Friday, May 30, 2008

The Strange Story of the Starbucks Mermaid

Apparently there is a controversy over Starbucks' move back to their original logo. It seems to be as puzzling as the move to "new Coke" in the 1980s. First, the cups are brown. Yuck. The green was so pleasing and easily identifiable. The old logo depicting the bare breasted woman with the double mermaid tail is also less attractive than the smiling sea-lady who has graced their cups since 1992. Sure, the old logo is historical. It is from a sixteenth century Norse wood cut. But not everything from old Norse woodcuts is suitable for just everyone's coffee cup. There is a Christian group protesting the new logo, claiming that the mermaid is essentially "a naked woman...with her legs spread like a prostitute." Well, given that these Norse guys were sailors back before their profession was polite and respectable, that take certainly seems reasonable. What happened to risk-averse, corporate common sense? The cup my wife just brought home (I don't drink the stuff; I prefer Dunkin') indicates that they have at least covered her breasts with the ends of her long locks. But she's still clearly a ho. It's really funny.

Read about it (I know, who's interested in Starbucks?) at Brand Autopsy. (The post is old. But I just recently started seeing these ugly brown cups.) Deadprogrammer's Cafe gives you even more on the use of the mermaid. The BBC also just did this story.

If you're interested in fascinating business stories, you can read Howard Schultz’s Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup At a Time, or Taylor Clark's Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce and Culture.

China's Perfidy

Inspector Clouseau, in the Pink Panther movies, referred affectionately to Kato, his Chinese sidekick and servant, as his "little yellow friend". Part of the humor of course was that Kato was more competent and knew more than his famously inept boss. Uncle Sam, in both his corporate and government roles, is playing the part of Inspector Clouseau to China's Kato, who continues to attack us--even when, as with the original Clouseau, we know it is coming.

The National Journal has a breathtaking piece about the depth and breadth of Chinese treachery, and the absolutely...what's the word I'm looking for? lame? limp? pathetic?... response we have so far managed to their cyber intrusions. Perhaps you recall back in August of 2003, a major power outage across the Midwest and into Canada--a mysterious cascading failure of power plants that drew fire from Congress, the press, and consumer groups. No one had an adequate explanation. Until now. It seems Chinese hackers, with government approval and sponsorship, have been beavering away at their keyboards, and have gotten very sophisticated at hacking into whatever they fancy, including our power grid. It's a wonder they don't own us already.

An excerpt from the article:

Stephen Spoonamore, CEO of Cybrinth, a cyber-security firm that works for government and corporate clients, said that Chinese hackers attempt to map the IT networks of his clients on a daily basis. He said that executives from three Fortune 500 companies, all clients, had document-stealing code planted in their computers while traveling in China, the same fate that befell [US Commerce Secretary] Gutierrez.

Spoonamore challenged U.S. officials to be more forthcoming about the breaches that have occurred on their systems. “By not talking openly about this, they are making a truly dangerous national security problem worse,” Spoonamore said. “Secrecy in this matter benefits no one. Our nation’s intellectual capital, industrial secrets, and economic security are under daily and withering attack. The oceans that surround us are no protection from sophisticated hackers, working at the speed of light on behalf of nation-states and mafias. We must cease denying the scope, scale, and risks of the issue. I, and a growing number of my peers believe our nation is in grave and growing danger.”

But our government and our major corporations are no more likely to come clean on this than on the actual scope and severity of counterfeiting of US currency, or than US retail chains will about the actual losses they sustain from theft. Makes them all look like Inspector Clouseau.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

McCain Should Tap Schundler For Veep

David Brooks has reminded us that, "recent vice presidential nominees haven’t had any effect on key states or constituencies. They haven’t had much effect on elections at all, except occasionally as hapless distractions." But conservatives have serious questions about how faithful John McCain will be to conservative principles and how competent he will be in handling issues relating to the economy. (Of course, competency in economic policy necessitates fidelity to conservative principles.) So I think it is fair to expect that McCain's choice of running mate will send a valuable signal to conservatives regarding his stewardship of the Gipper's revolution, and to the nation regarding how seriously he takes domestic economic concerns. We don't want grumpy conservatives staying home this November.

My suggestion is Bret Schundler, the former three term mayor of Jersey City. Schundler is a bona fide conservative of the sort that we were searching for in this election cycle but could not find.

Schundler is a political conservative. He believes that in order for power to be responsive to the people, government should be kept as local as possible and that people should have as much control over their own affairs as possible. That is Reagan conservatism. But it is a conservatism that is genuinely concerned about the suffering poor and, like Ronald Reagan, believes in their ability to improve their own lives when freed to do so. As mayor, Schundler empowered parents through a school choice program. With vouchers, he multiplied the number of private and public options available to parents. In politics, money is power, and so these vouchers put parents in charge of the schooling services by giving them the power to choose which school was likely to provide their children with the best education.

Schundler is an economic conservative. He believes, and demonstrated as mayor, that competition should be introduced wherever possible to increase government efficiency and reduce government corruption. He introduced reforms that reduced the cost of school construction by 80%. In doing so, he significantly increased the funds available for education without raising a nickel of taxes. He privatized the management of the city's water utility. Water purity levels became among the best in the nation while water rates went down 25%.

Schundler is a moral conservative. He is pro-life and committed to everything that contributes to healthy families and a wholesome community life.

Schundler is a conservative evangelical, but not the goofy kind a la Mike Huckabee or the spooky kind a la Pat Robertson. He is an evangelical who lives and has succeeded in Jersey City, not Virginia Beach or Arkansas.

I expect he would work very well with the nominee. In addition to being a disarmingly likable fellow...

Like John McCain, Schundler has a record of working across the political aisle. He was elected mayor with a slate of Democratic council members committed to fighting corruption and empowering ordinary people. He also crosses the aisle electorally. He won in Jersey City which was overwhelmingly Democrat (were there any Republicans?), 30% black, 30% Hispanic and 10% Asian. He was re-elected in 1993 with 70% of the vote.

Like McCain, Schundler's opposition to corruption is in the marrow of his bones. He is as honest as the day is long (to coin a phrase).

In 1999, Bill Buckley told us to watch for Bret Schundler as the Republican nominee in 2008. John McCain could fulfill that prediction by tapping Schundler as his running mate. Then we would also have a very Reaganesque candidate for the White House in 2012 regardless of the outcome in November.

(Bret Schundler presently teaches Policy In Depth at The King's College, and runs The Policy Center there. He just spent several days in Albania promoting the principles of liberty and explaining how to reduce corruption in government.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Et Tu, McClellan?

Despicable. Little Scott McCLellan, barely out of short pants when he stepped into Ari Fleischer's job as press secretary, is out peddling a hatchet job masquerading as a memoir of his "service" --I use the term lightly, even facetiously--in the Bush administration. One of the most inept and useless appointees George Bush ever gave the nod to, he now repays the president by standing with the mindless, baying press hounds and levels the same kind of breathless accusations on the celebrated international spy case known as the Valery Plame affair. Yeah, that one. The "covert" agent who got the full semi-celebrity Vanity Fair interview treatment, including full-facial photo spread on the cover--not the sort of cover one ordinarily associates with covert agents. But whatever. I suppose McClellan thinks we have forgotten that the prosecutor knew before he started his career building witch hunt, that Colin Powell's henchman, Richard Armitage, who still has his job, unlike the ruined Scooter Libby, was the one who "outed"--if one can out an office worker at CIA--to the press. Or that Plame and her tea drinking ambassador-lite husband were merely two foot soldiers in the anti-Bush shadow government that the CIA had long since become.

Peddling this sort of back-stabbing, insinuating, self serving tattletale book, using a sensationalized non-story to smear the president--while the man is still in office!--is beneath contempt. This must have the feel to President Bush of holding a baby grandchild in his arms, only to have him reach up and slap in him across the face.

Think your new liberal friends are going to find you some cushy job now that you've joined the assassins' circle, Scotty? Good luck with that.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

When Rebels Have Girls Who Rebel

Jazz Mellor is the daughter of Clash vocalist, Joe Strummer (the gritty, tough one who sang "London's Burning" and stuff, not the other one), but she is the president and founder of the Shoreditch Sisters, a branch of what in Britain is known as the Women's Institute, a 93 year old organization made up largely of little old ladies who spend their time making crafts.

Have Jazz and the gals invaded this organization with piercing, tattooing and unspeakable entertainments? No. It seems that they like the knitting and crafts.

The Telegraph reports:

"I'm really into knitting, sewing and embroidery," says Jazz Mellor, the 24-year-old president and founder. "We need to look at older crafts and reclaim some of those traditionally female pastimes." Others around the table nod in agreement. If they weren't so earnest I'd assume they were making some kind of arch, post-modernist statement (this is Hoxton, after all), but they seem to mean it. "We genuinely enjoy these things," says Shiona Tregaskis, 24, the treasurer. "It's important to set aside time to do them in a space where we can just be around other women."
Well, blow me down.

"I had a fairly chaotic childhood," admits Mellor. "My parents were part of the counter-culture, so I suppose this is my way of rebelling."

But of course it is not a rejection of feminism, but an indication of its movement into a stage of relaxed security in its accomplishments.
"I definitely class myself as a feminist," says Mellor. "But feminism has changed. For so long women have tried to show that they're equal to men by trying to prove they're the same as them, culminating in the ladette culture." This, she says, ''damaged women's self-respect".
I have noticed this. There isn't the sensitivity and outrage over little lapses in speech, and you no longer get kicked in the shins for holding the door open for what you thought was a lady. Perhaps at Yale you do, but apart for that.
When the first British WI meeting took place in 1915 at Llanfairpwll on Anglesey in North Wales, its aim was to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to help produce food during the First World War. Later, it campaigned for improvements in women's education, and lobbied governments on issues ranging from free access to family-planning facilities, to equal pay. "We really like being part of a greater body of women," says Tregaskis. "In modern life there can be a sense of detachment from community and history. But with the WI everything goes on record so we're part of a shared past."
Now if only we can convince Yale University's Aliza Shvarts to drop her nihilist ideological guard long enough to realize that she is a human being, and in particular one of the feminine kind.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Atheists of the world, Unite!

Or so one might style the intent of one Norman Levitt, over at ( whose review ("Give Me That Old Time Irreligion") of John Paulos' new book, Irreligion: A Mathematican Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up, caught my attention. Paulos is famous--or at least known--for his entertaining, popularizing books on mathematics. But both the reviewer and Paulos, in their rationalist hubris, think they understand far more than they do.

Norman Levitt believes his case for what he claims is a recent (since mid century) recrudescence of oppressive religiosity is made by pointing out that Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln were not fundy bible thumpers; that the 19th century had writers like Mark Twain and Ambrose Beirce; and that H.L. Mencken's skepticism and barbed wit graced the early part of the 20th. All this on the way to showing that once upon a time in America, the president did not need to bow and scrape before the "fundamentalist ayatollahs" who now, we learn from Mr Levitt, control almost all of American social, cultural, and political life. Ah, for those halcyon days when the villiage had not only its idiot, but its atheist as well!

Aside from the bizarre starting point on presidents--Chester Alan Arthur's belief was uncertain--take that, you slack-jawed, stump-toothed, snake-handling holy rollers!--Levitt's drive-by history lesson seems to establish a narrative suggesting that only in these latter days has success in the public square come at the cost to public figures of at least the appearance of some religious orthodoxy. But perhaps he didn't notice that the rise of the Religious Right in the 1980's was in response to the secularist onslaught that continues til today its death-by-a-thousand-cuts attack on all our institutions, traditions, and beliefs. Funny, I thought Gotterdammerung meant that it is all things Christian are on the run, being forced out of the town square, the public schools, courthouses, work places, even private homes, if one's church is deemed too weird. But no, true Reason, and the heroic wielders of that Reason--Norman Levitt and John Paulos--are only now braving the abuse and vitriol certain to come, and taking a stand for nihilism! Proud of their bravery in facing the abyss, they seek with Nietzchean virtue to buck up the rest of us with their bracing discovery--no god exists, and we know this because no philosophical argument can establish it. So, eat drink and be merry, for everything is...meaningless.

This leaves out of account two things. First, the proof of God's existence is not susceptible to scientific or philosophical discovery or verification. As Eric Voeglin put it, "the proof of the truth of the revelation is its content"--not a formulation likely to satisfy such as Messers Levitt and Paulos, but there it is. As Ripley was wont to say, believe it...or not. Christian theology has its proof internal to itself, and does not seek the validation of the reasoning power of the human mind, even though, pace Herr Levitt, faith in God is not anathema to reason.

The second thing is God tells us himself--that is, those of us who believe it is actually Him speaking in the Bible--that he will frustrate the wisdom of the wise, and use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. It is thus possible that He intended the truth to be hidden in plain sight so to speak; He leaves enough clues laying around to alert people that something more than material reality is at work: one such clue would be the deep structure of order implied by the existence and ontological status of mathematics, and its uncanny correlation with discovered-- not invented--physical laws. God is both ironic and subtle: deus absconditus anyone? He has not deigned to allow any slam-dunk, mathematical or philosophical proofs of his existence. Maybe this is because He desires faith of creatures given personal responsibility and free will--"blessed is he who believes and has not seen".

Atheists like Levitt and Paulos make a mistake similar to the builders of the Tower of Babel; they attempt to reach up to heaven on the strength of their own reason, and, finding nothing there but thin air, they declare for the negative and call it a day. The pathetic shortfall of the effort would be humorous, were it not for the seriousness of the consequences. God is not mocked, even by super smart book reviewers.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Liberty Growing In Albania

I am writing from Albania. I am here with Albania Venture 2008, a group of students from The King's College debating with students from the University of New York Tirana on the subjects on political, economic and spiritual liberty. Actually there has been no controversy on the first two topics. We are all in agreement. Ho hum, but good news for the future and liberty of Albania. On the the religious topics, there was heated debate, because they are all so spiritually indifferent.

The people here love America, they love freedom and want to see it institutionalized here. President Bush received a wildly enthusiastic reception here last summer. Monday, I addressed the small University of New York Tirana audience on the difference between politicians and statesmen. On Wednesday, I addressed a packed and hot auditorium on "Liberty and Moral Responsibility." (Dr. Alex Tokaraev also spoke on economic liberty.) This was a University of Tirana event sponsored by The Forum for Democracy and Ethics, an inter-party group that promotes integrity among the nation's political leaders. That night, I spoke at the New Life Institute, an Evangelical Christian group, on "The Problem and Promise of Religion in a Democracy." I presented the thesis that Christianity, as a faith, supports political liberty, whereas Islam, as a law, is hostile to liberty. As there were Muslims in the audience, that stirred up a lot of debate, but no one threatened me with death. This is Albania. (Dr. Harry Bleattler also spoke of the separation of church and state from a historical perspective.) Albania is 70% Muslim but the Islam here is almost entirely nominal and politically harmless.

It would be a mistake to think that the love for liberty and love for America in Albania translates into a healthy political system. The dominant political concern among the people with whom I have spoken is corruption in the government. When communism fell in 1991, The old guard simply abandoned their old colors and joined the Socialist Party and the Democratic Party. Hence, the penchant for corruption among those in power. There appears to be great hope in the younger generation, but only if they are not tempted by the old ways of corruption. Bret Schundler, the former mayor of Jersey City who successfully fought corruption in that city, is addressing that issue in various forums this week and is meeting with the mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama, this morning.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The God-like Powers of Science

"MPs back creation of human-animal embryos" is the headline of today's UK TimesOnline
( By an overwhelming margin, Britain's Parliament voted to rescind restrictions on this sort of Frankenstein experimentation, the benefits of which even its most ardent supporters admit is highly speculative and years, if not decades, away. (See Joe Carter's piece on Prime Minister Gordon Brown's naive boosterism here-- The moral hazards are brushed away as simply the troglodyte recalcitrance of conservatives mired in humanity's religion-obsessed childhood. Time to grow up, and stop arguing with Science!

As I read the Times Online piece, I recalled a movie--"The Dark Crystal"-- about a world where strong creatures drain the "life force" out of small, helpless creatures in order to sustain their own immortality. I thought it prescient at the time, and now decades later we find ourselves on the doorstep of such a moral enormity staining our actual world. The pressure forcing us toward some dark dystopian future seems inexorable, where, as in Bladerunner (partly about the moral complexities of the different but related problem of creating artificial life), the rich and powerful live in the luxury begotten of science, far removed from the crime, misery, and short lives of the rest.

I recommend "The Dark Crystal" as a meditation on science, morality, and the value of life, despite the generally Eastern, mystical, new age kind of milieu.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Uno absurdo dato...

One point made obliquely in the earlier post, "Thou Shalt Not...", was the tendency of one sin, error, or absurdity to draw along others with it. Uno absurdo dato, mille sequuntur--Admit but a single absurdity, you invite a thousand. As one anecdotal proof, The Bookworm relates what she and her family took in during the annual San Francisco Bay To Breakers Race, an event whose moral trajectory has been ever downward, much as the whole city. Here is part of her account:

What’s interesting about San Franciscans is that, when they get into costume, so many of them opt, not for charm or cleverness, but for perversion. Of course that doesn’t go for 100% of them. It probably applies to only about 3% — but 3% of 100,000 is still about 3,000 people parading the public streets celebrating their peculiar sexual fantasies.
That’s why, within seconds of entering Golden Gate Park, my children were confronted with the fascinating spectacle of an aged gentleman who had wrapped rings around himself, hugely inflating his scrotum, which he then proceeded to shake at the crowd. In a normal environment, he would have been arrested. Here, he was just part of the scenery.
This man wasn’t the only naked one. There were lots of naked people. Probably 90% of them had embarrassingly ugly bodies. Why is it always those with the most avoirdupois, the most pendulous breasts, the most bizarrely tufted body hair, the most mottled skin, and the smallest penises who feel this peculiar compulsion to parade around well-attended public spots in the altogether?
Was it any surprise then, that it was these exhibitionists, despite the vast array of porta-potties, who also felt the irresistible compulsion to pee in the bushes?
There was also a lot of drinking, lots and lots.
So, in the space of one very painful hour, we were confronted with public nudity, public urination, and public drunkenness — and the cops did nothing. (And please don’t ask me why we didn’t leave sooner than an hour. There were reasons.)

There is no good outcome from moral degeneracy like this. Read the rest at the TheBookwormRoom, (listed in the right column here) if you have the stomach.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Thou Shalt Not...

So. Four of the seven Justices on the California Supreme Court have just this week found that marriage is a fundamental right that has been wrongfully denied to gay couples by the state of California. Of course, this same charge, if true, must also logically be true of all other jurisdictions, polities, and constitutions everywhere, at all times. These four wise men have discovered what has lain hidden to the rest of the whole human race, going back to the mist-shrouded beginnings. There are any number of ways to analyze this--legally, culturally, socially, politically--and, perhaps most foreign to Americans and Supreme Court Justices, biblically.

My attention was drawn to Leviticus 18 in this morning's sermon on Paul's chastisement of the Corinthian church's failure to admonish a member's incestuous relation with his mother-in-law. That section of the Mosaic Law in Leviticus prohibits to the Jews the practices of the Egyptians, whose enslavement they had just fled, as well as the identical practices of the Canaanites, whose land was to be the Jews' inheritance. The list is instructive: incest, child sacrifice, bestiality, and homosexuality. All are called "detestable" and are said to have defiled the land as well as the inhabitants.

What does this have to do with modern America? Nothing, according to a very large swath of the American polity, which does not even countenance the Ten Commandments in any public venue. Even within the Church, there is uneasiness about drawing such antiquated moral instruction into our affairs. But despite the fact that all four of these proscribed practices find not only practitioners, but organized apologists, in the present day, most Americans are equally uneasy about the flouting of the biblical injunctions against these four things. Incest, child sacrifice (abortion), and bestiality of course have far fewer defenders than homosexuality; that they have any should be shocking, but alas, the bedrock liberal value of tolerance has metastasized and swamped all pre-modern moral judgments, and the land is home to unrepentant pedophiles, lovers of sheep, and serial sodomites. Still, gay people of both sexes, I have found at least, differ only in that one aspect, and I know most of them recoil against incest and bestiality as much as any hetero. Homosexuality--and even abortion-- seems to us now to not belong in the list of abominations in the Mosaic Law.

As Americans we are left to thread a needle here. Tolerance is a political and social virtue that has made America the inviting and comfortable place that it is, free from the bloodshed and tumult of religious wars of ages past. Given our focus on "rights-talk", and the inexorable logic of liberalism, I don't see how we can--or even that we should--deny equal protection of the laws to gays. Yet surely tolerance has its limits. It is unlikely we will see a future court discerning a fundamental right to incest or bestiality; but it is possible, given the utterly untethered reasoning coming out of our judicial system, and the unrelenting hatred of God and all his works by the moral descendants of Sodom and Gomorrah.

It is sobering to reflect on the fact that two of the four Levitically prohibited practices are granted the highest level of protection by our courts. Uno absurdo dato, mille sequuntur--Admit but a single absurdity, you invite a thousand. Extending the definition of marriage, a divinely ordained institution, to include what the Bible calls an abomination, is to shake a fist at God.

We are playing with fire, gambling that God will make an exception for Americans he did not make for Egyptians, Canaanites, and Jews.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Obama and the Hard Left

Progressives For Obama, a group counting among its membership many names recognizable from that by-gone era of the '60's--are, along with their brethern and sistern over at Recreate 68, bent on making sure their shopworn brand of politics prevails in the Democratic party. Here is a stirring call to action by Kieth Joseph, self-identified as "Rutgers SDS Member". (Are the Students for a Democratic Society still active at Rutgers? Or is this just Joseph's way of giving his 1960's revolutionary bona fides and showing solidarity with the aging left-wing idlers still dreaming of a classless society?) Anyway, he is clear on what the way forward looks like:

We have a couple of immediate basic tasks: Obama must be the Democratic Party candidate—By Any Means Necessary. We should plan to camp right outside of Denver during the Democratic Party's Convention and hold anti-war demonstrations and our own left convention. If right wing Democrats try to force Hilary-Herbert Humphrey-Clinton on us we march on the convention and make sure Obama gets the nomination--By Any Means Necessary. In November, we must make sure Obama defeats the war criminal John McCain. And finally, after the election, we must be prepared to convene anywhere in the country (Florida, Ohio etc.) to make sure that the Supreme Court does not decide the contest.

By. Any. Means. Necessary. That was one of the more chilling mottos coughed up by the New Left revolutionists of that dark era, and here we see, as it is said also of the Russians, they forget nothing, and they learn nothing. To the hard left, Amerika was and is a police state--no, really, check Recreate 68's site--it says so right there. To people in this sort of fevered mindset, vulnerable to the exaggeration born of conspiracy mongering and left-wing ideology, violent action is not only sanctioned, it is necessary; violence, logically, comes under the umbrella of any means necessary. And, to the romantics drawn to the"progressive" side of the spectrum, its kind of fun to smash things up. But even if they don't get to pillage and burn, the high from facing down the establishment Party hacks with threats of violence--ANY MEANS NECESSARY--is a thrill that will almost make up for not breaking things and frightening people, and by reprising 1968's college tantrums, recreate the power rush that came from backing down the feckless administrations of universities across the nation. They're still proud of that--just ask Keith "Rutgers SDS Member" Joseph.

Watch closely this August in Denver for the mobs of unruly youths in Che t-shirts, ready to rumble, and, new this cycle, aging gray-beard '68ers, longing for the lost days of their mis-spent youth, pushing their walkers in solidarity with the future of the party.

For more on what was great about '68, Christopher Hitchens, Kay S. Hymowitz, Stefan Kanfer, Guy Sorman, Harry Stein, and Sol Stern weigh in in May 1968: 40 Years Later over at The Manhattan Institute's City Journal.

The Dessicated Groves of Academe

What does "art" consist of in twenty first century America? Checking in at Yale University's art program, we find one Aliza Shvarts extending what we already thought was the reductio ad absurdum in modern art's determination to undercut the very notion of art pointing to anything noble, beautiful, true, or good; to transcendence, in a word. But no expression is too vile, it seems, for those bent on "problemitizing" and"deconstructing" the very culture that produces multi-billion dollar universities, where leisure was once for the purpose of contemplating "the best that has been thought and written", but is now often used in pursuit of the vile, the pornographic, and the ideological. Young Ms. Shvarts has been using her privileged time at university--her parents must be so proud! to contribute her view of human dignity by repeated self-insemination followed by self-induced abortions, all artfully recorded on video. One wonders what the next expression could possibly be. But sad experience has shown there is always something lower yet to come.

There are both internal and external dynamics at play here. Internal to modern art itself, and all of modernity, is the by now familiar pathology of revolutions eating their own children--reason becomes un-reason, art is reduced to ruminations on bodily functions. Nothing true is built on a lie. Externally, this is just another demonstration of the corrosive effects of atheistic nihilism's removal of transcendent meaning in the world. Andy Warhol's soup cans yesterday, reproductive effluvia today.

Roger Kimball, always worth reading, ponders the moral detachment--no, the utter moral confusion or even depravity, of what was once a central pillar of Western culture. The shadows are lengthening, indeed.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

McCain and the Church of Global Warming

Larry Thornberry has the relevant question of the day:

If Republicans are going to be stampeded by phony environmental alarms and propose terrible public policies in the name of these scams, what the hell do we need Democrats for?

Bjorn Lomborg, one of the few sensible environmentalists alive today, has a cost/benefit analysis of Kyoto here: hint--it's throwing dollars into the wind for pennies in return.

UK Guardian: Money for Nothing - Björn Lomborg

And David Limbaugh, brother to Rush, gets to the nub:

It is not Earth's ecosystem that hangs in the balance, but America's future. Those whose vision isn't blurred by green-colored glasses and the temptation to win accolades from the leftist-dominated culture can see that the global push to "save the planet" is more about destroying capitalism, private property and Western culture than sound, science-based environmental stewardship. Never mind the staggering contradiction that free market economies produce cleaner environs.

Spineless in the West

OK, Sam Harris--one of the newly vocal apologists for atheism--is not someone I read often; and the Huffington Post is certainly not a site on my regular rounds. But this piece is absolutely worth reading, re: the absurd preemptive obedience and self--censorship the various organs of the Western press are wrong-footing us with vis-a-vis radical Islamism.

This war is being fought and won in the media sphere. But not by the West.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Unfathomable Crime

In Austria, Josef Fritzl kept his daughter in his basement for 24 years and fathered seven children by her. From the time she was eighteen, for 24 years, he kept her locked in the basement with three of the children. One child died in infancy, and he and his unsuspecting wife, Rosemarie, adopted the other three as "foundlings."

Austria's interior minister, Günther Platter, said: "We are being confronted with an unfathomable crime."

Next week, I will be in Albania helping to lead a student group from The King's College in New York debate Albanian students on political, economic and spiritual liberty. These horrors will be fresh in everyone's minds.

It is fashionable for the sophisticates among us to say casually and liberally that there are no moral absolutes. Morality is at best culturally relative (we cannot make judgments). The closer to home you get, however, the more they revert to a more thoroughly nihilistic standard: every person is free to determine his or her own morality...provided of course that you respect the rights of others. (Don't ask them where they get that moral absolute. They pull it out of the air. They get it from their culture. But their culture got it from the natural right teachings of early modern political theory, which they don't accept. But never mind.)

You can live more or less comfortably with that moral theory. It's self-flattering and it protects one's vices from neighborly criticism and even from conscientious self-examination. It also requires a very selective application to life as lived and observed. But what does one do with Josef Fritzl and his unnatural family, or rather the domestic victims of his unnatural and monstrous deeds?

"Unfathomable crime." Oh? What is the crime? Simply that he violated someone's rights? Or her autonomy? Is that what makes the "crime" unfathomable? Anyone who does not share in the horror--yes horror--that a human being properly feels upon learning of this situation in a sense participates in the man's monstrosity. The modern doctrine of rights and the post-modern notions of self-realization are inadequate to account for the revulsion that is a healthy response to learning about Josef Fritzl, to say nothing of Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler and on and on.

The Austrian newspaper Der Standard said in an editorial: "The whole country must ask itself just what is really, fundamentally going wrong." Horror and unfathomable iniquity point to a natural standard of morality, a moral order that is part of a created order. They point to an intuitive grasp of teleology and transcendent reality. To deny these things in the face of this report can only be explained by blindness resulting from the filtering effects of ideological spectacles. Perhaps that is what is "fundamentally going wrong."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On God's Love, Nature Mumbles

I hope that you are blessed with a preacher who gives you sermons each week that are not only Biblically faithful, but also thought provoking. Mine does. He was preaching this evening on Ecclesiastes 9:1 "But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him." (ESV)

If you look out at the world, at the evidence that life provides to the observant, the reflective and the morally serious, it is clear enough that there is a God, whether you get it from the intelligent design of the universe or the unavoidably moral sentiments we feel in the face of evil. But whether that God loves us or hates us is hard to determine from what we see.

Yes, there is sunshine and friendship and compassion and self-sacrifice and the beauty with which the lilies of the field are dressed. But a quick survey of today's headlines (I did not have to dig for these) leaves a muddled message from nature. “Hezbollah rocks eastern villages.” “Violence threatens Darfur camps.” “Zimbabwe police arrest activists.” “Gaza mortar attack kills Israeli.” Even in non-political news, we read “Minivan flips on western Pennsylvania interstate; 6 killed” and “Incest Dad Was Addicted to Sex With Imprisoned Daughter.” It is all so horrifying. And natural disasters easily match the deeds of men for their human devastation. Consider the recent cyclone in Burma. “Aid agencies estimate that 100,000 have died and warn that this figure could rise to 1.5 million without provision of clean water and sanitation.”

When I lived in the small town of Walker, Iowa, there was a bitter old man there who When confronted with a local Christian apologist's "argument from nature" responded, "I could make a better world with a rough cut saw." Christopher Hitchens looks at the world and concludes that if there is a God...well, what he says is not flattering. In the Hitchens-D'Souza Debate that The King's College hosted last October (see my post, "Debating Christianity? Debate Hitchens!"), Dinesh D'Souza tried to prove by natural reason observing the natural world that Christianity is true, or at least that it is not a problem. But that approach itself is a problem, and the inspired writer of Ecclesiastes confirms this: "...the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him."

And better minds than these have found the world either fundamentally puzzling or ambiguous or even meaningless. Plato found that life under sun was fraught with tensions and unanswerable questions. Machiavelli, Bacon, and Hobbes abandoned the search for meaning in favor of comfort and security, and perhaps glory. Nietzsche proclaimed the whole thing fundamentally irrational, and suggested that we craft out of nothing whatever meaning we think that robust human existence requires.

The final word on the subject, however, belongs not to nature and history and the judgments of men, but to God. What the writer of Ecclesiastes knows to be true he knows not by sight, but by faith.

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:11-14)

God created the world good, and he pronounced it so (Genesis 1:31). But sin brought the universe into disorder. Why should it be any wonder that the natural theology it proclaims is incoherent, or at least ambiguous? But the gospel--the good news--is that God in the person of his son Jesus Christ invaded our history. Through his death and resurrection, his grace transforms nature and perfects its message. He is re-creating the world one soul at a time, and one day the entire heaven and earth will be a new creation. The new creation is where we see the goodness of God, and we see it most unambiguously in the first fruits of that work, the Lord Jesus himself. Ecce Homo. Behold the Man. Whether you are a grumpy old man in rural Iowa, a brilliant essayist with Vanity Fair, or just a longing soul confronting your world in a search for meaning, you will find your answer not in the newspapers or in the ups and downs of your life, but in The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Victims of Communist Glory Remembered

Last night I saw "Doping for Gold" on PBS,* and the memory of it has haunted since. It is a documentary about the communist East German use of androgenetic-anabolic steroids to beef up their female athletes in the 1970s and 1980s until the wicked regime finally imploded.

It was all political. Their economy was, of course, failing, and they wanted to distract attention away from it with these glorious national sporting victories. The great crime is not simply that they cheated in sports and cheated worthy athletes out of their just rewards. The crime is also the tragedy of the unsuspecting young girls who were fed these drugs that ruined their health, disfigured their bodies, in some cases seriously confused their genders, and even killed them. Girls who voiced suspicions were severely punished. Most dismissed the bulking up to the effects of the rigorous training. Poor Heidi Krieger was given such powerful drugs that she transformed into a man, chose to have surgery to complete the process, and changed her name to Andreas. He married an East German Olympic swimmer, Ute Krause.

Someone remarked that while doping existed elsewhere, the East German program was characteristically German: thorough, efficient, bureaucratic.

It struck me as a metaphor for the communist tyranny itself.
  • It was deceptive.
  • The people were entirely in the service of the state, not the reverse.
  • It was also inhumane.
  • Not only that, instead of recognizing human nature and employing it for humane ends, they attempted to change human nature and with disastrous results.
  • Also, like the illicit drive for gold medals, the whole totalitarian system was premised on technology. Since the dawn of time, some people have amassed total power over others politically, but it is only with the advent of modern technology that is has become possible to add total control to that unhappy and still too common arrangement. (This is Karl Wittfogel's thesis in Oriental Despotism [out of print].) Technology or man's conquest of nature is, as C. S. Lewis points out in The Abolition of Man, inevitably turned toward the conquest of some men by other men, then becomes the attempted conquest of human nature itself, and ends up the re-conquest of nature over man as we place the extraordinary power that comes with technology in service of our passions.

The book to read on the subject appears to be Faust's Gold: Inside the German Doping Machine by Steven Ungerleider. Some of the victims of the program are now suing the German pharmaceutical giant Jenapharm, now owned by Schering ("Forgotten Victims of East German Doping Take Their Battle to Court").

*an episode of their Secrets of the Dead series, the creepy title they give to what seems to be an interesting educational series.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Two Income Trap and the Itch to Own

Thinking of stretching yourself into a home in this property-value slump? Beware! This is not the time to play chicken with the two income trap.

In The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke, Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren argues that rising costs of essentials--such as housing, education and health care--are increasingly causing middle-class Americans to fall into debt, and from debt into disaster.

When women originally entered the workforce, their contributions to the family income were regarded as extra and went toward vacations, braces for the kids, improvements to the home and various other nicer things in life. Mom's income raised the family's standard of living. This was my own experience in the 1970s and 1980s. So if mom lost her job, it was not the end of the world. It was a bleaker world, but life would go on. If dad lost his job, the family could piece together a way of meeting its financial obligations until dad, the main bread winner, got back on his feet.

Since those days, we have fallen into "the two-income trap." People have been taking on debt and obligation commensurate with the entire, husband and wife, family income. The danger in this is that the family is now doubly vulnerable to financial disaster, e.g. foreclosure.

But Professor Warren cautions against thinking that these are all just people who are self-indulgently living beyond their means, and thus reaping what they have sown when they lose what they could not reasonably have expected to afford. The two-income trap is not that people have committed their incomes to paying for a big house, fancy cars and lots of electronics, but rather that the essentials are driving people to stretch their obligations over the two incomes. For example, as the public school system has deteriorated, it has become increasingly important to get a home in a so-called "good school district." That means higher property taxes and higher house prices. (Of course, if you bought a house in a less reputable school district you would have money for private schooling and better schooling, but people don't seem to consider that.) That drives families into the two-income trap.

If you are at the stage of life when you are facing decisions of this sort, read this book before you take any significant plunge.

As for the housing crisis, read "Housing Crisis is Over" by Cyril Moulle-Berteaux. He is a managing partner in Traxis Partners LP, a hedge fund firm based in New York. He says prices will not bottom out until sometime in 2009, but that price declines are going to start slowing as inventories decline to the point that they always trigger a market recovery.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

McCain Bags the Health Care Issue

Despite all the polling and social science, political life continues to be intriguingly unpredictable. So, with a generally unpopular war in Iraq, a shaky economy and a very unpopular sitting Republican President, the Democrats should be way ahead in the polls and the Republicans deep down in the dumps. Instead, it is looking better and better for Republican John McCain if he just plays his cards right.

Over at National Review Online, in "The Right Rx," he plays precisely the right card on Health Care policy. This should be a Democrat vote getter. But with this consumer-driven health care solution, McCain will walk away with it.

The Obama and Clinton response to these problems is to promise universal coverage, whatever its cost, and the massive tax increases, mandates, and government regulation that it imposes. But in the end this will accomplish one thing only. We will replace the inefficiency, irrationality, and uncontrolled costs of the current system with the inefficiency, irrationality, and uncontrolled costs of a government monopoly. We’ll have all the problems, and more, of private health care — rigid rules, long waits, and lack of choices, and risk degrading its great strengths and advantages including the innovation and life-saving technology that make American medicine the most advanced in the world.

I have a different approach. I believe the key to real reform is to restore control over our health-care system to the patients themselves. To that end, my reforms are built on the pursuit of three goals: paying only for quality medical care, having insurance choices that are diverse and responsive to individual needs, and restoring our sense of personal responsibility.

For more in this consumer-driven approach, see my previous post on Regina Herzlinger's address at The King's College, "Hope for the Health Care Mess."

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Red and Green

Today's Wall Street Journal editorializes on the current intellectual malaise of the House, Senate, and would-be Presidents on what we can now legitimately term our "energy crisis" ("Windfall Profits for Dummies," May 3). Here is a succinct list of contradictions these shape-shifting weasels present as policy solutions to the American public:

1. They want lower prices, but don't want more production to increase supply.

2.They want oil "independence," but they've declared off limits most of the big sources of domestic oil that could replace foreign imports.

3. They want Americans to use less oil to reduce greenhouse gases, but they protest higher oil prices that reduce demand.

4. They want more oil company investment, but they want to confiscate the profits from that investment.

Until someone within the government Leviathan itself begins to articulate these obvious incoherences, Pelosi and the Nancy Boys, Chuckie Schumer, and both of the economically illiterate Democrat candidates for President will continue to confuse the public and to demonize the one group that has the wherewithal to solve the issue--the oil and gas industry.

For Democrats, demagoguery on this issue is second nature--actually, demagoguery per se is second nature to Democrats. But these contradictions that the Journal identifies are the surface emanations of the underlying commitments to which the Democratic party continues to cling. The barely concealed Marxism underlying their antipathy to corporations (whose profits are only the expropriation of the surplus value created by the workers) is in league with, but also in tension with, the new green sensibility that now passes for public morality. Thus, we cannot tap our own huge reservoirs of energy because to do so runs into the de facto veto exercised by Green Peace and the Sierra Club--Thou Shalt Not Do Anything That Forwards Modern Capitalist Industrial Society. But even as they vilify capitalists and industrialists, even the Marxists know deep down that that's where the money is, and if the greens ever succeeded in their project to reduce us all to noble Neolithic-era savages, they would have precious little title to the name "Progressive".

This coalition of Red and Green may be an easy fit under the Democratic tent, but the resultant doctrinal inconsistencies extending into our public policy are really beginning to threaten our economy and our world leadership.

Any Republicans out there listening?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Public School Horror Stories

Here is another good reason to keep your kids out of the government school system.

A four year old little pre-school boy nuzzles his face into the bosom of a 37 year old teacher's assistant during a hug and school officials suspended him for a week.

A six year old boy smacks a girl on the bum, so the school made a record of the incident and called the police.

"In the state of Maryland last year, 16 kindergartners were suspended for sexual harassment, as were three preschoolers."

Read the entire record of insanity in Mark Steyn's "Attack of the Preschool Perverts" (OCRegister, April 12, 2008).

It's your world. What are you going to do about it?

Of course it is also a school system dominated by ideologues and fanatical reactionaries. Eighty to ninety percent of Americans (okay, perhaps eighty per cent; things are bad) would recognize this as lunacy, as entirely unreasonable and even horrifying. But these people not only control the system that educates most of your children (not mine, let me tell you), but through the NEA (National Education Association) they also control the Democratic Party. Perhaps you were wondering why the Democrats have given themselves a choice between a megalomaniacal pathological liar and an America-hating socialist as Presidential nominees.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Which Way the Economy? Read Her Lips.

When I was in college, a friend of mine who went on to be quite successful in direct marketing once tossed out a randomly offered humorous remark while we were stuck on a parkway: "They say that traffic jams actually increase muffin sales." Well, it was side splitting at the time.

Now I learn that there may be truth in such seemingly bizarre connections in human behavior. Apparently, there is a leading economic indicator called the lipstick index or the lipstick effect. According to this theory:

...a consumer turns to less expensive indulgences, such as lipstick, when she (or he) [?] feels less than confident about the future. Therefore, lipstick sales tend to increase during times of economic uncertainty or a recession.

This term was coined by Leonard Lauder (chairman of Estee Lauder), who consistently found that during tough economic times, his lipstick sales went up. Believe it or not, the indicator has been quite a reliable signal of consumer attitudes over the years. For example, in the months following the September 11 terrorist attacks, lipstick sales doubled. (Investopedia)
So how are lipstick sales these days? Read "Hard Times, But Your Lips Look Great" in today's New York Times.