What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


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

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September 2009 Archives

September 1, 2009

Plutocracy and the crisis of usury.


Two recent reports in The Wall Street Journal really put flesh on the bones of my argument about what has become of the real estate and finance sectors of the American economy since this crisis of usury began. One might almost fancy these articles were written uniquely for me, so neatly do they support my contentions. (Though, as I’ll try to note throughout this post, not always so neatly.)

To summarize, my argument is that the pattern of real estate development in America has been driven for two decades or more by a very peculiar system of finance; one which depends mostly on various instruments of speculative debt, and one which, it turns out, can only be maintained, in a pinch, by intervention from the state.

Put another way, the dislocations and shocks of the past year or so have produced some striking revelations and as well as some transformations. One of the former is the revelation that this sort of speculative real estate development cannot be sustained; and one of the latter is the decision by policymakers to substitute for the private capital that once financed real estate development, the public capital of the commonwealth.

The real estate market has been socialized to such an extent that talking about a free market in it is errant silliness.

Those bald and polemical summaries set down, I will proceed to lay out in brief the evidence provided by the two recent lengthy reports from the Journal (which I encourage the reader to carefully read in full), and then add some sketchy notes of my own at the end. That I am approaching all this finance talk from the view of the simplest layman should be plain to anyone who really knows this stuff.

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

September 2, 2009

"Go the Distance"

And now for something different. What with my blog colleagues here so taken with a particular famous singer who shall remain nameless, I've sort of left the popular culture stuff up to them here at W4--I'm very content to do so. But it seemed to me we could use a break and a reference to something quite different from the usual, and as I was smitten yesterday with this new song (new to me) and took some time over a post about it on my personal blog, I decided to cross-link here.

Enjoy. If you like 80's-style inspirational pop with quality lyrics, you'll love it. If you like fancy electric guitar solos in the middle, you'll like it a lot. And you get my selected quotations from the Bible and C.S. Lewis thrown in for good measure.

If Only High School Math Teachers Were Allowed to Marry, These Things Would Never Happen

Story here, concerning a Bucks County math teacher charged with child endangerment and corruption of a minor, after an affair with a teenage girl.

September 3, 2009

Rifqa Bary to stay in Florida for now--Updated

See Robert Spencer's live blogging of the hearing here.

I thought this reader comment from a Florida lawyer not involved in the case but looking on was particularly interesting.

The next hearing is set for Sept. 29.

I plan to add some more comments of my own to this entry as and when I have time to do so, but the first priority was to get the news out to any readers who had not seen it already on Jihad Watch. Whether she is out of the woods or not is unclear to me. The process grinds forward, and I believe we should continue praying for her. But it's probably best described as a case of so far so good.

Continue reading "Rifqa Bary to stay in Florida for now--Updated" »

September 5, 2009

Orwell alert--"Medically necessary" now includes "fair utilization"

A recent court decision on the interpretation of federal Medicaid law sounds an ominous note on the rationing front. The 11th Circuit Court has ruled that even though Medicaid is supposed to provide all "medically necessary" treatment, this phrase can be interpreted by the states (since states contribute to Medicaid) using cost-containment considerations to limit utilization. In other words, "medically necessary" doesn't really mean "medically necessary." It also can include completely non-medical considerations. Said the 11th Circuit,

While it is true that, after the 1989 amendments to the Medicaid Act, the state must fund any medically necessary treatment that Anna C.Moore requires, Pittman v. Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, 998 F.2d 887, 891-92 (11th Cir. 1993), it does not follow that the state is wholly excluded from the process of determining what treatment is necessary. Instead, both the state and Moore’s physician have roles in determining what medical measures are necessary to “correct or ameliorate” Moore’s medical conditions. Rush v. Parham, 625 F.2d 1150, 1155 (5th Cir. 1980);1 42 C.F.R. § 440.230 (“(d) The agency may place appropriate limits on a service based on such criteria as medical necessity or on utilization control procedures.”); see 42 U.S.C. § 1396d(r)(5). A private physician’s word on medical necessity is not dispositive. [My emphasis]

You get that? "Medically necessary" includes "utilization control procedures" as well as determinations of what is, you know, medically necessary.

Wesley J. Smith notes that this decision is unpublished. As far as I can gather (legal eagles, correct me if I'm wrong), this means that lower courts will not officially regard themselves as required to follow this interpretation of the law as precedent. On the other hand, three states didn't join in appealing this case for nothing when a lower court ruled in favor of Mrs. Moore. Clearly, they regard this as a "precedent" in some sense: They believe that they can now limit Medicaid outlays based on something other than medical necessity even though the law says they are supposed to use only medical necessity.

P.S. The term "fair" in my title comes from this analysis by Jeffrey Emanuel, who says,

However, Georgia officials argued Callie’s care was subject to rationing, as the state bureaucrats’ need to ensure Medicaid resources were allocated “fairly” superseded her doctor’s care prescription or her personal medical needs.
HT Secondhand Smoke

September 6, 2009

We're all relativists now--News from the North

In Quebec, all children from 1st grade up have to be put through a relativistic "religion" curriculum that teaches that homosexuality is normal and that treats all religions, including atheism, as equal.

I said "all children." I meant "all children." I mean children in Catholic private schools, children in all private schools, home schoolers, everyone. Parents have marched in protest to no effect. Over 1,700 applications for exemptions have been denied. A Catholic school has been refused the opportunity to substitute a world religions course more in line with its Catholic identity. No. No. No. We are all relativists now, or we will be by the time Big Brother is done with us. (Perhaps I should learn to say "Big Brother" in French, since this is Quebec.)

And thanks for nothin' to Bishop Martin Veillette who wrote a letter to the Minister of Education undermining Catholics' attempts to get an exemption. Here's what he wrote:

"We know it requires a very serious reason to justify an exemption from a school program," he wrote. "The most serious reason would be without doubt the violation of the freedom of conscience, which is a fundamental right. The program in itself does not seem to us to be vulnerable to such a dispute a priori [before the fact]. It is rather a posteriori [after the fact], based on experience, that a demand for exemption could in our view become admissible in cases where an injury might be serious enough."

To which I reply, first and foremost, the hell you say it "requires a very serious reason to justify an exemption from a school program." What junk! We're talking about a set curriculum that teaches children about faith and morals, written and mandated by the state. It should require no particular reason, much less a "very serious" reason, to justify parents' opting their children out of such a curriculum, especially if the parents have gone to the trouble of choosing an alternative education for them in the first place. And just how serious an injury is the Bishop waiting to see a posteriori? If the kids grow up thinking homosexuality is normal or with their normal resistance to propaganda on the subject weakened, is that a "serious enough" injury? Why don't parents get to decide whether to risk permanent moral and spiritual damage to their children? Has the Bishop ever heard of the category of "scandal"? You know--little ones, millstones, and all that?

In contrast, kudos to Quebec City Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who

has spoken out vigorously against the relativistic religion program, saying the course "subjects religions to the control and the interests of the State and puts an end to religious freedoms in school which were acquired many generations ago."

God bless the U.S.A.

HT--Jeff Culbreath

September 7, 2009

Manzi on the Wright-Coyne dispute

I argued in The Last Superstition that whatever one thinks of Darwinism, its truth or falsity is (contrary to what New Atheists like Richard Dawkins suppose) irrelevant to the cogency of the Thomistic proofs of God’s existence, including Aquinas’s Fifth Way (which Dawkins incompetently assimilates to Paley’s Design argument). Indeed, if Darwinism has any relevance to the latter argument at all, it is in fact by slightly reinforcing rather than undermining it. The reason is that Darwinism, like any scientific theory, posits various causal mechanisms, all causal mechanisms presuppose (for reasons set out in TLS) final causality, and thus (since the take-off point of the Fifth Way is the existence of final causality) Darwinism, qua scientific theory, only lends further support to the Fifth Way.

Continue reading "Manzi on the Wright-Coyne dispute" »

September 8, 2009

National Affairs

There is something almost Chestertonian in the boldness of it. Found a journal committed to "the long form of the essay, and the long view of the quarterly" now? Found such a journal, which "will begin from confidence and pride in America" and proceed "to cultivate an open-minded empiricism, a decent respect for the awesome complexity of life in society, and a healthy skepticism of the serene technocratic confidence that is too often the dominant flavor of social science and public policy"?

What a marvelously rash endeavor this is. National Affairs it is called. The editors declare themselves successors "to a long and storied line of efforts to illuminate American public life through intellectual journalism, from the birth of our republic to the present day." They are successors to a noble tradition. Long may it (and they) prosper.

Pro-Life Suites: A response to two articles on ANH--Updated (below the fold)

A couple of weeks ago or so someone on Facebook recommended two articles on the subject of denying artificial nutrition and hydration. (He being on the other side of this issue.) I've been waiting ever since then, after reading the articles, to finish up a bunch of other projects so that I could devote some time to discussing them.

I'm sorry to have to say that these two articles come from an evangelical Christian bio-ethics think-tank, the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

The first piece, by Scott Rae, has the hopeful title "How Much Brain Do I Need to be Human" and is occupied for much of its space with a welcome denial of the central tenet of personhood theory--that severely mentally disabled people are not persons at all. To his credit, Rae expressly rejects the horrifying views of other ostensibly evangelical writers he cites, Robert Wennberg and Robert V. Rakestraw, who argue that a person in a PVS has lost the image of God or that the "person" is dead even if the body is alive. Rae's rejection of these disgusting views is appropriate and, if I may put it this way, disarming. I say “disarming,” because in the midst of affirming the full personhood and even the right to life (!) of people diagnosed as in a PVS and of anencephalic infants and people in the late stages of Alzheimer's, Rae suddenly begins declaring, without conspicuous argument, the legitimacy of withholding nutrition and hydration from such people.

Rae’s only attempt at argument (if it is intended as an argument) is a blanket appeal to authority:

There is a growing consensus, reflected in the Cruzan decision, that medically provided nutrition and hydration are indeed forms of treatment that can be refused, if there is clear evidence that it is the patient’s wish.

Of course, since infants are one of the groups of people in question, the tip of the hat to the doctrine of consent seems like a fifth wheel, especially since at no time in the article does Rae say that it is illegitimate to withhold nutrition and hydration from someone if there is not "clear evidence that it is the patient's wish."

On the contrary--he has some pretty negative implications to make about those who wish to administer ANH to the severely neurologically compromised. And most unfortunately, those negative implications come in the form of a jolting introduction of theology into the discussion.

In most cases feeding tubes are analogous to ventilator support; removal of feeding tubes is not starving a person any more than removing ventilator support is suffocating them. Further, to insist on a mandatory aggressive treatment based on the sanctity of life doctrine is to elevate earthly life to the status of the ultimate good. If the sanctity of life obligates us to do everything at all times to keep people alive, then we are making a dangerous theological assumption about earthly life being the highest good. From a Christian view of the world, earthly life is a penultimate good; the ultimate good being our eternal fellowship with God. Moreover, with death being a conquered enemy, one thing that follows is that death need not always be resisted. It is acceptable to say “enough,” including the removal of feeding tubes.

The first sentence is the barest assertion. The fact that we do not usually have to give people, even helpless and sick people, air at all (air being all around us and being drawn in by the basic, automatic functioning of the body), but that helpless or weak people frequently have to be fed (infants with breast, bottle, or spoon, weakened or very elderly people with spoons, feeding tubes, etc.) even when their basic bodily functions are operating quite well, is not considered at all as a possible counter to the analogy. Rae does not even touch on the ordinary vs. extraordinary care distinction.

But the theological material is worse than just weak on argument. It is actually rather offensive. If giving food and fluids is simply care, ordinary nursing care, rather than "aggressive treatment," as Rae implausibly calls it, what the deuce does all this business about how earthly life is not the ultimate good have to do with anything? If a mother were to leave her newborn infant without a bottle until he died, no jury in the world would take it as a defense that the mother, as a Christian, considered the child's "eternal fellowship with God" to be the ultimate good and considered death to be a "conquered enemy." In fact, such a defense would quite rightly be an embarrassment to Christians. Neglecting a helpless person until he dies cannot be defended on the grounds that earthly life is not the ultimate good. Hence, Rae cannot evade in this way the question of whether leaving a helpless person to dehydrate to death constitutes neglect. This sudden argument from eternity is a fairly transparent attempt to dodge the question of the ordinariness of food and fluids, a vault into theological language in an attempt, in lieu of an argument, to make a theological accusation against people like the Schindlers. What's the matter with you guys? Why do you want Terri to keep receiving food and water through a tube? Don't you get it that death is a conquered enemy? Don't you understand that earthly life is not the ultimate good? This is rather disturbing stuff, and certainly not impressive from an argumentative point of view.

Well, okay, but one piece can't do everything, and in the last few paragraphs Rae returns to his laudable task of affirming the full humanity and personhood of disabled people. (Though even there, and oddly, he says that we need not do everything to treat persons and adds "especially those in a PVS." Why "especially"?) But perhaps the other one, by John T. Dunlop, will make the argument for denial of food and fluids better or more clearly.

Continue reading "Pro-Life Suites: A response to two articles on ANH--Updated (below the fold)" »

September 11, 2009

September 11.


What happened on this day eight years ago may be stated simply: The Jihad delivered against America a most grievous and staggering blow. Conceived in blind bitter hatred, plotted in treachery and skulking malice, it was also — as befits the Jihad — a spiritually impotent blow. To erect a great symbol of resistance to the power of the infidels, these operatives made war on the defenseless and unwitting. Somehow the man who extolled the bravery of armed men attacking airline stewardesses is still a respected clever-man on TV. By now it is not uncommon for someone to pedantically chide the President for having called them cowards.

But September 11 was not a blow delivered against the American fighting man. Against him the Jihad has generally withered or taken flight. The Jihad has not won a real battle against men of the West in many a year.

We demean the word by calling what happened on September 11th a battle. It was a treacherous strike against men and women the great majority of whom never had even a moment to contemplate self-defense. That some Americans — who we venerate today where their mortal remains lie, in the wide fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania — gave battle to these brigands, and in the end conquered them by thwarting their conspiracy, shows indeed their valor, but does not grant their murderers the honor of the title Soldier.

The crown of honor on that day was won above all by the police and firemen of New York City, whose losses were terrible; these men who more than self their country loved. O beautiful, for heroes proved in liberating strife!

The Towers fell; the Pentagon burned; Lower Manhattan became a crematorium. It was the Jihad in brutal summary. The guilt of its victims, according to ancient doctrine, was fixed by their unbelief. America stood as the citadel and champion of Infidelity. There could be no innocents here.

And so honor, innocence, charity, kindness, courage, nobility, valor — all must kneel at the feet of the obligation of the Jihad to make war on the powers of Infidelity. America is the greatest of those powers. Whatever our foreign policy, whatever the interventions of our military, whatever the skill of our diplomats, whatever the character of our statesmen — still we shall attract, at least for the time being, the boldest stratagems, the cleverest sedition, the cruelest bloodlust of the Jihad. Even now its agents and operatives are maneuvering against us. Even now they plot terror and mayhem and torture.

Our countrymen perished in the flames of this wicked system, this terrible institution of Jihad. Today we remember them, we honor them, we lift up those who mourn them in prayer; and we steel ourselves for the day when the Jihad will try again.


September 12, 2009

63-year-old pro-lifer gunned down; local teen says punching him would have been sufficient

By now I'm sure my readers know about the double murder in my state of Michigan yesterday. Suspect Harlan Drake allegedly confessed to police that he had a list in his head of three people he intended to kill. One was 63-year-old pro-lifer Jim Pouillon, locally known as the "sign man." The murderer gunned down Pouillon in a drive-by shooting before multiple witnesses. Drake told police that he was "offended" by Pouillon's pictures of aborted babies. A second victim, apparently murdered for an unrelated reason, was gravel pit owner Mike Fuoss. Drake was arrested after the murder of Fuoss, and there was no third victim.

Other conservative bloggers are pointing out the MSM's obvious inconsistency in making a near saint out of late-term abortionist Tiller while virtually ignoring this story. (It isn't coming up in the AP feed on Yahoo, that's for sure.)

But I have a different angle. Buried in one of the local news stories was an appalling statement from a 16-year-old boy who apparently attended the high school where Pouillon was murdered. (Well, it was buried in a local news story. It was here yesterday but seems to have been expunged. I didn't get a screen capture, so you'll have to take my word for it. It has been preserved here in a CBS News story.) Thus spoke high schooler Curtis Wisterman: “I can see someone spitting on him or punching him, but shooting him is pretty stupid. It's not something you expect in Owosso."

Charming. A pro-abortion thug in the making. I don't imagine Curtis is earning his merit badge helping little old ladies across the street. If he is, the ladies better watch their purses. And shooting Jim Pouillon was stupid. A full-throated condemnation, that. If Drake had simply gotten out of the truck, punched Pouillon and spat on him, that would have been enough.

September 13, 2009

Schrödinger, Democritus, and the paradox of materialism

For those who might be interested, some reflections on philosophy of mind and modern physical science, over at my personal blog.

RIP William P. Alston

I have just learned (actually, via a friend on Facebook) that Christian philosopher William P. Alston died at his home today, September 13, 2009, of pancreatic cancer. I believe the word went out originally on the SCP e-mail list.

Professor Alston was an excellent and careful epistemologist. He was an externalist in epistemology, but not altogether a contented one. He wrote so clearly and articulated his position so well and with so much sympathy to the internalist positions he was disagreeing with that for several years his work was particularly important and valuable as my husband and I hammered out our contrary positions. A number of chapters of our book Internalism and Epistemology take Alston as a major foil.

Alston was one of the teachers of and a great influence on Alvin Plantinga.

Rest eternal grant unto him, o Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him.

September 14, 2009

Rifqa Bary update--Parents file case in Ohio to try to get her back

Rifqa Bary's parents have filed a claim against her in Ohio stating that she is an "incorrigible minor" in an attempt to return jurisdiction--and more importantly, Rifqa herself--to Ohio. Judge Dawson in Florida has thus far claimed his court has jurisdiction on the grounds that no court in Ohio claims jurisdiction. This could change all that.

An "incorrigible minor" claim is, from what I've been able to glean, a claim on the part of parents that they cannot control their own child and need the help of the state to do so. Some of the actions that can support such a claim are refusing to obey "reasonable" parental orders, repeatedly running away, being truant, or using drugs or alcohol. Obviously, several of these don't apply to Rifqa, and she has run away only once. Of course, her parents have in one sense "lost control" of her, since she escaped from them! But when the juvenile claims abuse and danger from the parents, there must be (I assume) some mechanism for the court to consider these counterclaims rather than simply returning the child to the parents. The courts can order any number of things if a child is found to be an "incorrigible minor," from house arrest (particularly bad in this case) to foster care. (Unfortunately, I did not keep the most useful link I found on the definition of an "incorrigible minor.")

Commentators here and here at Atlas Shrugs seem to be under the impression that Rifqa will be returned to Ohio but not to her parents. Moreover, this commentator indicate that an "incorrigible minor" claim can be met by a counterclaim for emancipation by Rifqa. I had previously been under the impression that Ohio does not permit emancipation claims, but according to this commentator, what it does not permit is only spontaneous emancipation filings by minors. A minor can, however, try to be emancipated in response to an "incorrigible minor" claim. But is Rifqa financially independent? Would her lack of financial independence scotch an emancipation claim?

More to the point, this article from the Orlando Sentinel, Sept. 2, claims that "Ohio child welfare officials already have concluded it is safe for Rifqa to return. They want to place the girl in therapy and reunite her with her family." This doesn't sound like it supports the positive talk about the responsible and serious actions to be expected from the Ohio authorities. Several news stories have said that Rifqa's parents have consented for her to be put in foster care in Ohio, but not all have added that this is "for at least thirty days." If the Ohio authorities send her back to her parents after thirty days rather than extending the foster care, she could simply be spirited out of the country, a result all the more likely as it appears she is presently here illegally. (That is, of course, not her fault--so are her parents, by the way.)

All of these considerations are, of course, in addition to concerns about her increased danger if she is returned to Ohio at all, even to foster care.

September 14--Pamela Geller at Atlas reports that Rifqa's Sept. 29 hearing date in Florida has been postponed. I am a pessimist by nature and am concerned that this may indicate Florida's willingness to relinquish jurisdiction to Ohio.

September 15, 2009

Michael Bauman on the 1960's

James Allen recently recommended to me this post by Michael Bauman on the 1960's. I in turn recommend it to you. It is well worth reading.

(I was forced to note while at the park this past week that the peace sign on clothing is back as a fashion statement. What a shame.)

Here are some great bits, but do read the whole thing:

Like almost all dissidents of my generation, I was a protestor without a plan and a visionary without a vision. I had not yet learned that you see only what you are able to see, and I was able to see only the egalitarian, relativistic, self-gratifying, superstitions of the secular, wayward, left. Please do not think that this was simply a case of prelapsarian innocence. It was not. It was ignorance and it was evil, although I would have denied it at the time.
I had to put my insipid and airy romanticism where it belonged, on the burgeoning junk pile of the fatally flawed and conclusively overthrown fantasies to which the human mind seems continually to give rise. Not romanticism but religion, not Byron but the Bible, not poetry but Paul, not Voltaire but virtue, not trends but tradition, not idealism but ideas, not genius but grace, not freedom but faith could cure me. I had to exchange Wordsworth for the Word and revolution for repentance.
Whenever someone insists upon freedom, you must ask "Freedom to do what?" You must ask that question because freedom, like tyranny, has its unintended and unforeseen consequences, some of which are colossally vile. In passing, I name but one — abortion.
The sixties were a bad idea, if for no other reason than because the sixties had no ideas, only selfish desires hiding behind the shallow slogans and freelance nihilism emblazoned on psychedelic bumper stickers, slogans like “I dissent, therefore I am.” The only things about which we were intellectually modest in the sixties were the claims of objective truth. We seemed unable to wrap our minds around even the most obvious ideas. We seemed unable to realize, for example, that you cannot raise your consciousness until you have one. The sixties were perhaps the most unconscious decade in centuries.
Tenured faculty members everywhere have traded their tie-dyed T-shirts and their bell bottom jeans for a cap and gown, if not a cap and bells. Those faculty members are the entrenched purveyors of an unexamined and indefensible hand-me-down Marxism...
The denizens of modernity probably do not realize and probably do not care that they are the befuddled and bedeviled lackeys of designer truth, of made-to-order reality, and of ad hoc morals making. If you follow them, you walk into the night without a light and into the woods without a compass. I want to tell you as plainly as I can that their vision of academic tolerance lacks intellectual virtue. It dilutes the high cultural inheritance of the past with the petty and insupportable leftisms of the present.

Continue reading "Michael Bauman on the 1960's" »

September 19, 2009

Now available: AQUINAS

The first anniversary of the publication of The Last Superstition is just around the corner. How will you celebrate? You could drink a bottle of Aquinas – not a bad idea. But while doing so, why not read a hot-off-the-press copy of my new book Aquinas?

Aquinas is an in-depth but accessible introduction to the philosophical thought of the Angelic Doctor. St. Thomas’ key metaphysical ideas are set out in detail, their relation to current issues in analytic philosophy is explored, and common caricatures and misunderstandings are swept away. The core of the book is an extended, critical but sympathetic treatment of the famous Five Ways, which situates them in the broader Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical context apart from which they cannot properly be understood, reveals how the standard objections rest on a failure to appreciate this context, and shows that each of the arguments is still defensible today. This is followed by a similarly A-T metaphysics-informed treatment of Aquinas’s philosophical psychology and moral theory. Readers of The Last Superstition will be interested to see some of its topics developed in greater detail and in a more academic and – for those of more tender sensibilities – entirely non-polemical fashion.

Some pre-publication blurbs:

“At last. A concise, accessible and compelling introduction to Aquinas's thought. Feser shows that Aquinas's philosophy is still a live option for thinkers today.” Kelly James Clark, Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College

“Lucid, cogent, and compelling. Required reading.” Christopher Kaczor, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Loyola Marymount University

“Useful and easy to read. Students and scholars will find this highly beneficial.” Fulvio di Blasi, President, Thomas International

Continue reading "Now available: AQUINAS" »

Golfin' with alligators

So I noticed that we have this golf category here at W4, but that we hardly ever have posts in it. So why shouldn't I, who know absolutely nothing about the game (I mean, really nothing), put one up? True, it will tarnish my reputation for "awful fanaticism," but even fanatics have to take a break sometimes.

I am indebted to Bill Luse for the information, which all you southerners probably already possess, that there are alligators on the golf courses in Florida. I mean, real alligators, just sitting there, no fences or anything. They live there. The golfers just count on their moving on when they (the golfers) get close. Or not, as the case may be. I understand the adults just sit there and stare at you. This gives rise to the following burning questions:

Have any golfers in Florida actually been bitten, or eaten, by alligators on the course?

Should you get a free drop (I had to look up what a free drop is) if your golf ball lands near an alligator and he doesn't go away?

September 20, 2009

To Make you See: Conrad, Eliot, Lewis, and one other

In his immortal preface to the "Nigger of the Narcissus," a preface everyone interested in literature should read, Joseph Conrad tells us what he believes to be the purpose of literature as art:

My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you see. That--and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there, according to your deserts, encouragement, consolation, fear, charm, all you demand--and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.

To snatch, in a moment of courage, from the remorseless rush of time a passing phase of life, is only the beginning of the task. The task approached in tenderness and faith is to hold up unquestioningly, without choice and without fear, the rescued fragment before all eyes in the light of a sincere mood....In a single-minded attempt of that kind, if one be deserving and fortunate, one may perchance attain to such clearness of sincerity that at last the presented vision of regret or pity, of terror or mirth, shall awaken in the hearts of the beholders that feeling of unavoidable solidarity; of the solidarity in mysterious origin, in toil, in joy, in hope, in uncertain fate, which binds men to each other and all mankind to the visible world.

Elsewhere in the essay, Conrad, perhaps unfortunately, associates this task with the slogan "Art for Art itself." But while this connection is unfortunate, it arises rather predictably from the old, old tensions and irritations aroused in the heart of the artist by the demand for edification. The passage above is Conrad's response to those who, in his words, "demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed,..."

Why do I say that it is unfortunate that Conrad associates his characterization of literature and art with the concept of art for its own sake?

Continue reading "To Make you See: Conrad, Eliot, Lewis, and one other" »

September 23, 2009

Frum vs. Smith on Sunstein

My attention has been drawn via VFR to the exchange between David Horowitz and David Frum on various things, including whether Glenn Beck is bad for conservatism. Speaking for myself, I think Horowitz does a great job on this. Some favorite quotes:

I also have a problem with your basic presumption that Republicans must clean their house before they can appeal to centrist voters and defeat the left. This implies that the left’s attacks on conservatives have merit and will be blunted if we purge our ranks of embarrassments to our cause – the shrill, the enraged and the paranoid – who in your mind – seem to be Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and now Glenn Beck. Did you notice that these are also our most powerful and feared and charismatic conservatives?
...[T]here are conservatives...who think that if everyone on our team only behaved better, there would be no targets for the neo-Stalinist left to attack. Not a chance.
Franken calls us evil. You call him mistaken (and unfunny). And you want other conservatives to do the same. The more conservatives who follow your advice the more we will lose. Personally, I am thrilled with what is happening now in the conservative movement – ... the emergence of enraged conservative masses – the tea baggers – as leftist half-wits like to dismiss them. It is this energized, unapologetic, in-your-face (but also civilized and intelligent) conservative base on whom the future not only of the movement but the country depends.

Go, Horowitz.

But what I really want to talk about is something Horowitz waives for the most part--Frum's accusation that Beck misrepresented Cass Sunstein. That is what evidently sets Frum off against Beck as being defamatory, dangerous for conservatism, and so forth. Horowitz moves past that pretty quickly by referring to it as "one case to hand in which you charge him with getting something wrong." He urges Frum to stick to that and correct an error without going overboard as Frum does when he charges Beck with "distortion and defamation."

That's good as far as it goes, but what about this "distortion and defamation"?

Continue reading "Frum vs. Smith on Sunstein" »

September 24, 2009

In Which I Agree With David Frum and Noah Millman

Ordinarily, I could carry no brief for David Frum, a savvy actor in movement politics who made himself the Grand Inquisitor against the paleoconservatives and other dissenters opposed to the Iraq War - and all of the victims of his purge have been vindicated by the tides of history - and lately an advocate of a reformed, moderate conservatism. I can espouse neither his foreign policy prescriptions, demonstrably disastrous as they have been, and cannot but be, nor his prescriptions for domestic reform, to the extent that they are contingent upon throwing the social conservatives to the wayside. However, in the matter of in re: Sunstein, I am compelled to side with Frum, and Millman, not so much because I embrace Sunstein's controversial policy proposal without reservations, but because I find the critiques of it at once muddled and overwrought, and the rhetoric deployed in defense of those attacking Sunstein histrionic and philosophically dishonest.

Hewing solely to those excerpts quoted by Lydia below, I am compelled to make inquiry:

- How is it that Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck have become "the most powerful and feared and charismatic conservatives"? Would this be the Sarah Palin who at once argues that a lack of regulation was, and was not, the cause of the financial crisis, and who retails the bizarre idea that, if Federal Reserve policy was at the root of the bubble, the banksters are somehow exculpated by this fact (The Fed, and Congress, are uniquely responsible for creating the conditions in which bankers behaved badly, which is to say that they simply couldn't help themselves)? Would this be the Rush Limbaugh who stated that a school-bus beatdown meted out in suburban St. Louis transpired because, in Obama's America, blacks feel empowered to act on the belief that whites are born racists, when the incident related to the strange status hierarchies reflected in seating arrangements? Would this be the Glenn Beck who argues, in perfect innocence, that American government has been captured by a government-corporate oligarchy, but that it would be doubleplusungood progressivism to do anything effective to counter it?

Is it now forbidden to critique the failures and missteps of movement luminaries, merely because The Cause now seems so exigent, even when one has legitimate concerns that the flaws of the movement and its leading figures will prove deleterious to the movement in the medium-term and beyond, or have already proven so?

- Neo-Stalinism? Neo-Stalinism? I must have missed the terror famines, show trials, purges, mass executions, gulags, the climate of suspicion and surveillance in which children turned their parents over to torturers for petty party perks, the bloody repression of religion, and the command economy operated by intellectual incompetents after the liquidation of the Tsarist intelligentsia. My wife grew up in the Soviet Union, in the days of Perestroika and Glasnost, which nonetheless remained orders of magnitude more oppressive than anything contemplated in current policy, and yet failed to descend to the sheer depths of Stalinism in repression and barbarity. Perhaps the prefix 'neo' is intended to differentiate this contemporary Stalinism from the genuine, historical article, in which case it appears to mean nothing more precise, or menacing, than 'any policy proposed by someone to my left with which I happen to disagree' - which would render it the rightist analogue of the tiresome leftist accusation of 'fascism', which, alas, some segments of the right have lately attempted to resuscitate for their own purposes.

If conservatives were forbidden to employ private definitions of key terms in political thought, such as 'socialism', or 'Stalinism', and were thus compelled to deliberate over the merits and demerits of specific policies, articulating specific reasons pro and contra, we would be entertaining, in effect, a debate over the extent to which the United States, in a few areas such as banking regulation and health care, should become more like Germany or Switzerland, respectively. That is, we would be debating specific instances of the generic question of American Exceptionalism, endeavouring to determine whether, and to what extent, the unique characteristics of America exempt it from the general structural tendencies of Western modernity, in politics, economics, and so forth. That might be a disputation worth entertaining, and for a protracted engagement; but we will prove ourselves incapable of entertaining it openly and honestly so long as we veil this fundamental question beneath layers of mystifying incantations.

But the issue with Sunstein concerns the implications of his legal proposal for the enforcement of the interests of animals, you say? Very well, let us turn to that matter.

Continue reading "In Which I Agree With David Frum and Noah Millman" »

September 25, 2009

Assisted suicide legalized in the UK

Although I haven't much to say about it beyond the obvious, "How terrible," I do not want to let go by unmentioned the most recent, broadscale, disturbing development on life issues in the United Kingdom. There are so many bad things that come out of the United Kingdom, so many news stories that defy satire, on almost a daily basis, that I really cannot keep up. I have several of them in the back of my head that I've meant to blog about, but finally one gets exhausted and falls behind.

This should not be allowed to pass without comment in this way, because it is an actual policy change. The UK has fairly broadly legalized assisted suicide. Wesley J. Smith has details here. The mechanism by which this has happened is legally peculiar, particularly to an American mind. The House of Lords, which is the UK's Supreme Court, ruled that someone who was bringing a case had a right to know whether her husband would be prosecuted for assisting her suicide; therefore, they ordered the public prosecutor to issue "guidelines" on when the law in place against assisting suicide would be enforced. The prosecutor, rather than just saying, "Heck, yes, I'll prosecute her husband and anyone else who breaks the law and assists a suicide" has published "guidelines" to warm the Hemlock Society's heart--in other words, has functionally decriminalized assisted suicide without, for what this is worth, the involvement of the legislative branch.

As Smith points out, the guidelines clearly treat some lives as more worth protecting than others. The guidelines declare that it is not "in the public interest" to punish some suicide assistances. If a victim was healthy or under 18, it is in the public interest. If, on the other hand, the victim was at least 18 and had a terminal illness, a severe and incurable physical disability, or a severe degenerative physical condition, from which there was no possibility of recovery (plus asking to die, asking for the suspect's help to die, and so forth), it is not in the public interest to punish the person who killed him ostensibly at his own request.

This is very bad indeed.

Update: Here is a link to the new guidelines. Readers can decide for themselves whether the religious leaders linked by commentator Keith below should be, as they appear to be, relieved or upset, given that they claim to be opposed to suicide.

Teleology revisited

For those who might be interested, here is a (somewhat lengthy, sorry) follow-up to my earlier post on the Robert Wright/Jerry Coyne/Jim Manzi debate over evolution and teleology.

September 26, 2009

The difference between McCarthyism and liberalism

McCarthyite: someone who thinks there is a communist hiding under every bed

Liberal: someone who thinks there is a McCarthyite hiding under every bed

September 27, 2009

Do dogs go to heaven?

At the request of a reader, I am opening a thread on the theological and metaphysical question of whether dogs go to heaven.

It may surprise some readers to know that I am by no means closed to the idea that at least some dogs go to heaven. The truth is that I simply don't know. The greatest consideration that occurs to me against dogs' going to heaven is that heaven is not simply a place. It isn't just the happy hunting grounds to which God sends people He chooses to approve of. Rather, heaven is in its essence the beatific vision. And I doubt that dogs can, at least directly, enjoy the beatific vision.

C. S. Lewis, however, conjectured that animals might participate in the resurrection through their relationship with human beings. In fact, he went so far as to conjecture that whole places--such as one's childhood home--might be similarly resurrected by means of the resurrection of human beings. His idea was that God would in some sense give reality to the ideas and memories of those human beings who are glorified.

Lewis has influenced me by these conjectures to be open to the possibility that dogs go to heaven, but there is at least one problem: Lewis was a Berkeleyan idealist. So when he talks about these things, one has to bear in mind that Lewis did not believe in mind-independent physical matter at all. This helps to explain his notion that your dog or your childhood home might be resurrected with you. God would give to your ideas that order of reality that currently is possessed by God's own ideas, which we call "physical existence." It is also useful to Lewis in that he does not have to say that it is of the intrinsic nature of animals, as it is of man, to be immortal, which I also want to avoid. But if one isn't a Berkleyan idealist, the metaphysics of all of this becomes much more problematic. God would have to choose really to create physical entities corresponding to the resurrected body of one's dog or one's childhood home.

Not that that is impossible. But it does raise the question of why it should be a human being's own dog that is resurrected rather than any and all dogs, including vicious ones, feral ones, and so forth. Lewis can explain this because all that exists is ideas. Hence, your ideas are resurrected along with you, and one may conjecture that the resurrection takes the form of giving some of those ideas an existence independent of you, though never independent of God, the Great Perceiver.

Obviously, if dogs are included in eternal and redeemed nature, their own natures must be compatible with the eternal bliss of the redeemed, unless we imagine them as having no interaction with the redeemed, which would seem to remove at least part of the point of having animals in heaven at all. So vicious dogs would have to be reformed, which raises the mind-boggling question of whether dogs have free will or whether God would reform the nature of bad dogs by force, an operation He would certainly never carry out on human beings.

The bottom line is that I am open to the idea that dogs go to heaven but have worries about the possibility that the theology of such a conjecture will end up being a sort of caricature of the theology of salvation, a caricature we do not want to encourage, according to which God simply "sends" good dogs to heaven and annihilates bad dogs. Since I believe this theology is completely wrong with respect to humans, I am reluctant to invoke it for dogs. What would be preferable would be something like Lewis's view which accommodates in a more or less principled manner the resurrection of some dogs on the grounds of their relations to human beings without invoking any idea that some animals are "saved."

Have fun with the discussion. Keep it nice.

PGA Tour 2009

The field of great American golfers has widened and deepened of late. Tiger Woods is still supreme master of the sport, to the extent that so difficult a game may ever be said to submit to human mastery. I would say that his game looks in many ways greater now than it did when he appeared, the epitome of talent, back in the 90s. Now he has shown himself a master at the mental discipline of the game. His will, his savvy, his toughness — all these are stronger. Has there ever been a golfer better at the tough par putt — when it matters — than Tiger Woods?

But this is not about Tiger. Nor is it even about Phil Mickelson. It is about Kenny Perry, ageless and genuine, and still able to just rip the ball at 49. It is about Sean O’Hair and Lucas Glover, solid young competitors, the latter now a Major Champion and the former now with a top 5 in the FedEx Cup. It is further about Steve Stricker’s late-career resurgence, a man who was twice proclaimed Comeback Player of the Year; and it is about the brash kid from LA, Anthony Kim, waving Old Glory for all he was worth, in Louisville at the Ryder Cup last year.

So let’s put to rest this talk of American golf being about Tiger, maybe Phil, and all the rest. Tiger’s stature is not doubt. But there are plenty of other reasons to like the field of excellent Americans.

What of the FedEd Cup business? This year produced some wild fluctuations, and presented some intriguing possibilities, but in the end reverted to the predictable.

I didn’t watch any of the postgame stuff, but it must have been a little weird for Tiger and Mickelson to both be up there in the winner’s circle. You see, Mickelson played a magnificent final round Sunday to take the Tour Championship here in Atlanta; but Tiger finished 2nd, thus securing his victory in the FedEx Cup, a year-long points-based system culminating in four playoff events.

I think this playoff format in golf has potential, but the Tour still has some wrinkles to iron out. Some will say that Mickelson was the victor, the last man standing, and should take the Cup. But what of Tiger being there near the top at every playoff tournament, blowing away the field in the third, and taking second in the final; while Mickelson was mediocre until final?

All in all, a fine season. Bring on the internationals at the President’s Cup.

September 29, 2009

Globalization and finance capitalism.

There are plans afoot to establish structures for global regulation of high finance. Some of these plans were adumbrated recently at a G20 conference in Pittsburgh last week. What form these plans will be take and when is anyone’s guess; but the trend of the past few decades suggests that these globalization measures, over time, do accumulate deployable power, until eventually they become part of the structure of supra-national government.

Historians will likely record that the globalization of finance capital inevitably led to the globalization of government. The panic of 2008 acted as the shock that provided clarity: and now it is clear the features of finance capitalism were as much an instrument of state policy as they were a genuine example of free enterprise.

These huge conduits by which capital from all over the world was plowed into the American real estate market, and before that the tech bubble, can be seen in political science terms as a vital element of the consolidation of government on an ever larger scale, which is the distinct trend of modernity.

Structurally-mercantilist countries like China, Japan, Germany, oil rich Gulf states, etc., with their highly-productive manufacturing or commodity wealth, generated enormous piles of capital, which naturally sought after profitable fields of investment. Financiers speak in terms of “basis points” — hundredths of a percentage point — because when one operates in hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, even a difference that small means serious cash. So capital from around the world, some private, some public, some a kind of hybrid of the two, was chasing after higher yields. Its facilitators were a collection of institutions operating in arcane securities and instruments which, in time, became “the biggest U.S. export business of the 21st century,” as Bloomberg News put it.

Continue reading "Globalization and finance capitalism." »