Friday, August 31, 2007

More on Mexico's Plutocracy Problem

In an earlier post on illegal immigration, I mentioned a fabulously wealthy Mexican gentleman named Carlos Slim, and his role in restraining the economic potential of the Mexican economy. I have found his name popping up repeatedly since then. The most recent report that I have encountered is "Mexico's Plutocracy Thrives on Robber-Baron Concessions" by Eduardo Porter (New York Times, August 27, 2007, p. A16).

Porter provides some interesting facts:

  • Of the 946 billionaires in the world, 10 are Mexican, and Carlos Slim Helu is one of them.

  • Carlos Slim (worth US$59 billion) recently surpassed Bill Gates (US$58 billion) as the world's richest man.

  • Mr. Slim's net worth amounts to 7% of Mexico's GDP. Bill Gates's wealth is only 0.5% of America's GDP. John D. Rockefeller's (1839-1937) wealth was worth 1.5% of his country's GDP (I'm guessing that he means around 1890).
This son of Lebanese immigrants who clearly has remarkable abilities that most of the rest of us do not have -- and he is entitled to reap the fair fruit of that -- nonetheless did not get to where he is today without significant and morally questionable government help.
In 1990, the government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari sold his friend Mr. Slim the Mexican National phone company, Telmex, along with a de facto commitment to maintain its monopoly for years. Then it awarded Telmex the only nationwide cellphone license.

When competitors were eventually allowed in, Telmex kept them at bay with some rather creative gambits, like getting a judge to issue an arrest warrant for the top lawyer of a competitor. Today, it still has a 90 percent share of Mexico's landline phone service and controls almost three-quarters of thew cellphone market.

Porter reports that 20% of Mexicans have land lines, less than half of these have cellphones, and only 9% of Mexican households have Internet access. The corrected front page Wall Street Journal Luhnow article on Slim cites the World Bank as putting that land line figure at about 50%.
Mr. Slim's style of wealth accumulation is not rare in modern Mexico. From television to tortillas, vast swaths of the Mexican economy are controlled by monopolies or oligarchies. Many of Mexico's billionaires were created by the government during the privatization of the state-owned companies in the 1990s.

But though the figures may or may not be off, it is certainly true that if men like Carlos Slim would loosen their monopolistic control of their country's economy, they would have more potential customers with a lot more money. As a consequence, they (along with everyone else) would be much richer -- or "prosperous" is perhaps a gentler word.

Porter's leftist sentiments come through in his attempt to sound the alarm here in the United States against big business and wealth accumulation. We are "fast approaching Mexico's levels of inequality." He cites "[t]he concentration of 44 percent of the nation's income among the top 10 percent of taxpayers...." Aside from his seeming unreliability at reporting figures, the difference between our rich and Mexico's is that, in our relatively free economy (it could benefit from being freer), that wealthy 10% generates productive capacity and wealth which spreads throughout the population.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The High Stakes in Iraq

As the widely agreed upon Hour of Decision approaches on the Iraq question for American political leaders, prereport assessments of the stakes involved in that decision are proliferating. President Bush, in an August 22 speech to the VFW, drew parallels between our premature withdrawal from Vietnam and proposals to withdraw sooner rather than later from Iraq.
Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end. ...The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea.
Setting aside the debate surrounding our entry into that war, he states firmly, "one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps,' and 'killing fields.'" He turns to bin Laden himself for a summary of the stakes involved: "the war [in Iraq] is for you or us to win. If we win it, it means your disgrace and defeat forever." In other words, withdrawal does not mean putting thew whole sorry mess behind us and returning to peace. Rather, it means great loss of life and of American credibility, and emboldening very dangerous (state and non-state) enemies.

In Monday's Wall Street Journal, Josef Joffe added his academic weight to the President's argument ("If Iraq Falls," August 27, 2007). He argues that, "unlike yesterday's Vietnam, the Greater Middle East (including Turkey) is the central strategic arena of the 21st century, as Europe was in the 20th. ...So let's take a moment to think about what would happen once that last Blackhawk took off from Baghdad International. Here is a short list."

  • "Iran advances to No. 1, completing its nuclear-arms program undeterred and unhindered. America's cowed Sunni allies -- Saudi-Arabia, Jordan, the oil-rich "Gulfies" -- are drawn into the Khomeinist orbit."

  • "...[E]mboldened jihadi forces shift to Afghanistan and turn it again into a bastion of Terror International."

  • "Syria reclaims Lebanon..."

  • "Russia, extruded from the Middle East by adroit Kissingerian diplomacy in the 1970s, rebuilds its anti-Western alliances. ...This ruthlessly revisionist power wants revenge for its post-Gorbachev humiliation, not responsibility."

  • China establishes itself as the dominant power in the Western Pacific region.
Europe is irrelevant as a world power in this respect, but America, even discredited, would not be so. "Its enemies from al Qaeda to Iran -- and its rivals from Russia to China -- can disrupt and defy, but they cannot build and lead. For all the damage to Washington's reputation, nothing of great import can be achieved without, let alone against, the U.S."

He sees all three Democratic presidential front runners peering past the decision they have been advocating to the dreadful and global consequences of a simple pull-out. As the Hour of Decision approaches as well as election day 2008, they seem to be sobering up. In sum: "The U.S. as 'Gulliver Unbound' may have stumbled during its 'unipolar' moment. But as giant with feet of clay, it will do worse: and so will the rest of the world."

The same day, Mark Steyn reflected on this subject in the New York Sun ("Withdrawl Recalled"). Taking his cue from the President's citation of a naive judgment in the New York Times in 1975, Steyn takes today's NYT to task for writing that, "In urging Americans to stay the course in Iraq, Mr. Bush is challenging the historical memory that the pullout from Vietnam had few negative repercussions for the United States and its allies." He details a few of those "negative repercussions."

South Vietnam was promptly overrun by the communist north.

The former Cambodian Prime Minister, Sirik Matak, refused an American offer of asylum, choosing instead to remain with his people. "A month later [he] was killed by the Khmer Rouge, along with the best part of two million other people." He told the American ambassador, "I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty … I have committed this mistake of believing in you, the Americans."

He cites also the revolution in Granada, Argentina's seizure of the Falkland Islands, and Russian adventurism in Africa through their Cuban proxies as consequences of the loss of Western credibility in general. And then, of course, there is Iran.

And, as Iran reminds us, the enduring legacy of the retreat from Vietnam was the emboldening of other enemies. The forces loosed in the Middle East bedevil to this day, in Iran, and in Lebanon, which Syria invaded shortly after the fall of Saigon and after its dictator had sneeringly told Henry Kissinger, "You've betrayed Vietnam. Someday you're going to sell out Taiwan. And we're going to be around when you get tired of Israel."

President Assad understood something that too many Americans didn't. Then as now, the anti-war debate is conducted as if it's only about the place you're fighting in: Vietnam is a quagmire, Iraq is a quagmire, so get out of the quagmire. Wrong. The "Vietnam war" was about Vietnam if you had the misfortune to live in Saigon. But if you lived in Damascus and Moscow and Havana, the Vietnam war was about America: American credibility, American purpose, American will.
Osama bin Laden has been studying these lessons. Vietnam. Lebanon. Somalia. America is "a soft plump ersatz-superpower that coils up in the fetal position if you prick its toe."

The September decision on Iraq is not about budgets, casualties and quagmires. The fundamental issue is American credibility, international stability and our security against domestic terrorist attacks.

You must also read Bernard Lewis's eye-opening review of the consequences in international affairs during the Cold War for the perception, particularly in the Middle East, that America is briefly threatening and easily bullied.

During the Cold War, two things came to be known and generally recognized in the Middle East concerning the two rival superpowers. If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward...These different responses evoked different treatment. While American policies, institutions and individuals were subject to unremitting criticism and sometimes deadly attack, the Soviets were immune.

It is an opinion essay in the Wall Street Journal. "Was Osama Right? Islamists always believed the U.S. was weak. Recent political trends won't change their view." Read it all.

Popular Moral Philosophy

A friend of mine works in IT. His department sends out email notices of things that they are going to do -- shut down servers, install patches etc. But what is remarkable in these dull departmental emails is the inspirational messages they place at the bottom. This is the "wisdom" that they think (do they even think?) will produce a more productive workforce for tomorrow:

Your mind knows only some things. Your inner voice, your instinct, knows everything. If you listen to what you know instinctively, it will always lead you down the right path. -- Henry Winkler

Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possibility. -- Oprah Winfrey

So if my inner voice (essentially my feelings) tells me that I should key the boss's car, smash my co-worker in the face or sleep with a subordinate who is perhaps even a young intern, I have chosen "the right path."

Dwell in that possibility.

At some, but sadly very few, colleges and universities, we are thinking seriously about what "citizenship" in the moral sense of the word entails in a liberal democracy, and thus what kind of citizen character is required in order to sustain a free and decent society. Henry, Oprah, and the tragically miseducated managers in this fellow's IT department somewhat miss the mark.

Friday, August 24, 2007

America's Unstable Evangelicals

The picture that I painted in my previous post may not be as rosy as it is in fact. The sober observer of our times might consider a recent Gene Edward Veith column in WORLD magazine. He reports:

...evangelical teens tend to have sex first at a younger age, 16.3, compared to liberal Protestants, who tend to lose their virginity at 16.7. And young evangelicals are far more likely to have had three or more sexual partners (13.7 percent) than non-evangelicals (8.9 percent).
Apparently abstinence pledges, regardless of how well intentioned, merely delay sexual intimacy about 18 months. 88% of teens who take these vows fail to keep them. So says University of Texas at Austin sociologist Mark Regnerus in Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the lives of American Teenagers (Oxford, 2007).

Before I come to Veith's discussion of these startling figures, let me point out that part of the problem is this yet unredeemed flesh in which we find ourselves...yes, even as Christians. Our redeemed spirits aspire to more than our flesh will allow. Sanctification closes the gap over the course of a Christian life, but never anywhere close to completely. These teenagers are at the beginning of their Christian lives, and are undertaking the struggle in a culture with little to support their new commitment.

On that subject, Veith mentions school environments. I assume that he is referring to public schools, at least for the most part. People throw their baby Christian (if that) children into the moral swamp of the public school system because (a) it's free (though there is a cost, apparently) and (b) they want their little seedlings to be "salt and light." Utter madness. Some kids can handle it, but you should not assume that your kid is one of them.

Another reason is the weirdness of the modern world.
Adolescence—that time when a person is physically an adult but socially a child—is a modern invention. In the past, people married much younger, as soon as they were sexually ready. Today's culture postpones marriage while stretching celibacy to the breaking point.
Veith's analysis of the problem is the most illuminating when he turns his attention to the failings of the churches in which these youths make their commitments.
Churches used to teach and exemplify self-control, the necessity of keeping one's emotions in check, the discipline of self-denial and mortification of the flesh. Today the typical evangelical church, in its example and practice, cultivates "letting go," emotionalism, self-fulfillment, and an odd religious sensuality.
It's easy to reduce "wordliness" to a few neat categories, and then keep Pharisaically clear of it. Don't smoke, don't chew, and don't go with girls that do. Abortion. Fornication (can we still use that word?). Homosexuality. At some point, we learn that the problem is not just out there in those people. It is also in here in me. The sinful nature is something I share with those wordlings and secularists, even if I do have Christ (or, rather, he has me).

Pharisaism, legalism, understanding your Christianity in terms of what you do and do not do, i.e. in moral and cultural terms, can only lead to failure, and either despair or hypocrisy, as we see in these young people. Christianity is Christ, and the gospel of Christ is the grace of God that comes to us through the cross. It's not what you do. It's what he has done for you and your personal faith-relationship with him. ("For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV).

As Veith is wise to remind us, "They need to be brought closer to Christ, so that a growing faith can bear fruit in better conduct." Like every Christian, they need to internalize more deeply the amazing grace of the gospel, and be graciously changed "from glory to glory" (II Corinthians 3:18 NKJV).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

America's Evangelical Future

According to secularization theory, as education, science and enlightenment progress, people should become more rational and less religious. Observe Europe, for example. But in that observation don't go back 70 years to the most philosophically and scientifically sophisticated nation in the world sunk in the darkest night of evil fanaticism. But I digress.

Today, the United States is a mighty engine of scientific research and technological innovation. Surely, according to the secularization theory of human progress, we should be a thoroughly secular nation, almost indistinguishable from France, our old ally from the revolutionary era. Not so! Arthur C. Brooks tells us ("Our Religious Destiny," Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2007, p.A11) that the following decades in America will see a growth of religious observance, and perhaps also a fundamentally religious view of the world. What are enlightened souls like Sam Harris to do in the face of this? They either flee their hopelessly Puritan homeland to enjoy the demystified life in secular Britain -- at least until it becomes an Islamic state, no doubt with the help of Charles when he is briefly king -- or they stay and fight.

That fight will be what Brooks calls a "tough slog," however, because religious people have demographics on their side.

A secular nation needs secular citizens. And nonreligious Americans are outstandingly weak when it comes to the most efficacious way to achieve this: by having kids.
If you picked 100 adults out of the population who attended their house of worship nearly every week or more often, they would have 223 children among them, on average, according to the 2006 General Social Survey. Among 100 people who attended less than once per year or never, you would find just 158 kids. This 41% fertility gap between religious and secular people is especially meaningful because people tend to worship more or less like their parents.
Of course some of those church attenders are liberal mainline Protestants and so forth who are no threat to a secular America. Brooks comes around to the political aspect, however.

Religious people who call themselves politically "conservative" or "very conservative" are having, on average, an astounding 78% more kids than secular liberals. Studies show that people are even more likely to vote like their parents than they are to worship like them.
A recent book by Lauren Sandler, Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement (Penguin, 2006), provides interesting statistics.
  1. Age of born-again Christians most likely to have engaged in evangelical behavior in 2004: 18-20-year-olds (88 %)
  2. Percentage of high school students who support prayer in public school: 84
  3. Percentage greater than Americans overall: 8
  4. Percentage of entering college freshmen who attend church: 81
  5. Percentage greater than Americans overall: 15
  6. Percentage increase in total enrollment for all public four-year colleges and universities from 1990 to 2004: 12.8
  7. Percentage increase in enrollment at the 102 campuses that are members of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, a group that works to advance Christ-centered higher education by relating scholarship and service to "biblical truth": 70.6
  8. Increase in sales of religious music from 1989 to 2005: 318%
  9. Estimated number of Christian music festivals held in the summer of 2000 attended by more than 5,000 youths: 5
  10. ...and in summer 2005: 35
Sam Harris, atheist firebreather and author of Letter to a Christian Nation, says of Sandler's book, "If you have any doubt there is a culture war that must be won by secularists in America, read this book." Despite what Harris would have us think, Sandler, an atheist from Cambridge MA and now Life Editor for in New York, is sympathetic toward, but ultimately unpersuaded by the subjects of her study.
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Sandler shared, "The people I met showed me that the
need for what they have—the rigid structure of the lifestyle, the intense community—is deep among this generation. They want an alternative to mainstream culture, and they believe they are the true radicals out there. So Christianity spreads by being cool." Reflecting on the the Evangelical youth movement as a whole, Sandler observes, "A lot of people simply can't find what they are looking for in the secular world."
If what Brooks and Sandler report is accurate, the work of academically serious and spiritually ambitious institutions like The King's College in New York where I teach will become increasingly important in bringing that rising generation from explosive youthful enthusiasm into mature, biblically faithful, prudent adult accomplishment. And, God willing, the world will be better because of it…for everyone.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Spiritual Classics

Someone I know is teaching a course on “Spiritual Classics.” This prompted me to think of what I would put on the reading list for such a course. It was a good exercise. Here is a list of Protestant Evangelical spiritual classics. What I mean by a “spiritual” book in this context is a devotional work that probes the soul, opens the gospel, and draws and conforms the heart to Christ. This is far from an exhaustive lost. Feel free to suggest others. I have taken the book summaries largely from internet retailers.

Thirsty souls, take note!

The Godly Man's Picture by Thomas Watson (1620-1686)
Watson subtitled this book, "Some Characteristic Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven". The pages which follow thoroughly, but very simply, portray those very traits: a man of knowledge; a man fired by love; a man who serves God and not men; a man who loves the Word; a man of humility; a man of prayer; a zealous man; a patient man; a man who prizes Christ; and 15 more! It is, as C.H. Spurgeon said of his other work, “a happy union of sound doctrine, heart-searching experience and practical wisdom.”

A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728) by William Law
Law's prose is fresh and vivid as he illustrates the holy Christian life as one lived wholly for God. His thoughts on prayer, personal holiness and service to the poor will resonate with many contemporary readers. Samuel Johnson said this: “I took up this book expecting to find it a dull book (as such books generally are) and perhaps to laugh at it. But I found Law quite an overmatch for me.” He later described it as “the finest piece of hortatory theology in any language.”

Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul by Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)
Doddridge offers 30 magnificent, matchless chapters on how one stays the course of the Christian life with strength. John Newton said: "few uninspired books have greater honor than Doddrige's The Rise and Progress". Jonathan Edwards wrote, "I cannot but rejoice at some things lately published in England, particular Dr. Doddridge's book. He seems to have his heart truly engaged for the interest of religion."

The Life of God in the Soul of Man (1739) by Henry Scougal
This book was used of God in the conversion of George Whitefield was much used more recently in the writings of John Piper. Whitefield said: “I never knew what true religion was till God sent me this excellent treatise.”

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1648) by Jeremiah Burroughs
We live in a world of grumblers, discontent with God's widespread goodness. This book, in typical Puritan form, "doctors" us by proposing remedies to our "spiritual disease" and helps us grow a spirit of thankfulness in its place.

All Things For Good (1663) by Thomas Watson
Based on Romans 8:28, Watson simply but profoundly explains how God does in fact make all things - good and bad things - work together for the good of His people.

The Book of Martyrs (1563) by John Foxe
When the church does not feel pain with those that are part of them, the Church's nerves...become dead” (Sabina Wurmbrand, The Voice of the Martyrs). Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, like Pilgrim’s Progress, has been one of the most consistently and widely read books of Christian devotion in the English language. Profoundly influential.

The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by John Bunyan
This is one of the most influential books of the English language and rightly on any short list of spiritual classics. Augustus Toplady: “It is a masterpiece of piety and genius; and will, we doubt not, be of standing use to the people of God be so long as the sun and moon endure.” George Whitefield: “It was written when the author was confined in Bedford gaol. And ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross; the spirit of Christ and of glory then rests upon them.”

Holiness (1879) by J.C. Ryle
John Charles Ryle (1816-1900), the first Bishop of Liverpool, was affectionately known as "the working man's bishop." He was firm in his theological convictions, never suffering from what he called a "boneless, nerveless, jellyfish condition of soul." Today, more than a hundred years after his death, his works remain some of the Christian church's most cherished treasures. Among them, Holiness is an enduring classic.

The Knowledge of the Holy (1961) by A.W. Tozer
This book bears eloquent witness to God's majesty and shows us new ways to experience and understand the wonder and the power of God's spirit in our daily lives. Tozer: "The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him." Again: "Love and faith are at home in the mystery of the Godhead. Let reason kneel in reverence outside."

Letters of Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)
The letters of Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish Presbyterian minister in Anwoth who was a participant at the Westminster Assembly, are considered the most remarkable, devotionally rich, series of letters in all literature by many students of church history. Charles Spurgeon called Rutherford's letter "the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men." Like John Bunyan in Bedford jail, Samuel Rutherford did his best work while suffering imprisonment for the gospel. It was out of this period that most of his famous Letters came.

Classic Counsels by C.H. Spurgeon
Any list of evangelical spiritual classics has to include something from the 19th century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, known with great justice as “prince of preachers.” No matter what you pick up from this gifted saint, you have struck gold. Any sampling of Spurgeon tends to result in a lifelong reading relationship, and with great spiritual profit. This anthology is a collection of messages that covers major aspects of personal spiritual experience and Christian service, including: Obtaining certain assurance, help for doubting seekers, relief for the downcast believer, and how converts are strengthened.

Charity and Its Fruits (1738) by Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards, whose learned and godly ministry the Lord used in the Great Awakening, shows clearly the essential fruit of the Christian life in contrast to the way most "Christians" live today. This book will spur you on to genuine love and good works.

The Religious Affections (1746) by Jonathan Edwards
The question driving this book, which Edwards wrote as part of his defense of the awakenings of the 1730's-1740's, is: "What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal life?", or, in a shorter form, "What is the nature of true religion?" Review by “Jason” (Amazon): This is probably the greatest book available on the nature of true conversion. A thoughtful and thoroughly biblical analysis. One of the few books that made me rethink what I had assumed to be true about how the Spirit of God works in a person.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Review by Erik A. Olson (Amazon; altered): The book's major theme centers on what it really means to be a disciple of Christ. Christ calls us to "come and die." He wants all of us - nothing is to be held back. Bonhoeffer was an early foe of Adolph Hitler, and this book was published while he was being persecuted by the Nazis. Therefore, he wrote as one who has stood for Christ in tough times, and he knew that Christ is one's only hope. Bonhoeffer attacks "cheap grace" and demands a steadfast, deep loyalty to Christ.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Harvard Prof: Multiculturalism Kills Community

Daniel Henninger reported yesterday in The Wall Street Journal (“The Death of Diversity”) that the cultivation of diversity in the form of perpetually distinct ethnic communities “has a downside.” That is, “People in ethnically diverse settings don’t care about each other.”

That seems counter-intuitive.

He draws this conclusion from reading a study by Robert Putnam, public policy professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000). He has just completed a study of the impact of diverse communities on social cohesion and civic engagement entitled E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the 21st Century.

Henninger quotes Putnam’s scandalous conclusion:

Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.
Growing up in Canada, I was taught that while America follows the “melting pot” approach to integrating immigrants into the nation (understood to be clearly bad), enlightened Canada welcomes her new arrivals into something we called a “salad bowl” (understood to be clearly good). The Trudeau government of the 1970s made this a matter of policy, calling it “multiculturalism,” their way of trying to diffuse the bi-cultural, bi-national Quebec problem.

I came to see the inherent contradiction in this. The goal was to form a tolerant society of diverse communities, each appreciating and respecting all the others. The celebration of this social model was the annual “Caravan” festival in Toronto, a delightful arrangement in which the various ethnic groups would put on shows, serve food and sell crafts at their respective restaurants and community centers. People would buy “passports” and circulate from one venue to another all week.

The problem is that the people hosting and the people circulating represent two very different views of the world and of neighboring worlds. The more appreciation for diversity one has, the less attached one becomes to one’s own culture. Perhaps it is a weak sense of having a culture at all that inclines a person to circulate rather than host at an event like Caravan. Of course this is a generalization, but English Canadians are notorious for their paralyzing confusion over who they are.

So diversity, in the sense of a confederation of distinct yet peacefully coexisting communities, a "community of communities" as I think Canadian Tory leader Joe Clark once put it, is something that can be cultivated only by people who care nothing for it, but instead care only for their own respective insular ways of life. They care nothing for other communities and nothing for the nation as a whole, except perhaps insofar as it pertains to protecting what is particular to them, if they think about it at all. There is no citizenship within this view, except in the merely legal sense, for that requires a sacrificial concern for the common good. There is only the opposite. This social model encourages retreat into concern for what is narrowly one’s own, though not as far as what de Tocqueville calls individualism. Love for everyone else’s cultures is held up as a virtue, but those cultures can perpetuate themselves only to the extent that there are people paying no attention to other people’s cultures and perhaps even rejecting them. This is what Putnam has documented. (It is interesting that we need expensive studies to prove what otherwise is quite obvious.)

The American model, the so-called “melting pot,” is not the oppressive enemy of human flourishing that some claim it to be. Indeed, it is the opposite. The “melting” indicates the virtue and necessity of conforming to what is “American.” The United States is the only country in the world that is founded on certain principles of right, truths held to be self-evident, namely “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Thus, a newly naturalized citizen, whether from Canada or Tonga, is as much an American as a descendant of Washington himself, provided that he supports the Constitution and the principles on which it is based. This model is most conducive of citizenship, or what Putnam calls “social cohesion and civic engagement.” It directs people to think more about “us” than about “me,” with what is good for “us” being informed by what is objectively known to be good through reflection on nature and nature's God.

Putnam goes even further than I would expect, however, in his characterizations of these insular communities. Notice, they "withdraw even from close friends, [and] expect the worst from their community and its leaders." The final picture is one of total alienation: they "huddle unhappily in front of the television." It sounds like a stultifying and miserable existence. This goes beyond even the individualism against which de Tocqueville cautions us, and descends into egoism. I don't recognize this, but his argument merits reading.

Especially interesting is the hope Putnam sees in "large evangelical congregations" which provide people of diverse ethnic backgrounds with lots of little groups (perhaps local Bible studies and fellowship evenings) in the context of a common identity and community experience. I would say that the church of Christ offers people the social body and personal identity for which they long, but which can be found only partially in gangs, families, neighborhoods and ethnic enclaves. See my earlier post on community and the longing soul.

For a good study of the present fixation on diversity by our cultural elites, Peter Wood's Diversity, the Invention of a Concept (2004) is the definitive word of the subject.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sunday Reflection: Community and the Longing Soul

This morning, Pastor Benjamin Miller at Franklin Square Orthodox Presbyterian Church on Long Island, New York, said,

We long for a bond of human community that nothing can break (no one moves away, grows cold toward us, dies), in which each is eagerly pursuing the good of everyone with an infinite and gracious love. But that is found only in God the Father through Jesus Christ.
This brings to mind Augustine's prayer from the Confessions, "Father, you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." Aristotle's observation is true: we are "political animals." We were made for community. "No man is an island, sufficient unto himself," said Donne. But though made for community, we were not made for this world. What we long for in relationships, we cannot find in earthly, natural relationships.

The human bonds that sweeten our lives are blessings from God, but like all of his blessings they point beyond themselves to the One who alone truly satisfies. It is the failure to see this that in the modern world has led to utopian ideology and thence to monstrous tyranny. Mistaking the sign for the signified, seeking in this world what can be found fully only in the next, or in what transcends this world, is idolatry and leads necessarily to disappointment, misery and destruction.

With that in mind, the wisdom of the American system of government can be seen in its moderation. It secures for each citizen the freedom to pursue happiness, but does not guarantee that happiness. That is only God's to give.

Indeed, God has promised us that happiness. He has promised you that happiness. He gives you himself, and does so only in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners and the Mediator of the New Covenant.

To Israel he said, "I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish" (Jeremiah 31:25 ESV).

He fulfilled this promise in Jesus the Messiah, the hope of all nations: "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6:35).

Friday, August 10, 2007

Any difference between GOP & Dems? Try this!

At a gay issues forum for Democratic presidential candidates sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and broadcast on Logo, the homosexual-themed cable network, candidates were enthusiastically supportive of the homosexual agenda. And this from the party that claims to have found religion in this election cycle. But how many of those gullible, left-evangelical voters are watching Logo anyway?

When questioned about her opposition to homosexual "marriage," CNN reports that Sen. Clinton responded, "I prefer to think of it as being very positive about civil unions." She then clarified what she meant by that. Support for these civil unions is not an opposition to homosexual marriage, but a tactical way of making the country eventually comfortable with supporting it. "For me, we have made it very clear in our country that we believe in equality. How we get to full equality is the debate we're having."

Gov. Bill Richardson said the same thing in different words: "In my heart, I'm doing what is achievable, and I'm not there yet, and the country isn't there yet."

For Barack Obama, marriage and civil union are the same thing in the eyes of the law, and that is where he wants to take the country.
We should try to disentangle what has historically been the issue of the word 'marriage,' which has religious connotations to some people, from the civil rights that are given couples. My job as president is going to be to make sure that the legal rights that have consequences on a day-to-day basis for loving same-sex couples all across the country ... are recognized and enforced.
Substantively, an Obama administration would see no difference between the relationship he shares with Mrs Obama and homosexual best friends who have made legal commitments to one another, as though the pillar and fabric of society were only a matter of friendship, what you do in bed and social security entitlements, and not... well read my colleague, David L. Tubbs, in "Redefining Marriage Away," (City Journal, Summer 2004).

So let's be frank. We can take it as the unstated platform of the Democratic party that marriage should be between any two people regardless of their sex combination. That is, they are committed to reducing our understanding of marriage to whatever homosexuals share in their pairing relationships. Indeed, based on their particularly radical, post-modern understanding of equality (Clinton: "full equality;" Edwards: "I believe to my core in equality;" Kucinich: "real equality"), there is every reason to understand their party as committed also to bigamy, polyandry, incest, and...for the sake of good taste we'll stop there.

But we have no reason to think that these Democrats will stop even at the limits of our imaginations when it comes to redefining marriage and to the sort of disastrous social experimentation to which we have seen them obsessively committed for decades now.

Oh, and who in the Republican Party is holding us back form this mass civilizational suicide? Those vilified Christians! Someone has figured out something quite fundamental.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Mexico's Tight Credit Drives Illegals North

People stream across the Mexico-US border in search of jobs. Clearly, there are far too few jobs in Mexico or the pay differential between Mexico and the US is far too high, or both.

Joel Kurtzman, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute, in "Mexico's Job-Creation Problem" (Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2007), provides some illuminating information: "Mexico has a job-creation problem."

"During President Vicente Fox's six years in office his goal was to create six million jobs across all sectors of the economy." During that time, however, "Mexico created only 1.4 million jobs." Of particular interest to Americans is the observation that during that same period, "[t]he number of illegal immigrants from Mexico was roughly equal to the number of jobs Mr. Fox did not create."

Oh, it gets better. Why does Mexico find it so hard to create jobs? They have lots of oil, an abundant and hard-working labor force, long tourist-attractive coastlines, and a shared border with the American economic behemoth. Ka-ching! But jobs are created by entrepreneurs, and in order to create jobs entrepreneurs need access to capital. The problem is that "Mexico's financial and economic structures fail at providing entrepreneurs with the capital they need to create jobs." According to Kurtzman, nearly half the Mexican economy is controlled by one man, Carlos Slim (see WSJ, "The Secrets of the World's Richest Man," Aug 4-5, 2007), and most of the rest is in the hands of a few others. They don't like competition, failing to understand the basic economic fact that a growing economy that is a free economy enriches everyone, even the Carlos Slims.

Read the article for what he says about the oil and banking industries and about household credit and their residential mortgage market. What a mess. "If mortgages were cheap and plentiful -- through the increased use of mortgage securitization tools, for example -- the epicenter of demand for Mexico's trade- and craftsmen would not be California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. It would be in Mexico."

The people crossing illegally from Mexico into the United States are not just job seekers. They are also capital seekers who come here to start businesses. "Solving the immigration problem will not happen unless Mexico solves its job-creation problem."

Monday, August 6, 2007

Democrats Find Religion and Pray for Defeat

The news these days is that the Democratic Party has found religion. So what do these newly baptized holy rollers pray for? Defeat on the battlefield, it they can bring home the troops (whom, of course, they fully support) and, on the basis of this victory, ride a wave of public approval into the eventual control of all three branches of government. If don't see the mutilation of human reason in that, you must have just returned from the Yearly Kos Convention.

A week ago, on the New York Times op ed page, Michael E. O'Hanlon and Kenneth M Pollack (both at The Brookings Institution) wrote up their report on the apparent success we (yes, "we") appear to be having in the president's 2007 counterinsurgency, the so-called "surge" ("A War We Just Might Win," July 30, 2007). Dems are panicking at the news. We are not supposed to win. It's supposed to be a quagmire, Vietnam all over again. The reputations of respectable presidential candidates are at stake. Furthermore, if we are to have any hope of liberating America, the liberation of Iraq must fail. And on it goes.

Commenting on the shock waves this report has sent through Washington, Michael Barone says in today's New York Sun ("Shifting Perceptions of the War"), "It's not often that an opinion article shakes up Washington and changes the way a major issue is viewed. But that happened last week, when the New York Times printed an opinion article by analysts of the Brookings Institution, Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack, on the progress of the surge strategy in Iraq."

His basics points are these: In February 2006, Al Qaeda bombed the Shiite mosque in Samarra and something approaching sectarian civil war broke out. Reality changed, and the president's failure was in not responding. Hope springs eternal when things have been going well.

But after the November 2006 election, President Bush changed our approach to the Iraq war, appointing the author of the Army's new counterinsurgency manual, General David Petraeus, to prosecute the war based on a different set of assumptions and with new goals corresponding to actual conditions. Reality changed once again, but the Democratic opponents of the war (what seems like the whole party, except for "independent" Joe Lieberman) are now failing to recognize it and change their approach to the domestic political war.

Barone concludes, "Democrats could find themselves trapped between a base that wants retreat and defeat, and a majority that wants victory." Politics are not the faint hearted.

Also look at Ralph Peters' "Winning in Iraq and Losing in Washington" from the New York Post, July 26, 2007, and, on the same page, Victor Davis Hanson's "Architects of a Poison 'Peace.'"

Follow-up on Saudi Terror Funding

This past Friday, I posted "Troubling Saudi Arms Deal" in which I made references to a few different articles in the New York Sun of the previous day. In today's NYS, Mark Steyn, bravely taking on "one of the richest men on the planet" who undoubtedly has ties to al Qaeda, follows up on these dots-for-connecting in "One Way Multiculturalism." He begins:

How will we lose the war against "radical Islam"? Well, it won't be in a tank battle. Or in the Sunni Triangle or the caves of Bora Bora. It won't be because terrorists fly three jets into the Oval Office, Buckingham Palace and the Basilica of St. Peter's on the same Tuesday morning. The war will be lost incrementally because we are unable to reverse the ongoing radicalization of Muslim populations in South Asia, Indonesia, the Balkans, Western Europe and, yes, North America.
After a great deal of interesting argument, he ends this way:
Because English libel law overwhelmingly favors the plaintiff. And like many other bigshot Saudis Sheikh Mahfouz has become very adept at using foreign courts to silence American authors — in effect, using distant jurisdictions to nullify the First Amendment. He may be a wronged man, but his use of what the British call "libel chill" is designed not to vindicate his good name but to shut down the discussion, which is why Cambridge University Press made no serious attempt to mount a defense. He's one of the richest men on the planet, and they're an academic publisher with very small profit margins. But, even if you've got a bestseller, your pockets are unlikely to be deep enough: House Of Saud, House Of Bush did boffo biz with the anti-Bush crowd in America, but there's no British edition — because Sheikh Mahfouz had indicated he was prepared to spend what it takes to challenge it in court and Random House decided it wasn't worth it.

We've gotten used to one-way multiculturalism: the world accepts that you can't open an Episcopal or Congregational church in Jeddah or Riyadh but every week the Saudis can open radical mosques and madrassahs and pro-Saudi think-tanks in London and Toronto and Dearborn, Michigan and Falls Church, Virginia. And their global reach extends a little further day by day, inch by inch, in the lengthening shadows, as the lights go out one by one around the world.
Click the link and read the whole essay for yourself.

Credit Correction or Crash?

After posting on the mortgage mess on Saturday, I arrived Monday morning to this Wall Street Journal editorial: "Bernanke's Bear Market" (Aug. 6, 2007).

That's Bear with a capital B, as in Bear Stearns, the Wall Street titan whose credit problems on Friday triggered another broad stock market selloff. Credit markets are continuing to re-price risk across the board, and investors are wondering when the next financial corpse will float to the surface. So naturally the wounded are clamoring for the Federal Reserve to ride to the rescue with easier money when it meets tomorrow, even though the Fed helped create this mess. ... The big question is whether this credit correction is destined to become a full-blown credit crunch, damaging the larger economy. ...American Home Mortgage stopped lending last week, and the Sowood Capital Management hedge fund got caught by wider credit spreads. The ISI Group's Andy Laperriere, who has been ahead of the housing curve, is predicting a further mortgage crunch "worse than most pessimistic assumptions." In these kinds of financial corrections, it pays to expect more surprises.
Nonetheless, the Journal shared this good news (these are quotes; and by the way, I didn't choose these silly flowers as bullets):
  1. Credit panics are never pretty, but their virtue is that they restore some fear and humility to the marketplace.
  2. Yet overall credit far don't seem to signal the kind of liquidity crunch we saw with the Asian crisis of the late 1990s, or the dot-com crash of 2001.
  3. The global economy is booming, with every country save for a couple of despotisms growing.
  4. [L]ast Friday's U.S. employment report for July showed a slowing but still healthy job market.
  5. [B]oth services and manufacturing continue to expand...
In the end, the editorial identifies the source of the problem as "Wall Street and other bankers" who were "lending into a housing asset bubble fed by easy monetary policy. Risky mortgages always look better when home prices look like they'll never decline."

The editorial concludes: "Current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was along for the Greenspan ride, so he's hardly blameless. No doubt he'd love to play the hero role now, signaling easier money this week. However, he'd have to do so at a time when the dollar is weak, oil is at $78 a barrel, and commodity prices in general are roaring. Mr. Bernanke and the Fed might have more room to maneuver this week had they been tighter earlier. But now they can't afford to ignore global dollar weakness. The run on Bear Stearns would look like a Sunday stroll compared to a global run on the dollar."

The bold New York Sun headline this morning read: "Bear Stearns Bodes Ill for Market: Wall Street Braces for Credit Questions."

I spoke with a friend who just moved to Orange County, California, where he is having to rent a house for his family because housing prices are half way to the moon. He is seeing the same trend in foreclosures there as we are seeing here in New York.

Another source in New York financial circles: watch for housing prices to go as low as 40% of present values. Yikes!

Pray for a chastening smack, but beyond that that the Lord would mercifully withhold such a catastrophe. No one should want to profit from suffering that severe.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sunday Reflection: Peace with God!

We have all declared war on God by our sin, and entered into cosmic rebellion. This is all the worse as it is against, "a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6).

When you surrender to God, you must come to him with the cross of Christ as your white flag.

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. - Acts 4:12
When you surrender to God you are truly victorious, that is, over your chief enemy which is your sin, and the misery and death it brings.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death....The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. - I Corinthians 15:25-26, 56-57
Another word of peace and grace and hope from God:
For in him (that is, the Lord Jesus) all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. - Colossians 1:19-20 (all quotations from the English Standard Version)
If you are restless for peace with God, click here.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Ominous Credit Squeeze

Political pundits and market analysts are continuously trying to discern the signs of the times, trying to pick out from among the seemingly innumerable particulars of life those few which, taken together, indicate the direction that politics, society, the markets, or the economy is taking, a direction which otherwise is wholly unexpected. We call this "connecting the dots." The dots are there. The trick is discerning which dots are the significant ones, and thus to be connected in forming a picture of the future. One of the things I try to do on my blog is throw dots out there that I think are significant.

Try these for dots.

I draw your attention to a report in today's New York Times, "Markets Fall as Lender Woes Keep Mounting" by Vikas Bajaj (August 4, 2007).

On the one hand, the economy is strong. Consumer confidence is high. Bajaj reports that, "yesterday’s jobs report was not weak enough to suggest that the Federal Reserve would cut its benchmark short-term interest rate when it meets next week." In addition, "investors now expect the Fed to cut its rate to 5 percent, from 5.25 percent by November...." On top of that, "businesses have been reporting strong earnings. Profits are up 9.6 percent in total for the 80 percent of the companies in the S.& P. index that have released results for the second quarter."

Sounds great! ...But...

Something is screwy in the housing market. Prices are ridiculous and there is trouble under foot.

When I was boy in 1972, my dad, a civil servant, bought a four bedroom home in a nice Toronto suburb for $45,000, a lot of m0ney at the time. His annual salary was roughly the same figure. Maybe it was less, but not a whole lot less. Today, on Long Island, for me to buy the same house I would have to pay seven times my income. (In addition, because of various forms of social decay which express themselves in the public school system through not only the students but also the teachers, we have the added expense of our children's private education.) What's happened?

Of course, since then women have flooded into the workforce. More dollars chasing the same goods = inflation. I know, it's more complicated than that. But it's partly that. In addition, credit has become quite freely available. No money down. 103% mortgages. People are in debt with second and third mortgages, car loans and of course high interest credit cards. More dollars chasing the same goods = inflation. People can pay more for homes, so sellers make sure that they do. The same is true of college tuition, by the way. Parents can borrow against their $400,000 homes, so colleges raise tuition and require it. (For the full story, see The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke by Harvard Law School bankruptcy professor Elizabeth Warren and her financial consultant daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi.)

With that in mind, back to the Bajaj article. Too many people can't live too far beyond their means indefinitely. A crash will come and pain will be widespread.

"Mortgage companies have significantly tightened credit lately to borrowers with weak credit histories and are even cracking down on those with solid records who are taking on riskier loans."
Steve Walsh, a Scottsdale mortgage broker, sees "a liquidity crunch. It’s a credit freeze." Again, Bajaj:
"Lenders say they are increasingly unable to persuade investors to buy packages of home loans made to borrowers with little or no down payment or those who cannot fully document their incomes. As a result, many companies are no longer offering such loans to potential buyers (emphasis added)."
Loans to people "who cannot fully document their incomes?" Will someone explain that? Richard F. Syron, chief executive of Freddie Mac, speaks of "excesses in the market in recent years." With reference to the evaporating, but shortsightedly overextended credit pool, he says, “There that probably should never have been made and providing more liquidity will make that situation worse in the long term.”

Douglas M. Peta, chief market strategist at J. & W. Seligman & Company, a New York investment firm, says, “It seems to me things got every bit as silly in the credit markets in the last few years as they did in tech stocks in the late 1990s.” The housing market is flat, and I have been hearing about a lot of foreclosures recently.

If we see tighter credit and a wave of foreclosures while the economy continues to grow, that means hope that one-income middle class families like mine might squeak into the housing market. Everyone else should read The Two-Income Trap and radically reconsider the meaning of the word "credit limit" before they become foreclosure statistics themselves. But will the falling housing market take the economy with it?

Lesson for citizen-consumers: live within your means.

Lesson for statesmen: the public good still includes fostering a virtuous citizenry. You cannot leave this to the market. Far from supporting citizen virtue naturally with an invisible hand, the market is more likely to be what you have to combat.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Troubling Saudi Arms Deal

The proposed $20 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia raises troubling questions.

First of all, let us all understand that the Middle East is extremely complicated, and so, as I am not a scholar in this area and have not seriously researched this matter, I shy away from bold, bloggish pronouncements. But I have noticed several "dots" which I will pass along for anyone to add whatever other dots needs connecting.

Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. On its own, perhaps this is not a cause for concern.

The Saudis fund radical, Wahhabist (click here or here) schools worldwide. These are ideological feeder schools for al Qaeda.

Though peace in the middle east is essential to stabilizing the region and winning the war on terror, the Saudi's are doing nothing substantive to advance this. Only now do they "say," according to the Washington Post, that they are "prepared to seriously consider participating in [President Bush's recently announced] push for Arab-Israeli peace" (New York Sun, Aug. 2, 2007).

The Saudis are hindering our efforts to stabilize the new government in Iraq. They have refused to recognize the Iraqi government, and are only now talking about opening an embassy (NYS, 8/2/07). Robin Wright and Josh White report that, "The Sunni-led kingdom has long resisted such a formal step, which would bolster the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and signal to Iraq's minority Sunnis that their prospects of returning to power are over." Despite this fact, "the Saudi foreign minister expressed anger" at the suggestion by Zalmay Khalilzad, our UN ambassador, that Saudi Arabia is "not doing enough to help with reconciliation in Iraq," according to Wright and White.

Gary Shapiro of the New York Sun reports that the Saudis are using British courts "to quash discussion of their alleged role in aiding terrorism." The agent in this operation is Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz, a wealthy Saudi businessman. Deborah Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University, herself unsuccessfully sued by Mahfouz, says that the Saudis are "'systematically, case by case, book by book' challenging anything critical of them or anything that links them to terrorism." Of course they are free to sue if they think they are being libeled, but the British libel laws are more generous toward plaintiffs than ours and the aggressive and well funded threat of lawsuits effectively shuts down publisher interest in this topic.

Presumably, we are concerned about the rising power of Iran as a regional hegemon. Arming the Saudis who are mortally hostile to Israel and no help to us in Iraq does not seem to be the best way to deal with that situation, and certainly not without securing concessions on matters of serious foreign policy interest to us. John Edwards is right in saying that, "Saudi Arabia has not done the things that it needs to do in Iraq in controlling terrorism." He should not be the only one saying it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Scotsman and the Dentist

Well, holding to the unbloggish principle that if you have nothing to say you should say nothing, yet aware that when people visit the blog they get ticked off when there have been no new posts for a week, I'm posting something funny.

A Scotsman asks the dentist the cost for a tooth extraction. "$85 for an extraction sir," was the dentist's reply.

"$85!!! Huv ye no' got anythin'cheaper?"

"That's the normal charge," said the dentist.

"Whit aboot if ye didnae use any anaesthetic?"

"That's unusual, sir, but I could do it and knock $15 off."

"Whit aboot if ye used one of your dentist trainees and, still without anaesthetic?"

"I can't guarantee their professionalism and it'll be painful. But the price could drop to $40."

"How aboot if ye make it a trainin' session, ave yer student do the extraction with the other students watchin' and learnin?"

"It'll be good for the students," mulled the dentist. "I'll charge you $5. But it will be traumatic."

"Och now yer talkin' laddie! It's a deal," said the Scotsman. "Can ye confirm an appointment for the wife next Tuesday then?"