Saturday, January 31, 2009

Telegraph Road--Elegy For America

The frightening pace of our lurch toward economic darkness in the short time since the era of Obama began got me to thinking about our economic history and how we got here. Tocqueville's warnings about the tension between liberty and equality, and the tendency of democratic peoples to favor equality over liberty do not make the spectacle of liberty's loss any easier, especially when it comes under the subterfuge of an economic crisis. A song by Mark Knopfler (one of America's most thoughtful writers), Telegraph Road, came to mind; I have always found a kind of solace in its wistful look back, the burgeoning desperation of its look forward. It's how I'm feeling now, as I see the actual outlines of what David and I have been writing about here for a year begin to take shape. Are we going to escape the deadening stillness, the suffocation, of a socialist paradigm pressed down on us by political masters who have managed to turn the tables on us? There is no more wilderness to push into; a free America is the world's last best hope; without it, there is the dark, the cold, and the rain of Michigan's Telegraph Road, Knopfler's inspiration for the song.

Knopfler lays out the American experience, from the pioneers' push into the trackless wilderness to the beginning signs of industrial civilization's exhaustion. Told from the perspective of a factory worker, the descendant of that man with the sack on his back, its lament is even more poignant now, after the heady and high times of the long boom. The rich, the powerful, the connected, always escape worst of it, while the producers and the workers are left to "pay what's owed", to "reap from some the seed that's been sowed":

I used to like to go to work but they shut it down
I got a right to go to work but there's no work here to be found
yes and they say we're gonna have to pay what's owed
we're gonna have to reap from some seed that's been sowed

The fundamental injustice of it all, and the political contrivance that is its source, may yet gall enough of the rank and file to rise up and head off our fall from grace; but many just wish they were like the birds on the wires on the telegraph road, able to fly away from all the signs saying "sorry but we're closed".

Listen to it here: Think about what this country started out to be, and what it is turning into--and what it still could be. Like any truly epic saga, it is long--14 elegiac minutes.

A long time ago came a man on a track
walking thirty miles with a pack on his back
and he put down his load where he thought it was the best
made a home in the wilderness

He built a cabin and a winter store
and he ploughed up the ground by the cold lake shore
and the other travellers came walking down the track
and they never went further, no, they never went back

Then came the churches then came the schools
then came the lawyers then came the rules
then came the trains and the trucks with their loads
and the dirty old track was the Telegraph Road

Then came the mines - then came the ore
then there was the hard times then there was a war
telegraph sang a song about the world outside
telegraph road got so deep and so wide
like a rolling river. . .


And my radio says tonight it's gonna freeze
people driving home from the factories
there's six lanes of traffic
three lanes moving slow. . .

I used to like to go to work but they shut it down
I got a right to go to work but there's no work here to be found
yes and they say we're gonna have to pay what's owed
we're gonna have to reap from some seed that's been sowed

And the birds up on the wires and the telegraph poles
they can always fly away from this rain and this cold
you can hear them singing out their telegraph code
all the way down the telegraph road

You know I'd sooner forget but I remember those nights
when life was just a bet on a race between the lights
you had your head on my shoulder you had your hand in my hair
now you act a little colder like you don't seem to care

But believe in me baby and I'll take you away
from out of this darkness and into the day
from these rivers of headlights these rivers of rain
from the anger that lives on the streets with these names

'cos I've run every red light on memory lane
I've seen desperation explode into flames
and I don't want to see it again. . .
From all of these signs saying sorry but we're closed...

all the way down the telegraph road.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Larry Summers, Save Our Stimulus!

Barack Obama has a team of very smart people helping him address the current economic crisis. So we should be fine.

That would be true, more or less, if they were simply free to do what in their best judgment was good for the economic health of the nation. But they are not. Political considerations at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue distort the goals, and compromise the policy. The resulting legislation becomes what David Brooks in his column today calls "a sprawling, undisciplined smorgasbord" ("Cleaner and Faster," New York Times, January 29, 2009).

Larry Summers has the most to lose in this legislative circus. He is the President's chief economic adviser, and he made a very public case in 2008 for a disciplined and surgically targeted stimulus for the economy. His criteria, Brooks tells us, were these:

First, the stimulus should be timely. The money should go out “almost immediately.” Second, it should be targeted. It should help low- and middle-income people. Third, it should be temporary. Stimulus measures should not raise the deficits “beyond a short horizon of a year or at most two.”
Departure from these strictures, Summers warned, could produce "worse side effects than the disease that is to be cured.” Read Brooks's column for the ways this proposed stimulus package despises every one of Summers' warnings.

Alice Rivlin, budget director under President Clinton, told Congress this week, “A long-term investment program should not be put together hastily and lumped in with the anti-recession package. The elements of the investment program must be carefully planned and will not create many jobs right away.” So Rivlin has shown that she knows what's fatally and obviously wrong with this plan of action, and as such stands in public contrast with her former associate in the Clinton administration.

I am told that, wherever he goes, Larry Summers is viewed as the smartest man in the room. This is no doubt why Obama has brought this Harvard economist on board as Director of the National Economic Council. This bill, however, as fundamental to Obama's presidency as Reagan's 1981 tax cut bill was to his, leaves Summers standing off at the side with his firm counsel ignored. It leaves him covered with shame.

This situation brings to mind the worldly wise Ahithophel in the Bible whom the handsome and ambitious young Absalom brought into his council of advisers.

Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as though one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom (2 Samuel 16:23 ESV).

From what I gather, Summers sees his own advice in those terms and expects others to do the same. Absalom's life-and-death challenge at start of his reign was not an economic crisis but his father David whom he had displaced from the throne. Of course, Ahithophel recommended precisely the right course of action that would have put an end to David, but Absalom followed the advice of others. Ahithophel, seeing that he was put to utter shame, did not wait for the miserable outcome.

When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself... (2 Samuel 17:23).

As it stands, the bill is a self-defeating mixture of immediate economic stimulus and long-term domestic agenda funding. Larry Summers should threaten to resign if President Obama does not move right away to put an end to this legislative monster, this pushmepullyou response to our continuing economic slide into catastrophe.

Obama needs Summers more than Summers needs Obama. The President should especially wish to avoid someone of Larry Summers' stature resigning in protest, and just two weeks into the administration. If our young President hasn't the good judgment to take this step, Summers should quietly force his hand.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Merely Political Stimulus

Harvard economist Robert Barro, also at the Hoover Institution, gives a technical, though simple-so-that-I-can-understand-it, explanation of why the Democrats' "stimulus" spending package will fail to stimulate anything, apart from perhaps Chris Matthews' leg.

Read "Government Spending Is No Free Lunch" (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 22, 2009).

But, in terms of fiscal-stimulus proposals, it would be unfortunate if the best Team Obama can offer is an unvarnished version of Keynes's 1936 "General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money." The financial crisis and possible depression do not invalidate everything we have learned about macroeconomics since 1936.

Much more focus should be on incentives for people and businesses to invest, produce and work. On the tax side, we should avoid programs that throw money at people and emphasize instead reductions in marginal income-tax rates -- especially where these rates are already high and fall on capital income. Eliminating the federal corporate income tax would be brilliant.

I find it interesting that we are speaking of this stimulus package as something necessary for "jump starting the economy," as though the economy were a car, and as though it were at a stand still.

But this is rhetoric in the service of covering up a duplicitous government. The Democrats are not interested primarily in economic recovery. That will come eventually, one way or another, in the natural cycle of things. They see this crisis and the unprecedented breadth of power we have handed them as an opportunity to fund "just about every pent-up Democratic proposal of the last 40 years" ("A 40-Year Wish List," Wall Street Journal editorial, Jan. 28, 2009).

Also of interest is that 57% of Americans believe that tax cuts are generally good for the economy compared to 17% who believe they are bad, according to Rasmussen Reports.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama Trying On Reagan's Big Shoes

Obama has been compared to FDR, JFK, LBJ, and Jimmy Carter. He has spoken well of Ronald Reagan, and took heat for it in the primaries. Lou Cannon explains ("Obama's Reagan Transformation?" New York Times, Jan. 28, 2009) how it makes sense for him, under these conditions of economic distress, to mimic Ronald Reagan by putting off the social agenda and other domestic priorities until he has the economy back on its feet. There are signs that Reagan is indeed the model he is following.

The trouble is that whereas Reagan understood how wealth is created and thus how an economy grows, Obama's economic medicine is likely to extend and deepen our suffering. In a time of crisis, such as Reagan faced and such as Barack Obama is facing now, it is not enough simply to learn from Reagan the tactician (and Reagan, we learn, took counsel from Nixon), but to learn from Reagan the statesman in general. This necessarily includes understanding the relationship between the substance of his political and economic principles and the flourishing of the nation under his leadership.

Being Reagan is not as easy at it looks.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Whither Our Good Country?

I have just discovered a fine new journal published by Houston Baptist University called The City. (The online version with blog is Civitate, now on the Principal Blogs list to your right.)

In a post-election forum entitled "Where Do We Go From Here?," Joseph Knippenberg contributes the lead article, and a very wise and insightful one. Joe is fine writer, and an equally fine political analyst informed by a thorough knowledge of the history of political philosophy.

Sadly, very few of the articles are accessible online. So I will pass along just a few quotes that will perhaps entice you to subscribe, as I certainly plan to do. Subscriptions are free.

Barack Obama and his Congressional colleagues will certainly try to capitalize on [the remarkable confluence of events favoring the electoral prospects of Democrats] to construct a "permanent" Democratic majority. But that's much harder than winning an election against an underfunded opponent identified with an exceedingly unpopular incumbent who is said to be responsible for a very unpopular was and an even more unpopular financial crisis. They won't have Bush to kick around for another four years, and from now on, everything they break, they own. ...

Obama argues that the hallmark of a judge, to look out for what were once called 'discreet and insular minorities,' to correct the political process in the name of social justice, whose precepts are to be found, above all, in the compassionate heart of the judge. Law is a tool that empowers the weak, not a framework that protects all of us or a set of principles and rules that constrain everyone. ...

College and university students who take the truth seriously,

...may or may not be Republicans. The GOP will have to earn their support. How can it do so? Perhaps by returning to its roots as the party of Lincoln, a party committed to a thoughtful and self-critical engagement with our country's principles and history. ...

And this on how the GOP should engage the new President.
Republicans can challenge [Pres. Obama] by making two assertions. First, they can insist that authentic care for our neighbors is voluntary and relational. If government takes the lead, it lets us off the hook, crowding out our own efforts. In other words, it demoralizes not only the recipient but also the potential giver. Second,...they can agree with President-elect Obama (sic.) that opportunity is the name of the game, but argue that the great engine of that opportunity is the private sector, not government. This is not a celebration of greed, but rather of contagious self-reliance. ...

Reflecting on what Gingrich called "the opportunity society and on what George W. Bush called an "ownership society," Knippenberg writes,

...wealth is simple an instrument for leading a good life and that a good life is not simple a matter of consuming more and more. It is, as Aristotle recognized a long time ago, about having the capacity to judge and act for oneself and in common with others, embodying and expressing virtues that include courage, moderation, and generosity, among others. It is this moral element of the economy that I would have Republicans stress.

If, in lieu of a philosopher king, we need philosopher journalists to address our rulers and those who elect them, then Knippenberg, who is not only professor of politics at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, but also a contributor on the No Left Turns blog, is one who fulfills that role.

The City is published three times a year, and subscriptions are free of charge.
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Friday, January 23, 2009

The Unaborted Obama

Today, President Obama lifted the ban on providing federal funds to groups, at home and abroad, that provide abortions or information about abortions.

The BBC reports, "A spokesman for the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) earlier told the BBC that under the Bush administration, the organisation had lost more than $100m (£73m) in funding, affecting its services across 176 countries."

Fox News tells us
, "The so-called Mexico City policy requires any non-governmental organization to agree before receiving U.S. funds that they will 'neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations.' It is also known as the "global gag rule," because it prohibits taxpayer funding for groups that even talk about abortion if there is an unplanned pregnancy. The policy was first instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and continued by President George H.W. Bush. The policy was reversed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and re-instated by President George W. Bush in 2001."

Next up, the Freedom of Choice Act. According to David Freddoso in The Case Against Barack Obama (Regnery, 2008), "This bill would effectively cancel every state, federal, and local regulation of abortion, no matter how modest or reasonable. It would even, according to the National Organization of Women, abolish all state restrictions on government funding for abortions. If Obama becomes president and lives up to this promise, then everyone who pays income tax will be paying an abortionist to perform an abortion."

But as of January 23, 2009, this is still the land of liberty, and so the opponents of abortion have initiated a more vigorous public discussion on this subject, as we see in this video.

Perhaps abortion advocates, in their overreach, will find themselves hoist on their own petard.

For an account of Barack Obama's advocacy of even the most monstrous abortion liberties, see my post, "Obama and Abortion: Radical Again."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Withering Away of Russia

In the midst of our problems, it is well to reflect on the even greater problems that are overwhelming our enemies and those who are not exactly friendly toward us. Oil prices below $40 a barrel are devastating Putin's Russia, Chavez's Venezuela, and the Islamic Republic (Iran). In addition, Saudi princes have reportedly lost billions of dollars on their American investments. That has to be bad news for their al Qaeda darlings.

Russia's problems extend far beyond the current budget shortfall, however, and they could not be more fundamental. The nation is simply disappearing. Marx predicted the withering away of the state under communism. Though in fact quite the opposite happened, what has been happening since the 1960s is a withering away of the Russian population ("The Incredible Shrinking People," The Economist, Nov. 29, 2008).

Russia’s demography befits a country at war. The population of 142m is shrinking by 700,000 people a year. By 2050 it could be down to 100m. The death rate is double the average for developed countries. The life expectancy of Russian males, at just 60 years, is one of the lowest in the world. Only half of Russian boys now aged 16 can expect to live to 60, much the same as at the end of the 19th century.

Population decline has obvious implications for economic life.

Russia’s demographic crisis is one of the main constraints on the country’s economy. Although Russia’s population has been ageing, over the past decade the country has enjoyed a “demographic dividend” because the age structure was in its favour. This dividend has now been exhausted and the population of working age will decline by about 1m a year, increasing the social burden on those that remain. Over the next seven years Russia’s labour force will shrink by 8m, and by 2025 it may be 18m-19m down on the present figure of 90m.

Behind the demographic crisis is a health crisis, and behind that is moral and political ruin. During the Cold War, "whereas the West invested heavily in health-care systems and better lifestyles, Russia was putting its financial and human capital into the arms race and industrialisation."

If life expectancy in Russia had improved at the same pace as in the West, the country would have had an extra 14.2m people between 1966 and 2000, adding 10% to the population. The Soviet Union’s spending on health care was less than a quarter of the American figure. The Communist Party elite was well looked after, but ordinary people were less fortunate.

Alcoholism is a particular problem. Russians are literally drinking themselves to death at a staggering rate.

Alexander Nemtsov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, ...estimates that nearly 30% of all male deaths and 17% of female deaths are directly or indirectly caused by excess alcohol consumption and that over 400,000 people a year die needlessly from drink-related causes, ranging from heart disease to accidents, suicides and murders. ...The average Russian gets through 15.2 litres of pure alcohol a year, twice as much as is thought to be compatible with good health. ...Tens of thousands a year die of alcohol poisoning, against a few hundred in America.

This moral and health problem stems from a long history of tyranny and the political culture it has fostered. "Russian history, particularly in the 20th century, has encouraged the view that life is cheap. But there is also a strong self-destructive streak in the national character. Drinking yourself to death is one of the most widely used methods of suicide."

The article also mentions AIDS ("By 1997 the number of cases had grown to 7,000. Now the official figure is over 430,000, the largest in Europe. The real number could be double that, according to the World Health Organisation. ...Some two-thirds are drug-takers, but the epidemic is now spreading to the general public.") and TB ("Last year 24,000 people died of the disease, almost 40 times as many as in America.").

For more details in a previous post, see "President of a Disappearing Russia."

Harold adds:

That's quite a terrible irony David lines out--Marxist theory called for the withering away of the state, but instead created the conditions for the destruction of the society it hijacked. This is a sobering thing to witness--the demise of a modern nation state within such a compressed time frame--and that too, under the aegis of Enlightenment-spawned "Reason", the supposed guarantor of life and light, peace and good will among men, called to their highest rational selves. So much for man on his own, and godless communism. Yet the gathering momentum of atheism in the West continues apace--as if the hellish outcomes of the French Revolution, the many and varied strains of attempted communism across the globe, and Hitler's anti-Jewish, anti Christian, fascist Reich had never happened. Our current crop of geniuses will no doubt succeed where these others have failed. The struggle against the principalities and powers sponsoring this attack on the true, the good , and the beautiful will not end until, as C.S. Lewis phrased it, the Author of the play walks on stage. Until then, we are all witness to tragedy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Presidential Words and Deeds

Joe Knippenburg, professor of politics at Oglethorpe University, has these wise reflections on President Obama's fine speech at the Inauguration ("Variations on a Theme: Spare Change in Obama's Inaugural Address," Ashbrook Center editorial).

I wished also to suggest to them both the importance and limits of words. Like all his predecessors, Barack Obama faces the twin challenges of moving from words to deeds, and using his words to move us to deeds. The fact that very different presidents can sound quite similar ought to be sufficient to remind us that their words may not fully reveal their intentions and that, even if they do, those intentions have to be fulfilled on the ground, so to speak. Presidents can be sidetracked or distracted by unanticipated events. They can fall into the trap of believing that governing isn’t all that different from campaigning, that what worked to get voters to the polls will work just as well to get members of Congress to sign onto legislative initiatives. They can misread public sentiments. And, most importantly, they can come to believe that their words are “reality” or by themselves can change reality, while, as a matter of fact, their words are most effective and persuasive when they conform to reality.

Reagan was a man of his word. Clinton was a man merely of words. W was a man who struggled with words, but he did what he said he would do. We will judge this President by how true he is to his words, such as his commitment to be “faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.”


Pat Buchanan found the speech remarkably neo-Reaganite.

Jon Stewart saw Obama, but heard George W. Bush. This is funny.

We're All Europeans Now

Dick Morris, in a breezy little missive this morning, lays out in detail what David and I have been pointing to and warning about re: the advent of Lord Obama and the insertion of socialism into America in a serious way.

2009-2010 will rank with 1913-14, 1933-36, 1964-65 and 1981-82 as years that will permanently change our government, politics and lives. Just as the stars were aligned for Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson and Reagan, they are aligned for Obama. Simply put, we enter his administration as free-enterprise, market-dominated, laissez-faire America. We will shortly become like Germany, France, the United Kingdom, or Sweden -- a socialist democracy in which the government dominates the economy, determines private-sector priorities and offers a vastly expanded range of services to many more people at much higher taxes.
Obama will accomplish his agenda of "reform" under the rubric of "recovery." Using the electoral mandate bestowed on a Democratic Congress by restless voters and the economic power given his administration by terrified Americans, he will change our country fundamentally in the name of lifting the depression. His stimulus packages won't do much to shorten the downturn -- although they will make it less painful -- but they will do a great deal to change our nation
. But none of these changes will cure the depression. It will end when the private sector works through the high debt levels that triggered the collapse in the first place. And, then, the large stimulus package deficits will likely lead to rapid inflation, probably necessitating a second recession to cure it...

So Obama's name will be mud by 2012 and probably by 2010 as well. And the Republican Party will make big gains and regain much of its lost power.
But it will be too late to reverse the socialism of much of the economy, the demographic change in the electorate, the rationing of healthcare by the government, the surge of unionization and the crippling of talk radio.

So there you have it--the high and low of it, the dark and the light. Leo Strauss long ago noted as a general truth that a people deserves the government they have, and this is especially true in places where people have de jure and de facto legal and political control over who governs them. We can blame only ourselves for the loss of freedom we are dishing up for ourselves. This is perhaps the leading problem of democracy--a too-large percentage of the people do not in fact know what is good for them, and will in fact listen to skilled demagogues and follow them all the way into tyranny.

The slow motion tumble down from our high achievement is speeding now; we have turned a corner in our history that will forever mark a point of regret. We're all Europeans now.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Memorabilia and Happiness

Harold has drawn our attention in the post below ("Time Stands Still") to a profoundly important fact of life.

Everyone seeks happiness.

We do it in wholesome as well as in perverse ways (marriage as well as adultery; a good meal, but also overindulgence). A fundamental difficulty in this pursuit, however, is that the things in which we try to anchor our happiness are continuously slipping away in the tide of time. And, as the saying goes, time waits for no man, neither for the rich and powerful nor for the poor and obscure. With every passing moment, it carries off our possessions and treasures. And the heart aches to see them go. A pair of socks that have served you well are becoming thread bear in the toe and heel. An affectionate cat who has always been happy to sit in your lap on cold evenings is approaching the end of her days. Your little children are growing up. Your youth is slipping away. You can't run the way you once did, and you're forgetting things. And your church? Your community? Your country? How the gold has become dim. Jesus warns us, "Store up not your treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break in and steal." Time is the universal thief.

Life is carpeted and canopied and hedged all around with innocent enjoyments, but they are like the manna in the desert that Israel received from the Lord. They can only be enjoyed for the moment, not stored up and preserved for the future. Though each day has its own trouble, Jesus tells us in his great sermon, it also has its own delights that are for that day and for no other.

We reach out our hands to clutch these blessings and secure them permanently, but they are ever--and by the very nature of things--elusive. This is why we collect things, no? People are hoarding Obama memorabilia (magazine covers are my preference) because even as they are enjoying the historical moment, they know at the same time it is slipping away and will soon be only a memory. Whether it's a wedding, an athletic victory, or friendships from our schooldays, we want somehow to preserve the moment in time and carry it into the future as best we can. So it is no surprise that what people carry out of their burning houses, besides their children and pets, is their photographs.

Victory Plate - "We own a piece of history."

"Bob Dylan's Dream" (from Freewheelin', 1963; listen here) captures the cry of that aching heart that sees it's happiness locked irretrievably in the past.

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain,
That we could sit simply in that room again.
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat,
I'd give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.

Heraclitus observed that you cannot step in the same river twice. Even as you step, the river is gone, racing downstream, and has become a different river with different water. But we can no more hold back the river and enjoy the sweet waters of the moment than King Canute could hold back the ocean tide.

So within every pleasure is the pain of knowing that it is slipping away. But there is a way of milking the moment for all that it was intended to give, and simply enjoying it for what it is. Enjoy life's pleasures, as Israel did the manna, as gifts from God to be enjoyed for as long as they are given, and enjoy them thankfully. That is, the genuine enjoyment of these goods (that come into being and pass away) entails enjoying above all the God who gave them, the God who is in himself perfectly delightful, who never changes, and who promises his people that he will never leave them nor forsake them. When we enjoy the good things of life as tokens of his goodness and reflections of his glory, and thus enjoy them worshipfully, we can enjoy God's world the way he gives it to be enjoyed, not as something always slipping tragically into the past, but as something that anticipates the infinitely greater blessedness of the future.

Harold adds:

Nicely explicated, Reverend Doctor.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fair and Balanced

Barack Obama mightily displeased major portions of his base of support by bringing in the intolerant, homophobic Rick Warren for the official inauguration prayer. In order to balance out the obvious sop to the far right, extra chromosome, evangelical Christian whacko set, he has also tapped another "prayer leader" for the rites. The International Herald Tribune reports that Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, is also scheduled to speak at the prayer service at the National Cathedral. That should smooth over some ruffled feathers, and offer just the right tone of conciliation, tolerance, and open-mindedness that the chosen One needs for the era of enlightenment and at-one-ment into which he will guide the nation--and the world.

But perhaps someone should have pointed out that the Justice Department lawyers who prosecuted (and won) the Holy Land Foundation case in Dallas listed the Islamic Society of North America as co-conspirators in that prosecution. According to terrorism expert Steven Emerson, quoted by David Horwitz's Discover the Networks site,

ISNA "is a radical group hiding under a false veneer of moderation"; "convenes annual conferences where Islamist militants have been given a platform to incite violence and promote hatred" (for instance, al Qaeda supporter and PLO official Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi was invited to speak at an ISNA conference); has held fundraisers for terrorists (after Hamas leader Mousa Marzook was arrested and eventually deported in 1997, ISNA raised money for his defense); has condemned the U.S. government's post-9/11 seizure of Hamas' and Palestinian Islamic Jihad's financial assets; and publishes a bi-monthly magazine, Islamic Horizons, that "often champions militant Islamist doctrine." Adds Emerson: "I think ISNA has been an umbrella, also a promoter of groups that have been involved in terrorism. I am not going to accuse the ISNA of being directly involved in terrorism. I will say ISNA has sponsored extremists, racists, people who call for Jihad against the United States." (read the whole sickening thing here)

It should be pointed out that both the Clinton and Bush adminisrations have also been duped or corrupted into allowing the Saudi-funded Wahabbist camel into the tent--Obama is not breaking any new ground here. (But it is another reason for concern surrounding the hundreds of Arab millions flowing into the Clinton Inc. coffers). But still--showing this kind of weakness to our enemies will not satisfy them, or the domestic or international left.

We'll see which group has access after the Immaculate Inauguration--conservative evangelicals or Wahabbist Muslims.

Mandate for Change: Make Everything Nice

As we stand on the threshold of the Obama years, the New York Times reminds us (perhaps reminding the incoming President) of just what sort of change so many people are hoping BHO will bring--he must finally free us from our freedom, and provide a government that will hold us to its bosom and tuck us in at night.

"Dear Sir Obama: Presidential Advice" reports the humorous and (sniff) beautiful things that children are recommending Obama do once he assumes office. The article is an interesting glimpse into what children expect from government, and from life in general. But, as I think the editors of the New York Times expected their readers to be impressed by the inspiring idealism for some of agendas, it is also an insight into the infantile character of the way liberals understand government. (The tradition of liberals asking children for direction in deciding public policy goes at least as far back as Jimmy Carter. See it on YouTube.)

One nine year old girl gave this list.

1. Make everyone read books.
2. Don’t let teachers give kids hard homework.
3. Make a law where kids only get one page of homework per week.
4. Kids can go visit you whenever they want.
5. Make volunteer tutors get paid.
6. Let the tutors do all the thinking.
7. Make universities free.
8. Make students get extra credit for everything.
9. Give teachers raises.
10. If No. 4 is approved, let kids visit the Oval Office, but don’t make it boring.

She's all set for the future.

I wondered what advice my own children would give the incoming President, so I explained the exercise to my two eldest, ages nine and eight, and sat them down each with pencil and paper. Topping the list was "stop abortions." Fair enough. Protecting innocent life is a legitimate function of government. One suggested that the new President "put up a church [i.e. chapel] in the White House." Why not? Wise is the President whose God is the Lord. Also, the suggestion that he throw a party for his wife and children on the first day was a nice thought.

Many of the suggestions, however, pertained to the President making the world nice, easy, and comfortable. "Make my little brother not as grumpy." "Set up a place for homeless people." "Make things easy when you order stuff." (We recently had trouble with an online purchase.) "Help private schools." "Lower food prices." "Make toys $5." (Those last two gave opportunity for a primer in basic economics.)

It was a foolish question to ask little children. They don't understand the purpose of government, the limits to government and why it is limited, and the structure of our particular system of government. At the age of nine, they give almost no attention to government, and the thoughts they have are received from parents and teachers. Once these thoughts take form in their little minds, they're not much different from thoughts of ancient history and imaginary worlds. Children at that age answer the same way they would if you asked them, "If a genie offered you three wishes, what would you want him to do," except their wishes are more public spirited because you're talking about the President. They know that he is in charge of the government, and that the government has power to tell people what to do. They imagine that the President can clap his hands and have whatever he wants.

In other words, the way they think of the government is not much different from the way too many voting Americans think of it. In the next four to eight years, it will only get worse. Let the national conversation begin.

I posed the same question to my six year old boy this morning. He came up with three things to say:

1. I would say, "How do you do?"
2. Be a good man.
3. Tell the people smart things from the laws.

Atta boy! Not bad for six years old.

Postscript: In my original post on this subject, I thought that "Mireya," the name of the little girl who authored the list that I cite, was a novel and troublesome spelling of Maria. In fact, it is a legitimate Spanish name, a variant of Miranda. (Yes, I distinguish legitimate from illegitimate names. Yesterday, a customer service rep gave her name as J'... a letter and an apostrophe. But that's another post.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

This is Who Obama Wants To Talk To?, Part II

Listen to the voices behind the street thugs (see below), in Gaza the West Bank, and Lebonon:

Any questions?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Time Stands Still

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day site, an impressive and evocative picture:

If every picture tells a story, this one might make a novel. The six month long exposure compresses the time from December 17, 2007 to June 21, 2008 into a single point of view. Dubbed a solargraph, the remarkable image was recorded with a simple pinhole camera made from a drink can lined with a piece of photographic paper. The Clifton Suspension Bridge over the Avon River Gorge in Bristol, UK emerges from the foreground, but rising and setting each day the Sun arcs overhead, tracing a glowing path through the sky. Cloud cover causes dark gaps in the daily Sun trails. In December, the Sun trails begin lower down and are short, corresponding to a time near the northern hemisphere's winter solstice date. They grow longer and climb higher in the sky as the June 21st summer solstice approaches.

Two things came immediately to mind when I saw this picture: the movie "Smoke", which includes the plot device of having a main character take a photograph every day from the same spot in front of his cigar store, creating a pictorial chronicle of the life of the city he lives in; and the Canadian rock band Rush's song Time Stands Still, a favorite of mine because of its melancholic, nostalgic, but ultimately redemptive view of life, friendship, and memory, themes the movie also moves among. Also, the background vocals of Amie Mann ('til Tuesday) are haunting.

A cigar, a glass of cognac or brandy, and an old friend in front of a fire...the kind of moments in time we wish we could hold on to--the moments that point us toward our eternal home, where we will be free from time's abuse, and time's loss. As we lean toward heaven, we ought to seize a few moments of worth for ourselves on a cold winter's night, both as comfort now, and as a reminder of the good things that await us.

The Last Knight of Christendom

My friend Stephen Clark reflects on Richard John Neuhaus's character and contribution to our political discourse. Neuhaus's funeral is today.

Richard John Neuhaus has gone to his reward, and with him the Christian practice of chivalry has come to its uttermost end.

I met Fr. Neuhaus once, a little over a year ago. I requested a meeting with him, not for any particular reason other than my avid reading of "First Things". Two things struck me about his office: first, that it had not been renovated in several years, and second, that it had a spacious sitting area where the smoking of cigars was obviously practiced.

A friend of mine accompanied me on my pilgrimage, and the two of us proceeded to stumble through the interview like a couple of star-struck teenagers. Nothing in Fr. Neuhaus’ demeanor caused this; he was a smallish man, balding and grey, and as unpretentiously gracious as a mortal can be.

At the end of the interview, Fr. Neuhaus offered my friend and me each an autographed copy of The Naked Public Square, which of course we eagerly accepted.

In the title of this well-known volume lies one of Fr. Neuhaus’ great contributions. Orwell noted in “Politics and the English Language” that public speech typically is littered with dead or dying metaphors. In the half-century since Orwell’s indictment, public discourse has deteriorated yet further into a sloganized slush of referentless meaninglessness: the audacity of tripe.

Into this milieu, Fr. Neuhaus introduced a straightforwardly mixed metaphor: “The Naked Public Square.” This proved to be not only a living and powerful figure of speech, but one whose life-force reached to the farthest corners of Christendom. Where has it not become fashionable to speak of “the public square”? Within his metaphor lies implicit the wrongness of many things that are currently being done in our civic life, and also a positive indication for correcting them.

However, for me the manner rather than the matter of Fr. Neuhaus’ work was his greatest contribution. The deeply cultivated civility of his approach—even to controversial topics about which he had strong convictions—can only be described as chivalrous.

There is a profoundly cultured graciousness in the writings of Fr. Neuhaus that I have found nowhere else in the contemporary scene, either in Christian or non-Christian writers. And this mellifluousness is most surprising because it mainly flowed in a journal of current affairs.

If I may rob from Tolkien, the last of the High Elves has sailed for Valinor; and we shall never again see his like in Middle Earth.

May he rest from his labors. And may his works not only follow him, but may their lingering forms illumine our way in his absence.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine;
et lux perpetua luceat eis ;
cum Sanctis tuis in aeternum,
quia pius es.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Brave New World of Soft Tyranny

Rush Limbaugh is right--it is becoming impossible to satirize the left. Increasingly, news stories sound more like their comedy show imitations--Saturday Night Live, or Monty Python's Flying Circus. England is leading the way in idiocy. I've been saying for some time that they've gone around the bend and will not be back. It is a nation committing suicide as the world watches. The self-willed immolation that produces policies and programs alternating between the horrific and the comedic, ranging from the merely ridiculous to the mortally dangerous, has the feel of some ironizing dark future movie, the director for which cannot decide what kind of a movie he wants to make--and ends up with something that seems like a tale told by an idiot.

The latest nanny-state intrusion from the nation that used to be the high water mark for human civilizational achievement? Someone in that benighted country's government decided an urgent matter for the state's attention is food waste. So now the erstwhile adult citizens are now to be reduced to accepting government inspectors and hectors into their kitchens to make sure they know what they are doing. That's right. The ever solicitous government is establishing the food police to assist their helpless, child-like citizens in figuring out how to live.
Home cooks will be told what size portions to prepare, taught to understand "best before" dates and urged to make more use of their freezers.The door-to-door campaign, which starts tomorrow, will be funded by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a Government agency charged with reducing household waste. The officials will be called "food champions". However, they were dismissed last night as "food police" by critics who called the scheme an example of "excessive government nannying".
But wait! Our own leftist heroes are not far behind. Watch for innovative programs like this in a town near you, as our own feminized castrati ache to follow the lead of the Brits in preventing all possible harms to the planet first, then the infantalized citizenry they take to be their charges. The ObamaCorps, or what ever they end up naming it, will need lots of do-gooder missions to perform, (600,000 new federal workers in the stimulus plan) and how many issues are more serious than "flagrant acts of nutritional disobedience"? "Cuisine commissars" in Berkeley CA, are already at work "altering pernicious cultural artifacts that equate festivities with good food":
“I don’t think all celebrations need to be around food,” said Ann Cooper, the director of nutrition services for the Berkeley school district. “We need to get past the mentality of food used for punishment or praise.”Ah, insight and wisdom from the city of Berkeley California. As the entire country adopts the values of Stalingrad by the Pacific the social and behavioral engineers will follow up their success in the public schools by an intense drive to export control into the students' homes. [see above] Down the road if the rightness of the directors of nutrition meet resistance in the home expect to see rules and regulations crafted to remove the wall that separates private from public. That's already underway in regards to smoking. As the war on smoking proceeds unopposed so too shall the war on food reign triumphant unless parents and all citizens relegate public servants to once again serving the public.
Public servants serving the public? How quaint--sounds almost Victorian. Huxley and Orwell--even Tocqueville--tried to warn us; but even they could not have foreseen what we are actually going to end up with. Food police...nutritional disobedience...are you laughing or crying?


For more laughter, or crying as the case may be, see Roger Kimball's entry on the hard times satire faces in this particular period in history...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jack Bauer and the Problem of Justice

"Where do the rules of engagement end, and the crimes begin?" Jack Bauer makes explicit this season what has been an implicit question for the last six seasons of Fox's taut serial thriller, 24. It is a version of the dilemma Plato presents in the Republic, where it appears as Thrasymachus' implicit challenge to Glaucon and Polymarchos: can a just man remain just while conquering evil, or does the asymmetry of the evil/good dichotomy always favor evil in this world? Actually, Thrasymachus presses an even more sinister question than that: why would a man of strength choose to be just, when all the benefits of this world so easily accrue to the unjust man strong enough to make it stick? Plato's solution for the attainment of justice is, ultimately, to spiritualize the good city, whose citizens inhabit it irrespective of the evil surrounding them--they are citizens of the good city in their minds. This is one reason that Platonism seems such a close analog to Christianity: the just city is a city in speech.

Alas, the tension is all the more unbearable, since the Word was made flesh and has lived among us. His followers are to live by his Word, but he counsels turning the other cheek--not a policy adaptable to the city as a whole. Our consciences bear witness against us when we are forced to deal with darkness in the political realm. The dramatic tension of 24 revolves around Jack Bauer's predicament, a good man standing guard over a good regime, whose enemies, like Thrasymachus, are not constrained by regard for justice. Like Lincoln in the civil war crisis, exceeding the constitution in order to save it, Bauer must break the law to preserve the rule of law and America, its principle symbol. In life under the sun, as Ecclesiastes's Teacher refers to this world, something like Machiavelli's teaching is what we reach for: a wise prince must know how to use both good and evil, in order to preserve the good. This is not the Heavenly city; but it is not Thrasymachus' either.

The Bush administration, when faced with implacable evil, struck the balance toward Jack Bauer's rough justice; perhaps our consciences are sullied, but we are safe. Where will the Obama administration strike that balance? And will it in fact be better?

Debra Saunders has this piece, "From Jack Bauer to Leon Panetta" this morning on "torture" under Bush and "flexibility" under Obama.

Neuhaus at The King's College, 2007

Each spring in April, The King's College as a whole takes off three days to mull over a great theme through debates, lectures, art, a common reading, and a public address by a national figure. In 2007, our theme was "difficulty" and our speaker was Richard John Neuhaus, who died last week at the age of 72.

David Lapp, class of 2009, introduced him that night. In honor of Rev. Neuhaus's now completed life of service to Christ and with Mr. Lapp's permission, I reproduce his fitting tribute here.

Introduction for Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

The King’s College – Interregnum III

April 4, 2007

David Lapp, Scholar to the House of Lewis

Good evening and welcome to The King’s College Interregnum.

Difficulty. One certain gentleman gravely staring down at us right now knows a good deal about difficulty. If you look to your right, you’ll see a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was president during one of the most trying times for our nation. The civil war that our forefathers went through makes one wonder why, as one of the boys in the Lord of the Flies wondered why “things break up like they do.” Why do we bicker with one another, deceive one another, even kill one another? Why can’t we all just get along? And why don’t things go as we plan? We start life with grand hopes and noble dreams—but somewhere along the way we encounter the grave realization that life is difficult. If we are to live life at all, we come to realize that we live in a broken world; a messed up world. Of course, as Christians, we have the hope of redemption.
But in the meantime we live inescapably in the here and now---now, here, on 37th and Park in the Union League Club in New York City—and New York City is an opportune place for getting one hand’s dirty. Many wise people, including our speaker this evening, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, contend that getting our hands dirty is worth it.

Born in Ontario, Canada, Fr. Neuhaus was one of eight children and the son of a Lutheran minister. He would eventually become a Lutheran minister himself, pastoring a congregation in a poor, mostly black part of Brooklyn for 30 years. In the early 1980’s, he became involved with the Moral Majority, an evangelical movement initi0000000ated by Rev. Jerry Falwell, with the goal of promoting fundamentalist Christian values in government. The Moral Majority answered the need for what many Christians saw as a Christian presence in politics. Christians at that time largely shunned politics, confining themselves to the church. While Fr. Neuhaus appreciated the idea of the Moral Majority, he would come to criticize what he saw as their overt “triumphalist” approach to politics. He insisted, and continues to insist, that Christian political engagement, demands a civil conversation with opponents.

In 1990, Fr. Neuhaus converted to Catholicism, and became a priest soon after. But he certainly hasn’t shied away from discussions with Protestants since then. His commitment to our Lord’s prayer that the church “all may be one” is evident. He was one of the primary architects of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” a document signed by leading Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics in America in an effort to identify common ground in the Christian faith.
As founder and editor-in-chief of the influential religion and public policy journal, First Things, Fr. Neuhaus has been advocating for an informed Christian presence in the public square. An interreligious journal, its stated purpose is to “advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.”

His 1984 book, The Naked Public Square, was named by Christianity Today as one of the “Top 100” religious books of the 20th century. In it, he argued that secularism is a dangerous political doctrine; we need a public square that’s informed by transcendent values. In 1988, he wrote the influential The Catholic Moment: the Paradox of the Church in the Modern World while still a Lutheran pastor. So while not an evangelical, Time Magazine recently named him one of “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.” ...

Those of us that attend college in the “skyscraper to heaven” have fairly lofty goals. We came to The King’s College out of a sense that God calls us “to get our hands dirty”; to redeem, not retreat. Yes, we are a fairly ambitious lot—us young aspiring statesmen, CEO’s, media execs, educators, pastors. We are the culture shakers who will change the world. But lest we’re under the illusion that we can assemble our presidential campaign team now that we’ve mastered Rhetoric, Logic, and have read Plato’s Republic, Fr. Neuhaus reminds us that we need to think very carefully about how we engage the public square. His somber and reflective writings have reminded the Christian community for decades now that Christian political and cultural engagement demands constant prayerful reflection and a circumspect civility.

In our time, the remarkable resurgence of evangelicals’ engagement in politics since the 2000 presidential election is, at least in some respects, akin to the Moral Majority movement that Fr. Neuhaus was a part of in the early 1980’s. Today, as then, there are enormous difficulties we must wrestle with as principled Christians entering the messy public square.

Pres. Lincoln’s portrait, though, reminds of the nobility of engagement. The fact that his portrait occupies such a prominent place in this Club is a testimony to the heroism of his willingness to serve his country, and the nobility of taking on the hard work of his time. But his somber look also reminds us that it came with a great deal of difficulty.

We are honored to have Fr. Neuhaus share with us his reflections on some of the particular difficulties that confront Christians today in the public square. Indeed, as one who’s spent over forty years thinking, living, and talking about what it means to be a Christian in the public square, Fr. Neuhaus has a wealth of wisdom to share with us. And we would do well to listen.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my very great honor to introduce Fr. Richard John Neuhaus.

You may read David Lapp's TKC Student Voice editorial on Neuhaus here. It is a fine reflection on the primacy of being transformed oneself before presuming to transform the world, and on the importance of adding civility to the love for truth when taking one's place in the larger cultural and political conversation.

Raising Questions

One of the fabulous scenes in the Coen Brothers' Raising Arizona is where the bank robbing Snopes brothers pull off their first robbery. "Everybody Freeze! Everybody down on the ground!", commands Gale, the older brother running the enterprise from behind a shotgun. One old farmer standing in line for the teller sort of spoils the moment: "Well, which is it young feller, you want I should freeze, or get down on the ground? I mean to say, iffin I freeze, I can't rightly drop, and iffin I drop, I'm gonna have to be in motion." Truly a comic moment to be remembered. But that by the by.

Its relevance here--I always have a purpose for these things--is the similarity to what I suspect is going to be a continuing theme in the Obama presidency--contradictory indicators of his intentions, emanating from his attempts to be all things to all people. And thus we are witnessing already the results of behind the scenes machinations by the "team of rivals" whose rivalry is already making a mash of things, and who are apparently already competing for which camp can control the direction of policy via the time honored method of the insider leak.

For one current example, how an Obama administration intends to deal with Hamas. Leaks last week suggested back channel meetings were already in the works, while this Sunday Herald piece instructs the president-to-be that "Dialogue with Hamas is Obama's First Job", buttressing the internationalist wing inside the nascent administration. Bill Kristol, on the other hand, in yesterday's New York Times piece "Continuity We Can Believe In" , highlights the walk-back from official spokeswoman in charge of stamping out these kinds of fires (she had better get some flame retardant boots for this job):

Meanwhile, the Obama transition team’s chief national security spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, was denying a press report that Obama’s advisers were urging him to initiate low-level or clandestine contacts with Hamas as a prelude to change in policy. Anderson told The Jerusalem Post that the story wasn’t accurate, and reminded one and all that Obama “has repeatedly stated that he believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and that we should not deal with them until they recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by past agreements.”

So which is it young feller?

Just for a hoot, here is the larger block containing the scene of the hayseed farmer, representing the befuddled American public, and Gale Snopes, representing official administration policy. The confrontation proper begins at 4:17 on the video.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569)

Those of you across the Northern tier of the nation know you're about to get another bracing blast of Arctic air. As you hunker down to weather the latest offering from the warming planet in front of a fireplace, wood stove, kitchen range, camp stove, or just wrapped in a blanket with your sweetie, here are some things to consider. Viv Forbes, a geologist and mineral economist out of Queensland Australia, has an informative piece on the current cycle of climate change, "Climate Change in Perspective". I reproduce his conclusions here, but I urge you to read the whole thing--it's one of the clearest and best treatments of the current hysteria about CO2 emissions pushing us past some tipping point of high temperature, beyond which we can never recover. Common sense and every bit of the geological record argue against the proposition. Instead, it is more than likely that we are heading into another sustained period of serious cold, not unlike the "Little Ice Age" of 1400-1900, which, in geological time, was just a couple of minutes ago.

Dr Forbes concludes:

  • There is no global warming crisis. The world is just emerging from the Little Ice Age – so naturally temperatures will be above those of last century.
  • There is nothing unusual about today’s temperature levels or their trends. There were several periods since the Big Ice Age ended that had temperatures above the present.
  • Man’s emissions of carbon dioxide are beneficial not dangerous. And current levels of CO2 are low by historical standards. All life would benefit from an increase in CO2 content.
  • Extreme weather events are a permanent feature of the world’s climate. Weather extremes occur at any time and in all climate phases. All we can do is “Be Prepared”.
  • Humans cannot control the climate or the weather. They must learn to adapt to whatever the future holds, or, like the dinosaurs that ruled the world for far longer than humans have done, disappear and be listed among the long list of species extinguished by climate change.
  • “Climate Change” is the natural condition on earth – climate and weather are never still. If we have anything to fear from “Climate Change” it is not warming, whose effects are almost wholly beneficial. What we need to fear is a return of the cold, dry, hungry ice ages.
  • It is clear that the theory that carbon dioxide causes dangerous global warming is false. It predicted increasing warming as the CO2 content rose. But temperatures fell, twice in the last 100 years. Now in another fraudulent about face they will try to say that man’s CO2 is now causing the cooling. In other words, no matter what happens, they will adjust the theory to claim it proves their failed thesis. This is pseudo science.
  • An alternative theory that phases in climate are affected by solar cycles has been proved to largely agree with observations. Those forecasts came before the event suggesting that the theory may be correct.
  • There is no need whatsoever for an economically dangerous, and scientifically discredited, "Emissions Trading Scheme" with its taxes, bureaucracy and disruptions
Another interesting article is "Earth on the Brink of an Ice Age," and a very useful site for both warmists and us deniers is, which offers the latest and best work on both sides.

For a highly entertaining literary treatment of life in an ice age, read Mark Helprin's amazing Winter's Tale, a tale of a winter in New York City in the mode of "magical realism". Helprin is also a Senior Fellow at the Claremont Institute for Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, and a very sharp guy. Always read anything he writes.

Innes adds: I had never heard of this "Little Ice Age." Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel (1525-1569) was the first to feature these severe winters in his paintings, completing seven of them in two years, including "Hunters in the Snow." I added the painting above.

Prof. Scott Mandia at SUNY Suffolk, writes:

Western Europe experienced a general cooling of the climate between the years 1150 and 1460 and a very cold climate between 1560 and 1850 that brought dire consequences to its peoples. The colder weather impacted agriculture, health, economics, social strife, emigration, and even art and literature. Increased glaciation and storms also had a devastating affect on those that lived near glaciers and the sea.

Impact on Agriculture: Lamb (1966) points out that in the warmest times of the last 1000 years, southern England had the climate that northern France has now. For example, the difference between the northern-most vineyard in England in the past and present-day vineyard locations in France is about 350 miles. In other terms that means the growing season changed by 15 to 20 percent between the warmest and coldest times of the millennium. That is enough to affect almost any type of food production, especially crops highly adapted to use the full-season warm climatic periods. During the coldest times of the LIA, England's growing season was shortened by one to two months compared to present day values. ... Each of the peaks in prices corresponds to a particularly poor harvest, mostly due to unfavorable climates with the most notable peak in the year 1816 - "the year without a summer." One of the worst famines in the seventeenth century occurred in France due to the failed harvest of 1693. Millions of people in France and surrounding countries were killed....

Mer de Glace, by Samuel Birmann (1793-1847), soon after the Alpine glacier had reached its maximum extent

And this pattern of climate change, though it had nothing to do with big American cars, seems to have been quite influential in one of the most dramatic turns in Western history, the French Revolution.

One of history's most notorious quotes might have been due in part to a rare extremely warm period during the LIA. In northern France in 1788, after an unusually bad winter, May, June, and July were excessively hot, which caused the grain to shrivel. On July 13, just at harvest time, a severe hailstorm (which typically occurs when there is very cold air aloft) destroyed what little crops were left. From that bad harvest of 1788 came the bread riots of 1789 which led to Marie Antoinette's alleged remark "Let them eat cake," and the storming of the Bastille.

So Viv Forbes's warning that "What we need to fear is a return of the cold, dry, hungry ice ages" is a real attention grabber.

Friday, January 9, 2009

This Is Who Obama Wants to Talk To?

As Forest Gore, er, I mean Forest Gump, might say, terrorism is as terrorism does. From Debkafile , an Israeli news site I highly recommend for information that does not make it through the MSM filters:

  • Palestinians tell reporters that Hamas locks whole families in their homes from which their gunmen fire. Some of are booby-trapped to blow up Israeli invaders along with those families.
  • Shedding their uniforms, Hamas operatives emerge from bunkers to seize petrol stations and ambulances and grab most of the incoming food and medical aid carried in daily by hundreds of trucks from Israel and Egypt.
  • Their firing stations are located in schools. One huge explosives and weapons arsenal was uncovered next door to Shifa hospital in Gaza City.
  • Hamas terrorists force small children to accompany them on combat missions.
But I'm sure the troubled kids forced by Israeli intransigence to join Hamas will give up such slightly unreasonable tactics when uncle Barack comes to town and soothes their hurt feelings, and gives them the chance to tell him the Israelis started it.

What Neuhaus Wrought

Theologian and political theorist Richard John Neuhaus died yesterday. Joseph Bottum made this announcement in First Things, the journal of Christian political reflection that Neuhaus founded. "Fr. Richard John Neuhaus slipped away January 8, shortly before 10 o’clock, at the age of seventy-two. He never recovered from the weakness that sent him to the hospital the day after Christmas, caused by a series of side effects from the cancer he was suffering. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening after a collapse in his heart rate, and soon after, in the company of friends, he died. My tears are not for him—for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted."

Douglas Puffert, an economics professor at The King's College in New York, gives us this summary of his life and work.

"Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009, was arguably the leading Christian public intellectual of our time, at least in the United States. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor in Canada, but he moved to the U.S. as a teenager. As a student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod), he began his life-long consideration of the relationship between the ultimate concerns of the Kingdom of God and the subordinate but still vitally important concerns of politics and worldly justice. In this he engaged with Luther's "two kingdoms" understanding, with Reinhold Niebuhr, with the American Catholic John Courtney Murray, and indeed with many leading contemporary theologians, philosophers, political activists, church leaders, and Jewish leaders as well as with the broad tradition of Christian social thought.

"In the 1960s he was "very much a man of the left," as he later frequently put it. He was an activist in both the Civil Rights movement, as a supporter of Martin Luther King, and in the movement opposing the Vietnam War. His first substantial break with much of the political left was over abortion. Early on, before Roe v. Wade, he was convinced that opposing abortion was of a piece with his other political concerns. During the 1970s he grew increasingly concerned over the way that many leftist Christians were elevating politics and political ideology to the level of ultimate concerns and were sometimes, indeed, conflating these with the Kingdom of God (for example, in liberation theology). This led him in 1982 to write a manifesto for the newly founded Institute on Religion and Democracy and to break publicly (on 60 Minutes) with many of his erstwhile political allies.

"His conviction about the distinction between ultimate and subordinate concerns is also reflected in the names of two journals he later founded, This World (late 1980s) and First Things (1990-present). These journals, together with Neuhaus's book The Naked Public Square (1984), have had an immense effect on public discussion of religion and public life. In addition to their direct influence on politicians, church leaders, and opinion leaders, they have encouraged and guided many young Christians (and some older ones) in developing a robustly Christian approach to these matters. Neuhaus and his journals have directly helped to develop a new generation of writers to carry on his vision.

"At seminary Neuhaus became the sort of confessional Lutheran who regards oneself as an evangelical catholic and who sees the Reformation as a very regrettable necessity (and hopefully a temporary one). Partly as a result of Vatican II and the papacy of John Paul II, Neuhaus decided in 1990 that he could no longer in good conscience refrain from joining the Roman Catholic Church. Neuhaus was re-ordained as a priest in 1991. He had already been a friend of such leading Catholic intellectuals as Avery Dulles and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) as well as some bishops, and his influence in the Church subsequently expanded greatly as he advised and admonished American bishops and Vatican officials."

The editors of the National Review give us these reflections.

Watch Neuhaus's lecture, "The Blessing of Mortality," which he delivered at Boston College in 2003.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Go Ask Alice

We have yet to discern any effect on the overall condition of the economy from the injection of all that credit into the banking system. Banks are still not lending, even though the markets world wide seem to have been calmed by the action. But it feels like the calm before the storm; even with the right policy mix--TAX CUTS--things would still be long in turning around. All this demand-side Keynesian pump-priming is not going to be any more effective than pushing on a rope, a lesson taught not only by the great depression, but also the lost decade of '90s Japan. The two trillion already gone down the rabbit hole hasn't visibly changed anything; will another trillion or two? The head-scratching thing about what we are witnessing, and you must pardon the mixed metaphor directly ahead, is that piling more debt onto the mountain we already have flies in the face of that well known bromide regarding holes and shovels: if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing is to stop digging. Obama and the New Geniuses instead are calling for backhoes and power shovels, with the idea that only if we dig in deeper than ever before can we get out of this hole that the evil, witless, and craven George Bush got us into. "This is the deepest hole we've ever been in, and that is exactly why we need to dig even deeper."

Sounds like something the Red Queen would say to Alice. Welcome to Obama's Wonderland.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The State and the Stateless

The anonymous psychoanalyst blogger at puts forward this analogy by Robert J. Lewis to illuminate the Palestinian/Israeli relation:

Let us hypothesize a small man, weighing 150 pounds, who is unarmed. Facing him is an Arnold Schwarzenegger type, 250 pounds of sinew and muscle, who also has a machine gun slung over his broad shoulders. Since the two don’t like each other, you would expect the smaller man, as an act of self-preservation, to act in such a way so as not to rile the bigger man. But instead, throwing caution and IQ to the wind, the little man begins throwing rocks -- some of which are sharp enough to lacerate -- at the bigger man. He repeats the rock throwing the next day and then the next, seemingly intent on making a rite of a wrong. A neutral observer would conclude that only someone intellectually deficient would expect his bigger and more heavily armed adversary, now bleeding, to do nothing indefinitely, that at some point the big man is going to say enough is enough and pick up the little guy and hurt him bad, which is what he is doing now, in Gaza – without apology.

Though his commentary following (which I highly recommend, by the way) is insightful and bears accurately on the genocidal fantasy of Jewish extermination incited in all Arab cultures, it leaves out of account something Hannah Arendt developed in her post-war reflections on the twentieth century disasters of Stalinism and Nazism.

These totalitarian regimes hit on a technique reminiscent of a good chess move--i.e., one that accomplishes both an offensive and a defensive objective. The bi-focal and multi-functional move made by the Russians and the Germans in the 1930's was to create a class of "stateless peoples", undesirables, who were made culpable for the suffering of the true volk (and whatever the Russian equivalent was)--Jews primarily, but also Gypsies and Slavs. These people were driven out, propertyless and without rights, and most importantly, without citizenship. They were essentially made non-persons, since a human being before the awful edifice of the modern fascist state is nothing more than his legal status, as defined by the state. Thus, the home country was rid of "useless mouths" and putative troublemakers, and at the same time made to be the enemy's problem by their sheer numbers. Thousands--even millions--of such stateless people wandered across the borders of eastern and western Europe during the '30's, causing hardship and suffering at both the individual scale as well as the national and political scales of the countries, nominally Christian, forced to deal with unwanted refugees. The doubling of the effect was diabolical, emotionally and psychologically crushing these unwanted people while at the same time inflaming the local populations to acts of hatred and violence against the hapless intruders.

And it is this technique--if it were a chess move it would gloriously bear someone's name-which has been learned to great effect by the Islamists across the Middle East, who, following the example of their fascist teachers, have made of the Palestinians stateless people. If there were truly a Pan-Arabism afoot, or anything like an Arab brotherhood, wouldn't you think their Palestinian brothers--who are full-fledged Arabs after all--would find a home in Jordon, or Saudi Arabia, or Egypt, or Syria, the Arab country without either excessive oil wealth or exceedingly generous Western (read American) subsidy. Why has not a single Arab nation come to the rescue of the Palestinians, to help build an actual nation--the sine qua non for the chimerical "two state solution"? No, what has been going on, and what continues under the tutelage and tyranny of Hamas and Iran, is the stateless persons move perfected in the 1930's.

And the inarguable logic in it is this: when something is working for you, you stick with it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Barack and the Knights of Ni

In an open letter to the One, Professor Mary Ann Mason of the Berkeley Law Center on Health, Economic & Family Security, holds forth on what Obama should do next, and what he owes to the distaff side:

Dear President-elect Obama,
Your victory was glorious and hard-won. You are well aware that it could not have been accomplished without the enthusiastic support of women (53 percent of us versus 47 percent of men), particularly young women (66 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 29 voted for you). College women came out in huge numbers, knocked on doors, changed the hearts and minds of their elders, and made contributions to your campaign from the bottom of their nearly empty pocketbooks. You depended on them to win, and now they are counting on you.
As a professor and an author, I speak with hundreds of female undergraduates and graduate students in their 20s and 30s. I know what they want: They want both careers and families

They paid for it, now they want it--a socialist cocoon that will deliver them from evil and deliver the goods. After a lengthy recitation of the perils of being female in fascist Amerika, Mason gets specific as to what Obama has to cough up for that most imperiled of demographic groups:

Now let's be specific. Here is what our university students need as they begin having families:

  • A federal program for preschool and after-school childcare for all families. Such programs are a fact of life in many European countries. The last time our nation considered such a child-care initiative was in 1971 when President Richard M. Nixon vetoed it.
  • A safe high-quality public-school system where students can learn the important skills that they will need and where science and technology are compellingly presented to both girls and boys.
  • An affordable university education that will not require a lifelong debt burden.
    Full-time work that is equally compensated for both women and men. Part-time work that receives compensation proportional to the rate of full-time work, with full benefits for those who work at least 50 percent of the time.
  • Paid family leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act, which offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the medical needs of family members, took almost 20 years to become legislation; but it was only a start. Some states are already taking the lead on this: California offers 16 weeks of partially paid leave.
  • High-quality affordable health insurance for every family.
  • A flexible workplace that allows parents to meet the needs of their growing families without retribution, to take time off or accept a reduced workload when necessary. The federal government already offers this to its employees. Why shouldn't all Americans have the same opportunity?

OK, lets leave aside for now the manifest silliness of expecting the chief executive officer of the United States to shield our little princesses from the existential trade-offs of the real world ; but it made me think of...what else? a scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail. Well, actually, almost every news story has some touch point in that most sacred of documents, but that by the by. The scene that Professor Mason's extended, narcissistic, passive/aggressive whine called to my mind is the Knights Who Say Ni, whose escalating demands for obeisance in the form of first one shrubbery and then a more elaborate one, most closely resemble the apparent needs of female grad students. How long will it be until Mary Ann Mason and the Keepers of the Sacred Words threaten to say "Ni" to Obama, and demand something along the lines of "another shrubbery, but slightly higher, so we get a two level effect with a little path running down the middle..."

Read Mason's piece (if you have the fortitude), and then watch this segment of modernity's Rosetta Stone, taking note of the similarity in both tone and justification of the demands:

Cuddly Little Pirates

The Christian school that my children attend starts off each semester with a week of theme days on which they kids get to come in dressed as Bible characters or with clashing clothes and so on. Today is "pirate day." It is interesting the way pirates have been rehabilitated over the last 200 years. They have become something between humorous and romantic. In Pirates of the Caribbean, Will Turner can protest that Jack Sparrow is not only a pirate, but also "a good man," and no one even raises an eyebrow. Have I missed something?

We do have a little costume set that we purchased at Target, but I thought I'd send them to school with a speed boat and a shoulder launched missile to make them look more up to date, more authentic.

I wonder if schools and birthday parties 200 years from now will have terrorist themes. Darling children will show up with explosives strapped to their little bodies. Oh, hold on. They do that in the Middle East today.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Signs of Hope in 2009

If you pulled out of the stock market in 2008, if you hope to enter the housing market in 2009, or if you fear either the level of personal debt in America or Democratic taxing and spending plans, Alan Murray has a calming message for you ("2009 Could Be Better Than You Think," Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2009).

He argues five points:

1. This will be a good year to invest in stocks.

2. It will be a good year to invest in real estate.

3. Americans will learn to live within their means.

4. President Obama will have a historic opportunity to reshape public policy.

5. Your (federal) taxes won't rise.

The Kennedy and Catholic Roots of Abortion Rights

President John F. Kennedy and Pope Paul VI at the Vatican, 1963

It is no revelation that Caroline Kennedy would be a strong supporter of abortion rights in the U.S. Senate, even their most hideous mutations. But Anne Hendershott has researched the very interesting (and, for the Roman Catholic Church, unflattering) connection between the Kennedy family, a group of prominent Catholic theologians (including Robert Drinan of Boston College and Charles Curran), and the development of the abortion rights establishment in the Democratic Party ("How Support for Abortion Became Kennedy Dogma," Wall Street Journal, Jan. 1, 2009).

Ted Kennedy was on record as defending the life of the unborn in 1971. In a letter to a constituent, he wrote, "When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception." He was not alone in taking that position.

But that all changed in the early '70s, when Democratic politicians first figured out that the powerful abortion lobby could fill their campaign coffers (and attract new liberal voters). Politicians also began to realize that, despite the Catholic Church's teachings to the contrary, its bishops and priests had ended their public role of responding negatively to those who promoted a pro-choice agenda.

In some cases, church leaders actually started providing "cover" for Catholic pro-choice politicians who wanted to vote in favor of abortion rights. At a meeting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., on a hot summer day in 1964, the Kennedy family and its advisers and allies were coached by leading theologians and Catholic college professors on how to accept and promote abortion with a "clear conscience."

The former Jesuit priest Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, recalls the meeting in his book The Birth of Bioethics (Oxford, 2003). He writes about how he joined with the Rev. Joseph Fuchs, a Catholic moral theologian; the Rev. Robert Drinan, then dean of Boston College Law School; and three academic theologians, the Revs. Giles Milhaven, Richard McCormick and Charles Curran, to enable the Kennedy family to redefine support for abortion.

Mr. Jonsen writes that the Hyannisport colloquium was influenced by the position of another Jesuit, the Rev. John Courtney Murray, a position that "distinguished between the moral aspects of an issue and the feasibility of enacting legislation about that issue." It was the consensus at the Hyannisport conclave that Catholic politicians "might tolerate legislation that would permit abortion under certain circumstances if political efforts to repress this moral error led to greater perils to social peace and order."

Father Milhaven later recalled the Hyannisport meeting during a 1984 breakfast briefing of Catholics for a Free Choice: "The theologians worked for a day and a half among ourselves at a nearby hotel. In the evening we answered questions from the Kennedys and the Shrivers. Though the theologians disagreed on many a point, they all concurred on certain basics . . . and that was that a Catholic politician could in good conscience vote in favor of abortion."

It is an interesting footnote that, despite his open rebellion against his church's fundamental moral teachings, Charles Curran is not only still accepted as a member of his church in good standing, but also still an ordained priest in that church. (See his faculty page at SMU.)

Prof. Anne Hendershott teaches "Introduction to the City" at The King's College in New York City.