What’s Wrong with the World

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November 2011 Archives

November 2, 2011

Sky Light

As my night class was letting out last week, one of my students, a young woman we'll call D., came into the classroom accompanied by a young man and a three year old child. She wanted to drop off a paper due two days earlier. (Important, because the grade drops one level each day that it's late). The young man (boyfriend, husband? - I didn't ask) seemed pleasant enough. He smiled and waved, but D. didn't bother to introduce him. The child herself was an adorable thing topped off with a mop of dark curls and was, like her mother, of Hispanic derivation. That child is the star of this post, a fact remarkable for the reason that I spoke only three sentences to her - "Don't cough in my face," and "You're unbearably cute, you know that?" - and that we were face to face for no more than a few minutes and will likely never see each other again. The third sentence was a command, "Give me a hug," and the little one enfolded herself without question into the arms of a stranger. Her name is Sky. She is the star but not the heroine, and there is probably more than one of those.

Continue reading "Sky Light" »

November 3, 2011

Interesting times

One thing that cannot reasonably be said of our times is that they are uninteresting. All at once the world is turned on its head, and none can say what will shake out.

The dissolution of the euro, or the expulsion of Greece from the EU, remain pressing possibilities. And the folly of the Monetary Union lies exposed for all to see in the afflictions of Italy. Evans Pritchard: “Let me add that Italy is not fundamentally insolvent. It is only in these straits because it does not have a lender of last resort, a sovereign central bank, or a sovereign currency. The euro structure itself has turned a solvent state into an insolvent state.”

Woe to the country that pursues a dearer currency!

There is also the fascinating tale of the collapse of MF Global, the broker-dealer trading house run into the ground by Jon Corzine, formerly senator and governor of of the State of New Jersey. I do declare that the tongue-lashing delivered by the New York press, the stern and self-righteous lecture they have read Mr. Corzine for his miscalculations, tempts even the humblest man with schadenfreude. Roger Lowenstein explains the whole squalid mess ably here. Later reporting has revealed some of the lineaments of the particular trades on European sovereign debt that ruined firm. Again I feel that we are forced to penetrate these alchemies out of necessity; they comprise the methods by which our political economy is financed.

Then there is the broader revolt against what we might call the political of acquisition: the Right to Left revulsion from this particular feature of our political life in common. I will have more to say on that at a later time. Suffice it to say that I cannot in good conscience align myself with any of the standard narratives proffered to explain, critique or castigate the emancipation of acquisition.

The Social Credit Movement

I once said that distributism is the only economic philosophy that makes a serious attempt to conform economic theory to Catholic social doctrine. That isn't quite true. There are others, such as Catholic "corporatism", a movement that seems to emphasize both the authority of, and cooperation between, various groups in society - akin to the medieval guild system so far as I can tell.

There is also the social credit movement, which I am just now learning something about. The idea here is that, as efficiency in production increases, fewer workers are required to produce the essential goods of society. The workers and entrepreneurs who would otherwise be involved in the production of essential goods are then diverted, in a capitalist economy, to wasteful and frivolous "work" for the sake of making money - money needed to buy essential goods, along with the wasteful and frivolous output of their own "work". One social credit writer noted that society would be better off paying 50% of American workers to stay home so as to minimize the damage they are doing. I can easily see this as being not too far-fetched: a great deal of work in the modern economy, including much of the best paid work, is parasitical from a social perspective.

Therefore, social credit theory proposes that it is better to pay all citizens a "social dividend" - a guaranteed income without any strings that is deemed to be a natural surplus, the rightful inheritance of everyone. Work would then be entered into with more care toward its actual value rather than its mere price in the form of wages. Under the present rule of capital, in which wages are of paramount importance, lots of valuable and important things that need doing are not done at all, or not done well. Which is the obvious consequence of too many people doing too many things that they shouldn't be doing. Presently it is the wage that allocates labor: price conquers value. And so we have become a nation of wage-earners and consumers who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

No, I don't make posts like this just to annoy Lydia, Jeff S., and Mike T., although it's kind of fun to rattle their cages. I would remind them that Milton Friedman proposed something very similar with his negative income tax, so the concept shouldn't be anathema to the champions of capitalism. In any case, our present system is so radically broken and dysfunctional that we ought to be thinking a little beyond the ideological status quo about solutions.

There is a Catholic magazine called "Michael" that is partially devoted to the social credit movement, and you will find many relevant articles on the site. For a taste of these, you might start with "The Social Dividend to All" by Louis Even, written in the form of frequently asked questions, from which the following excerpts are taken:

Continue reading "The Social Credit Movement" »

November 4, 2011

Monetarism has a conservative pedigree

My friend Pejman Yousefzadeh has a good post up on why monetary stimulus need not be advocated in hushed voices by embarrassed conservatives overawed by goldbugs.

Note that the idea to increase monetary stimulus has provenance on the center-right. And of course, the late, great Bill Niskanen was not the only person on the center-right to argue in favor of monetary stimulus in a recessionary, or slow growth period; if Milton Friedman were here, he would be arguing for monetary stimulus as well, and would look favorably on the idea for a third round of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve. Monetary stimulus is needed to balance out against budget cuts that are aimed at reducing the deficit, and to meet the demand for money balances, which Beckworth and Ponnuru note has “surged.”

Ecolab welcomes you!

I'm back in the job market, having just resigned from a company whose ethical problems were too numerous and systematic for me to avoid complicity. If you have any openings where you work, please let me know.

Anyway, I just applied for a sales management position at a company by the name of Ecolab. I should have read their website first. They're really into diversity and inclusion. Here's a list of their "associate affinity groups":

Continue reading "Ecolab welcomes you!" »


[Update: Catholic blogger Jeff Miller responds to the results of the Mississippi vote here]

Next week, the citizens of the state of Mississippi will be voting on a "personhood amendment,"which seems to mean that if it passes, every human being from the moment of conception shall be protected under law. (Since it conflicts with Roe v. Wade and probably a dungheap's worth of other Supreme Court jurisprudence, I expect a state or federal court to strike it down posthaste. That's if it passes, the odds in favor of which I have no idea.)

Former W4 blogger Frank Beckwith (to whom I owe the hat tip for the link, and whose initials are identical to FaceBook's) notes that the issue is being discussed at National Review's The Corner, and quotes one of their bloggers, a Robert VerBruggen (who describes himself as "basically a pro-lifer"), as follows:

What’s not clear to me, however, is why “distinct DNA” should be the criterion by which we judge personhood for moral and legal purposes. As Reason’s Ronald Bailey has pointed out, 60 to 80 percent of human embryos — post-conception, with distinct DNA — are naturally destroyed by the woman’s body. Are we to see this as a large-scale massacre of human beings, develop drugs to prevent it from happening, and require all women who have unprotected sex to take them? Certainly, we would be willing to take measures like this if post-birth infants were dying in comparable numbers.

Frank gives a thorough response at his blog, but before you read his answer, I'd like to hear your own.

For my own part, VerBruggen's protest sounds like a variation on the so-called 'problem of evil,' in which its profligacy constitutes an argument against either God's benevolence or his existence.

I also wondered why a man who thinks like that is writing for NR, but that's only because I sometimes forget what big tents these putatively conservative organs really are.

Continue reading "Wastage" »

November 7, 2011

More on the education of the young

About a month ago, we had several discussions here about the education of the young. Here is an interesting and sensible comment that Tony made about a teacher's not going outside the scope of delegated authority to bring religious matters into education. Tony's basic point, which one would think of as quite uncontroversial, is that teachers shouldn't go off on religious tangents when employed to teach a specific subject to which such tangents are irrelevant. His argument was that a teacher who does so usurps authority that the parents haven't given. The parents expected this person to teach about art or drug awareness (for example), not about religion.

Now, in our present situation, sociologically, I'm afraid that's only common sense. I want to suggest, though, that our present situation is rather unfortunate in that it has become necessary to have such a strict division among different subjects that even an occasional tangent, along with good teaching of the expected subject matter, is now intolerable. It would be a more natural relationship among parents, teachers, and children if teachers could be trusted by the parents not to teach something harmful to the children. In that situation, parents would be able to trust a teacher to be in more general terms a role model to the children, so that such occasional tangents could be taken in stride as not a big deal, even if one happened to disagree with some specific aspect of their content.

In support of the idea that such a situation could be legitimate and charming rather than in principle and always a bad thing, I present the following fascinating anecdote from Agatha Christie's autobiography (one of my favorite books):

There was a girls' school in Torquay kept by someone called Miss Guyer, and my mother made an arrangement that I should go there two days a week and study certain subjects....I remember one teacher there--I can't recall her name now. She was short and spare, and I remember her eager jutting chin. Quite unexpectedly one day (in the middle, I think, of an arithmetic lesson) she suddenly launched forth on a speech on life and religion. “All of you,” she said, “every one of you--will pass through a time when you will face despair. If you never face despair, you will never have faced, or become, a Christian, or known a Christian life. To be a Christian you must face and accept the life that Christ faced and lived; you must enjoy things as he enjoyed things; be as happy as he was at the marriage at Cana, know the peace and happiness that it means to be in harmony with God and with God's will. But you must also know, as he did, what it means to be alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, to feel that all your friends have forsaken you, that those you love and trust have turned away from you, and that God himself has forsaken you. Hold on then to the belief that that is not the end. If you love, you will suffer, and if you do not love, you do not know the meaning of a Christian life.”

She then returned to the problems of compound interest with her usual vigour, but it is odd that those few words, more than any sermon I have ever heard, remained with me, and years later they were to come back to me and give me hope at a time when despair had me in its grip. She was a dynamic figure, and also, I think, a fine teacher; I wish I could have been taught by her longer.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had continued with my education. I should, I suppose, have progressed, and I think I should have been entirely caught up in mathematics--a subject which has always fascinated me.

Some points about this incident that strike me:

--The school was obviously private, and parents could make a variety of arrangements with the school. Agatha's mother chose for her to attend part time for specific subjects.
--The parents could take the children out any time they wanted to, and in fact Agatha's mother did eventually take her out of the school simply because she had a different educational idea.
--Agatha remembers this teacher as having been a fine teacher who taught mathematics with vigor. Her sudden urge to give the students a brief sermon on the subject of suffering and the Christian life did not in any way impair her teaching of arithmetic.
--One can plausibly infer from the passage that she strengthened Agatha's interest in mathematics, which Agatha would have liked to have studied with her for longer.
--The teacher was unashamed and unselfconscious about her tangent on the Christian life. It obviously never crossed her mind that this brief interlude could be considered unprofessional.
--It clearly never occurred to Agatha to think that there was any problem with her doing so, either. It was an unusual event, to be sure, but Agatha sees no conflict with the teacher's professional duties. We may guess (I think justifiably) that no one else in the situation did so either. There were "free thinkers" circa 1900, when this incident would have occurred, but there doesn't seem to have been any attempt to respect the feelings of any "free thinker" children who happened to be in that mathematics class.
--It's probably safe to say (from other general information about England at the time) that Torquay circa 1900 was fairly religiously homogenous.

All of the surrounding sociological circumstances are, of course, absent in today's public schools. Due to a series of court decisions, everyone is hyper-sensitive about the introduction of religious matters under any circumstances. Teachers, in particular, are not supposed to betray their religious views.

Parents must at least pay for public schooling via their taxes, and even though the home school and Christian school movements have freed parents to some extent from compulsory public school education, a parent who casually takes his child out of a public school without careful research and possibly even legal advice may find himself in a pickle. There is thus a certain coerciveness to public schooling which makes it understandable that "sensitive" or "controversial" subjects not be introduced without clear parental permission.

A similar tangent in the middle of a math lesson could probably occur now without repercussions only in an explicitly Christian school or Christian math class (for example, a class run by a Christian home schooling co-op). Elsewhere, even in a non-Christian private school, it would be utterly taboo.

And that's a shame. Nobody was a loser here, and someone--Agatha, at least--was a gainer. The teacher did not spend any serious length of time on the digression. The professional teaching of mathematics and Agatha's respect for her as a teacher of mathematics did not suffer. In fact, if you read that passage several times with an unbiased eye, I believe you will get a fairly vivid picture of her, and her willingness to do something a little unconventional in the way of a short sermon on the Christian life is part and parcel of her vivid personality and style, which in turn is part of what made her good at communicating her subject matter.

I therefore submit that in the teaching of the young it would be a good thing if we could regain something of this flexibility from a hundred years ago. I'm not entirely sure how to do that, and I'm inclined to think that the best place for it to begin is in schools run along specifically religious lines, where there is more likely to be the requisite trust between parents and teachers. And we should perhaps rethink our notions of professionalism in areas like teaching so that people can be people with their students. (Something similar is true of the medical professions, I'm inclined to think, but that may be a subject for another time.)


November 8, 2011

Yet Another Reason to Defeat the CRC

That's the Convention on the Rights of Children, for those who are not up on the world-stage crypto-speak.

Brazil used to enshrine the right to homeschool in its constitution. It was there for decades, through several iterations of its constitution. The 1937 constitution had model language for the right ordering of authority over children, well in line with the principle of subsidiarity, explicitly stating parents have primacy. Along came the 1988 effort to re-write it, and those protections were nicely deleted. With the Child and Adolescent Statute written explicitly to conform to the CRC, Brazil government bureaucrats have now managed to discern that homeschooling violates the constitution.

There are more serious problems with the CRC than that it leads to this kind of state control of schooling, as if education is fundamentally a state function. More gravely, the CRC effectively implies that children belong to the state more than they belong to parents. This is just one step removed from totalitarian regimes that think ALL people belong to the state to do with as it will. But this is proof positive that the liberals who had claimed that the CRC wouldn't lead to these sorts of eviscerations of rights were flat wrong. The proof is in the Koolaid, and most nations have drunk it.

November 9, 2011

Corporate America Against Marriage

Here's a list of companies that filed a friend-of-the-court brief last week opposing the Defense of Marriage Act:

Continue reading "Corporate America Against Marriage" »

November 11, 2011

Those unsocialized homeschoolers!

There's plenty wrong with yesterday's column in the NY Times about homeschooling, starting with the idea that anarchist hippie unschooling is even remotely typical, but the student comments are precious. A sample:

In my opinion, i would never turn to home schooling. When you are home schooled, you automaticly loose the whole social experience of school. In the real world you need to be social. Otherwise you’re going to get know where. I understand that the learning education might be to an advantage while homeschooling because its all one on one and you are the only student reciveing all the help you need whenever you need it. I would never home school my child because I would be holding them back from friends and the social life they will need in the feature. I would never even consider home schooling. — Macie P.


It's Not Christmas Yet

What ever happened to Thanksgiving decorations in stores? I'm sure I remember them from my childhood--giant pictures of turkeys and horns of plenty. Not sure I have a clear memory of Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers, though I think so. Definitely cascades of fruit and such, surrounded by leaves. Now the extra gravy, stuffing, and turkey sneak into the stores without any fanfare in the way of additional decorations. "Fall" decorations, which one still sometimes sees, don't count. Pumpkins and leaves (without horns of plenty), and scare crows are for October. We used to have distinctive Thanksgiving decorations for November. Where did they go?

Some options. These are not mutually exclusive or jointly exhaustive. Add yours or mix and match:

1) Stores just don't decorate much anymore, so it isn't because the stores are moving straight from Halloween to Christmas. It's just that they simply change their wares rather than putting up non-saleable decorations.

2) Stores don't decorate much anymore, but they used to sell Thanksgiving decorations for people's home interiors--placemats, napkins, knick-knacks, window pictures. And now those have been replaced by a move directly to selling decorations for Christmas, because people aren't interested in buying Thanksgiving decorations as much as they used to be for their homes. This gives rise to the impression of moving immediately from Halloween to Christmas in store decor.

3) Stores still decorate for some holidays but have slowly fallen out of the habit of decorating for Thanksgiving because

3a) it's impossible to get rid of the religious element in Thanksgiving, so they feel squeamish about it, worried that someone will be offended, and/or

3b) the Indian, er, Native American element in Thanksgiving is considered a touchy subject, and they're worried that someone will complain about something having to do with insensitivity to Indians.

For my part, I think what is true is that stores decorate less than they used to, but that Thanksgiving is a big enough holiday in America (lots of people love to celebrate the food part even if they don't believe in Anyone to give thanks to) that we would see some store decorations for it if it weren't for some of the considerations in 3, my bet being more heavily on 3a.

What do readers think?

November 15, 2011

News! Geron shuts down ESC research

This is big news, and good news to pro-lifers. Wesley J. Smith has the story, to the extent that we know the story. Geron, the biggest company involved in ESCR, has shut down their unit altogether, citing a desire to save money. This is the company that just got FDA approval for, and presumably began, a clinical trial using embryonic stem cells.

There has to be a story there. Why suddenly now? This should be a place for investigative research to go to town, but don't hold your breath. We will probably never know the details. One possibility that WJS brings up concerns the European ban on patenting products made from embryonic cells, which would cut into profits. That ban was recently upheld in a court. It's also possible that something was going wrong, at a level that could bring significant liability, with the clinical trial. That, of course, is conjecture.

My own cynical take is that whatever the real reason, even if it was something negative happening with the clinical trial, or even if it was a realization that this would not actually result in any useful treatments within any foreseeable period of time, it will be left as "conserving funds" in order to find a way to continue blaming conservatives for not tapping the supposedly marvelous curative properties of human sacrifice....er...ESCR,

Meanwhile, Wesley has reported repeatedly (see his links) on the far greater potential from ethical research, including IPSCs and adult stem cells, a potential that is scandalously underreported in the media.

November 16, 2011

Language lovers--have a blast

Here is a wonderful, humorous, intensely British lambasting of modern Bible translations. I cannot possibly reproduce it, but if you love the English language, read it. You will be tempted, like me, to read it aloud to someone else. Here are a few samples, just so you'll want to go and read it:

We enjoyed a parish visit recently to St George’s Chapel, Windsor: the Queen’s Chapel. In there was a big sign saying, “Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible”. I must say, it was a custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance. For at Choral Evensong, the lessons were both from some illiterate, godforsaken modern version. I knew we were in for trouble from the start when, in the Old Testament lesson, King Solomon addressed the Almighty as, “You God…” – as if the deity were some miscreant fourth-former in the back row. Of course it went from bad to worse.
The real Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The NEB gives us instead, “The first step to find wisdom.” But that is only the way in which babyish primary school teachers speak to their charges. The first step to find wisdom – and then, if you are ever so good little children, I’ll show you the second step.
The King James Version says, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord …” In the New Jerusalem Bible this degenerates into tasteless obscurantism: “If you live in the shelter of Elyon and make your home in the shadow of Shaddai, you can say to Yahweh …” The Revised Standard Version (RSV) loves to parade the translators’ acquaintance with the slightest nuances in the ancient languages but their utter ignorance of what will go into ordinary English. It renders the “giants” of Genesis as “nephilim” – to the confusion, one supposes, of elderly ladies everywhere.
The KJV translates Psalm 139: 16--a beautiful poem in which the Psalmist declares that God knew him "while he was yet in his mother's womb--as thine eyes did see my substance yet being unperfect." This is allusive, evocative, tender. Unbelievably, the NJB gives us instead, "Your eyes could see my embryo"--as if God were a member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

Okay, okay, I'll stop. Just go read it.


November 17, 2011

In Narnia we call it "going bad"

"But that would be putting the clock back," gasped the governor. "Have you no idea of progress, of development?"

"I have seen them both in an egg," said Caspian. "We call it 'Going Bad' in Narnia...."

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Wales is going to presumed consent on organ donation. That means that the legal default position is that you have consented to be an organ donor.

Probably I have an unduly romantic view of the Welsh, fostered by my repeated reading (to the point almost of memorization) of Edith Pargeter's pro-Welsh historical novels set in the border country in the 1200's. But the thought that the distant relations of Llewellyn ap Griffith and the many others who fought and died for Wales have, apparently, some measure of political independence now and use it for this is something I find repugnant and depressing.

Yes, I understand it's a "soft" presumed consent system. This apparently means that they "consult" family members about organ donation. What they do if the family members say a resounding, "No!" remains to be seen. I hope I'm not just a cynic, but I think "consult" is a weasel word. It seems to me entirely plausible that the "soft" presumed consent will become "hard" presumed consent if family members refuse. I would be willing to go so far as to bet that if there is disagreement among family members, that will be enough to allow donation.

But even if we take the most charitable view and suppose that any immediate family member will have veto power over organ donation, what about the people who have no family, or whose family members are all far away and difficult to locate? It's hard to see any outcome there other than that the person will be seen as an organ donor. Indeed, if this change doesn't mean that, it isn't a change. Family members now, as far as I know, can consent to organ donation even if the patient has not filled out a donor card. For "presumed consent" to mean anything, there must be some group of people for whom consent can, in fact, be presumed.

What's almost as depressing as the outcome is the level of political discourse used in favor of the move:

A spokesperson said: "We believe we should be progressive on this issue and follow the example of those countries with excellent records on organ donation, where an opt-out system is a key element. Introducing a soft opt-out system will mean people are more likely to make decisions about donation during their lifetime and to have discussed their wishes with their family."

Oh, well, hey, if it's progressive, who could fault it? We've gotta be progressive!

Roy Thomas, chairman of the Kidney Wales Foundation, claims it will increase the number of organs available for donation by up to 30 percent.

"[It] will solve a lot of issues for people who are waiting for a transplant," he added.

"We are losing one person each week here in Wales and that's a huge amount of people who are dying and we need to give them hope.

"I believe the Welsh government has got this absolutely right and are progressive. Indeed I think the rest of the UK will follow."

Yep, that's all there is to it. If we believe the Welsh government is progressive, then that settles it.

And then there is the not-so-subtle coercion in one alleged selling point: "Introducing a soft opt-out system will mean people are more likely to make decisions about donation during their lifetime and to have discussed their wishes with their family." See that? What it amounts to is, "Speak now, or forever hold your peace. If you don't want to be a donor, you'd better get a move on and make that official." It's a deliberate attempt to force the issue.

If that's progress, I say the heck with it. In Narnia, we call it "going bad."

November 18, 2011

Tradition and Community

A thoughtful post over at The New Beginning struck a chord with me yesterday. Papa Bear writes:

Do we "pick and choose" our tradition? Or do we have to adopt what is lived by a community, with ties to the past, some history, and kept alive by the succession of generations? Or do we just have to accept what we have received from our family and from others? It would seem that tradition only exists where it is shared and lived and passed on to one's children ...

What can be done about the "ugly duckling syndrome"? What if one is born into one community but is converted to the values and ideals of another? The obvious example is of a religious conversion, but there are "secular" analogues ... Or how about Californians who reject the life of the Uhmerican megapolis and yearn for something more agrarian?

Traditionalists often make the mistake of assuming that most everyone lacks community these days. That's true in certain respects, especially when compared to earlier generations, but I think most Americans still live among others who share their values and interests and cultural assumptions. They aren't really lonely. The average person has no shortage of relatives, friends, and neighbors with whom they share a fundamental worldview.

Continue reading "Tradition and Community" »

November 20, 2011

Christ the King

To touch on a matter that seems particularly significant to a site devoted to Christendom, Catholics today celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King. We acknowledge Jesus Christ as the King over all.

But what does that mean? What sort of kingship are we talking about, and how far does it extend?

First of all, when Christ speaks of His kingdom, it seems that his references are first toward the spiritual reign over our hearts and souls: “my kingdom is not of this world.” And “the kingdom of God is like a man who goes out to sow seed,” and “the kingdom of God is like a vineyard.” Christ establishes quite clearly that in His teaching, His kingdom regards the rule of the mind and heart and soul, a way of ruling that is not visible (though its effects are visible to those with eyes to see). He sorely disappoints the disciples who expect His kingdom to be political.

And yet, when we celebrate the kingship of Christ at the end of the church year, we are also celebrating the last things, including the final complete reign of Christ over every other sovereignty:

Continue reading "Christ the King" »

November 22, 2011

A Single Term, Ten Year Presidency

Think about it. A single term, ten year presidency would be a tremendous benefit to the country. The president, once elected, could devote his full attention to governing rather than running for re-election. Among other advantages, this would re-direct more than one billion dollars – the total spent by all candidates in a presidential campaign every four years – from campaign expenditures to potential investment in the economy. The president would be less a captive of his political party and more free to build coalitions. Many of our social and economic problems require long-term solutions and short-term sacrifices: a single, ten year term would allow the president to implement long-term policies that may be unpopular in the beginning but ultimately best for the nation. It would also provide a sense of stability, predictability, and familiarity to our political life, which is presently much too chaotic. Foreign nations, too, would find American policies more intelligible and less volatile. Americans would choose their presidents more carefully, knowing they would be “stuck” with the same man for ten years, the only remedy being impeachment.

Cross-posted from Stony Creek Digest.

November 23, 2011

Audio of CSL on God, time, and Christian living

I had never heard C.S. Lewis's voice before I received this link the other day--about ten minutes of audio from one of his BBC talks. If anyone knows whether and where more audio of these talks is available on the Internet, do share.

It's a great privilege to me actually to hear Lewis's voice. I had expected him to sound a bit more Irish, as I had read that people who heard him commented on his Irish R's. But his voice is an excellent speaking voice--enjoyable to listen to, easy to understand (even for an American with bad hearing like me). I would love to hear more.

The content is even more fascinating. Though he touched on many of these issues elsewhere, I don't believe I've ever read these exact words from him anywhere in print. Obviously, the discussion of God and time is a rich topic on which much can be said. I especially appreciated his relation of the issue of God and time to the issue of God's full attention focused on the individual and God's having all the time in the world, as it were, for each one of us.

Most of all, I was struck anew by what strikes me nearly every time I read Lewis on the subject of the Christian life--his nourishing good sense. On the one hand, he fully confesses the sad fact that what we are affects, we may even say infects, what we do, so that things undertaken with the best of intentions never turn out as we hoped. This is why we, ourselves, need to be changed inwardly into the image of Christ. On the other hand, he insists that we must try, that we can only do our best, while all the while accepting grace to be changed in our inward nature.

This is simply an indispensable balance. Those of us who read some overly enthusiastic Protestant writings on this subject (I don't know whether Catholics have similar writings), especially those from a strongly Calvinist perspective, or who have heard teaching from such a perspective in church, have run into a far less helpful approach, which runs approximately like this: “Don't try to obey God yourself. Don't strive. You cannot do any good in your own strength. Therefore, the only thing that is worth anything is [what amounts to] a purely psycho-spiritual effort, a kind of mental push to give everything over to Christ, to leave it to the Lord, to let Christ work through you. Once you have really done that, everything will be different. And without that, all effort is worthless.”

Continue reading "Audio of CSL on God, time, and Christian living" »

Happy Thanksgiving!


We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting.
To thee all angels cry aloud,
the heavens and all the powers therein.
To thee cherubim and seraphim continually do cry:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.
The glorious company of the apostles praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise thee.
The noble army of martyrs praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world
doth acknowledge thee,
the Father of an infinite majesty,
thine adorable, true, and only Son,
also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.

Thou art the King of glory, O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man,
thou didst humble thyself to be born of a Virgin.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death,
thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants,
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy saints,
in glory everlasting.

O LORD, save thy people, and bless thine heritage.
Govern them, and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name ever, world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy be upon us, as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted; let me never be confounded.

Continue reading "Happy Thanksgiving!" »

November 25, 2011


In a letter to his father, the young C.S. Lewis wrote,

I wonder is there some influence abroad now-a-days that prevents the growth of rich, strongly marked personal peculiarities. Are any of our contemporaries “characters” as Queen Victoria or Dizzy or Carlyle were “characters”?

(February 25, 1928)

He goes on to conjecture that perhaps there really is no such influence and that the feeling that "characters" are dying out is an illusion.

I would say, however, that what Lewis wrote about in 1928 is a reality in our own time. In fact, it isn't even difficult to name some of the "influences abroad" that "prevent the growth of rich, strongly marked personal peculiarities." For one thing, our society punishes rather than valuing strongly marked personal peculiarities. This begins in school, where it is (understandably enough) easier to teach children en masse if the class contains no "characters." Ritalin is one solution to what would otherwise be the problem of "characters."

Eccentricity can, it's true, cause pain to the eccentric person and difficulties in coping with life, and I certainly do not mean to downplay that, but there is something just a tad perverse about our society's present inclination to regard all eccentricities as symptoms of a medical condition, a "syndrome" or "disorder" of some kind. How many people now diagnosable as "having" Asperger's Syndrome or ADHD would, a hundred or even fifty years ago, simply have been thought to contribute to the interesting stock of different human personality types?

Aside from those perhaps rather knotty questions we should consider the standardizing ideological effect of public school education. College tends to continue the standardizing process. Young people certainly don't learn to think outside of the box. I heard of one young woman in a college class recently, challenged about her facile, sweeping cultural relativism, who replied, "Well, I'm an Anthropology major, so that's what I've been taught." Well, try thinking for yourself, sweetie! Hitler was bad!

Victorian and Edwardian middle-class children raised in their own homes were able to develop family personality types, a family culture. These family cultures were varied and interesting. Agatha Christie in her autobiography sketches some of these types. There was, for example, the family of friends who were always late for everything because they were so easy-going. (She very nearly married a brother of that family.) There was another family who "got up" ambitious in-home Gilbert and Sullivan musicals. There was Agatha's mother herself, a strong personality and a "character" indeed--a woman of great authority and eccentricity, given to sudden flashes of inspiration which might be either brilliant or silly but were never, never boring.

The novelist Elizabeth Goudge paints a somewhat similar Edwardian picture of her own mother and of her aunts: each one different, all strongly marked characters. Goudge's mother believed herself to be a medium but refused to exercise her mediumistic powers out of a sense that it would be dangerous to do so. One of her aunts worked as a governess for royalty and talked matter-of-factly about the value of dumping cold water over some small prince in a temper tantrum ("But you needed tile floors, so it was a good thing that foreign palaces had tile floors.")

Continue reading "Characters" »

November 28, 2011

Are pro-lifers teaching young people the case for life?

Scott Klusendorf of the Life Training Institute has an interesting blog post with, in my humble opinion, a somewhat confusing title. Don't be put off by the title; just read the post. As I understand him, what Scott is saying is not that abstinence only sex education is incorrect but rather that for some reason too many pro-lifers he knows who get an opportunity to speak in high schools, Christian or public, are doing only abstinence sex education and not presenting the case for, say, the life of the unborn child and the humanity of the unborn child. Now, if so, that's a problem. Scott is quite clear that this is only his own anecdotal impression, but considering that part of Scott's life's work is making high school presentations giving the case for life and also that he spends plenty of time listening to other pro-lifers talking about what they are doing, his anecdotal opinion has weight.

Teaching abstinence is not a substitute for teaching about the nature and value of the unborn child. The two are just apples and oranges, different parts of what we need to be presenting to young people.

If Scott's impression is correct and pro-life education is being neglected, even when pro-lifers are expressly invited to speak, why is that? Could it be simply some sort of swing of the fashion pendulum? Perhaps we conservatives, given a chance to speak in schools, used to bring fetal models and show pictures of babies in the womb and the like, and then (this is conjecture) somewhere along the line someone told us that we needed to "back up" and "address the root problem" of sexual promiscuity, and from there the straight presentation of the humanity of the unborn child went out of style. Could that be it?

Do readers have any experience that tends either to support or contradict Scott's impression of what sorts of presentations are being made by pro-lifers to high schoolers?

Gainesville on the Rockies


Well, ever since the inept 1-4 Broncos, in despair, turned the team over to Tim Tebow against the Chargers back in October, the fair city of Denver has been in thrall to a drama I know well.

Long-time readers will recall that I am a native son of Denver, Colorado; but I have made Georgia my home for over a decade. And Georgia being SEC country, I could not possibly avoid the phenomenon of Tim Tebow, arguably the most successful quarterback in college football history.

Folks out West are often astonished to learn how decisively college football exceeds the NFL in the esteem of Southern football fans. “Pro football is just something to watch when we’re hungover” is the boast I’ve occasionally heard.

Similarly, only a transplant to the South can gain anything approaching objectivity as regards the Southeastern Conference in college football. I tend to favor Georgia out of states rights sentiment, but it is a mere lark compared to the intensity of real Bulldog fans — or Roll Tide! fans, or War Eagle fans, or wild crazy Cajun Geaux Tigers fans — or Gator fans.

Thus the Tebow drama a few years back during his outstanding career as quarterback of the Florida Gators kind of washed over me without disrupting the deeper emotions. I admired the kid’s competitive spirit, his earnest Christianity, his football excellence; but it was a detached admiration. I could still appreciate the animus reserved for him by a Georgia or LSU or Alabama fan.

And now here I am, deeply invested emotionally in the improbable success of young Tim Tebow, whose fate is now entwined with the QB hero of my own youth in Denver: I mean, of course, the great John Elway.

So it’s like Gainesville on the Rockies.

Continue reading "Gainesville on the Rockies" »

November 29, 2011

Colbert on OWS

Sorry to interrupt, but this is too funny. (Please - mature audiences only.)

The Barrenness of Anti-Darwinism

Auster has been on the rampage against evolutionary psychology, lately. Most recently, under the title "The Barrenness of Darwinism", he quotes with approval Carol Iannone's question, "When Thomas Edison spent months experimenting with hundreds of different materials in his quest to create a workable incandescent light bulb, why--according to the evolutionists--did he do it? In order to find more mates? In order to spread his genes? In order to gain status, so as to find more mates and spread his genes?"

Well, *sigh*, no, Carol & Larry. Most "evolutionists" would offer pretty much the same surface-level explanation for Edison's strange behavior as anybody else: among other things, he was very smart, very determined, very creative, and avid of wealth, fame & power.

It's at the next level down that "evolutionists" start saying something interesting & different:

Why are people smart? Why are they determined? Why are they creative? Why are they avid of wealth, fame & power (to the extent that they are)?

Because, up to a point, intelligence, determination, creativity, and the desire for wealth, fame & power were qualitites that tended to result, in the circumstances of human evolution, in greater inclusive fitness - I.e., genes that contributed to intelligence, determination, creativity, and the desire for wealth, fame & power tended to spread, while genes that detracted from same tended to die out.

It's a great puzzle to me why sharp gals & guys like Carol & Larry seem to find this rather obvious point so difficult to grasp.