What’s Wrong with the World

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October 2013 Archives

October 3, 2013

Choice devours itself: Explicit in South Australia

Many of us who follow the biomedical scene with regard to right to life issues have long believed that the "right to choose" is really a one-way street. We hear all the time about the "right to choose" not to receive treatment, resuscitation, or "life-extending measures," but all the rhetoric suggests that the people shouting "choice" would be singing a different tune if the choice were to receive the measures they obviously disdain. In such discussions the life-sustaining measures are almost always negatively portrayed as "being hooked up to machines" (even when this is false and there are no machines), "being hooked up to tubes" (aka, receiving food and water by tube feeding), and "being kept alive." As we saw here, "being kept alive" is now even used to refer to a person suffering from dementia who is apparently willingly receiving mere spoon feeding. And then, of course, there are all the extremely derogatory ways of referring to the disabled patient himself.

So is choice really the important thing, or is the really important agenda making sure people make the "right" choice, the "rational" choice (to die)? Is "freedom to choose" just a fraud, intended to lure people to their deaths? Many of us have thought so for a long time.

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October 7, 2013

My Apologies to Orwell


A same-sex couple who requested a cake for their wedding in January but were refused service by a Gresham bakery have filed a complaint with the state, alleging “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” discriminated against them based on their sexual orientation.


Rachel N. Cryer, 30, said she had gone to the Gresham bakery on Jan. 17 for a scheduled appointment to order a wedding cake. She met with the owner, Aaron Klein. Klein asked for the date of the wedding and names of the bride and groom, Cryer said. "I told him, 'There are two brides and our names are Rachel and Laurel,' " according to her complaint. Klein responded that his business does not provide its services for same-sex weddings, she said. "Respondent cited a religious belief for its refusal to make cakes for same-sex couples planning to marry," the complaint says.


"We are committed to a fair and thorough investigation to determine whether there's substantial evidence of unlawful discrimination," said Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. He advocated for the 2007 law when he was a state senator.


"Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs, but that doesn't mean that folks have the right to discriminate," Avakian said, speaking generally. An administrative law judge could assess civil penalties. "The goal is never to shut down a business. The goal is to rehabilitate," Avakian said. "For those who do violate the law, we want them to learn from that experience and have a good, successful business in Oregon."

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Leo XIII and Minimum Wage

Here’s an example of how to screw up an historical premise and a thesis about economic progress.

Stephen Mihm posits that the Black Death spawned minimum wage laws. Well, actually first Britain passed a maximum wage law after the Black Death, and some 250 years later got around to imposing an official minimum wage. Just possibly, 250 years of additional factors might be more responsible than the Black Death, but who knows, maybe British are just slow off the starting block?

He then goes on to credit Leo XIII with a major turning of support for minimum wage laws. He says

The first was the Vatican. In 1891, Pope Leo XIII offered a distinctly medieval take on the labor question. In his Rerum Novarum, the pontiff called for the passage of laws to remove “the causes which lead to conflicts between employers and [the] employed.” Foremost among those causes, he averred, was the insufficiency of wages. “To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven,” he declared.

But there was an easier way to solve the problem than involving the Almighty. Instead, the pope counseled the revival of the medieval living wage, arguing that the compensation of a wage earner should be sufficient “to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner.”

The encyclical resonated in nations that had high numbers of both Catholics and aggrieved workers. Among these was Australia, which along with New Zealand would become a cradle of the modern minimum wage movement.

Only, Leo didn’t say that, and the real content of the encyclical didn’t resonate in those nations.

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October 11, 2013

Committee of the mentally disabled.

At the UN, there is a Committee for disabled persons which oversees the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). One might be forgiven for thinking that this Committee’s purpose is to work for the disabled. I submit to you that the Committee is itself mentally disabled, that the “for” above refers not to a committee whose work is on behalf of mentally disabled so much as consisting of the mentally disabled. Kind of like the Special Olympics is “for” the disabled – it’s not a special part of the stadium from which the disabled watch the regular Olympics.

The Problem: If you are mentally disabled, you may not be able to effectively exercise the right to vote.

The Scenario: In Hungary, people were dropped from the roles of eligible voters and then sued in the UN at the Committee under the Convention CRPD. They were identified under the law as mentally disabled and needing a guardian, pursuant to judicial decision. Under Hungarian law, this is automatically followed by removal from the rolls for eligible voters.

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October 14, 2013

The foolishness of preaching

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (I Corinthians 1:21)

It is easy enough to characterize this verse from St. Paul, and indeed the entire chapter, as a broadside attack on and wholesale rejection of philosophy, and many have characterized it in that way. Naturally, philosophers have an interest in interpreting it differently, and I am no exception. I suggest that we compare this passage from G. K. Chesterton:

There is such a thing as a human story; and there is such a thing as the divine story which is also a human story; but there is no such thing as a Hegelian story or a Monist story or a relativist story or a determinist story; for every story, yes, even a penny dreadful or a cheap novelette, has something in it that belongs to our universe and not theirs. Every short story does truly begin with creation and end with a last judgement.

And that is the reason why the myths and the philosophers were at war until Christ came. That is why the Athenian democracy killed Socrates out of respect for the gods; and why every strolling sophist gave himself the airs of a Socrates whenever he could talk in a superior fashion of the gods; and why the heretic Pharaoh wrecked his huge idols and temples for an abstraction and why the priests could return in triumph and trample his dynasty under foot; and why Buddhism had to divide itself from Brahminism, and why in every age and country outside Christendom there has been a feud for ever between the philosopher and the priest. It is easy enough to say that the philosopher is generally the more rational; it is easier still to forget that the priest is always the more popular. For the priest told the people stories; and the philosopher did not understand the philosophy of stories. It came into the world with the story of Christ.

And this is why it had to be a revelation or vision given from above. Any one who will think of the theory of stories or pictures will easily see the point. The true story of the world must be told by somebody to somebody else. By the very nature of a story it cannot be left to occur to anybody. A story has proportions, variations, surprises, particular dispositions, which cannot be worked out by rule in the abstract, like a sum. We could not deduce whether or no Achilles would give back the body of Hector from a Pythagorean theory of number or recurrence; and we could not infer for ourselves in what way the world would get back the body of Christ, merely from being told that all things go round and round upon the wheel of Buddha. A man might perhaps work out a proposition of Euclid without having heard of Euclid; but he would not work out the precise legend of Eurydice without having heard of Eurydice. At any rate he would not be certain how the story would end and whether Orpheus was ultimately defeated. Still less could he guess the end of our story; or the legend of our Orpheus rising, not defeated from the dead.

The Everlasting Man

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October 17, 2013

Choice Devours Itself: Euthanize early or else!

It's a rare but instructive opportunity when someone acting out the choice devours itself dynamic makes his "reasoning" explicit. This recent editorial in the SF Chronicle provides such an opportunity. Economist and obvious social liberal Robert Leeson (who is a visiting fellow at the "conservative" Hoover Institution think-tank) suggests a faux "choice" approach to euthanasia. His statements are a tad cryptic, but read them for yourself and tell me if I'm misinterpreting.

Economists typically assume that individuals seek to maximize their lifetime satisfaction - yet, when it comes to voluntary euthanasia, the law prohibits such a decision. Moreover, many dying people are beyond the stage where they can act according to this calculation; younger people are much better equipped to make this rational choice in advance.

At the beginning and the end of a working life, individuals should be free to decide about such matters. At the beginning, there might be a choice between buying end-of-life insurance (maybe with pre-tax dollars) in return for a reduction in Medicare tax; or accepting that end-of-life costs will be charged to - and recouped from - their estate. And at the end of a working life: a choice between receiving end-of-life care, or allocating those funds to grant oneself a metaphorical "immortality."

For those opting out, such "immortality" could be provided through an annuity - an eternal income to a worthy cause of the individual's choosing (a "named" scholarship, an annual charitable contribution, etc.). The end-of-life privately insured could be offered a cash payout in return for surrendering their policy. (Or public and private insurance could offer both choices.)


There can be no objection to someone choosing to self-fund palliative care; neither can there be an objection to the taxpayer choosing to fund, for example, better infant mortality outcomes than end-of-life expenses.

As I understand Leeson, he suggests the following package of policies: Make euthanasia legal throughout the country. Have the federal government take all "end of life care" (however that is defined--I'll discuss that problem below), including palliative care, off of the list of things covered by Medicare. Make available end of life rider insurance, which people can purchase with their own money paid on top of their Medicare taxes during their working years, for those who don't think they will want to be euthanized. Anyone who does not purchase such extra end-of-life insurance and hasn't made other provisions for funding his end-of-life expenses will have his end-of-life expenses charged to his estate after his death (since they weren't covered by Medicare). When people are elderly, if they have purchased such an end-of-life rider, offer to buy the policy from them for a cash payment in return for their willingness to be euthanized. If they have not purchased such a policy, still bribe them to be euthanized by offering a "metaphorical immortality" in the form of an endowment to a worthy cause in their name in the amount of the putative amount that their remaining years of life were allegedly worth.

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October 18, 2013

Larger Than Life

Imagine, if you will, being seated in a college classroom. It’s a small room, with a small class, only 15 students and the teacher. Not only that, but the class is seated all around a large central table, so everyone is directly visible to the teacher – no hiding behind the student in front of you to hide the fact that you have no clue what the text is about. The teacher is a huge guy of Scottish background, about 6 foot 7, with a huge booming voice to match, and no compunction about using it on you if you don’t come up to snuff. He isn’t afraid to call things like he sees them, he can dole out a barrage of ideas that can be hard to keep up with sometimes. You better be listening, and if you ask a question it better be on point, or he will tell you about it. Fearsome, yes, he could be fearsome.

This vigorous teacher has a habit of emphasizing his points with thumping. He might thump the book, or he might thump the table, but as often as not he will thump the student to his right or left – “Isn’t that RIGHT, Mr. Jones?” and with “RIGHT” you better be braced or he could knock you over.

Except one time, the student to his right DID go over, and knocked over the student next to her, and then the student next to him,…all the way around the classroom table like dominoes. Right back to the professor.

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October 23, 2013

Fallen Idol

At this point in my life, I certainly don’t expect to be looking up to artists, actors, musicians, or writers for deep philosophical insights into how the world works. Heck, I don’t even expect them to say something halfway smart about contemporary political issues. Just because it is a cliché, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true that too many of America’s cultural mandarins are either reflexively left-wing/liberal or totally vacuous when it comes to their ability to think coherently about politics. That’s probably why so many conservatives cheer when someone smart in Hollywood or New York “comes out of the closet” and declares their conservative principles (see e.g. David Mamet).

On the other hand, I would argue that our appreciation of a good movie, song or novel should not be diminished by the foolish pronouncements of a particular director, composer or author. Which brings me to the point of this post: one of my favorite modern authors, and someone who has written smart essays taking on modern atheists’ faith in materialism, has revealed herself as one of the most brain-dead liberals you can imagine. Yes, Marilynne Robinson, brilliant author of Gilead and Home (her two most recent novels and the former the subject of a wonderful review by our own Lydia McGrew in The Christendom Review), is stark, raving loony when it comes to contemporary politics.

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October 25, 2013

A Federalist Miscellany

A new publication called The Federalist (though not yet editorializing under the byline Publius) has already in just a few weeks supplied some brilliant and noteworthy writing. I know many readers feel as I do, that there is enough good stuff to read already, some of it quite formidable indeed, with damnably few hours to read it; and why should I add some new outfit to my list? I have no answer to this other than to sigh and whisper, longer groweth the list.

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October 26, 2013

A World, Shattered

The spiritual crisis engulfing the West entails not only revisionist academics’ skepticism concerning the Resurrection as an historical fact, or of the doctrine of the Trinity. So decadent and thoroughgoing is the skepticism of modern man that a willful embrace of ugliness, a worship of personal power for its own sake, and an unrestrained exaltation of the self are the most obvious features of our culture and our public life. A rejection of form as such is implicated here. There is a calamitous discordancy in all our public rituals. Our national anthem is seldom performed with reverence and beauty, being reduced to wild and extravagant displays of “range” on the part of the performer. The confused Novus Ordo Catholic liturgy celebrated in virtually every contemporary parish lurches from the sudden, crashing onset of noise, to awkward silence, is afflicted by incessant contradiction in the movement of the unconsecrated to and from the altar, and suffers from a near-complete absence of coherent form that is the necessary picture frame of ritual. Disorientation is our preferred orientation.

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October 29, 2013

Competence and knowledge vs. "understanding"

One of my Facebook acquaintances, I don't remember who, recently put up a link to this video.

I would like to think that all of my readers are men of sense and will see that this bright child is being educationally tormented by being taught a faddish baloney way of doing what should be simple addition. And by the way, it's universally acknowledged that the children are counted wrong if they don't use these new-new-math methods, even if they get the answer right. Sweet. The mother is to be praised for bringing it to the attention of the world at large. It's also good that she taught her daughter the so-called "standard algorithm," aka normal addition, which will actually allow her to extrapolate the concepts of addition to numbers of any size she encounters. Now the mother needs to take the next step and get her child the dickens out of a school system that is trying so hard to mis-educate her.

The video makes an excellent point at the end, to wit, that the curriculum in question deliberately does not teach children to work with numbers larger than the thousands' place because the "array" method is so cumbersome that it cannot be applied to such numbers. Of course it can't. If you're already using a three-dimensional cube drawing to represent the thousands' place, what are you going to make the poor child draw for the ten thousands'? N-dimensional shapes? I shudder to think what they'll try to do to teach decimals... Hence, as the video points out, children taught in this way actually get the misconception (so much for "conceptual understanding") that addition problems using larger numbers are essentially more difficult to solve than those using smaller numbers. Congratulations, "professional educators." You've just ditched one of the the great beauties and virtues of the Arabic numeral system--its ability to be easily extrapolated, both in representation and in manipulation. Maybe you should just go back to using Roman numerals now.

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