What’s Wrong with the World

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August 2011 Archives

August 1, 2011

The Case Against Youth Ministry: Exhibit A

I hope Lydia doesn't mind my posting this video so soon on the heels of her excellent "ladies and gentlemen" post, but it pertains tangentially to the whole "smokin' hot" wives phenomenon, and will provide (I hope) a much needed levity break. The video is hilarious only because of our impotence in the face of a real catastrophe. And, yes, it's supposed to be a parody. Unfortunately the parody is far from obvious to anyone who has been exposed to contemporary "youth ministry".

Suffice it to say that even the church is running out of grown-ups.

Continue reading "The Case Against Youth Ministry: Exhibit A" »

Revolution and unthinkable thoughts

Should a discussion of political legitimacy be taboo? For the people of Christendom, in most times and places, I believe the answer is "yes". In a normal, settled, non-revolutionary society any discussion of this sort would be strictly limited to a small and responsible circle of scholars. To the extent that the "man on the street" dared to engage such a topic, he would rightly be considered dangerous, if not suspected of treason.

But what about Americans in 2011? Should the topic be off limits? There is, indeed, something unseemly and dangerous about it. Consider a happily married couple who make a habit of discussing, from time to time, all the various circumstances that might constitute legitimate grounds for divorce, annulment, or marital separation. They are only talking about the possibilities, you see: they have no intention of actually doing any of these things. But let me tell you a little secret: something about the conversation itself makes these possibilities more real than they were before. It's best for married people never to "go there", never to let the idea of divorce, annulment or separation enter their minds. It's a matter of training and disciplining the mind. The same restraint applies to many other things: e.g., those of us who are not involved in making legal distinctions should avoid even thinking about the finer nuances of where legitimate art ends and pornography begins. The exercise itself is dangerous; it lifts the veil. We know what the good is, so let us meditate on the good and nothing else.

So it is also with discussions of political legitimacy. To have this conversation at all is to put revolution "on the table".

Unfortunately, we Americans are in a bit of a pickle. Our own government - itself the product of a rebellion that it publicly celebrates - long ago opened the question about its own legitimacy and boldly invited the argument. Our government's legitimacy is solidified, not threatened, by a revolutionary spirit in the people. The day our government regards itself as having any legitimacy of its own is the day it ceases to be legitimate in the eyes of most Americans. Russell Kirk argued persuasively that the American revolution was not a revolution at all, but "a revolution prevented", or even a counter-revolution. While that may have been the prevailing sentiment in 1776, today the popular mind understands our nation's "founding principles" in purely revolutionary terms. The language and thought of revolution is simply the air we breathe: for this reason the better minds and hearts among us have, in my opinion, something of a responsibility to face the topic (and its many corollaries) head-on.

Still, most of us have no business attending every argument we're invited to. For the sake of peace and order, and barring particularly egregious circumstances (the determination of which forms the true heart of this controversy), every man should assume the legitimacy of his own government. That is, in fact, the actual praxis of the Catholic Church, which has such a preference for peace that it prefers to err on the side of legitimizing usurpers, even handing a crown to Napoleon himself. Which reminds me: I believe that someday, perhaps in the not too distant future, the question of political legitimacy will be made easier than any of us dreamed possible. In the meantime let us fight with all we have to make those "egregious circumstances" unthinkable.

August 3, 2011

Flying pig moment: The 9th Circuit gets something right

Break out the flying pig graphic! Hard as it may be to believe, the 9th Circuit Court has actually made a ruling at least partially favorable to pro-lifers seeking to engage in sidewalk counseling in the city of Oakland.

In a fascinating ruling full of many twists, turns, and side discussions, the court rules that Oakland's fully admitted policy of enforcing a bubble zone ordinance against pro-lifers but not against pro-abortion clinic "escorts" is unconstitutional. The ordinance itself is facially content neutral, and hence, according to the Supreme Court Hill precedent which declared bubble zones constitutional, is constitutional.

The ordinance itself says that without being invited, you may not approach someone seeking to enter an abortion clinic within the bubble zone for purposes of counseling or educating that person, giving that person a pamphlet, etc. This apparently applies to everyone. In fact, interestingly, an earlier version of the ordinance was not content neutral and hence was facially unconstitutional, because it applied only to people seeking to dissuade women from obtaining services at an abortion clinic. Even though the facially neutral ordinance is the one now on the books, the city of Oakland freely admits that it is enforcing the law only against pro-lifers. The pro-life activist who is suing claims (understandably enough) that the "escorts" (who can approach the women immediately and within the bubble zone) are making it impossible for him, from outside the bubble zone, to convey his message to women trying to enter the clinics.

The 9th Circuit has instructed the District Court to tell the city that it must enforce the ordinance even-handedly and has encouraged the District Court, if it believes that the city will not do so, to enjoin the ordinance altogether.

This is an important ruling, because the Supreme Court has never addressed the issue of one-sided enforcement and clinic "escorts." I cannot help wondering in how many other cities such ordinances are similarly enforced. If these "escorts" also had to follow the same bubble zone rules as pro-lifers, it could be a game-changer. This is one to watch.

HT: Secondhand Smoke

August 4, 2011

Just Like Euro Solvency Crisis Blues; or, Stuck Inside of Toyko with the Zurich Blues Again


Well, friends, here is an arresting question: what is the focus of the sophisticated world as the summer begins to draw toward its close (here in the South, of course, the end of summer is at least eight weeks away, but nevermind that)?

Why — financial crisis, of course! What else could it be?

Leave aside the three week pastiche of a debate on US public finances. The liberals could have succeeded in preventing that from ever happening, and still ears attuned to finance capitalism would be ringing with portents and alarums.

Did you notice the drastic revision of Q1 US GDP? Ouch.

Did you notice the upward revisions in virtually every official measure of the Great Recession’s damage inflicted, such that we now know that even by official statistical conjecture we have not yet regained our output and standard of living of late 2007? That’s four straight years of decline or stagnation.

Or what about the horrid manufacturing numbers, which sector had for some time previous suggested the possible lineaments of a recovery?

And indeed, there remains the menace and shadow of the Old World, the slow-burn of European dissolution. Their banks, their shadow banks, their funds, their sovereigns — stark and staring before them stands the shocking specter of insolvency.

Central banks, meanwhile, careen toward impotence. The Federal Reserve could probably successfully connive at pulling the kind of staggering imposture some Leftists have of late recommended: coin seigniorage. But this they mean (I’m not kidding) a project to simply instruct the US Mint to mint a handful of, say, a $500,000,000,000 coins, put those suckers on deposit with the New York Fed, and walk away enough cash to balance the budget.

Does that idea shock you? Well, I have another shock for you: the deflationary forces of the global economy are so severe right now that even a move as stupendous as this “seigniorage” scheme would not introduce measurable inflation. At least not immediately. Why? Because so much money is being pulled out of the active economy of finance capitalism, by frightened investors and savers, that central banks can barely keep up.

Look at the poor pitiful Japanese and Swiss central banks, desperately flailing around in an effort to arrest the appreciation of their currencies, if you require a demonstration of the impotence of policymakers.

Well all of this is rather striking and even stupefying. I am reminded of my strong suspicions of confident prognosticators. No one knows what in tarnation is coming next. We may be at the crisis that finally ruins America; or we may be at the crisis that finally forces repentance and rebirth. I for one, still loving and cherishing America despite her sudden penury and incapacity, pray for the latter.

But the whole thing is vaguely reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s zany lyrical concoctions, ineffably American tales of capricious madness and irrepressibly erratic squalor. The fall of this plutocracy will be many things, but boring is not one of them.

August 5, 2011

GUEST ESSAY: Enlarging the Home for Evil

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WORLD is proud to present this essay by Kenneth W. Bickford, Looisiana developer and Director at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. Ken is also a personal friend of the Editor, who has importunately harassed him for copy ever since they attended a Cajun tailgate before the LSU football game at the Georgia Dome last September.


No guest is more unwelcome in the modern mind than fathomless evil.

On the occasions when the effects around us cannot be immediately linked to a cause—as in, for instance, when we see a magic trick, or when we discover an unexpected genus or phylum of plant, or, when we contemplate what came before the big bang—our mind accommodates those effects by classifying them as, in this case, entertainment, scientific or metaphysical puzzles.

To the ancient or primitive mind, mystery was a natural part of human existence—one with which one could comfortably coexist. To the modern mind, puzzles are nothing more than embarrassing speed bumps which give the temporary appearance of effect without a cause—even when that cause stands, transcendently, outside of our space and time dimensions.

For practitioners of the modern faith, then, every pit must have a bottom.

Which makes the hole left by the handsome, intelligent Anders Breivik, so discomfiting, for the pit he dug is bottomless and there isn’t enough memory, reason or imagination in the world to fill it with an explanation.

Continue reading "GUEST ESSAY: Enlarging the Home for Evil" »

August 7, 2011

Sunday Thought: Worshiping the Mystery of the Mystery of Life

I visit Fred Reed now and then because he usually makes me smile when he's not drawing foolish moral and intellectual equivalencies (see his essay on patriotism). I opened up his recent piece on evolution because the truth that Darwinism deadens everything cannot be repeated often enough. In fact, I was smiling even before I started reading, until I ran into another of those equivalencies:

This agglomeration of everything under one theoretical roof appeals powerfully to minds that need an overarching explanation of everything. The great intellectual divide perhaps is not between those who believe one thing and those who believe another, but between those who need to believe something - I am tempted to say believe almost anything - and those who are comfortable with uncertainty and even the unknowable. Adherents of Christianity, atheism, scientism (as distinct from science) and classical evolutionism fall into the first category; the agnostic of every sort, into the second. Unshakable belief seems to alleviate unease with the unfathomed, the anxiety that naturally comes of not knowing where we came from, or why, or whither.

Continue reading "Sunday Thought: Worshiping the Mystery of the Mystery of Life" »

August 10, 2011

Heartlessness Chic: The new push for murdering the elderly

Well, that didn't take long. Readers will remember my post on David Brooks's terminally clueless insinuation that we need to do something (he didn't seem sure quite what) to engineer the quicker disappearance of all those parasites, um, I mean, people with Alzheimer's disease who are costing so much money by not dying faster (darn it!).

Now, in a piece that has some things in common with Brooks's, we have a clearer answer: Kill them.

In an article filled with disturbing bigotry bizarrely melded with eco-wacko nature worship, April Bogle, director of public relations for Emory University's Center for the Study of Law and Religion (!), tells us why the rainforest makes her heart so much happier than a nursing home. The rainforest smells nice, and the nursing home doesn't. (She just got back from visiting the rainforest on her summer vacation.) The rainforest has pretty sounds of bird song, and the nursing home doesn't. The rainforest is, she rhapsodizes, "a highly complex system of interconnectedness and interdependency that functions perfectly..." And all of this loveliness is possible because, in the rain forest, nobody old and smelly and dying is allowed to live. Instead, everything dies if it can't manage to survive on its own, and most things are eaten, by, she informs us, four different kinds of vultures. Takin' out the trash, y'see.

Like Brooks, Bogle stops and informs us that of course she isn't suggesting that we send our elderly out into the forest to die and be eaten. No, no, nothing quite so brutal. Instead, she advocates an "enhanced advance directive." The "enhancement" apparently refers to the inclusion of what Bogle slyly calls "assisted suicide." Only this so-called "suicide" would be inflicted upon people who are "past the point of no return" mentally. In other words, it wouldn't be suicide at all. It would be euthanasia, carried out upon the mentally incompetent on the basis of something signed before, possibly long before, something that said, "Kill me later."

Continue reading "Heartlessness Chic: The new push for murdering the elderly" »

August 11, 2011

On England's anarchy

My horrified and probably not very enlightening thoughts on the recent/current wave of anarchy in England are here. Please direct comments to Extra Thoughts.

August 12, 2011

Things you never knew you missed

Turning a corner in town earlier this week, I saw a man in a long gray robe, with a sash and a hood, and a string of beads in his hand, crossing the street while headed north on Old Highway 99. It was hard to tell, but I think his haircut was short, almost bald - definitely monkish. An hour later, I drove up the same highway and kept an eye out for him, but he was nowhere in sight.

What are the options? I asked myself. He could be a real, genuine monastic from far away, on a pilgrimage of penance. (You never know.) He could belong to a new religious order in town. (Fat chance, that.) He could be an imposter, one of an endless variety of religious nuts. (Most likely, this being California.) There is a Trappist monastery some 45 miles from here, and they make excellent wine, but they're cloistered monks who don't get out much, and their habits look different.

In any case, the sight of him got me thinking. I've never, ever before seen anyone wearing a religious habit in this town, but I have seen old photographs. There were, apparently, nuns here at one time, the kind with the wide pointy hats worn by Saint Catherine Laboure's Sisters of Charity. There have been very infrequent nun-sightings in nearby Chico, but the nuns who once taught at the Catholic school in that city, and who made their residence downtown, have long since departed, never to be replaced.

Increasingly, for me, the absence of men and women of religion is keenly felt. I don't understand laying in a hospital bed without a crucifix on the wall, without a statue of the Holy Virgin on the shelf, without those angels of mercy called "sisters" walking the halls, without a priest checking in from time to time. Today, the most fortunate of hospital patients and nursing home residents might be blessed, instead, with a devout Vietnamese or Filipino nurse, with a compassionate smile and a medallion on her neck - also an angel of mercy but an angel who must operate by stealth.

Well, it's late, and I won't get into the whole story of the decline of religious life since the Second Vatican Council, nor will I bemoan the tendency of those few remaining nuns to go without habits, or bewail the many priests who go about without collars, etc., depriving the rest of us of symbols of a life consecrated to God. I will just note that a society in which the sight of cassocked priests and consecrated religious is simply normal, and not the least bit suspicious, is among those things I never knew, and never knew I missed.

“We order, therefore, that every priest shall wear the Roman collar not only when he exercises the sacred ministry, but at all times, so that he may be known by all to be a priest. We decree also that the usage of Rome be observed by all ecclesiastics – that is, of not wearing the hair either on the cheeks or as a beard.

And if any priest shall wear the clerical dress so changed – save in the rarest case to be approved by the Ordinary – that he cannot be known by all to be a priest belonging to the clergy of this Province, or so as to fall under the suspicion of the faithful or notoriously give them scandal, let them not be admitted to say Mass, nor in assisting at the divine offices, into the sanctuary.

Our forefathers, assembled in the Council of London in the year 1248, declared that to put off the clerical dress is a very grave and wanton abuse, by which God is said to be mocked, the honour of the Church obscured, the dignity of the clerical order degraded; Christ, when His soldiers wear other uniforms, is deserted; the honour and dignity of the Church is stained when the beholder cannot distinguish a cleric from a laic at a glance, and so the priest becomes a scandal and despised by all who are truly faithful.”

- Council of Trent

August 13, 2011

Lewis on Germany

Why is Europe such a basket-case? A nettlesome, complicated and important question, that. Part of the answer lies in that which the EU was designed to transcend: the national character of the individual European states. Greek profligacy, Irish impulsiveness, Spanish intemperance, Italian corruption — the old clichés return.

In this fascinating essay (warning: some rough language), Michael Lewis examines the peculiar character of Germany in light of the slow-motion dissolution of the European project purposed toward the integration of Germany’s mercantile economy with the consumptive European periphery. Ironies and telling anecdotes abound in the article. Well worth a read.

A different judicial ruling

A couple of weeks ago I highlighted a good judicial ruling. This week I'm reporting on a bad one, though I believe they happened at about the same time.

That was an opinion on an actual case. This is a ruling to let a case go to trial for defamation. The facts are these: In 2010, Steve Driehaus was running for re-election to Congress. The Susan B. Anthony List ran ads against him in which they argued that he supported federal funding for abortions because he had voted for Obamacare. He lost his re-election bid and has now sued the SBAL for defamation.

Federal Judge Timothy Black, an Obama appointee, had the option of throwing out the case. Instead, he let it go to trial.

Let me make clear the seriousness of this: Normally, political speech on controverted questions relevant to policy is taken to be obviously outside the pale of defamation civil suits. It is supposed to be, in our system, important that such speech be afforded the clearest legal protections and that juries not be called upon to settle hot-button contemporary questions as part of settling defamation claims. A defamation claim is very strong and requires not only that the statement made be false but also that it be known (by the person making it) to be false or made in reckless disregard of the truth--this is called the "malice" criterion. As a lawyer friend has put it:

[The judge] clearly comprehended the position that SBA was taking, which is that funding plans that do not prevent abortion coverage inevitably end up covering abortions, since money is fungible. That was the position taken contemporaneously by numerous pro-life organizations. So the judge, knowing the position and knowing the claim, cursorily dismisses it, even though there is no evidence at all that the claim was knowingly false or in reckless disregard of the truth and considerable evidence to the contrary. This is squarely in First Amendment protections, and the whole point of having them is to prevent these matters from going to trial so that political speech is not chilled.

He continues:

There is no evidence that [SBAL] did not, at the time, believe the explanation. Likewise, reckless disregard would require that no reasonable person would have believed the explanation. In short, any objectively reasonable explanation that someone could believe is supposed to suffice to get the case kicked when the subject is a public figure. The only exception would be if there was some evidence of intent to the contrary, but there was none in this case that SBA did not believe the explanation they offered.

This was railroading, plain and simple.

Exactly. There were arguments all over the Internet, all over the country, probably internationally, over whether it is true or false that Obamacare will fund abortions. The legal details were hashed over and argued over ad infinitum. To say that it was impossible for a political organization to take a good faith position that Obamacare would fund abortion, and hence to allow a defamation lawsuit (a defamation lawsuit!) based on such a claim to go to a civil jury trial, is nearly incredible and could have wide-ranging ramifications for freedom of political speech.

What is next? If some group says that Barack Obama is not a Christian, will this religious judgment also be subject to a defamation lawsuit? If a politician votes for funding the UNFPA and is defeated after a political group runs ads saying that he supported funding for forced abortions in China, will this also be taken to be fair game for a defamation lawsuit, because the judge reads some UNFPA documents and finds no record of explicit support for forced abortions?

This is legal incompetence bordering on (and probably amounting to) partisan malice. I would be interested to know what recourse SBAL (or any other political organization) has in such a case, when a case is sent to trial which never should have been. Remember: The trial itself, the fact that the trial is allowed, is chilling to controversial political speech. Later groups in Judge Black's jurisdiction will understandably worry that this judge will take sides on political issues and consider political speech he disagrees with to be at least try-able as malicious falsehood. The process is the punishment, whatever the jury decides.

I can't say I'm terribly surprised. Obama is known for selecting judges to the left of the liberal judges we already had. I just hope it doesn't start a trend of left-wing defamation lawsuits before incompetent left-wing judges.

August 17, 2011

W4 Exclusive: Quo vadis, oh Christian college?

Well-known Christian author Nancy Pearcey recently published this article. In the first paragraphs, she says,

A collegiate website advises young women how to have a “happy hook-up.” Get “clear consent and mutual agreement to engage in sexual acts,” the article recommends. Then “the whole hookup experience will be more positive for everyone involved.”

Glancing at the author’s bio, I was surprised to learn that she is a student at a conservative Christian college.

When even Christian young people are buying into the hook-up culture, it’s clear that traditional ways of teaching biblical morality are no longer effective. Young people don’t only need rules; they need reasons. They need to learn the worldview rationale that makes sense of biblical morality.

On her Facebook page, Pearcey drew special attention to this opening portion of her article. I immediately asked what "conservative Christian college" this was, but Pearcey apparently preferred not to say. (I strongly urged that she should inform the administration, as she apparently has spoken at the college and has connections with it, but I do not know if she did so.) A little googling by a helper turned up the article to which Nancy refers and the name of the student. (Well, a name of the student. More on that below.) The article Nancy mentions on having a "happy hookup" is here (at least right now; as you'll see, they sometime disappear), at a secular "collegiette" site called Her Campus, and the student author calls herself Ally Karsyn. The article is part of a four-part series; the series accepts the hook-up culture as a given and is mainly directed at advising women not to seduce men while the men are drunk or in other ways not really consenting. (One might well infer from her article discussed below, however, that it's just fine for women to seduce men who are sober and consenting.) As you can see, Karsyn's profile at Her Campus now says that she is a senior at a "small Iowa college." But on the screen capture I have of the page as it was visible as of August 6, her profile was rather different. It read:

Ally Karsyn is a senior at Dordt College pursuing an individual studies major and a journalism minor, graduating December 2011....Ally is the web editor of her college's student newspaper, the Diamond, in addition to being a regular staff writer/columnist. Her column is called "My Feminist Label," in which she writes about women's issues relating to pop culture and social trends.

To spare you the suspense (this post will get a bit long, and you'll hear more of the story later), "Ally Karsyn's" other name is Alyssa Hoogendoorn, and Alyssa Hoogendoorn is indeed a student at Dordt college. Here is the results page at Dordt for Alyssa Hoogendoorn. Here (Facebook member status seems to be required for access to the profile) is Karsyn/Hoogendoorn's Facebook profile, giving both names, the Dordt connection, and a number of profile pictures that are clearly of the same person whose picture appears next to Ally Karsyn's articles. Here is her Google+ profile, giving both names and the connection to Dordt College. Here is her LinkedIn profile, which does not give the Hoogendoorn name but does give extensive details of her past and present connections with Dordt college. These include (the resume says) present work for the Dordt College public relations department (!).

Karsyn is, according to her LinkedIn profile, the web editor and a columnist with the Dordt College student paper, the Dordt Diamond. LinkedIn says that she "maintain[s] social networking on Facebook" for the Diamond, which it seems safe to infer means that she is, or has been until very recently, a page administrator of the Diamond's Facebook page. More about the Diamond's Facebook page, below.

Nor is the name Ally Karsyn unknown at Dordt. Here are just two of the articles available on-line which she wrote for the Dordt Diamond under that name for her column with the newspaper, "My Feminist Label." (That column name is also given in the Her Campus profile.) Karsyn's picture appears next to the articles for the Diamond; it is the same picture that appears next to the Her Campus articles.

Needless to say, Karsyn's articles for Dordt's own college newspaper are considerably more tame than those for Her Campus, though they still might make one wonder and might at any time have sent someone to do a bit of further googling for other writings by the same author. For example, her article on the royal wedding said that her boyfriend is "amazing" because he "doesn't make [her] want to vomit" when she thinks of marriage. Her article on funding for Planned Parenthood shows an inclination to sympathy for Planned Parenthood. And in this piece she seemed to think it important to tell the Dordt community, with a feminist spin, about a new birth control gel that is presently only in clinical trials.

But there is a good deal more to the story.

Continue reading "W4 Exclusive: Quo vadis, oh Christian college?" »

August 18, 2011

Florence and Rome


I am slowly recovering from my Summer vacation: a week in Florence followed by two weeks in Rome, plus day trips to Pisa, Siena, Tarquinia, Tivoli, and Naples, all on my own, with no help from professional tour operators.

I now consider myself something of an expert on getting around via Trenitalia, on exchanging dollars for euros at decent rates, on minimizing museum and local transportation costs through judicious use of the Firenze, Roma & Campania Arte cards, on eating decently but cheaply, and, in general, on many of the practical problems that arise when travelling in Italy. In fact, I'm overflowing with up-to-the-minute travellers' advice on this fascinating but frustrating, beautiful but ugly, friendly but forbidding country.

If you've already been there, good on you. If you haven't been but you're thinking about it - let's talk. Leave a comment, or e-mail me.

If you haven't been but you *aren't* thinking about it - well, then, you should be. Italy is surely the greatest treasure trove of the remains of Western Culture in existence. See it while you still can.

On a More Serious Note

You can't walk more than a few feet in Rome without running into another church - each more beautifully decorated than the last. But there is nothing the least bit "spiritual" about the effect. On the contrary: the overwhelming impression with which a guy like me comes away is that here, in Rome, the gospel's message of other-worldly austerity was quickly forgotten, and absorbed into a sort of neo-pagan competition for status among the great wealthy and powerful families: the Borgia, the Medici, the Barberini, the Farnese, the Pamphilj, and so on and so forth.

"Faith" has here become merely a vehicle for worldly display. All the symbols of humility and piety are grossly abused, in pursuit of...well, what, exactly?

There was one point where I almost got angry: in the magnificent Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where a colossal statue of Pius IX kneels before a reliquary said to contain a fragment of the manger...

Why, I asked myself, is this statue of Pius IX *colossal?*

Giving the city its due


There are many reasons to take up residence in the countryside. Though I grew up on a small farm, I moved to the big city after high school and remained there for 20 years. I always wanted to return to rural surroundings, and the final push was occasioned by a billboard that went up downtown, just a few blocks from work, advertising an "adult" telephone service for an unfortunate demographic of men who have given themselves over to a ghastly perversion. Now then, how was I supposed to explain this to my young, homeschooled children who were keen on interpreting images and who could read every word? We moved as quickly as possible to what is arguably the most conservative rural county in the entire state (competing with Modoc for the honor, to be fair) - not far from that little farm where I grew up.

Despite the negative motivation in my case, there is much to love about rural and small-town life. At present the only sounds outside my door are chickens, a slight breeze, and the engine noise of a far-away piece of farm machinery. Two Sundays ago, the boys and I spent a couple of hours before church shooting clay pigeons in the pasture out back. The children practice their music outside and the neighbors don't complain. Last night I took a walk with the children up and down the length of our short country road without being passed by a single automobile. I discovered that there is a remote tree on the property I had never touched, but the children informed me that once they had touched it, because they made a pilgrimage to the great shrine of Fatima, and the tree was the shrine!

And yet, Plato's words convict: "Who lives outside the city is either a beast or a god."

We escape his condemnation only because so much of our lives are connected to the city one way or another. This is true of virtually all rural-dwellers today. The country needs the city quite as much as the city needs the country. He who would champion agrarian life must also champion the city. And vice versa. There's no getting around it. My own admitted anti-urban prejudice is not due to the fact that cities exist, but that cities are not (in my opinion) what they should be. That means that I have a vision of what a city ought to be, and so do you, and so should we all.

With that, I encourage you to spend a few minutes of your leisure reading "The Soul and the City: The House of our Realities", a penetrating essay by Dr. Wilfred McClay that is well worth your time and thought. The best introduction is found midway through:

"The very idea of conservatism itself, far from being intrinsically anti-urban, has in the West always been inextricably bound up in the history and experience of a particular succession of great cities. When Russell Kirk wrote his celebrated book on The Roots of American Order, he could have chosen to present that history strictly in terms of unfolding structures of ideas. But instead, he built it around the central cities of the history of the West: Athens, Jerusalem, Rome, London, and Philadelphia. Each city was taken to exemplify a foundational stage in the development of American liberty and American order. This was not merely a literary conceit, like a metonym. The clear message was that such developments could only occur in cities. The very civilization that conservatives wish to conserve is rooted in such cities. It is no accident that the Book of Revelation aims at the creation of the New Jerusalem, not the New Tara Plantation or the New Mayberry. We should think about why this is so."

August 20, 2011

Youtube pulling Acts 17 Dearborn videos

I just learned that Youtube is starting to pull down videos by Acts 17 ministries. Those are the guys (and girl) who were involved in the Dearborn silencing attempts in 2009 and 2010. Here is one of my posts on the Dearborn incidents from last year.

Here is David Wood's post on this, including embeds of two videos from a mirror account.

My guess is that Muslims started a flagging blitz against Act 17's videos, though why just now is something of a mystery.

Incredibly, David says that he didn't save copies of all his videos. I find this rather difficult to believe, and of course he and the lawyers from Thomas More Center must have the raw footage from last summer, but in any event, in case the rest of his account comes down, it would seem that some of the most important videos to capture would be these:

Continue reading "Youtube pulling Acts 17 Dearborn videos" »

August 21, 2011

The legalities of the persecution of Jerry Buell

Award-winning Florida teacher Jerry Buell has been pulled out of the classroom and is in danger of losing his job after he made negative comments about homosexuality and homosexual pseudo-marriage on his Facebook page.

So far, a fair bit of the discussion on this topic (e.g., in this thread at VFR and in the original news story) has centered on whether his comments on Facebook should be regarded as "public" or "private" and whether the size of his Facebook "friend" list makes a difference to this judgement.

But Buell's lawyers are apparently making a First Amendment case. Although I haven't read any legal analysis by his lawyers, I would assume from their references to the First Amendment that their argument turns on the fact that Buell is a public school teacher and hence that his employer is a state entity and may not penalize him for using his freedom of speech. If this is the argument, why would it matter whether the comments were made in public or in private? No one believes that the First Amendment applies only to private speech! Far from it.

The only way that I can think of that his making these comments on his personal Facebook page would be relevant would be in showing that he was speaking for himself only and not as a representative of the school. But that could easily be obvious even in fully public contexts. For example, a professor or teacher who writes at a personal blog can be presumed to be making statements that represent only his own views rather than those of his employers. Some take the trouble to state that expressly, but in any event, the question still does not depend on whether the statements were uttered "in private" nor on the size of the possible or intended audience.

Is there some additional layer of First Amendment protection, perhaps based on a precedent I'm unaware of, that depends crucially on a judgment that Buell's comments were "made in private"?

And what the deuce is this Miami lawyer Leto talking about in the story when he says that the teacher was "on the cusp" if his students were his Facebook friends. Really? If you're a public school teacher, the First Amendment doesn't apply to anything you say anywhere that your students might read? That's a new one. Moreover, Leto says that a teacher's comments must not be "racist, hateful, or malicious"? Why? Is it now illegal to make public comments that others deem "hateful" or "racist"? Since when do we have hate speech laws in America?

By the way, note this chilling bit from the school administrator, Chris Patton (emphasis added):

“Just because you think it’s private, other people are viewing it,” Patton said, noting that the teacher’s Facebook page also contained numerous Bible passages.

Wow, yeah: Buell's page contains numerous Bible passages. Now that's scary. It seems to me that this public comment from Patton alone should be carefully collected, especially if they can get Patton's exact words, in preparation for a religious discrimination lawsuit if Buell loses his job.

August 22, 2011

There's Life in the Old Girl Yet - I

While in Italy, I had little time to keep up with the recent unpleasantness in England. But now that I'm home, I've had time to do some catching up, and was delighted to come across this wonderful diatribe by Peter Hitchens, who has been warning for years where the British welfare state was leading and here allows himself a well-deserved "I told you so":

"Bitter laughter is my main response to the events of the past week. You are surprised by what has happened? Why? I have been saying for years that it was coming, and why it was coming, and what could be done to stop it.

"I have said it in books, in articles, over lunch and dinner tables with politicians whose lips curled with lofty contempt.

*So yes, I am deeply sorry for the innocent and gentle people who have lost lives, homes, businesses and security. Heaven knows I have argued for years for the measures that might have saved them.

"But I am not really very sorry for the elite liberal Londoners who have suddenly discovered what millions of others have lived with for decades. The mass criminality in the big cities is merely a speeded-up and concentrated version of life on most large estates - fear, intimidation, cruelty, injustice, savagery towards the vulnerable and the different, a cold sneer turned towards any plea for pity, the awful realisation that when you call for help from the authorities, none will come.

"Just look and see how many shops are protected with steel shutters, how many homes have bars on their windows. This is not new.

"As the polluted flood (it is not a tide; it will not go back down again) of spite, greed and violence washes on to their very doorsteps, well-off and influential Left-wingers at last meet the filthy thing they have created, and which they ignored when it did not affect them personally..."

* * * * *

Advocates of "socialism with a Christian face" should take special note of what Peter Hitchens has been saying, these many years, in all those books and articles he mentions.

There's Life in the Old Girl Yet - II

There's another commenter on the English rioting who, if possible, has distinguished himself even more than Peter Hitchens: i.e., the well-known historian of the Tudor Period, David Starkey.

In the immediate aftermath, he pointed out the role played in that rioting by the spread of gangster culture from blacks to whites, in England's underclass.

Needless to say, he was immediately vilified by all of The Powers That Be, who unanimously wished him to an early and silent grave.

But, instead of backing down, like those egregious pantywaists Lawrence Summers and James Watson, he came out swinging, in an essay which I will not quote, because it simply has to be read in full, here.

August 23, 2011

Court Decision Denigrates Marriage - Or Does it?

In my professional work I came across this odd little court decision. The circumstances behind the case are a caution to those who don't believe in the concept of "unintended consequences". Basically, recent pension reform (well, a 2006 law which is finally being implemented fully now) requires that a plan that is woefully underfunded shall be no longer allowed to pay out benefits in a form that are "accelerated", such as a single lump sum of the present value of the future lifetime obligation. That's a reasonable rule - it means that a plan that might not be able to meet all of its obligations right now will have more time to recover and, maybe, will be able to get back to full funding. There has also been in place, for a long time, a pension law which provides that if an employee is married, the benefit he is accruing is really a benefit for him and his spouse, so the benefit is automatically payable as a "joint and survivor" benefit: payable upon retirement to both spouses and then at the first death payable to the survivor. (They can elect to receive only a single life pension instead - in a higher amount - only with the signature of both spouses). In the circumstances of a divorce, the non-employee ex-spouse has a right to some pension benefits, but she (typically the non-employee spouse is the wife, so I will phrase it that way even though it applies equally well to a reverse situation) doesn't want to leave the timing of when she gets that benefit to depend on her employee husband's decision to retire and start payments, or to delay that. So the law allows the plan to provide, if specified under the qualified divorce arrangement (a QDRO, Qualified Domestic Relations Order), that the wife can get her benefits out now in full, so it is no longer tied to her rat of an ex-husband.

Now enter in the Continental pilots, who are on the look out for good ol' numero uno. The plan sends them a (required) notice saying funding level is below the threshold, they will have to curtail lump sum payments. What do they do? They divorce their wives, and set up QDROs that assign their entire pension rights to the ex-wives, and that provide the ex-wives are to be paid their retirement benefit immediately, in full. The ex-wives gets the money and roll it into their IRAs so no taxes are due. Then the couples re-marry !!!

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August 25, 2011

The necessity of coalition politics

(a) The danger to a political cause when one or more of its factions begin to dogmatize to the point of excommunication is especially evident in minority status. A cause that, whatever its merits, can only gain the assent of a minority of the rulers or voters will be an increasingly failed cause to the extent that it indulges the impulse of internal purgation.

(b) Some matters are of such high moral importance that one is obliged to dogmatize, even unto the point of excommunication.

The tension between these two statements lies at the heart of one of the ancient and ineradicable problems of political society. It may said to be almost coexistensive with political society under self-governing forms. It recapitulates the problem of human freedom.

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August 27, 2011

Weekend philosophy of religion fun: An indifferent creator?

Okay, Phil. of Rel. buffs, here's one for you to discuss. You can also lessen my ignorance of the literature (I'm often ignorant of the literature) on this topic.

I've been thinking a bit lately about the Inductive Problem of Evil, and what I've decided is that the biggest challenge to theism via the Inductive Problem of Evil is not atheism but rather Indifferent Creator-ism or even Evil Creator-ism. The latter two get you past the argument from consciousness (right?). If we can have a self-existent evil being, or even a self-existent indifferent being, capable of creating creatures that are capable of suffering, then we might expect that we would all be here beating up on each other, committing evil acts, and what-not, and having animal suffering, but with no hope of heaven later and also with no expectation that the being would ever intervene here on earth to mitigate the evil in individual cases.

Let's even suppose that a good metaphysical argument can be made that a completely evil self-existent Creator is literally an impossibility. Is an indifferent Creator? (As opposed to a benevolent Creator.)

The Thomists, I'm quite sure, will say that, yes, an indifferent god--a self-existent being who can be the ultimate explanation for consciousness but who is not good--is a metaphysical impossibility. Presumably they will say this because of the unity of the divine attributes, which, on the Thomist view (if I understand it correctly) make it literally impossible to have a being who is self-existence or (say) omnipotent but not also omnibenevolent.

Are there other arguments, perhaps less metaphysically abstract, to the same effect? Can we argue that a self-existent being capable of creating and interested in creating but indifferent to the suffering of his creations is improbable?

And then there's the moral argument: If the only self-existent Creator there is is morally indifferent, do the concepts of "good" and "evil" have a meaning at all? And if they don't, perhaps the problem of evil (especially of moral evil) disappears anyway.

Readers, what do you think? And where has this been addressed?

August 30, 2011

Pay no attention to that totalitarian behind the curtain

The left continually tries to reassure us that its demands are reasonable and that those who are alarmed about them are Chicken Littles.

One wonders after a while why anyone on the right or even in the center believes them anymore. The bait and switch is so transparent. Why do they even bother?

In Canada and the EU, this bait and switch has more than once taken the form of phony religious exemptions from morally questionable laws. Even on their face such exemptions aren't really very comforting, because even if they were what they pretended to be, they wouldn't apply to moral traditionalists who have objections that are not specifically based on religion. And such exceptions are not even thought to apply to individual religious businessmen, only to expressly religious organizations.

But it's really worse than that, as we now begin to see here in the U.S. Herewith, two examples of phony religious exemptions even for expressly religious organizations:

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