Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Now here are the most ardent Obama supporters casting their political hero explicitly in the form of Christ the Savior. As Jesus referred to himself as "the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6 NIV), the artist entitles the painting, "The Truth." It is to be unveiled on President Obama's 100th Day in Office by Michael D'Antuono at Union Square in Manhattan.
For those who are totally illiterate biblically, let me point out that Obama has his arms extended with open palms in a way that mimics Jesus hanging on the cross, but with no expression of agony, suggesting that he is already dead. Perhaps D'Antuono is just not as good an artist as his benefactors think he is.
On his head sits a crown of thorns. Again, the Apostle Matthew tells us, "The the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then they wove a crown of thorns and set it on his head" (Matthew 27:27-29).
When Jesus died on the cross after many hours of tortuous suffering, "At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (Matthew 27:51). God used this miracle (it tore from the top, not the bottom) to indicate that, by his atoning death on the cross, Jesus had purchased access for God's people into God's holy presence. The curtain that had separated worshippers from the Holy of Holies was no longer necessary for anyone who would approach God in faith with his sins cleansed by the blood of Christ (Heb. 4:14-16; 10:19-22). Clearly what Obama is depicted as doing in this painting is giving the American people access to presidential power.
The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament directs the Christian believer's attention from what Jesus accomplished by the cross to "the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful" (Hebrew 10:23). The Apostle John tells us what he promised: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." Barack Obama promised us "hope." The hope that this artist sees the new President bringing us, however, is fleeting, illusory, and ambiguous at best by comparison. Obama also promised us change. But Jesus died and rose again so that people could "be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51; Ezekiel 36:26). He came to raise the spiritually dead to life and recreate us, renewing our hearts in love.
The puzzle of the painting, as I see it, is in what the artist sees as the President's suffering and sacrifice. In what sense is he laying down his life for us? The press adores him and he appears to be having a really good time. His popular approval rating are still quite high. So where's the suffering servant? Does Michael D'Antuono anticipate an Lincolnian end for this President? That is a horrible thought, but not nearly as horrible as a painting that anticipates (one dreads to say "hopes for" in some perverse way) such a national tragedy.
I say once again that President Obama, especially if he is in any sense a Christian, needs to rebuke his followers for this sort of spiritual blasphemy and political lunacy. But I suspect that he won't because evidence of fanatical following supports him politically, and part of him may just believe the adulation. If these suspicions are correct, I fear that he is in for a terrible crash. I just pray that he does not bring the country down with him in the process.
D'Antuono has canceled the Union Square showing. You can read his statement here.
He told Culture Monster at the LA Times, "I canceled the showing out of respect for religion. It was not meant to offend so many people. I don't think it would be helpful to the cause of unity to show it."
So it seems he is no Andres Serrano. He's just confused. For example, he also told The LA Times, "It was supposed to provoke political dialogue. I wanted to start a discussion. Is Obama being crucified by the right? Do people think he's the next savior?"
Are we in any need of provocation for political dialogue on Barack Obama? If it is civil dialogue you want, you have to be fairly deeply embedded in the Obama-crazed arts "community" to think that a painting like this one would accomplish such dispassionate conversation. Also, what fair-minded person thinks that the right is "crucifying" the President? But I suppose they are, if ordinary political opposition counts.
Friday, April 24, 2009
In "The Sportsman and the Well Lived Life," I question the worth of sports that don't point in any way to a productive life of some sort. "Much of modern athletic competition combines the awesome and the trivial--rare human ability combined with fruitless endeavor. But it has not always been so." Here is the video that got me thinking about it.
But these amazing basketball shots are something else entirely. (The song is really good too, but I don't know what it is. Well chosen. Suitable to the spirit of young men.)
I share the joy of these boys. I'm happy for them. And I'm impressed. But they're just boys. When boys become men, they put aside childish things and apply what they've learned as boys to serious adult pursuits.
This Danny MacAskill fellow, for example, is amazingly good on a bicycle, but unless he can find a military application for this skill he needs to stop wasting his life and turn to philosophy or business or something else that's not just goofing around impressively.
We have given far too much praise in the last half century to people who have never grown up, to adults who act like children. What does that say about us?
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
In his inaugural address, President Obama declared that his administration would "restore science to its rightful place." He then gave some very conventional practical applications of that intention, but, taken on its own, the statement raises the question of the relationship between science and government. How much of government decision-making can be relegated to men of science? If we were all simply scientific in our thinking, would we be more governable? Would our life together be harmonious?
Francis Bacon was not only the original exponent of modern science, he also gave careful thought to its political implications. He begins The New Organon, his explanation and defense of what we have come to call experimental science, with this little aphorism:
"Man, being the servant and interpreter of Nature, can do and understand so much and so much only as he has observed in fact or in thought of the course of Nature. Beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything."
His project was to re-establish all human knowledge, even moral and political knowledge, on the foundation of the new scientific method. In other words, he proposed, "The total reconstruction of sciences, arts, and all human knowledge, raised upon the proper foundations." When he says "all human knowledge," all means all.
This is what we may call not just science but "scientism," viz. the view that scientific reasoning is the only way of knowing.
According to these epistemological standards, judgments of moral right and wrong, the noble and the base, the beautiful and the ugly, become utterly subjective, i.e. mere expressions of personal sentiment. They do not correspond with any objective moral or aesthetic reality.
The moral world that this produces is insightfully summarized in Monty Python's "Merchant Banker Sketch."
Notice that he has no "inner life." Evidently, someone has accused him of this, perhaps his previous appointment, and so he is looking it up in a reference book, having no idea what it is. As a mere calculator of self-interest, and maximizer of material advantage, contemplating what is true and eternal has no role in his life. He doesn't even have a category for it in his thinking. Accordingly he has no idea of what a gift is, gratuitous giving out of love for another, out of recognition of another person's inherent worth, be it a friend or a stranger. "Tax dodge" is the closest he can come. He hasn't a friend in the world, and feels no need of one. Friendship as such has no rational basis in a scientisticly understood universe. If scientific reasoning is the only way of knowing and if what can be observed and measured by modern scientific methods is the only reality that we are justified in recognizing, then there is no human relationship that is not a form of economic exchange or domination of one person by another.
He is indifferent to whether or not he has a name. He forgets it, but what is important to him is that he is definitely a merchant banker. See what Harvey Mansfield says is the importance of having names in how we see our personal importance or inherent human worth ("How To Understand Politics"). In general, he questions the sufficiency of the natural and social sciences for understanding the human beings the purport to explain.
Political science ignores the question of importance because it has the ambition to be scientific in the manner of natural science, which is real science. Scientific truth is objective and is no respecter of persons; it regards the concern for importance as a source of bias, the enemy of truth. Individuals in science can claim prizes, nations can take pride in them, but this sort of recognition is outside science, which is in principle and fact a collective, anonymous enterprise. And so political science, which by studying politics ought to be sensitive to importance, to the importance of importance, aims to abstract from individual data with names in order to arrive at universal propositions.
Yet human beings and their associations always have names; this is how they maintain their individuality. Names mark off the differences between individuals and societies or other groups, and they do so because the differences are important to us. You can think your way to an abstract individual or society without a name, but you cannot be one or live in one. Science is indifferent to proper names and confines itself to common nouns, but all human life takes place in an atmosphere of proper nouns. “To make a name for yourself,” as we say, is to become important. “To lose your good name,” to suffer a stain on your reputation, is to live thinking less well of yourself, or among others who think less well of you.
Anyway, I used the Python sketch as an illustration in class today of how a life guided simply by calculations of self-interest might look, and I wanted to post it on the blog.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
My productivity at Principalities and Powers has been low recently. (1) It's grading season. (2) What I have been posting has been over at my theological blog, Piety and Humanity.
Go there for a recent post on synchronized shepherding in Scotland, and see sheep dogs "paint" the Mona Lisa with illuminated sheep ("His Sheep Follow Him").
There is also a post in which I explore the marvels of creation that we (even you!) can access through high speed photography...everything from a hummingbird to a slapped face ("Slow Down and Behold the Glory of God").
Lastly, I risk heresy by questioning the moral legitimacy of many of our favorite sports ("The Sportsman and the Well Lived Life"). I only raise questions. But in doing do, I'm looking for answers. Feel free to offer one if you have one.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
You've probably seen this segment CNN ran from the Chicago Tea Party, where the caustic CNN reporterette tried to make them all look like fools run by the eeeevil Fox News Network and unnamed Republican billionaires. What you have not seen is the turn around one lady pulled on her after they cut the segment. The Morristown rally that I attended had a much more triumphant and uplifting spirit than this one (we're almost certain to get a conservative Republican governor this year)--but then we didn't have an aggressive Driveby Babe trying to push people around either.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I'm going to Morristown NJ today to join the grass roots tax protest that Rick Santelli got started back in February with his on air rant about intrusive government. I hope all of you reading this will join us for tea somewhere in a village green near you. This could be the beginning of wresting back some modicum of control for the people of whom, by whom, and for whom our government theoretically exists. Theoretically I say; it is beginning to feel like a cruel joke to speak of a free, elective government, instituted and controlled by the people whose consent alone to be governed makes that governing legitimate. We have already had a revolution of sorts, a decades-long, slow-motion blanketing of our established rights and freedoms by the blob of big government bureaucracy and the machinations of petty tyrants on the make.
John Locke had a revolutionary thought: when the controversy between a government and the people erupts over infringement of right and law-abidingness, it is the legislative that is in rebellion, not the people.
"[W]hen they, who were set up for the protection, and preservation of the People, their liberties and Properties, shall by force invade, and endeavor to take them away; and so putting themselves into a state of war with those, who made them the Protectors and Guardians of their Peace, are properly, and with the greatest aggravation, Rebellantes, Rebels." (sec 227)
And if, he goes on to say, someone should think that a doctrine of resistance to such tyranny is not to be allowed, "they may as well say upon the same ground, that honest men may not oppose robbers and pirates, because this may occasion disorder or bloodshed. If any mischief come in such cases, it is not to be charged upon him, who defends his own right, but on him that invades his neighbors." (sec 228)
Do they really want to press this rebellion against us any longer?
One of the defining questions for thoughtful and morally serious human beings pertains to material prosperity: "How is wealth created?" How does a people lift itself out of poverty into widely enjoyed abundance? This question of not-mere-academic debate between American liberals and conservatives. Thus, we are asking how best to respond to this recession that is bordering on a depression. President Obama talks about the wealth creative capacity of the private sector, but he throws trillions of borrowed, government dollars into spending on just whatever Congressmen pull off their wish lists, as well as a some sensibly targeted investments in infrastructure, and the like.
Yesterday at The King's College, David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values hosted Cornell economist and New York Times contributor Robert H. Frank and Time magazine columnist Justin Fox in a discussion of the paradox of thrift. Prof. Frank defended the President's stimulus spending, saying that if we are going to borrow money in order to spend more to create demand for production, it makes more sense for the government to borrow at 3% than for private citizens to borrow at 22% on their credit cards--as though those were the only two alternatives. He also contrasted government spending on projects like bridges and tunnels that facilitate commerce and prevent death by bridge collapse which passes all sorts of costs on to the rest of us over against private spending on silly consumables. (He did mention comparable investments that individuals could make, but of course at a much higher rate of interest.)
The problem that some in attendance pointed out is that when given the go ahead to spend, government directs the spending largely in ways that are politically advantageous to officeholders, not economically advantageous to the country as a whole. Furthermore, once given the green light for a prudent burst of public spending, government just keeps going and going. A businessman in the audience suggested somehow arranging a 4% interest rate for mortgages so people could refinance their homes, and spend the resulting income that it would free up on whatever they see fit. Business would boom. Government revenues would rise. Et cetera.
This is why economists are not the most trusted profession. They are not the scientists they boast of being. On this point, read Harvey Mansfield's recent article, "A Question for the Economists" (Apr. 13, 2009, The Weekly Standard).
Mary Anastasia O'Grady recently entertained this question of wealth creation and general prosperity in relation to Latin America with foreign aid in mind "Aid Keep Latin America Poor," Wall Street Journal, Apr. 9, 2009). Among other sources of wisdom on the subject, including Lord Peter Bauer, she cites Alvaro Vargas Llosa's Lessons From the Poor: The Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit (Independent Institute, 2008):
"The decisive element" in bringing a society out of poverty is "the development of the entrepreneurial reserves that exist in its men and women," Mr. Vargas Llosa writes. "The institutions that grant more freedom to their citizens and more security to their citizens' possessions are those that best facilitate the accumulation of wealth."
In an earlier post on development in Africa, I cited John Locke whom I will cite again. In his great Second Treatise on Civil Government (section 42), Locke appeals to the shrewdness of every ruler, saying:
This shews how much numbers of men are to be preferred to largeness of dominions; and that the increase of lands, and the right employing of them, is the great art of government: and that prince, who shall be so wise and godlike, as by established laws of liberty to secure protection and encouragement to the honest industry of mankind, against the oppression of power and narrowness of party, will quickly be too hard for his neighbours.
The lessons concerning "established laws of liberty" and the encouragement of the "honest industry of mankind" is a lesson that is continually in need of review, whether you are President of these prosperous United States or a South American oligarch.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
The world is so full of suffering that, to a large extent, we have to blind ourselves to it just to function. One of the most heart rending tragedies is to lose a child, especially one's only child.
The Chinese government's economically stupid and morally horrific policy of allowing families only one child has played itself out in various predictable ways. Because of the Chinese preference for boys on account of issues related to dowries, inheritance, and old age security, not only have people been killing and abandoning their baby girls, they are now stealing other people's baby boys.
The New York Times reports this in "Chinese Hunger for Sons Fuels Boys' Abductions" (Apr. 4, 2009).
The government is no help in providing the basic service that it is ordained to provide (1 Peter 2:14). "In case after case, they said, the police insisted on waiting 24 hours before taking action, and then claimed that too much time had passed to mount an effective investigation."
"[T]he police prefer not to even open a missing person’s inquiry because unsolved cases make them appear inefficient, reducing their annual bonuses." There's an interesting incentive system. Bonuses that actually discourage people from doing their jobs faithfully.
Several parents, through their own guile and persistence, have tracked down surveillance video images that clearly show the kidnappings in progress. Yet even that can fail to move the police, they say. “They told me a face isn’t enough, that they need a name,” said Cai Xinqian, who obtained tape from a store camera that showed a woman leading his 4-year-old away. “If I had a name, I could find him myself.”
Meanwhile, the government expects people to love the state more than they love their own children. "Last September, about 40 families traveled to the capital to call attention to the plight of abducted children. They staged a brief protest at the headquarters of the national television broadcaster, but within minutes, dozens of police officers arrived to haul them away. “They dragged us by our hair and said, ‘How dare you question the government,’ ” said Peng Dongying, who lost her 4-year-old son."
“There is a hole in our hearts that will never heal,” said one father who could be any of these grieving parents.
Oddly enough, in this ostensibly communist country, there is no "real social safety net" that would obviate the need security that a son is supposed to provide.
With this tragedy in mind, it would be well for us to consider on this Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday that God "gave his one and only Son" (John 3:16) to save us from the self-absorption that leads people to do behave this way and--let's be honest--that is in all of us in one God-denying, neighbor-sacrificing form or another.
John 3:16-17: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
1 John 4:9-10: "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Here is General Motors', er, Government Motors', newest big idea, quickening Nancy Pelosi's pulse. Is this what the world's wealthiest and greatest industrial and manufacturing nation is to be reduced to? I'm sure this attempt will find no more acceptance than the earlier, ill-fated Segway "It" that got about 3 days of press attention before it sank ignominiously beneath the waves. But unlike Dean Kamen's outfit, Deka Research, GM now has Congress and Treasury Secretary and Master of the Universe Tim Geithner making production decisions, determined to channel our buying decisions into products of their choosing. Regardless of how serious they are here, or how far they get with this thing (for some reason called PUMA--Personal Urban Mobility and Accesibility), it is a harbinger and symbol of what the green, Gaia-worshipping capitalist and America hating left has in mind for us if they have their way.
This vehicle appeals to Manhattan liberals and the wealthy leftist elite in general because they've never heard of CHILDREN!
Perhaps we should call it the American Leftist Automotive Decision Attrocity (American LADA).
Whether or not, you can read about the PUMA at CNN Money here.
I once knew a guy who believed that Congress should mandate a 35 mph speed limit and reserve all interstate highways for trucks. It would save thousands of lives. When the Democrats suggest this law, remember that you read it here first.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal gave four of the five columns of its opinion page to Steven Gjerstad and Vernon Smith for explaining housing bubbles, the present financial crisis, and the possibly repeatable Great Depression ("From Bubble to Depression?"). It is highly unusual for the Journal to devote that much of the opinion page to one essay, and I can see why they did. It is the most informative brief explanation (I only read brief ones) of the crisis I have read yet.
Gjerstad and Smith explain what brought about this housing bubble. "Monetary policy, mortgage finance, relaxed lending standards, and tax-free capital gains provided astonishing economic stimulus: Mortgage loan originations increased an average of 56% per year for three years -- from $1.05 trillion in 2000 to $3.95 trillion in 2003!"
Then they get to the good stuff. "The unraveling of the bubble is in many ways the most fascinating part of the story, and the most painful reality we are now experiencing." I didn't now that statistics could make for such a riveting tale.
He concludes this way:
It appears that both the Great Depression and the current crisis had their origins in excessive consumer debt -- especially mortgage debt -- that was transmitted into the financial sector during a sharp downturn. What we've offered in our discussion of this crisis is the back story to Mr. Bernanke's  analysis of the Depression. Why does one crash [the dot com bubble] cause minimal damage to the financial system, so that the economy can pick itself up quickly, while another crash leaves a devastated financial sector in the wreckage? The hypothesis we propose is that a financial crisis that originates in consumer debt, especially consumer debt concentrated at the low end of the wealth and income distribution [DCI: thanks to the compassionate interventions of Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Chris Dodd], can be transmitted quickly and forcefully into the financial system. It appears that we're witnessing the second great consumer debt crash, the end of a massive consumption binge.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Perhaps this is just a lot of fun, or perhaps they are asking why, with all the spidery swastikas and other dark symbolism, more Germans in the 1930s didn't ask, "Are we the baddies?"
From That Mitchell and Webb Look, the BBC show starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb September 14, 2006.
In the comment below, a friend in Ottawa draws our attention to the cap badge of the Queen's Royal Lancers.
...yet, clearly the good guys. But the skull is clearly that of the soldier under the cap. The message is "Death or Glory." The one wearing this badge will settle for either one or the other, but nothing in between. It is something like the Spartan woman, reported in Plutarch, who sent her husband off to war, saying, "Come back with your shield or on it."
Thursday, April 2, 2009
These annual economic meetings of international groups such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the G20 are now well established holidays for the world wide coalition of free lance protesters, thrashers for hire, soccer hooligans, the permanently unemployed, larking college students, Euro trash, and professional anarchists that have become a reliable part of the festivities. In prior centuries these same types would have been on pilgrimage to some holy site or on some crusade or other. True believers, in Eric Hoffer's taxonomy.
I will grant them this however: the notion of no money is consistent with anarchism. What these lunatics are actually demanding without knowing it is a return to the state of nature, that pre-political state of affairs where each man fends for himself because there is no organized political order. Thoughtful people, when they speculate about such a time, realize with Locke that there could have been no considerable amount time spent that way because of the danger from men unrestrained by law or force. Hobbes' famous description captures it best--the life of man in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Every man realizes that alone he is at his most vulnerable; association and cooperation is the only way to survive. Locke has the invention of money coming just prior to the invention of government in his rational reconstruction of pre-history because he knew the invention of money was a social necessity, and does not need government planning to implement. So, even if a non-political or apolitical state of affairs could be imagined, money in some form would still be necessary in order to prevent the solitary and poor scenario. Most of what is necessary to bare existence is of short duration and, unless you live on a tropical island paradise, is difficult to obtain. The idea of exchange, the division of labor, and some medium to facilitate exchange are the first ideas to raise men from the Hobbesian nightmare of the bellum omnium contra omnes--the war of all against all--and into primitive pre-political cooperatives of the sort these Euro slackers seem to have in mind. But even the Stonehenge builders, whom many of these revelers surely worship, knew anarchism of the sort contemplated here was out of the question, and most certainly had some concept of money equal to their astronomy and engineering prowess.
Maybe the lingering race memory guiding our little tantrum-throwers is not of St Paul but of St Marx, he of the withering away of the state, and of changed human nature that makes it possible
Or without ever growing up either. This is the fantasy world where everyone produces according to his ability, and consumes according to his need. And all of it done without the greed and inhumanity of capitalists or money. John Maynard Keynes was right; every age is ruled by some long dead economist or philosopher.
Why couldn't ours be Adam Smith instead of Karl Marx?
This is the world conference of the Global Progressive Forum (GPF), which will bring together speakers from five continents to develop a new vision of a globalized world which benefits all. The GPF will take place in the European Parliament and will be opened by Bill Clinton. It will feature debates and discussions on the issues of global governance, trade, financial markets, decent work, migration and climate change, all aimed at coordinating global answers to what are global crises. It shows that the world's progressives are serious about making a solidaristic social model a reality for all.