What’s Wrong with the World

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May 4, 2010

Civil Disobedience--Test Case

Well, another day, another tyrannical arrest by the thought police. Another street preacher has been arrested in England for saying (gasp) that homosexual behavior is a sin. The police allege that he said it loudly enough to be overheard. Well, that settles that. Take him away, boys.

This raises a couple of interesting questions in my mind. I've often wondered about when civil disobedience is justifiable. It seems to me that civil disobedience isn't automatically justified by the existence of an unjust or ridiculous or even tyrannical law. If my state passed a law against eating broccoli on Tuesdays, it would be disturbing to see something that Big Brotherish going on, but the matter would be trivial enough that civil disobedience would (probably) not be justified. Civil disobedience obviously is justified when the law requires you to do something wrong yourself.

But in between, there are cases like this, where I am inclined to say that civil disobedience is justified, because the matter is very grave. That is to say, it is important that Christians be able to speak out against sin in order to be a light in the world. While God doesn't directly order this or that Christian to speak out at some particular time against a particular sin, the general proscription of preaching against some given sin is a very serious matter indeed and must be challenged.

I therefore support widespread civil disobedience in the case of this British law. The only question is how it should be done. Question to those more knowledgeable: Does the law proscribe only speech on public streets, or does it also include pastors' sermons? (I understand that it proscribes "abusive or insulting" language that causes "harassment, alarm, or distress.") If the latter, then I think pastors and priests in Britain should mount a widespread campaign to preach on a particular Sunday in defiance of this law. If the former, Christians in Britain should mount a campaign of saying (loudly enough to be heard by passersby) on the streets that homosexuality is a sin. It would be interesting to see just how far the British police would go, just how many people they would arrest, in a crackdown on a really large campaign of this sort.

My own strategy advice would be that the civil disobedience campaign not involve large numbers of people bunching together, or the police will treat them as rioters, cage them, and even rough them up, as they have been doing to EDL protesters lately. In my opinion (with which others may differ) the best strategy would be a coordinated campaign on a particular day involving large numbers of people spread out in small groups in various British cities and towns passing out leaflets with the proscribed statements, wearing them on T-shirts, and saying them loudly enough to be overheard.

This tyranny against Christian moral teaching must be challenged, and Christian leaders should do what leaders are supposed to do: Lead.

Corrupting the children

Most parents who choose home education are eventually confronted with the idea that "sheltering their children" - by keeping them out of public schools and the pop-culture mainstream - is doing them a great disservice. It is said that home schooled children will end up socially crippled, unable to relate to the real world, and besides, the schools aren't really that bad anyway, and not letting one's children watch television and the latest movies is tantamount to child abuse, etc., etc..

We've grown used to the conversation. If you, too, are one of those parents, save this video for your friends and family members who try to tell you that you're overreacting:

Continue reading "Corrupting the children" »

Cella series on American Exceptionalism.

Some weeks ago two editors at National Review wrote a striking essay about American Exceptionalism. Today inaugurates a four-part series of mine in response to that essay at The New Ledger, whose generous and intrepid editors have permitted me to expound at length on subjects close to my heart.

This subject, I believe, offers a unique perspective from which to view some of the characteristic troubles of our age; and specially our age in light of the disarray introduced by the ruin and discredit of so much of finance capitalism.

May 6, 2010

Cobbett: agitator for all seasons.


When we consider the subject of civil disobedience, especially in the context of the United Kingdom, the mind is liable to fix on the astonishing figure of William Cobbett.

For defiance of that unjust oppression of men speaking their minds, which today descends most readily on those who defy the liberal orthodoxies on sexual ethics, has few better exemplars than Cobbett.

Cobbett rose in literary and oratorical defiance of callous plutocrats and their languorous tyrannies throughout his whole life. He eventually went to prison for objecting to a particularly cruel instance of this sort of tyranny; but before that he had to flee his home country, Revolutionary France, and the United States, each in turn to avoid the caprice of the what he regarded as lawless despots. (In America, that despot was the popular will, outraged by his agitation for monarchy.)

As an anonymous stylist at La Wik puts its, aptly, “Through the seeming contradictions in Cobbett’s life, two things stayed constant: an opposition to authority, and a suspicion of novelty.” Have we here a Left-Conservative, a Radical-Reactionary? A left-wing conservative reactionary?

Whatever label we might favor, with Cobbett we are in the presence of a great-souled man. His writings are invariably a challenge that rewards to read. He surely was a challenge to get along with, but he loved with a true heroism that inspires.

Consider this: the man had enough flashing heroism to appeal to all the Contributors at this blog. That is saying something, for we are a hard-headed and contentious lot. He was a sturdy traditional Anglican (Lydia), who set down a polemic against the Reformation so vigorous that my antique addition features an enthusiastic introduction by a Roman Catholic cardinal of the Church (Jeff, Zippy, Ed, Mike). He was a brilliant expositor by word, and hard worker at by deed, of the farmer-legislator as the root of sanity in the commonwealth (Maximos, Zippy, me); but he was also a careful and loving explicator of the English language and its grammar (Bill, Steve, all of us). He opposed much of the structure of the British mercantilist system, and heavy taxation and government meddling in general (Steve, Lydia, Ed). He set his lethal pen to work against Thomas Malthus and his early adumbrations of demographic doom which later underpinned the Eugenics movement (all of us). Other W4 readers would no doubt take readily to his strictures against paper money. Not a few of our liberals (who, being broadminded members of that class, may be capable of transcending the narrowness of their creed) will thrill to his various protests for the poor — all those souls, in Johnny Cash’s phrase, “living on the hopeless hungry side of town.” His greatest political achievement was, after all, the Reform Act of 1832.

Indeed, I do not think it presumptuous to conjecture that the Man in Black, singing to the “the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,” or singing for “the poor and the beaten down” and above all for “those who’ve never read or listened to the words that Jesus said” — I do not think it presumptuous to say that the Man in Black was a protest worthy of Cobbett.

Would that old England raised up men like Cobbett again! The man was a born agitator, a provocateur of merry genius, in the pattern of the jugglers of God. He would probably arrive at the anti-globalization rally and preach the Gospel and especially its application in the virtue of chastity to those stunned anarchists; and then arrive at church to raise the alarm among Christians on the horrors of the plutocracy at the City of London.

MCMYCL - 1939 (revised & updated)

Joaquin Rodrigo (1901 - 1999) (!) was born in Valencia. He was blinded by diphtheria at the age of three.

Yet he lived to become the greatest Spanish composer since Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), and the greatest of all composers of music for the guitar.

Despite my partiality to a number of Rodrigo's other works, I cannot deny that pride of place goes to his first guitar concerto, the famous Concierto de Aranjuez, composed in 1939. And despite my partiality to its opening Allegro con spirito, I cannot deny that pride of place goes to the following Adagio - even if it did end up getting transformed into a sort of "pop hit."

For once, I'm going to go with a preexisting YouTube video, instead of making my own. Here's part 1:

Continue reading "MCMYCL - 1939 (revised & updated)" »

May 8, 2010

Exceptionalism series, part II.

Part II of my Exceptionalism series is up at The New Ledger. This one is unabashedly a polemic, or at least the sketch of one. Regular readers here will no doubt be less startled by it than new readers; but in my experience the startle response — intellectually reflexive and predicable— is not an uncommon reaction to what I argue therein.

But I find that the fact of the matter is that, when push comes to shove, most people really are not inclined to tolerate free speech for what the hate and fear; and, some things being hateful and potent enough to be feared, this inclination is not always and everywhere wrong.

Proscription, in a word, is present in virtually all societies: subtle ones will produce great structures of sophistry to justify the sort of proscriptive action the unsubtle will undertake crudely. Madison’s scorn for “parchment barriers” against the will of the sovereign is amply justified by history (though it undoubtedly strikes the open society liberal as somewhat odd that the author of the Bill of Rights would say such a thing.)

Choice devours itself--Forced abortions for minors

Long-time readers will be familiar with my interest in the "choice devours itself" phenomenon. (See here and here.) Briefly, a "choice devours itself" incident occurs when liberals connive at or turn a blind eye to coercion in one of the areas that they have defined as an expression of freedom. Hence, forced abortion in China or pressure to commit suicide or even (as in one of my linked posts) the outright use of force by those "assisting suicide." The committed so-called "pro-choicer" either pretends that these things don't happen, claiming that they are just propaganda by the "anti-choice" crowd, refuses to talk about them, or participates in them openly.

Abortion for minors is an interesting case-study here. Pro-choice absolutists oppose parental consent laws. They believe that minor girls should be able to get abortions against their parents' wishes, even though this is contrary to the usual legal situation concerning medical procedures for minors, where parental consent is required. But abortion is supposed to be such a special expression of a female's freedom that even girls too young, normally, to consent to medical procedures are supposed to have freedom to have abortions against their parents' wishes.

But what about the flip side of the coin? Correct me if I'm wrong, legal eagles, but my impression is that if Mom wants a twelve-year-old daughter to have her wisdom teeth out (on medical advice), and the girl doesn't want it, Mom can insist. Just as the default assumption is that parents must consent to medical procedures for minors, so the default assumption is that parents can insist that minors have medical procedures they (the parents) deem necessary, even against the minors' wishes.

So if abortion is so special and choice so central thereto, why do we never hear pro-aborts talking about getting special laws passed to allow minor girls to refuse to have abortions?

Continue reading "Choice devours itself--Forced abortions for minors" »

May 9, 2010

What's exceptional about conservatism?

Without raining on Paul Cella's fine parade, I've posted at my personal blog my own response to Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru. It takes Paul's initial critique into due account, but seeks to move discussion in a direction I prefer. If you care to comment on that, please do so at my blog. I'll post something new here in full once Paul has completed his series at The New Ledger.

May 10, 2010

What?? No praying over meals at senior center? [Updated]

Update: According to this story, Senior Citizens, Inc., has backed down. Further details don't appear to be available right now. I'll be checking tomorrow. Hmm. Guess they couldn't find those "guidelines." Or they looked at them and said, "Oh. It doesn't actually say that."

Original Entry

What in tarnation is going on here?

At Ed Young Senior Citizens Center in Port Wentworth, Georgia, meals are provided a low cost to elderly visitors. The low cost is made possible by federal subsidies. The caterers of the meal noticed (I know that this will shock you) that people were praying out loud over their partially-federally-subsidized meals at the senior center and decided--you guessed it--that this violated the "separation of church and state." The elderly folks have been told that they may pray only silently over these meals, and a "moment of silence" is now being observed before meals while the matter is hashed out among the busybody meal contractors, the city attorney, and the mayor. (The elderly are generously permitted to pray mentally before the federally funded meals. Whoopee!)

Now, this is nuts. My local Catholic hospital receives (I'm sure of it) federal funds and broadcasts a prayer over the loudspeaker every morning at something like 8 a.m. I've heard it any number of times. Religiously based colleges receive federal funding indirectly through tuition grants, and they have chapel services, masses, and every other religious observation you can mention. Plus (ya think?) the students are allowed to pray out loud over their cafeteria meals.

On its face, it appears that Senior Citizens, Inc., is going over the top in its interpretation of so-called "federal guidelines." But then again, I don't want to jump to conclusions. What are these federal guidelines they are alluding to, and what makes them think that they forbid the recipients of the meals to pray out loud over them? Says the upset mayor, who "flirted" with discontinuing the contract but apparently decided not to do so, "[T]he best answer right now is that we're trying to get the best information possible and legal council is looking at what would happen if we continued to pray." Yeah, what would happen?

I'd love to see some investigative reporter actually ask Senior Citizens, Inc., to provide a copy of the "operational guidelines" they are citing and to publish the relevant part that supposedly means that old ladies can't pray out loud over their baked chicken.

But even if Senior Citizens, Inc., and the city attorney and mayor decide that the interpretation of the guidelines is wrong and allow the elderly to start praying out loud again, it is a bad, bad omen that this has happened.


May 11, 2010

Prospects for Conservative Action

Although there are many difficulties associated with the terms "conservative" and "conservatism", I'm going to use the terms anyway, leaving them undefined, for the sake of exploring the possibilities for collective action in this brief entry. We can (and most assuredly will) argue - or rather continue arguing - about definitions later.

Conservatism does not lend itself well to organization. It is primarily a defensive posture, rising up here and there only as necessary, when something vital is attacked or threatened. At the height of Christendom there could be no "liberalism" or "conservatism", only the jostling of temperaments and personalities. Politics in the Middle Ages was personal and dynastic, not ideological. Were it not for the relentless assaults of Liberalism upon what T.S. Eliot called "the permanent things", there would be no "conservatism" as a political philosophy in our time either. And that is how genuine conservatives like things. Our goal is to put ourselves out of business, to make conservatism unnecessary, to take the politics out of everyday living.

True conservatives of the modern age are a stubborn and contentious bunch, almost self-selected for their cantankerousness, or so it seems. There are a few, of course, who swim against the tide by the sheer force of their convictions, and who would much rather be at peace with the world. But many of our fellow-travelers are simply rebellious and contrarian by nature. They are on our side now because we are the opposition, but when things are set right again, many will find that their oppositional stance is less principled than it is habitual.

Continue reading "Prospects for Conservative Action" »

May 12, 2010

Do You Feel Safe?

So, a 32-year-old woman in Youngstown, Ohio, alleges that she was kidnapped by her father in broad daylight, that her parents (aided by some other men) took her across state lines, stole her car and moved her to a van, where they uttered threats to send her back to Yemen for having married a non-Muslim. Confirming her story are the dramatic facts of her rescue by law enforcement. She was able to text-message her husband with a brief call for help. He feared for their child's safety and went to remove the child from school, where he met a school official who advised him to tell the police. The police called the victim on her cell phone and interspersed yes/no questions about her situation with questions about her child's soccer, to make the conversation seem innocent to her captors. They got her location from GPS information from her cell phone provider, found the van (in Pennsylvania), and got her out.

But there the story ends. There have been no charges filed.

I have no doubt that various readers will come into the thread telling me that this is nothing surprising or suspicious, that it doesn't indicate hyper-sensitivity to Muslim sensibilities, that charges will be filed later if appropriate, etc.

Maybe so. Maybe not. I wish I could believe that with full assurance, but I can't. But I want to focus on one statement from one of the policemen involved in the case.

Continue reading "Do You Feel Safe?" »

Part III

So any talk of American Exceptionalism in the sphere of political economy wants some careful thinking in light recent tribulations. That some of this thinking must go right to the root of assumptions long held by American conservatives only heightens the urgency.

Read the rest of Part III of my series on Exceptionalism.

May 13, 2010

National Review responds

Well, both Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Ponnuru, both of National Review (the latter a co-author of the original Exceptionalism essay, the former of National Review Online) have indicated clearly that they are not Mills’ men, and that it is unreasonable for me to treat them as such. Meanwhile, a long-time What’s Wrong with the World reader accuses me of the device of a straw man for that treatment.

Let me just say that no one is happier with my error than me. I welcome any and all who see the truth about Mills’ monomania, and join the defense of the partially-closed society. That, as Goldberg puts it, “Cella might be overreading the phrase ‘open society’” in the case of the authors of the NR essay, is a definite possibility.

Goldberg adds a brilliant point as well. The Declaration of Independence is itself a great and solemn act of closing questions. Who can question what is self-evident, after all?

He goes on, now really pressing it, “There cannot be a true open society where all questions are open questions because some questions will always be closed. What’s interesting is to ask which ones, because what is closed and what is open does change — a lot . . . In other words, where are the self-evident truths today?”

Now that is question worth keeping open. But part IV will not, I assure you, neglect to consider the Declaration of Independence.

May 14, 2010

Why atheism can be respectable

First Things' web editor Joe Carter argues, pace David Hart, that we must "abandon the politically correct notion" that any form of "atheism is intellectually respectable." As St. Paul implies in Romans 1, atheism is a case of vincible ignorance. Even people who have never been vouchsafed special divine revelation have "no excuse" for failing to know God:

For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. (20-22)
Carter's argument, then, is roughly as follows. If Christianity is true, then the Bible is divinely inspired, and whatever assertion is divinely inspired is true. So St. Paul is correct in arguing that those who do not believe in the God there is are "without excuse." Hence atheism is vincible ignorance. And vincible ignorance is not intellectually respectable.

To be fair, Hart does not suggest that all forms of atheism are respectable. He is particularly, and justifiably, contemptuous of the "new atheism," which never rises to the elegance of a Hume, the nobility of a Voltaire, or the clear-eyed radicalism of a Nietzsche. But his book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, a tour-de-force by almost any standard, does not depend on disparaging the motives of atheists as such. I'm reading it now. What Hart recognizes, and Carter does not, is that atheism is sometimes motivated by moral passion. That passion can be immature and anthropomorphic, but by no means is it always base. And even when it is base, it often arises from unreflective outrage about real wrongs people do in the name of God. We cannot simply assume that atheism is motivated by a desire to escape divine judgment or indulge in base sexual passions. Paul may well have been right about many pagans of his time, but I don't think we need or should read him as condemning all atheism as a moral failing.

For one thing, doing that would lower theists to the level of the new atheists, who can see theism as motivated only by stupidity or ill will. It would also abandon the progress made by most of the Christian world, which no longer sees heresy as explicable only by stupidity or ill will. Even when such claims are true, it is unhelpful to make them.

When the sort of moral passion motivating atheism is immature, anthropomorphic, or base, the best response is usually the example of believers who love as they ought: love primarily for real people, and secondarily for all that is obviously true, good, and beautiful. Evaluating motives is rarely helpful in intellectual debate, and sometimes not even helpful in ordinary life. In politics and private life as well as religion, all sides tend to overindulge in Bulverism. The antidote is the sort of rationality that sustains itself by a love for truth that is greater than one's hatred of enemies. That allows for due objectivity about competing arguments. And in the case of atheism, such an intellectual task must take the form of studying and evaluating the arguments strictly on their merits. The new atheists usually don't come out of that looking good. But intellectually respectable atheism can.

As Thomas Aquinas recognized, the two most common objections to theism are (a) the explanatory superfluity of the supernatural, and (b) the problem of evil. Those objections are worth taking seriously on the merits. As I argued over a year ago, however, even they arise from what are, at bottom, moral objections. The best of the atheists are best engaged when theists recognize that and proceed accordingly. At bottom, the debate is about what humans ought to value, and in what configuration. In turn, a debate like that arises from competing claims about what humanity itself is. Ultimately, then, the best way to combat atheism is to act, not just argue, as though God reveals man to man.

Cross-posted at Sacramentum Vitae


The term "American Exceptionalism" always evokes, for me, images of Americans, whether drunken louts at international sporting venues or neoconservative pundits, simultaneously exalting their country while denigrating others, either implying, or stating forthrightly, that other countries should emulate America. I have no taste for such rhetoric because I have no taste for the jingoistic, as I have no taste for the braggart, the bully, and the powerful lording their power over the weak. Hence, I found the Lowry/Ponnuru piece that inspired Paul's four-part response distasteful, and, apart from the specific political and philosophical points that everyone is debating, a manifestation of the political psychology of the right in America, according to which political conservatism is identified with America itself, and never fails but is only failed by fallible men. For this psychological constellation, deviation is a perpetual threat, and so the bearers of deviation must be identified, marked, and stigmatized. Harbour a different interpretation of some epoch of our national history? You might be less an authentic American than the conservative, the bearer of anti-American ideas, whether embryonic or full-blown. This happens so frequently that it is not worth reciting the litany.

I'd posit that this psychology, aside from emotive sources, is rooted in a confusion over what it means to close questions societally, a confusion over what it means to have openness in a society. Every society closes some questions. Every society also permits discussion, deliberation, and dissent within the confines of its orthodoxy. Catholics debate the application of their social doctrine, and we Orthodox would do the same if we admitted that we had one - we do, and it's pretty much like the Catholic one, though some Orthodox will chafe, understandably or not, at the philosophical foundations of the Catholic doctrine. Liberal political philosophers debate all manner of things within the confines of the Rawlsian/post-Rawlsian framework, such as the respective merits of the resources and capabilities approaches to justice. And Americans debate the meaning and applications of the Constitution and other institutions of public life.

The error of so much of the talk about American Exceptionalism, anti-Americanism, and so forth, is that it attempts to circumscribe the boundaries of the foundational orthodoxy too narrowly, thus stifling the discourse. Openness always exists within the context of closure. Both Paul and Lydia are correct, in a sense.

Enough of that, however. The difficulty I have with the disavowals, at NRO, of any affection for J.S. Mill, is that the Open Society is not merely an intellectual construct, and a set of social and political practices based thereon, abjuring and resisting the emergence of any public orthodoxy. The Open Society cannot be reduced to a matter of beliefs and the operationalization in political action. A society may also be adjudged "open" in the relevant sense if it has no set of practices, institutions, arrangements, whether social or economic or religious that is embraces and defends as given, as the preconditions and presuppositions of all social development, and thus, as immune from fundamental alteration, be it instigated from any source. To the extent that American Exceptionalism is equated with a defense of the dynamism of American capitalism, of the relentless gales of creative destruction that sweep away institutions, economic structures, social formations, and even mores, and to the extent that this construct is defended, there will be a defense of the Open Society. In other words, to the extent that social formations and institutions other than those of the economic must orient themselves in, around, and between the forces of dynamism, as they manifestly do in American society, we have an Open Society. The Open Society is not merely a matter of public orthodoxies, or the lack thereof, of our beliefs and the extent to which we debate them; it is also a matter of social organization, of the actual structures and practices of a society. As there are perhaps hidebound Millians who eschew any thoughts of a public orthodoxy, so also are there hidebound defenders of dynamism and economic openness who eschew any thoughts of, say, defending certain economic arrangements insofar as they make possible strong localistic tendencies, family stability and security, and so forth.

One cannot claim to oppose the Open Society and then defend a political economy which first traduces, and then dissolves, every fixity and stability, all in the names of dynamism and efficiency.

"What's Wrong With the World" Centenary Conference

I mean the Kirk Center's conference, not this blog's. See Mere Comments for details.

God, man, and masculinity


On calling God "He." In response to a reader's question, over at my own blog.

May 15, 2010

Oderberg on the mainstream media

Courtesy of MercatorNet.com: Professor David Oderberg’s lecture “Appearance and reality: what Plato can teach journalists and the media,” recently given at a seminar on journalism and ethics at Christ Church, University of Oxford.

May 17, 2010

Draft article now available on miracles and history

For a limited time only (get yours while supplies last) a draft is available on my personal web site of "History and Theism: Epistemology, Miracles, and the God Who Speaks." This article will eventually appear in a forthcoming Routledge Companion to Theism, edited by Charles Taliaferro and Victoria Harrison. The contributors' articles are due by November of this year, but the release date has not been specified, as far as I know.

A representative of Routledge has given me permission to post a copy on my web site only until the volume comes out in print. Then I have to take it down. Moreover, at that point I'm not allowed to distribute electronic copies, and I won't get offprints, either. Just one copy of the entire volume, which isn't helpful for sending copies to inquirers. Also, of course, no JSTOR for articles that appear in books only rather than in journals. The bottom line is that, unless your university library buys a copy of the entire big, fat book, downloading this draft during the next six months to a year is your only opportunity to get this one piece without paying the iniquitous price that Routledge will doubtless charge for the entire anthology. (I'm not in the least implying that mine will be the only good thing in the book. I'm just writing this post for my own readers who therefore might be particularly interested in my own article.)

The article may be somewhat changed between now and its final incarnation if the editors have suggestions. In particular, the main title is required by the volume, and I don't yet know if subtitles will be allowed, so the subtitle may just be gone. (Hint: Google books allows you to search even within new books and see a snippet view of particular pages. So you can find a quotation you want to cite in a full-text version of a draft and then check the quotation and the page number using Google books.)

Enough subversive suggestions for impoverished graduate students and people without access to academic libraries. I will also spare you a full-scale rant about the price of books printed by academic publishers and the virtual entombment of articles published in large, dead-tree anthologies. But please do feel free to download the draft for free while it's up.

You will notice a word count at the end of the text and before the bibliography. That's required for the submission and indicates, gentle readers, that the word limit was fierce. I'm already over by 131 words, which hopefully will be forgiven. As the topic (theism and history!) is, of course, huge, I beg your indulgence for the brevity with which I've written and for all the things I haven't had space to talk about.

May 18, 2010

Exceptionalism series, Part IV

Now this idea of Exceptionalism has been is public circulation for many years, but there has always been something about it at odds with the strong note of humility that pervades the documentary history of American self-government. One might say that the American political tradition is most exceptional where it is least boastful. A spirit of moderation and realism pervades it; and there is little of that grandiosity of expectation that has come to dominate our political discourse, especially on the topic of Exceptionalism.

Continue reading.

Divine simplicity and divine freedom

Over at my own blog, some thoughts inspired by a recent Brian Davies article.

May 19, 2010

Lunatics In Charge

At the website of the National Association of Scholars, an anonymous victim of the educationist racket explains much of what you need to know about why Johnny can't read, write, or calculate (without a calculator). Briefly, it's because teacher's training today is totally controlled by mad folk.

His remarks are "based on a public lecture that the author presented to students interested in issues of campus free speech":

"First, you have to understand that educational policy is consumed by the achievement gap, which is the disparity between groups of students on most educational measures...I don't just mean that this is the number one priority. It's the only priority...Nothing else matters. No Child Left Behind was entirely about the achievement gap and measuring schools to see if they'd closed it. Obama's Race to the Top is just another take...again, focusing on testing and this time holding teachers responsible if they can't get low-performing students to improve."

And, second, you have to understand that, in ed-school, there's only one permissible take on "the achievement gap, its cause and solution" - i.e., "the progressive view...which holds that social injustice, institutionalized racism, white prejudice, and other societal ills cause the achievement gap." Express any doubt on that point - even to the rather timid extent of suggesting, along with those horrid right-wing extremists, the Thernstroms, that differing cultural values may play some role here - and the sociopaths who run the place will do everything in their power to destroy you. Fortunately, in the author's case, they didn't quite succeed (though they did frighten him into anonymity).

So what do our progressive educational overlords really want? They "want to fix the achievement gap by moving underachieving students closer to high-achieving students...who will model desirable behavior..." I.e., for these people, unless your child is an underperforming member of one of the officially approved minorities, they really couldn't care less about what's best for him. So far as they're concerned, his only use is to sit next to the previously mentioned under-achievers in class and to "model desirable behavior" for them. And if, instead, it's the bad habits of the underachievers that end up rubbing off on the better students? No problem. There's more than one way to reduce an achievement gap.

May 21, 2010

Excommunicating Intentions

For approving an abortion at an Arizona hospital late last year, Sr. Margaret McBride has incurred excommunication latae sententiae—meaning that her actions have caused her to excommunicate herself. Or so, at least, her bishop, Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix, has announced. And the bishop’s announcement has ignited something of a firestorm among Catholic commentators.

Read the rest of my piece at First Things' "On the Square."

May 22, 2010

The New "Microinequities" Racket


Thankfully, I retired from corporate America in 2002, and despite my best efforts have not succeeded in returning. Which means that I'm coming late to the party: apparently the "microinequities" trend has been around for a few years, really picking up steam in 2004. Bored, perhaps, with their diversity and sexual harassment workshops, major corporations from Campbell Soup to Wells Fargo have begun to implement "microinequities" training programs.

What are microinequities? Read the Wiki definition here, if you like, which informs us that microinequities can be committed in deceptively innocent-sounding ways, such as the use of sex-specific pronouns, or referring to "black and white thinking". According to one female professorial blogger:

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May 24, 2010

Choice devours itself--Flanders doctors killing the elderly without consent

I suppose this shouldn't really be a surprise, but it's useful to have it documented. In Flanders, where active euthanasia is legal, doctors are killing nearly as many people without their request as with it. The study (based on the doctors' own answers to a questionnaire) found that the people killed without their own request were primarily 80 years old or more and were usually unable to be part of the "decision" because of dementia or coma.

While the authors of the study make some feeble gestures in the direction of wishing to reduce the number of terminations without request, their preferred solution is...ta-dum!--end-of-life planning. In other words, if we can just get the old people to say ahead of time that they want to be killed if they become demented, then when we kill them later, that will be with their consent. Problem solved.

Call me cynical, but I can't help wondering how happy the study authors (or the Flemish doctors) would be if the end-of-life planning with lucid elderly people resulted in unequivocal statements that they did not want to be actively terminated under any circumstances. And, a more chilling question: Would that really result in fewer terminations without consent?

Then there's the matter of drug advice. The study authors found that a number of the doctors who stated that they used drugs with the intention of actively terminating the patient were using opioids, and the study authors are of the opinion that the opioids used may, despite the express intent of killing, have not actually hastened death. (Darn!) And then there's the other problem, that patients may "regain consciousness" and that the procedure may "take longer than expected." They recommend educating doctors better about the nature and action of opioids. It's difficult to read this in any way other than the way that Wesley J. Smith reads it--namely, that doctors should be taught to use quicker, more effective drugs for killing their patients.

It's worth remembering that, under Flemish guidelines, doctors are legally required to have explicit requests in order to kill their patients. Why, then, do we find only such mild concern in the study that finds the reality so different from the theory? And why is the recommended action not prosecution of the doctors for breaking the law but rather increased pressure on patients to make living wills sooner?

I'm afraid the answer to these questions is only too depressingly obvious. The advocates of choice aren't really all that het up about the negation of all choice by direct murder without consent.

Excommunicating Intentions: a meta-comment

I see that my post of last Friday, "Excommunicating Intentions," has generated an unusually large, if not unusually intemperate, combox. My comment on the course of that discussion can be found over at my own blog.

Rifqa Bary suffering from cancer--surgery this Thursday

Jamal Jivanjee has just e-mailed Rifqa's supporters, and Pamela Geller also has an update: Rifqa is suffering from aggressive uterine cancer and will have surgery this Thursday, followed, in all probability, by chemotherapy as soon as she recovers from the surgery.

No further news appears to be available on her immigration status. One might almost infer that her lawyers have given up on their whole strategy of obtaining a juvenile visa for her, as that required a declaration from the state judge which they have so far been unable to obtain.

According to Pamela Geller (no source specified for the story), Rifqa's parents have not only been involved in treatment consultations prior to her own knowledge of her condition, but they were also brought to Rifqa's bedside without her consent and had to be removed when she became agitated. (Yeah, smart move for the patient: She's terrified of her parents, she's now extremely vulnerable because of her health condition. Hey! Let's bring the parents to her bedside without asking her permission! That'll help.)

I only hope that Rifqa sees to it when she turns 18 that someone else--a trusted friend--has her power of attorney for health care. Right now she probably cannot stop the state of Ohio and her own lawyers from giving her parents some measure of authority over her treatment decisions. She is a minor, and such things are in the hands of others. But when she turns 18 it will be a different matter, and she should be advised to choose her own health care decision maker as quickly as possible at that time and to put it in writing.

May 25, 2010

The Metaphysics of The Fly


A philosophical analysis of the David Cronenberg flick, over at my place. Probably not good lunchtime reading.

May 26, 2010

Notes on the continuing crisis

Securities markets have witnessed some extraordinary disorder in recent weeks. Back in early May there was the stomach-churning “flash crash” on the New York Stock Exchange, when some as-yet-unexplained disruption triggered a brief but precipitous collapse in US equities. One stock, over the course of a few minutes, literally zeroed out: technically the company’s equity capital vanished. Even a number of large and stable industrial firms absorbed a hit to their stock that seemed unimaginable. Conjecture on the cause of this shock centers around computerized trading models, which operate on complicated algorithms to execute stocks trades in fractions of seconds.

I’m not sure what the current theory is, but for awhile it was thought that someone blundered into a mistakenly enormous sell-order of Proctor & Gamble stock (billions of shares instead of millions); P&G being an major component of thousands of managed portfolios, its sudden drop in value activated automatic sell-offs in dozens of other stocks; and before anyone could blink, billions upon billions in paper wealth was gone. The SEC and other regulators have subsequently canceled many of these trades, but for a few hours there the extreme fragility of finance capitalism was brought home in a brutal way (again) to every trader around the world.

More worrisome have been the persistent dislocations in Europe. The problems there are deeper and more portentous than any algorithmic disruption. The “periphery” nations of Europe, above all Greece, have touched off a more general flight from sovereign debt assets. In simple terms, investors have become intensely fearful that these heavily indebted countries — Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy, even the UK — will not be able to pay back the capital they have borrowed to fund (a) recent bailouts of their financial sectors and (b) their lavish welfare benefits. Multiple rescues of Greece were announced over the course of the spring, with little lasting effect. Finally, about two weeks ago, European leaders unveiled what has been called the Euro-TARP: a package of rescue loans and other devices weighing in at over a trillion dollars.

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May 28, 2010

Stop the presses: NYT prints hard truths

How this essay got past The New York Times’s censors is an intriguing question, because it’s so chock full of disconcerting wisdom as to leave the average Times reader gaping, gasping and grasping desperately for the reassurance of convention. I’m just going to highlight some gems and make a few comments.

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Not ready for civilization--Muslim medicos to be allowed long sleeves in UK

It's been a while since our last entry in the "not ready for civilization" category. (Here and here are the previous two entries.) Actually, a number of posts could have qualified that have not been labeled as such. (This one and this one come to mind.)

Some readers may remember a flap two years ago in the UK when Muslim nurses objected on the grounds of modesty to being required to bare their arms above the elbow to scrub. UK uniform requirements (used to) include uniforms that do not go past the elbows. At first, Britain's NHS stood firm, citing especially concerns about the spreading of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

But, perhaps predictably, they have now caved--at least in crucial part--to Muslim demands. In fact, it was so predictable that I came close to predicting it, here.

Muslims are to be allowed to wear long sleeves as long as they "roll them securely above the elbows to wash." That'll be a trick. I can't help wondering, though: Since this isn't a complete cave-in (earlier reports stated that female Muslim medics did not want to roll their sleeves up above the elbows even to scrub), will even this scrub requirement be enforced?

According to the new guidelines, after washing their hands and forearms, Muslims are going to be permitted when dealing with patients to cover the forearms back up with unwashed sleeves. For dealing with patients, they are expected to wear disposable over sleeves to maintain hygiene. That's nice. Just cover up the bacteria on your sleeves and we'll hope that'll do it, okay?

Here's a nice bureaucratic statement on the subject:

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'The overall purpose of the guidance, to ensure patient safety by adherence to good hand hygiene [no mention of good forearm hygiene--LM], is not prejudiced by the additional dress options that have now been identified.'

Oh. All right then.

Now can we reconsider Muslim immigration?

(I owe someone a hat tip on this, but since I took so long to get around to posting it, I don't have a note of who that is. My apologies. I'm guessing I found it first at Jihad Watch.)

May 29, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend: Open Thread.



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May 31, 2010

The Christendom Review; Volume 2, Issue 01

The fruit of hard work by our former contributor Bill Luse and his old friend Rick Barnett, and above all our own indispensable webmaster Todd McKimmey, the latest issue of The Christendom Review has appeared.

Bill writes, "We have a variety of poetic voices, good essays by Paul Cella and Lydia McGrew - the former a spellbinding account of the absurdly complicated financial arrangements of recent infamy, invented by very smart people more devoted to their own ingenuity than to the nation's welfare; the latter a very sympathetic and humane appreciation of the novel Gilead - and fiction by Jeff Trippe.

The Visual Arts section features the luminous oil paintings of one America's foremost landscape artists, William Powell.

All made possible by the technical skills of Todd McKimmey."

Bill wrote this number's Letter from the Editor, a fine little piece on the subject of gratitude. I see that he also has a short story in there, which I shall read forthwith.

The Christendom Review can be ordered in print via Lulu Marketplace here. If you're inclined to support this noble venture, several methods are available here.