loses its connection both to the external circumstances that would normally shape it and to the behavior that it ought to generate. Feelings of moral outrage, romantic passion, and other emotional states become valued for their own sake to such an extent that the actual moral facts, the well-being of the beloved, etc. fade into the background. Sentimentality thus involves having one’s emotions “on the cheap” – enjoying them, as it were, without paying the costs they entail. For that reason, Scruton says, it is a vice.

Continue reading "Superheroes and sentimentality" »

A blatant advertisement for parents

I interrupt my usual highly intellectual (ahem, no smart-alecky comments) posting on W4 to bring you a blatant advertisement which may be useful to parents. Some of you may already be familiar with the contemporary Christian group Go Fish and with their music for children. My youngest enjoys it very much. It's not great art, but it is fun. I have just found out that, for some unknown reason, if you buy more than one kids' album (CD or DVD) on their own web site, here, you get this exorbitant discount so that the next one costs only $5. That, at least, is what happened to me just a few minutes ago, with no explanation but "quantity discount." Two is quantity? Considering that the first one usually costs only $15, this is a pretty good deal. Plus free shipping. Never buy Go Fish stuff from Amazon again. Just go straight to the source.

We now return to our regular programing.

A Utopia of Usurers*

Michael Lewis has a long article reporting the story of the rise and fall of AIG, the institution that over the course of a single day — Monday, September 15, 2008 — faced collateral calls on its derivatives portfolio in excess of $80 billion.

We're talking about the heart of the financial storm: the infamous AIG Financial Products unit — and Lewis is here to explain it, in his usual engaging style.

He spends a good portion of the article examining the character of Joe Cassano, the AIG executive who oversaw the Financial Products office during the crucial years. There are some fascinating conjectures in this discussion, but I think that for all the interest in Cassano's "cartoon despotism," the real story is this: What Lewis is describing is usury.


"Financial risk had been created, out of thin air, and it begged to be either honestly accounted for or disguised."

"There was a natural role for a blue-chip corporation with the highest credit rating to stand in the middle of swaps and long-term options and the other risk-spawning innovations. The traits required of this corporation were that it not be a bank — and thus subject to bank regulation and the need to reserve capital against the risky assets — and that it be willing and able to bury exotic risks on its balance sheet. There was no real reason that company had to be A.I.G.; it could have been any AAA-rated entity with a huge balance sheet. Berkshire Hathaway, for instance, or General Electric. A.I.G. just got there first."

"In a financial system that was rapidly generating complicated risks, A.I.G. F.P. became a huge swallower of those risks . . . Its success bred imitators: Zurich Re F.P., Swiss Re F.P., Credit Suisse F.P., Gen Re F.P. All of these places were central to what happened in the last two decades; without them the new risks being created would have had no place to hide, but would have remained in full view of bank regulators. All of these places have been washed away by the general nausea now felt in the presence of complicated financial risks, but there was a moment when their existence seemed cartographically necessary to the financial world. And A.I.G. F.P. was the model for them all."

Etc, etc, etc.

Continue reading "A Utopia of Usurers*" »

Monton on ID

In response to those who’ve criticized the polemical tone of The Last Superstition, I have emphasized that while the arguments are directed at secularists in general, the polemics are directed only at those who, like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens, have themselves already taken an arrogantly polemical and condescending tone with defenders of religious belief. As with physical violence, ideological aggression justly can and sometimes should be met with equal and opposite force.

But I have also emphasized that there are honorable and formidable atheists with whom I would never take such a tone. (I was a convinced atheist for a long stretch of my own life, after all.) J. L. Mackie, Quentin Smith, and J. J. C. Smart are three examples. Another is Bradley Monton, who has just published Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. Monton rejects ID, but regards it as worthy of serious consideration and eschews the usual straw men and ad hominem attacks. I have not yet read the book – I just ordered it – but I look forward to doing so.

In TLS and in a long WWWtW combox exchange some months ago, I have been critical of ID from an Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective. But I have always deplored the thuggish, dishonest treatment ID theorists have received from most of their secularist critics. Monton hopes to move the debate to a more serious and fruitful level.

Monton is an honorable and courageous man. Go buy his book.

August 6, 2009

Transfigured by—consequentialism?

August the 6th is a spiritually important date in two ways. In the Catholic Church, it is the Feast of the Transfiguration (cf. Matthew 17: 1-8), which I celebrated by attending Mass this morning. The Transfiguration was a sign of who Jesus really is and what those who love him are destined, in our own smaller ways, to become; in Eastern Christianity, some people are alleged to have exhibited and/or seen the Uncreated Light that Peter, James, and John saw on Mount Tabor; in the West, some living folks who have undergone "near-death" experiences are certain they have seen it too. In American history, today is the 54th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. That day manifested, concretely, the then-new fact that humanity had developed the capacity to destroy itself by its own artifice. The spiritual stakes of history had been raised; the question is whether the gamble, now unavoidable, will turn out disastrously before the Second Coming. That question is spiritual because it turns, in large part, on that of what sort of morality will prevail.

Continue reading "Transfigured by—consequentialism?" »

August 7, 2009

Will we be allowed to do anything for boys and men?

Anthony Esolen has recently published a hard-hitting piece on the Catholic priest scandal and its relation to America's growing "boy problem." Esolen argues that American Christians, including Catholics, are too committed already to the feminist agenda to face the urgent need for new, distinctive institutions that cater to boys and that promote healthy male bonding for boys and young men.

Esolen is surely right that there are many Christians who are indifferent to the need for old-fashioned boys' schools and clubs that promote a healthy masculine culture.

But there is an additional question that his article raises: Just how difficult, not only culturally but also financially and even legally, would it be to do what he suggests? More: How difficult is it now to be allowed to do anything effective to help males in America?

Continue reading "Will we be allowed to do anything for boys and men?" »

Mass for clunkers

Pretty funny. (HT: Fr. Zuhlsdorf)

August 8, 2009

The Marxist and the libertarian

The latest on G. A. Cohen and Murray Rothbard, over at my own blog.

August 10, 2009

More from Esolen on boys

Anthony Esolen has responded via e-mail to my post below on boys. He has some excellent practical advice, which he has given me permission to post. In my opinion, getting a boy out of the public schools should be priority #1 for parents.

Over the last twenty years I've met and taught about two thousand freshmen, in Providence College's Development of Western Civilization Program. When you meet so many students in a big room, every day of the week for a year, you not only get a decent impression of a cross section of the freshman class (about one fifth of it, at our school), you also have a chance to evaluate what sorts of backgrounds are producing what sorts of students. I've found that if a young man speaks forthrightly to me, looks me in the eye, and takes an interest in something other than regions below his belt, he has been, about nine times in ten, homeschooled, or a graduate of an all-male Catholic school. Over and over I have found this to be the case. In other words, sometimes all that's required for health to return to the body is to remove it from the poisonous atmosphere. I'm intrigued, for instance, by the math scores of homeschoolers; not that homeschoolers distinguish themselves particularly well in that subject, as compared to what students seventy years ago used to do in math. But once you take boys out of school, they resume their modest but appreciable superiority in math, and they rise up to the level of their sisters in verbal ability. And if you take your boys out of the feminist-dominated schools (and it really is difficult to overestimate just how deeply entrenched feminism is in the schools, from the coed gym classes to the history textbooks) and place them in an all-boys school (where, for example, they might study the battle plans of Hannibal), they breathe more easily, they can be themselves, and they can be hammered into shape if need be -- as they themselves will be the first to tell you. So my first recommendation is pretty simple. Trust the health of the boy's nature, and take him out of the poison. Oh, by the way, that will mean doing something to the television, too.

August 12, 2009

Pray for Rifqa Bary

We Christians should be in prayer for our new sister in Christ, Rifqa Bary, presently in Florida pleading for her life.

17-year-old Rifqa, then 16, converted to Christianity from Islam. She has run away from home after, she claims, her father threatened to kill her for converting. She fled to the home of some Christians she had met through the Internet who agreed to help her. As she is still a minor, a Florida court will decide her fate--perhaps in the most literal of senses. Florida has taken emergency custody, but Florida officials want Ohio DCF to investigate, and hence it appears frighteningly likely that she will be returned to her parents' home in Ohio.

Robert Spencer has been trying desperately and unsuccessfully to get hold of her lawyers to offer his help as a witness. The other side has already brought in spin-meisters to imply that she is in no danger. But Rifqa knows better. May God protect her.

August 14, 2009

Coffee and Markets


My friends Ben Domenech and Francis Cianfrocca have launched a regular podcast discussing finance, the markets and politics. “Coffee and Markets” airs most mornings here at Radio New Ledger. I have listened to a number now and found them fascinating.

We live in interesting times, and times saturated with errant opinion; discovering solid wisdom in the mass of competing media is not easy. So do yourself a favor and listen to Coffee and Markets.

(As a bonus you will learn how to properly pronounce Mr. Cianfrocca's surname.)

August 15, 2009

And now for something completely different

Interesting and original thought from novelist Elizabeth Goudge, on the art of writing:

Writing a book is much the same as any other kind of creative work, painting or carpentry or embroidery or having a baby, an act compounded of love, imagination and physical labour. And if a mother were to tell me that you do not need imagination to produce a baby I should answer that love and imagination cannot be separated. When a woman falls in love with a man it is as though she opened Pandora's box; all her longings and imaginings fly up.... And when the man's child is conceived it is the same...A book begins with falling in love. You lose your heart to a place, a house, an avenue of trees, or with a character who walks in and takes sudden and complete possession of you. Imagination glows, and there is the seed of your book.

August 17, 2009

Cothran on TLS

Here is a substantive (and very kind) review of The Last Superstition from Martin Cothran. As the author of a series of books on traditional logic, Cothran understands the significance of the moderns’ shift away from Aristotelianism better than most.

August 18, 2009

Fragment on science and prudence.

For many years I have been of the opinion that the least trustworthy class of people in politics is scientists. To put the matter as starkly as possible, and with apologies to Mr. Buckley: I'd rather be governed by 200 homeless people off the street than by 200 scientists.

This is not because I think scientists are singularly bad people or something. Rather, it is because the scientific cast of mind is uniquely unsuited for politics and statesmanship. In free states, be they democracies, republics, constitutional monarchies, or blended regimes, the central virtue in politics is prudence. Related to judgment, to equipoise, to perfect ordering of things, prudence has been called the charioteer of the virtues. Even according to the cynicism of Machiavelli the importance of this quality of careful judgment, balance and intuition, is plain. And the simple concrete necessity of prudence is obvious enough when one reflects on the amount of patient deliberation and compromise involved in governing as free peoples.

Who are our heroes of statesmanship after all? They are men whose genius was that unique capacity to take high principles and apply them to the messy web of practical public life. This is prudence. Lincoln had it in abundance. Churchill was a man of extraordinary prudence. Edmund Burke is the very exemplar of prudence in statesmanship. No one in his right mind would ever accuse these men of lacking in principle. On the contrary, they are loved and cherished precisely for their success at bringing great and true principles to bear effectively even in the midst of passion and fear and strife and war. It was their prudence which gave concrete form to the principles they championed.

Any thoughtful man can develop profound principles worthy of admiration, or sketch out utopias of the mind; only the rarest of men possess the excellence of prudence to take in hand some true principle and vindicate it in public life. In politics, the greatest virtue is prudence; and it is prudence which produces great statesmanship.

Continue reading "Fragment on science and prudence." »

Rubber souls

Not only can pushing the use of condoms increase the risk of AIDS; condoms are depressing too. Turns out there is evidence that so-called “safe sex” is bad for mental health.

Well gee whiz, that just can’t be right, can it?

Sure it can. After all, as “organic living” fanatics never tire of telling us, living in harmony with nature is the key to happiness. And there ain’t nothin’ more natural than “unprotected sex” – and the large families that result from it. No? (Cf. The Last Superstition, pp. 132-53)

To be sure, the “organic” crowd somehow never seems to draw this conclusion. Live organically! Go green! Go vegan! Be at peace with all living things! Oh, and chemically neutering yourself, wrapping your private parts in plastic before intercourse, and murdering your unborn offspring are all consistent with this.

Right. Got it.

Phony baloney indeed. Or as Someone once put it, “they strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.”

August 20, 2009

Would Obamacare pay for abortions?--Updated (see below the fold)

Yes, we all know that the Senate may change the landscape of the health care debate radically. But for the moment, what I mean by "Obamacare" is the bill presently on the table, HR3200, along with the Capps Amendment much touted in the media as a "compromise" on the issue of abortion.

Let's begin with the fact that HR3200 assumes coverage for "family planning services," which would normally be taken to include abortions. Despite the references in the news to the Hyde Amendment, I can see no reason why the reference to "family planning services" in HR3200 should not be taken, if the bill were passed as-is with no amendment on the abortion issue, to overturn the Hyde Amendment and to make abortion coverage available with federal funding without any special limitation. If my readers have some specific reason why that would not happen, I will be willing to consider it, but prima facie it seems to me that HR3200 or anything similar that talks about coverage for "family planning services" had better not pass unamended, leaving it to the courts to decide on how this fits with or whether it overturns the Hyde amendment.

That being said, the Capps Amendment to HR3200 is a highly dubious solution. According to the amendment (which I have read), federal "affordability credits" (subsidies for people to buy health insurance with) cannot be used towards the actuarial cost of abortion coverage insofar as other federal law (in this case, that would be the Hyde amendment) disallows such coverage. So the Capps Amendment makes reference to other federal law and makes it clear that HR3200 doesn't overturn the Hyde amendment. However, the federal "affordability credits" and any additional premiums paid by employers or individuals can all just go to pay for the premiums of health insurance plans that do cover all abortions, including elective abortions, so in what sense can it be meaningfully said that the federal affordability credits aren't paying for the abortion coverage? It seems rather pointless just to say that we "deem" the federal dollars to be paying for some other part of the coverage--rather like pouring water into the ocean but "deeming" the water to be going to one part of the ocean rather than another.

This is particularly evident in cases where both the affordability credits and private premiums are being paid for at least as much as the cost of the abortion coverage in the premiums. In a hypothetical case like that, the statement that the federal money isn't "going for" the abortion coverage is just that--a statement. It is making no difference to what the federal government pays, and if the individual is getting the abortion coverage "bundled in" rather than deliberately buying it separately, it is making no difference to what the individual or employer pays, either.

One might argue that in the case of individuals so poor that they are paying no significant additional premiums themselves, the accounting claim here would actually have "cash value," as such individuals would get no elective abortion coverage, as is presently the case with Medicare.

But there's a difficulty there, too.

Continue reading "Would Obamacare pay for abortions?--Updated (see below the fold)" »

The End of Secularism


My friend Hunter Baker's book has been published. The End of Secularism is the duly provocative title. I have only so far read the Introduction and shall refrain from comment until I have read more, except to say that it starts out well.

All readers should endeavor not to hold against Hunter that he attended Florida State.

Also, no teasing him for being Doctor Hunter Baker.

Excepts from the Amazon summary:

This ambitious work offers one of the most comprehensive attacks on secularism yet attempted. Hunter Baker argues that advocates of secularism misunderstand the borders between science, religion, and politics and cannot solve the problem of religious difference.

University scholars have spent decades subjecting religion to critical scrutiny. But what would happen if they turned their focus on secularism? Hunter Baker seeks the answer to that question by putting secularism under the microscope and carefully examining its origins, its context, its claims, and the viability of those claims.

HUNTER BAKER (PhD, JD) is a Christian academic and writer specializing in religion, politics, history, and culture. Baker serves on the political science faculty at Houston Baptist University and has written for a wide variety of publications including The American Spectator, National Review Online, Christianity Today, and the Journal of Law and Religion.

August 23, 2009

Credit where it's due--and blame where it's due

Those readers who follow me around the Internet and read every word that falls from my keyboard may have picked up that I have been concerned of late years about the direction in which the Republican Party is going, particularly on life issues. Nor was I a committed apologist for the Bush administration. I had my worries from the first moment a Bush appointee uttered the phrase "settled law of the land" concerning Roe v. Wade.

Be that as it may, I'm also a great believer in giving credit where it's due and, even more importantly, in not allowing ourselves to become so embittered by the failure of the ostensibly conservative party to be fully committed on our issues that we just snarl and grouse every time the name of some Republican President comes up. Ah, Bush (sneer), etc. Nor should we get into the habit of making sloppy, wide-ranging moral equivalency claims. I'm afraid some of our paleo brethren are rather inclined to these faults, and indeed bitterness and a feeling of having been betrayed can breed them.

Now comes just one interesting bit of news, apropos of the subject of administration change, that reminds us of something: When the Obama administration came in, it came with a whole slew of bureaucrats and functionaries in every area of the government which replaced those of the Bush administration, and this is having all sorts of effects, many of which we never even hear about, in areas that should concern conservatives and pro-lifers.

This article in the Wall Street Journal discusses the New Order in the VA hospitals. Apparently for a little while during the Bush admin. a book was being used for end-of-life counseling in the VA hospitals which is, er, questionable as far as its objectivity on matters of refusing vs. requesting care. Let's just say that the only resource group on advance directives mentioned in the book called (ahem) Your Life, Your Choices is the Hemlock Society, and perhaps we shall have said it all. For more details, I refer you to the article. Somebody higher up in the Bush administration got the word on Your Life, Your Choices and mercifully pulled the plug on it.

Well, there's a new gang in town, and it's baaaack.

Continue reading "Credit where it's due--and blame where it's due" »

August 24, 2009

Rothbard revisited

For anyone who is interested, the debate over Murray Rothbard’s significance as a philosopher continues over at my own blog.

Derbyshire encounters Gottfried

I have always found the “paleocon”/”neocon” controversy depressing and counterproductive. I know, like, and respect people on both sides of the divide. The “paleocon” and “neocon” labels seem to me mostly unhelpful, covering over many important differences between thinkers within each purported camp and disguising important similarities between thinkers in the opposed camps. By now they serve as little more than a kind of fossilized shorthand for two sets of caricatures, retarding rather than fostering serious thought about conservatism. (I have had both labels applied to me, which is some small evidence of how useless they are.)

How refreshing, then, to see a positive review of a “paleocon” author in a “neocon” outlet – to wit, John Derbyshire’s review of Paul Gottfried’s Encounters over at National Review Online. (Though this sort of thing is actually not as unusual as one might suppose. As Derbyshire points out, John Lukacs often gets treated well in “neocon” outlets. See e.g. this review by Jonah Goldberg of Lukacs’s Democracy and Populism.) And the feeling is mutual, since, as Derbyshire notes, “for a book written by a representative of the losing side in the conservative wars, Encounters is wonderfully free of rancor.” I can testify to the truth of this judgment, having found Gottfried’s book a very enjoyable piece of summer reading.

Not that Gottfried has laid down his arms. It’s just that he is – in his treatment of such topics as Richard Nixon’s legacy, say, or Pat Buchanan’s attitudes toward Israel – “nuanced,” as John Kerry might say. Gottfried is always interesting even when one disagrees with him.

Unfortunately, Gottfried left this reader dissatisfied on one point. What was the recipe of that drink Nixon served him, and which effectively knocked him out for the rest of that dinner party? Inquiring right-wing boozers want to know…


August 25, 2009

TLS on radio

Today the Son Rise Morning Show ran a brief interview with me about The Last Superstition. You can find the podcast here; my segment appears roughly an hour and fifteen minutes into the show. Had to get up very early to do this one, and I was pretty dopey. Hope it doesn’t show too much. (Go here for previous radio interviews about TLS.)

Walmart in the Wilderness

The Orange County, Virginia Board of Supervisors recently approved a proposal to build a Walmart on grounds adjacent to the Battle of the Wilderness, a fearsome battle fought between Lee and Grant in early May, 1864. I am reliably informed that the massive store will be visible from certain points on the actual battlefield.

The Wilderness, like nearby Chancellorsville (which was fought a year earlier) was a nightmarish engagement that commenced in a thick and tangled forest and was characterized by confusion and heavy casualties on both sides. It ended inconclusively, but it included the famous “General Lee to the rear!” episode, ably recounted by Shelby Foote (see below the fold). It is plausible, taking cognizance of the size and disorder of the battle, that men died on the very grounds where the Walmart will go up.

A solid host of luminaries, including the documentary producer Ken Burns, several historians, and the actor Robert Duval, declared their opposition to the plan. Also, in what must have been a marvelous spectacle, some folks showed up at a community meeting decked out in full Civil War costumes, including a “dead ringer” for General Lee himself. Now that is democracy.

I am told by a Virginia resident that the demand for a Walmart in this county is considerable, and that, accordingly, popular support for it, even this close to the battlefield, is solid. Fair enough.

Still, the cause of historical memory is no small matter. I am not of the view that business interests are inherently disreputable, but there are interests in the Republic that are deeper and weightier than business. And it seems to me that one would be hard-pressed to discover a more concrete instance of historical memory than the Wilderness Battlefield.

Excellent maps of the battle are viewable here. It looks from these like the Walmart will be erected in the immediate rear of the Union right flank.

Continue reading "Walmart in the Wilderness" »

Is self-ownership axiomatic?

In my recent post on Murray Rothbard, I addressed the question of whether the libertarian principle of self-ownership could be said to be axiomatic. Let’s pursue the question a little bit further. In particular, let’s pursue the question of whether it is even plausible to suggest that the principle is axiomatic in the strictest sense of “axiomatic.”

Notice that I am not asking whether the principle is true; nor am I asking whether there are any good reasons, of some sort or other, to believe it. Those are separate questions. I am asking whether, if it is true and justifiable, its truth and justification are plausibly of the sort that strict axioms enjoy. Again, what I am asking is whether the principle is plausibly axiomatic in the strictest sense.

Continue reading "Is self-ownership axiomatic?" »

August 26, 2009

Bob Dylan Christmas album


Bob Dylan is releasing a Christmas album entitled Christmas in the Heart (Sean at RightWingBob has some brief but interesting comments on the title). All of the royalties, “in perpetuity,” from this disc will go to providing food for hungry Americans. Long time readers will know, of course, that I think the standard media myth of Dylan as the great American Liberal is hooey; but perhaps even those who embrace that myth will take note that Bob Dylan’s philanthropic work takes place in the private sector, and that it is concerned with Americans qua Americans. His summer tour traveled between small minor league baseball stadiums — out of the way, unfashionable places like Durham, Allentown and Syracuse. If we must attach some kind of label to this troubadour, let us base it on what is obvious rather than what is implied.

Bob Dylan is a great American patriot.

Consider, for instance, this story.

August 27, 2009

Notes On the Dessicated Conception of Property Rights Prevalent in America, with Reference to Development

All apologies for the title of this post, redolent as it is of the baroque headings often found on nineteenth-century treatises of one kind or another, but that's simply the title that emerged from my reflections on the Wal-Mart development controversy raging downthread. It is a cardinal error, in my estimation, to consider the question of the siting of a Wal-Mart near an historic battlefield in (artifically) pristine isolation from the broader question of the character of most contemporary development in America, which is to say, in abstraction from the political economy of such development, as well as the objects it serves.

In the first instance, as one may infer from the statistics discussed in this post at Calculated Risk, commercial real-estate in America is substantially overbuilt. There is an excess of capacity visible not only in the statistics detailing increasing vacancies and plummeting values - and in the discussions among many economists of a foreclosure crisis in CRE, not to mention the prospect of bailouts - but in the truly astonishing per-capita retail square-footage figures for the United States, figures that substantially exceed even European countries with broadly comparable standards of living. (I hope I may be pardoned for failing to provide these figures, as the link I intended for this purpose has vanished from my computer, and I've not been able to re-locate it.) This excess of CRE stocks is due in large measure to the superabundance of credit made available over the course of the preceding decade, and subsequently utilized to expand retail operations on the presupposition of the sustainability of both then-current trends in consumption, and an economy a mere 25% of which is actually productive. The recession-disclosed unsustainability of these trends, themselves a reflection of the social contract of the post-industrial, globalizing economy of America - according to which the average American would be compensated for nominally static wage growth which an increase in the availability of credit and a profusion of ever-cheaper foreign-made goods - led to a bursting of the bubble in commercial real-estate, much as the intersection of these trends with the oil price shock of 2008 precipitated the foreclosure crisis in residential real estate, and the recession more broadly. In fine, the bubble in commercial real-estate, and the massive misallocation of resources it reflects, were products of a period of vast irresponsibility, both collective and personal, where any restoration of pre-recession trends will represent a return to that very irresponsibility. We spent too much money that we didn't really have on too many things we didn't really need, purchased from too many stores that didn't need to exist - because we had evolved a variety of mechanisms to compensate for the structural adjustments of a post-industrial, globalizing economy. Wall Street found that investment in finance, from the routine to the hermetic, was more profitable than investing in productive enterprise; and Main Street, availing itself of Wall Street's grasping hand, found, for a time, that debt was easier to bear than downward mobility, or economic stasis. We had a collective economic orgy around an illusory golden calf, and the sheer quantity of CRE is a function of that revelry.

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Bad news for home schooling out of New Hampshire

This story just in: A New Hampshire judge has ordered a 10-year-old girl to be sent to public school because she seems too committed to her mother's religious views and hasn't learned to be critical enough of them. As she gets older, she needs to learn to explore new ideas, etc. This quotation from the court order is especially telling:

. . .[I]t would be remarkable if a ten year old child who spends her school time with her mother and the vast majority of all her other time with her mother would seriously consider adopting any other religious point of view. Amanda’s vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to the counselors suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other points of view.

So is the court's expansive concept of education:

the Court is guided by the premise that education is by its nature an exploration and examination of new things,...

All of this sort of is straight out of the liberal playbook. See this important article from First Things, 2004, to which I have referred before. See also this little bit of pseudo-academic nonsense, which argues (like some of the "intellectuals" quoted in the FT article) that the state should control home schoolers to make sure that children are getting a sufficiently "pluralistic" education, learning to think sufficiently critically about their religious background, etc.

It is absolutely obvious to anyone who reads the ADF's motions that the court has ordered the child into public school so that she will be in an environment more hostile to her faith and hence more challenging to it. It's notable that the mother testified that she has taught her daughter information about many other religious traditions and their origins, but it isn't the information the court wants her exposed to--it's submersion in a different world-view. The ADF also shrewdly notes that, as public schools are to be non-religious, it is hard to see how public schooling will most effectively expose her to different religious views, so the court seems to want her to be exposed to secularism.

It's ironic, too, that the divorced father, who is hostile not only to home schooling but to Christianity, has used the word "socialization" as an umbrella term for the girl's being in a public school environment. Yet after the mother added many clubs and activities to the girl's schedule, it became evident that the father would not always take her to these activities when she spent weekends with him and that for a variety of reasons she was receiving far more socialization with her own age group when spending time with her mother than with her father. The anti-Christian agenda in all of this is obvious to anyone who has eyes to see.

Unfortunately, the HSLDA will not represent in divorce proceedings. I don't know if the mother is an HSLDA member, but even if she is, that policy would explain the fact that there is no mention of the HSLDA in the ADF news release. Still, I would like to see them submit an amicus brief, because this outrageous judicial decision runs contrary to everything HSLDA stands for. At a minimum, HSLDA should put up something about the case at their own web site, which I'm sorry to say they have not yet done.

God preserve us all from custody courts.

HT Jeff Culbreath

August 28, 2009

Moving to NYC

I got the job I interviewed for last Wednesday in New York, and am very excited about it. Since I don't know yet whether my boss would approve my publicizing the job here, or even my continuing to blog on my own, I shall say no more for the time being. But I want to thank my "vast readership," both here and at Sacramentum Vitae, for their encouragement and support. God bless you all!

August 29, 2009

Rest Eternal Grant Unto Him, O Lord

...and may light perpetual shine upon him.

Last night Robert Schindler, Sr., died, apparently of heart failure. I was never honored enough to meet Mr. Schindler, but I did exchange some e-mail with him while I was researching this article for The Christendom Review. He was incredibly gracious. May God grant him rest with his beloved daughter, Terri.

HT: Secondhand Smoke

Note: I am leaving comments on for this post but will be particularly draconian about deleting those I consider inappropriate. Liberal trolls, you have been warned.

Steely Dan contra Roger Scruton

I've got the complete philosophical investigation over at my own blog. Because no one demanded it. Because you can never get too much pretentious pop culture analysis. And because we’ve heard enough already about Bob-freaking-Dylan here at W4!

Omnibus Response to Various Issues Raised by My Post on a Dessicated Conception of Property Rights

The comment thread under my original post has broached a variety of subjects, and touched upon many implications, actual, potential, or imagined, following from the arguments sketched therein. Rather than attempt to respond to each one these in the original thread, leaving the matter of the responses' connections to the original queries ambiguous - who raised this issue?, to what is this a response? - and thus cluttering up the thread, I thought it preferable to group them together in a new thread, where they might better be clarified.

The question of nature of the currency, and of its backing, has arisen. It is beyond all caviling that the monetary policies of the Greenspan Fed provided a crucial material cause for the development of the financial bubble, and thus, the subsequent collapse. The broad recognition of this reality has precipitated a renewed interest, if only on the right, in the gold standard particularly, and perhaps also in more complicated currency systems backed by a combination of precious metals. I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the interest, but though I am unreservedly critical of the role of monetary policy in the generation of the crisis - and of the attendant manipulations of fundamental economic data concerning inflation and unemployment - it does not appear to me that the gold standard, or any other hypothetical metallic-based currency system, suffices either to preclude the ruinous cycles of boom and bust characteristic of modern capitalistic economies, or to preclude the possibility of deleterious consequences proceeding directly from the monetary system itself. The historical record of the gold standard in the nineteenth century was rather dismal, if one is concerned to have some sort of monetary prophylaxis against cycles of bubble and bust. Moreover, the relative fixity of the quantity of currency under a metallic standard renders rather difficult the entrepreneurial function, inasmuch as, if one posits a relatively static money supply and and expanding cycle of trade - which the entrepreneur must - then it follows that prices must decline as the economy expands. This is, to say the least, a confusing sort of economic signaling; few entrepreneurs will be willing to invest in the expectation of.... falling revenues, profits, and income. Now, of course, businesses were routinely started under the gold standard, but that merely leads into the second difficulty engendered by the relative fixity of the monetary base under a metallic standard. If the supply of money is static, or relatively fixed, in the sense that it expands slowly and fitfully, with new discoveries of specie, or new acquisitions by a central bank, and the economy is assumed to expand for a time, then it follows of necessity that the relative value of existing debts increases, and that this increase is highly correlated with falling prices. Apologetics for the gold standard often emphasize this latter aspect of the system, and, in my estimation, practice a bit of evasion with regard to the former, for it is the former aspect that proved to be the achilles' heel of the system in operation, as the periods of expansion would result in the appreciation of existing debts, a process which sooner or later become utterly unsustainable. This intrinsic feature of the gold standard served as a contributing material cause of the political ferment of the late nineteenth century, particularly among farmers, who found the real value of their debts appreciating more or less simultaneously with the collapse of agricultural commodity prices. Bankrupted by debts impossible to discharge, their properties would be foreclosed upon - and this raises the final, insuperable problem with the gold standard: it is regressively redistributive, effectively, over the cycle of expansion and contraction, redistributing wealth - often real and tangible, as opposed to merely notional - from its possessors, often smallholders and small businessmen, to those who had the good fortune to possess capital to lend at t1. Given that one of the preconditions of our present financial crisis was, shall we say, an insufficiency of resources among the broad middle of the economic spectrum, owing to politico-economic trends of the past two generations, and given, moreover, that any durable solution to our economic predicament must result - at least in the medium term and beyond - in both a rising median income and greater income stability among the middle classes, a monetary system which features regressive redistribution is a non-starter.

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August 31, 2009

Busoni Piano Concerto, Op. 39, Prologo

This is the opening movement of a favourite piece of music, the sprawling, grandiloquent, and yes, in the end, despairing Busoni Piano Concerto. It may not measure up to the magnificence of, say, Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, but it is assuredly an eloquent and stirring summons to contemplation - of the remorseless passage of historical time, the disappearance of great civilizations, and our efforts to hold on to some portion of their achievements.