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March 2015 Archives

March 2, 2015

Reminder: Austerity means tax hikes

The Wall Street Journal reports:

BRASÍLIA—President Dilma Rousseff’s administration, fearful of a potential loss of Brazil’s investment-grade debt rating, is stepping up austerity measures, angering supporters and exacerbating an already painful economic slowdown.

The government on Thursday announced a cap on government spending and investment, as well as additional tax increases for businesses, moves aimed at shoring up Brasília’s deteriorating finances. [. . .]

Many analysts have praised Brazil’s newfound fiscal discipline as essential to its long-term prosperity. Still, higher taxes and less government spending mean less money in the economy to spur growth and job creation in the short run. Brazil’s official jobless rate climbed to 5.3% in January from 4.3% in December. Official data due late in March are likely to show the country GDP contracted in 2014.

A curious feature of current debates in political economy is that leftists who declaim against austerity very frequently desire a key aspect of it, while right-wingers who defend austerity want no part of the same: namely, tax increases. The infamous “sequestration” budget deal, stumbled into by the White House and Congress, was an austerity measure. It raised taxes (on income, capital gains and dividends) and cut spending. European austerity programs have routinely hiked business, income and consumption taxes. Greek Socialists, having won a recent election, exasperated Eurozone bailout negotiators, and earned a brief reprieve on their debt payments, continue to promise constituents in Greece that they will relieve their austerity burden — in part by lowering business and value-added taxes.

As a check on public sophistry, it is vital to keep these details in mind. Democrats in the US Congress, along with the White House, are constantly angling for new forms of taxation, either for openly punitive purposes (carbon taxes) or out of a yearning for more revenue. This is their austerity policy, whether they realize it or not.

Meanwhile, unless they are prepared to compromise on raising taxes, Republicans should eschew defending austerity. It is perfectly plausible to favor a policy of spending cuts without tax increases, or even alongside tax reductions. But this is not, strictly speaking, austerity.

March 3, 2015

Jesus is not your invisible magic friend

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was asked by a correspondent to read some material from the now-archived site Common Sense Atheism and give my opinions.

One motif I found that surprised me (though it shouldn't have surprised me) was this idea: To test your religious faith, you ought to try to describe it in derogatory terms and admit that this is an accurate description. See if your Christianity can "handle" making this admission.

Apparently Luke Muehlhauser was subjected to this "test" by some atheist when he was in his own crisis of faith. That crisis of faith resulted in his deconverting, and now he is using the same technique on others, since he thought it indicated so devastating a criticism of his own Christianity.

Continue reading "Jesus is not your invisible magic friend" »

March 9, 2015

Report Card on Arguments Against the Death Penalty

Three so-called Catholic news organizations and one usually Catholic news organization put out last week an editorial statement against the Death Penalty (DP). As a service to our readers, I am releasing a report card that grades the arguments against the DP.

The following objectively determined grades* are assigned to arguments coming from persons who are well educated, in positions of responsibility, and have a duty to know what they are talking about. This would include priests, bishops, legislators, judges, mayors, high police officials, and governors.

A. Good arguments against DP for all times and places, as a matter of principle:

Absolutely empty set.

B. Good arguments definitively against all use of DP _today in the US_:

Empty set.

C. Good probable arguments against all DP today in the US:

Empty set.

D. Initially Plausible but ultimately ineffective probable arguments against DP _generally and for the foreseeable future_ in the US:

(1) In our present degenerate society we are unjust and we are unable to distinguish between good and bad violence.
(2) Can kill an innocent person.
(3) Drains too many resources.
(4) The job of executioner is too horrible for mortal men – too much moral danger.

E. Wrong arguments against DP generally today in the US:

(5) Does not allow for repentance.
(6) The Church now teaches that we must eradicate DP.
(7) Death penalty is “abhorrent and unnecessary”.
(8) There is no good way to put them to death that is not abhorrent, cruel, or otherwise objectionable.
(9) As a result, except in the most extreme circumstances, capital punishment cannot be justified.
In developed countries like our own, it should have no place in our public life.
(10) Christ told us not to kill the adulteress.
(11) Even a murderer retains his God-given dignity as a human being, so he must not be killed.

F. Bad arguments against DP:

(12) Execution perpetuates violence.
(13) It is an assault on life, contrary to the “pro-life” stance.
(14) Does not deter.
(15) We don’t need to kill people to protect society or punish the guilty.
(16) The Bible says “thou shalt not kill”.
(17) The state does not have the authority to put a criminal to death.

Out of 17 arguments, most of the common ones out there, not one gets a good or fair grade. The betting man is putting his money on arguments FOR DP.

* By me, of course.

Continue reading "Report Card on Arguments Against the Death Penalty" »

March 12, 2015

Review of John H. Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One

John H. Walton's book The Lost World of Genesis One has (I understand) been very influential among evangelicals in leading them to believe that Scripture is compatible with a full acceptance of whatever mainstream science happens to declare concerning the origin of the world and biological life, including humans. In point of fact, this book says little about human origins; that subject is the topic of The Lost World of Adam and Eve. I have just received a copy of The Lost World of Adam and Eve in the mail and will be reviewing it next.

Since The Lost World of Genesis One (hereafter TLWOG1) gives the foundations of Walton's thinking on these subjects and has been influential in itself, and since there is much to say about the book (all of it negative, I regret to report), I will begin by reviewing TLWOG1. I say "reviewing," though I do not have time to cover all the problems with the book. William Lane Craig has done an excellent job pointing out some of the main problems with the book in three podcasts here, here, and here. Craig goes so far as to say that "there is a deep incoherence in his interpretation" and agrees with the statement from the interviewer that it "doesn't make sense." These are strong words coming from Craig.

An interpretation of Walton's position

A major difficulty is that Walton's view concerning the meaning of Genesis 1 is so unusual that it is difficult to be certain exactly what that view is. The problem is created by the following points:

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March 16, 2015

I May Not Be A Philosophy Professor, But I Know Bad Philosophical Arguments When I See Them

I couldn’t let this pass without a quick notice. Here we have the academic philosopher (Notre Dame Endowed Chair in Philosophy) Gary Gutting, writing at the New York Times, decides to tackle the question of the Catholic Church’s ban on homosexual acts, which he rightly notes is based on natural law thinking:

The problem is that, rightly developed, natural-law thinking seems to support rather than reject the morality of homosexual behavior. Consider this line of thought from John Corvino, a philosopher at Wayne State University: “A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit. . . . [For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.” The sort of relationship Corvino describes seems clearly one that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings — whether the sex involved is hetero- or homosexual. Isn’t this just what it should mean to live in accord with human nature?

Natural-law ethicists typically don’t see it that way. They judge homosexual acts immoral, and claim that even a relationship like the one Corvino describes would be evil because the sex involved would be of the wrong sort. According to them, any sexual act that could not in principle result in pregnancy is contrary to the laws of human nature because it means that each partner is using it as a means to his or her pleasure. Only a shared act directed toward reproduction can prevent this ultimate selfishness.

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March 17, 2015

Zippy Catholic on Usury


Our old friend Zippy Catholic has devoted assiduous labor to the study of usury. His great patriotic service to the Republic is opening this field of understanding.

Reading it, my mind goes instinctively to one of my favorite quotations from Chesterton: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

This Chestertonian epigram has the great virtue, among other things, of stating the direct truth on usury in modern high finance. Many decades and even centuries of economic arrangements have found difficult, and left untried, the Christian teaching on how, in full charity to fellow men, we might profitably lend out our capital.

Great historically-minded writing can often have the peculiar accents of a kind of integral detective novel. Zippy’s treatise on usury, now helpfully available as a free ebook, exudes this character.

Our friend has discovered a bloody crime, a heinous murder, treachery and folly and the human arts bent on malice and wrong.

The veteran of many ugly crime scenes, he has arrived, like a saturnine private dick as adapted from a Raymond Chandler story, at the scene of another one: the assassination of Christian ethics on debt finance.

Like any real detective, Zippy’s work is painstaking and meticulous, more than it is flashy and energetic. It’s the hard labor of following the assassin’s clues, discovering his conspiracy, in order to expose his wickedness and vindicate his victim.

The ebook is written as an accessible FAQ. It can all be read in one sitting (though more sittings will be needed if, like me, you desire a sustainable understanding).

A real thing has been assassinated. More precisely: sound doctrine has been exiled. The teaching on usury across the centuries has been dishonorably driven from public discourse. Christianity is not, in fact, wholly silent on how we should structure our capital markets.

I hope I do not blunder into oversimplification by attempting the summary that follows.

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March 18, 2015

It's Not My Fault I React Badly to Accusations of Racism

Did I argue against accusations of racism? I'm very sorry: I know that my arguments can't possibly have any intellectual merit, but I have to say them. Not because I'm not racist -- clearly I am, mea maxima culpa -- but because I'm fragile.

[Robin DiAngelo, professor of multicutural education at Westfield State University and author of What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy, has] heard it so many times, in fact, that she came up with a term for it: "white fragility," which she defined in a 2011 journal article as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include outward display of emotions such as anger, fear and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence and leaving the stress-inducing situation.”

So, as it turns out, any reaction I have will show how fragile I am. If I argue, I'm fragile. If I keep quiet and refuse to argue, I'm fragile. If I walk away, I'm fragile. I didn't realize that my fragility was so pervasive in my psyche. I thought that maybe there might be some way of talking about race -- other than genuflection at the liberal altar -- that wouldn't show off my fragility. But it's not the case.

It's so nice to be properly diagnosed after all these years. I apologize for my skin color and leave the field to my moral and intellectual betters.

March 20, 2015

Why do human origins matter? Part I of a review of John H. Walton's The Lost World of Adam and Eve

A series of three planned posts, beginning with this one, will include both my own discussion of why the origins of man matter and my review of the second book by John H. Walton that I have read, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (hereafter TLWOA&E). I have read the book in its entirety. My review of The Lost World of Genesis One (TLWOG1) is here. I have decided to break up my review of TLWOA&E into parts to make both posting and reading somewhat easier.

Why does the origin of man matter? Even the origin of animals matters, but why, more specifically, do our origins matter, as human beings? Why does it make a difference what Christians believe on these matters? How could a full acceptance of human common ancestry and material continuity with animal ancestors be problematic for a Christian worldview?

In this post, I will discuss three key areas where human origins matter. My discussion will be tailored toward answering the view of human origins that I take John H. Walton to be promoting as orthodox, since my goal is to present a review of his book on Adam and Eve. Thus, since Walton holds that there definitely was an historical person who can be described by some of the descriptions normally given to the historical Adam (though not all of them), I will not be addressing directly the implications of denying the existence of anyone like the historical Adam. However, I think it will be quite evident that my remarks apply a fortiori to that more radical position.

Continue reading "Why do human origins matter? Part I of a review of John H. Walton's The Lost World of Adam and Eve" »

March 22, 2015

Part II of a Review of John H. Walton's The Lost World of Adam and Eve

In Part I I discussed some important theological, biblical, and ethical reasons for holding that man was physically, specially created, male and female, by God, as held by traditional interpretations of Genesis 1-2. There I defined what I called the "ensoulment view" of human evolution and the origin of the image of God in man. In this section I will relate John H. Walton's views in The Lost World of Adam and Eve to the considerations already given. Then I will lay out some more biblical evidence for the traditional view of the historical Adam and Eve. In Part III I will show how Walton responds to most of this biblical evidence (he does not actually respond to Jesus' words about marriage), and I will evaluate his arguments that the Bible does not teach the de novo creation of Adam and Eve.

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Against third-party reproduction

We recognize that the loss of a parent, by violence or calamity, is an indescribable and permanent agony for children. Our minds understand this fact by instant operation of analogic reason. Our social science shows it beyond all empirical doubt, such that violent or accidental death of a parent is often the standard of trauma for gauging other misfortunes by empirical means. It points, by cogent contrast, to the a normative ideal of the traditional family: married mother and father raising together their biological children.

Now to make, through calculated application of technology, a lesser but still very real condition of loss, bewilderment, privation, absence, to obtain in the life of a child, when one or both of his biological parents is removed from the outset, cannot possibly escape condemnation, should any functional argument from reason reign amongst us.

It’s bad enough when sinful liaisons result in the conception of a child whose mother and father never marry and who is condemned to live and toil under an ineffaceable disability of illegitimacy. Sexual desire being what it is, we cannot hope to be rid of illegitimacy this side of the Eschaton. Thus there are certainly times when a child already conceived needs a stable family which cannot be provided by either or both biological parents. In these cases there can be good reason for the child to be adopted and raised lovingly by those other than his biological parents.

But to deliberately set out, via commercial transaction abetted by technology, to raise a child without a father or a mother — to contract for the permanent absence of the biological parent — crowns selfish pride with inflicted harm on an innocent. To conceive the child as an object, a mere product of technology, who is kept and raised only because he passes quality control tests, whose biological siblings have been heartlessly killed or frozen indefinitely, and for whom even the biological strands of motherhood are sometimes deliberately disassociated from each other, is clearly immoral. It must be criticized. It should be outlawed.

Here two young victims of this folly reflect painfully on its ill-effects, and are moved bravely to criticize it.

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March 24, 2015

Part III of a review of John H. Walton's The Lost World of Adam and Eve

In this third and final part of my review of John H. Walton's The Lost World of Adam and Eve, I will survey and respond to both Walton's response to biblical arguments for an historical Adam and Eve as traditionally conceived as well as his positive arguments that Genesis 2 should not be taken to be describing the de novo creation of Adam and Eve. Parts I and II are already posted. My review of The Lost World of Genesis One is here.

If any fans of Walton's work read these reviews, it is possible that they will think all kinds of things--that I am unqualified, that I am unfair, that I have misunderstood. However, I hope that one thing is clear: I have taken Walton's work, not to say his influence, with sufficient seriousness to devote many, many hours to a sincere and careful attempt to understand, represent, and respond to his positions. I submit that this work rates, at a minimum, due consideration rather than hasty dismissal.

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March 26, 2015

Choice Devours Itself: So much for making your wishes known

Regular readers will recall that I have identified a phenomenon that I call "choice devouring itself." This occurs when the left first promotes some choice as necessary in the name of individual freedom. Then, later on, this so-called "choice" is forced upon some of its alleged beneficiaries, and the left either does not care or denies the occurrence. In the area of abortion, choice devours itself when women (who were supposed to benefit from the wonderful opportunity to murder their children) are forced or highly pressured into abortion, and there is no outcry among "pro-choicers." Choice devours itself in the area of sex when slaves, victims of sex trafficking, are not rescued--treated as presumptively "choosing" their enslavement--and offered "help" only in the form of STD prevention tips. Choice devours itself when Planned Parenthood connives at statutory rape (or more-than-statutory rape). And in the area of death, choice devours itself when innocent people are killed who never even asked to die. Because the "choice" of death (when you are old or have a poor "quality of life") is just so wonderful, you see, that if you didn't make that choice...well...you should have. So let us help you.

The latest case of this kind comes from the State of Wisconsin, where murder was narrowly averted.

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March 27, 2015

Brazilian Magnates Inflict Dreadful Austerity on American Workers

Okay, that’s a highly tendentious headline for an article full of interest. It furnishes the canny observer with another aspect of the austerity puzzle.

A key ingredient in 3G Capital Partners LP’s recipe for reshaping the U.S. food industry — reflected in its roughly $49 billion deal to acquire Kraft Foods Group Inc. — is an arcane-sounding financial tool that slashes costs by focusing on details as minute as how to make photocopies.

On Wednesday, 3G confirmed plans for its H.J. Heinz Co. unit, which it bought two years ago, to buy the maker of Kraft cheese products and Oscar Mayer deli meats. The transaction extends the Brazilian private-equity firm’s acquisition spree in the food industry, where its previous purchases include Burger King Worldwide Inc. and Canadian coffee-and-doughnuts chain Tim Hortons Inc.

The latest deal would unite two of the industry’s biggest names in a company with combined revenue of about $28 billion and a roster of brands that are traditional staples of American kitchens but are struggling to keep pace with shifting consumer tastes.

At Kraft, as it has elsewhere, 3G plans to implement something called zero-based budgeting, an austerity measure that requires managers to justify spending plans from scratch every year. The technique has triggered sweeping cost cuts at 3G-related companies including Heinz — from eliminating hundreds of management jobs to jettisoning corporate jets and requiring employees to get permission to make color photocopies.

Investors have grown increasingly aggressive about second-guessing management’s operational decisions and use of capital. Several activist investors, including Nelson Peltz and William Ackman — himself a personal investor with 3G — have praised the Brazilian firm’s cost-cutting methods. Investors’ enthusiasm was evident in Kraft’s stock price Wednesday, which soared 36% on the merger news.

Private equity firms undertake to pool select partner capital, as opposed to accepting public shareholders, in order to operate in capital markets based on some management or financial strategy. Many of them focus chiefly on investing in rising enterprises, while they are still privately-held; some aspire to move these privately held enterprises to the stage of a public offering of stock, which, if successful with return enormous profit to the early investors. The downside risk lies in this: most enterprises fail, some fail spectacularly.

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March 30, 2015

Choice devours itself: Depressed bi-polar patients eligible for Belgian suicide

This article (HT Wesley J. Smith), which I was able to read in a somewhat mangled form via Google translate, contains a telling quotation from a Belgian euthanasia bureaucrat named Wim Distelmans:

Manic-depressive patients, in their manic moments, the most improbable things in [that] state: plunder their bank account, weeks staying in a five star hotel, numerous cars on buying one day. At that stage they are not mentally competent, that is obvious. But come in moments of depression they back their exhaustion to the baseline, and they are indeed competent. Then they can say, for example: "I live for thirty years crazy highs and lows, I've tried everything to break that infernal cycle, including psychiatric hospitalization, but now I'm back on the baseline, and I know I have a few weeks left'm back for a dip in the depth or a jump in height. " These are people who are eligible for euthanasia.

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March 31, 2015

The elephant in the higher education room

This article and this article are two recent pieces that express distress at the current promotion of STEM fields in American discourse. The piece by Christopher Scalia specifically calls out conservatives (he regards himself as a conservative) for their over-emphasis on STEM fields and for "trashing" the liberal arts.

Let me say at the outset that my own degree (in English) and all of my publications are, officially speaking, in the humanities, although the majority of my publications are at a very STEM-like edge of the humanities (epistemology and probability theory). My husband is a professional philosopher, and I am an at-home homeschooling mother, so the humanities are, literally, our bread and butter. Moreover, I have great sympathy and admiration for (what I have heard of) a school like Thomas Aquinas College in California with its great books program.

In theory, I believe in the ideal of a well-rounded education that Christopher Scalia is promoting. In theory, I love literature, history, philosophy, and art history. In theory, I would love to see students gain a multi-faceted liberal arts education as college undergraduates to the extent that they do not already have that when they graduate from high school. They could learn to love and comprehend the great books of the Western canon and gain a deeper understanding of great works of art.

In theory.

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