Monday, November 30, 2009

The Terminatrix Peace Prize Theory

The end of the year is busy for professors, so things have been slow on the blog.

But I ran across this interesting reflection:

This theory makes sense of Barack Obama's Nobel prize, but the Terminatrix part doesn't seem to fit the data.

It may be most interesting as an expression of liberal discomfort with the Nobel Committee's 2009 choice for the peace prize.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving and This Dark Valley

Christians are not Zoroastrians. Neither are we gnostics. We not only thank God from whom all blessings flow, but we also pass through the valley of the shadow of death in the confidence not only that he is with us, but also that he is Lord over that valley, and even that the valley itself is his loving rod of discipline (Psalm 23:4).

For that reason, Scripture tell us to give thanks in all situations, both the happy and the unhappy, the bright and the dark. "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright (Psalm 112:4).

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:4-6).

[B]e filled with the thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18, 20).

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).
This Thanksgiving, it is hard not to notice that the country is in dark times that are getting progressively darker both at home and abroad. That presents the Christian with many opportunities to offer prayerful thanksgiving to God the sovereign, wise, and good Father in the name of our risen and reigning covenant Lord, Jesus Christ.

Consider this bad news.

The Heritage Foundation reports a massive increase in our public debt burden over the next decade. The graph is from the Washington Post. "President Bush presided over a $2.5 trillion increase in the public debt through 2008. Setting aside 2009 (for which Presidents Bush and Obama share responsibility for an additional $2.6 trillion in public debt), President Obama’s budget would add $4.9 trillion in public debt from the beginning of 2010 through 2016."

Also, read George Melloan on what the massive expansion of government borrowing means for bank lending to private home buyers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs. Answer: "No money for you!" ("Government Deficits and Private Growth," WSJ, Nov. 23, 2009). Furthermore, as the government is now regulating banker salaries, and linking them to risk aversion instead of risk assessment, lenders have every incentive to prefer risk-free Treasury securities over housing and enterprise.

Have you noticed the price of gold recently? As the value of paper money goes down, the value of gold goes up, e.g., in times of inflation, or when the "full faith and credit of the United States government" comes into serious question.

With the continuing weakness in the US dollar, low interest rates around the world, increasing investor demand and a growing concern about the value of these fiat currencies, it is not surprising that the price of gold is performing so well.  A fiat currency is a currency that a government has declared to be legal tender, despite the fact that it has no intrinsic value and is not backed by reserves. Historically, most currencies were based on physical commodities such as gold or silver, but fiat money is based solely on faith. Most of the world's paper money is fiat money. Because fiat money is not linked to physical reserves, it risks becoming worthless due to hyperinflation. If people lose faith in a nation's paper currency, the money will no longer hold any value" (from

Gold is up, and rising fast by about $100 an ounce per month. The world market is bearish on America's economic future thanks to the frantic spending and spending plans of our ruling Democrats.

In world politics, that anarchy of ferocious evil out there, expect a return to 1979. When America withdraws or smiles sweetly and says "Can't we all just get along?," barbarians seize their opportunity, and then all the evil that lurks in the mud catches out. Here, Bret Stephens compares President Jimmy Carter's calamitous naivete with President Obama's equally ill-conceived plans to bring hope and change to the world ("The Carter Ricochet Effect," WSJ, Nov. 23, 2009).

President Obama likes to bemoan the "mess" he inherited overseas, the finger pointed squarely at President Bush. But the real mess he inherited comes straight out of 1979, the serial debacles of which define American challenges in the Middle East just as surely as the triumphs of 1989 define our opportunities in Europe. ... He would do well to cast a backward glance at the tenure of his fellow Nobel peace laureate, as an object lesson in how even the purest of motives can lead to the most disastrous results.
And that's just from today's paper and from what comes quickly to mind.

But you need have "no fear of bad news" if your "heart is steadfast, trusting the Lord" (Psalm 112:7).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Our Liberal Overlords

Every so often, someone offers a flash of brilliance that illuminates the puzzling contours of the world. John Steele Gordon sheds helpful light of that sort on the way political liberals see the world. He calls that view "the liberal paradigm" ("Obama and the Liberal Paradigm," Wall Street Journal, Nov. 4, 2009), and it explains in large measure their passionate support for big government solutions to every human problem, and their hateful disdain for everyone who opposes their efforts.

The basic premise is that the population is divided into three groups. By far the largest group consists of ordinary people. They are good, God fearing and hard working. But they are also often ignorant of their true self-interest ("What's the matter with Kansas?") and thus easily misled. They are also politically weak and thus need to be protected from the second group, which is politically strong.

The second group, far smaller, are the affluent, successful businessmen, corporate executives and financiers. Capitalists in other words. They are the establishment and it is the establishment that, by definition, runs the country. They are, in the liberal paradigm, smart, ruthless and totally self-interested. They care only about personal gain.

And then there is the third group, those few, those happy few, that band of brothers, the educated and enlightened liberals, who understand what is really going on and want to help the members of the first group to live a better and more satisfying life. Unlike the establishment, which supposedly cares only for itself, liberals supposedly care for society as a whole and have no personal self-interest.

Thus the liberal paradigm divides the American body politic into sheep, wolves, and would-be shepherds. The shepherds must defeat the efforts of the wolves.
Gordon focuses on the liberal view of people as helplessly vulnerable to the wolf class. He says that through education and economic success, most people have entered the wolf class themselves, and so the majority no longer has need of progressive liberal protection. But I would like to draw attention to the way liberals understand themselves not as protectors, but as enlightened, and thus with a natural right to rule.

Liberals see themselves in the role of Plato's philosopher kings (The Republic, Book V, 473d-e; Book VII, 514a-521b). These are people who, on account of their love for the truth and their philosophic education understand justice and the nature of things in general, and so are uniquely positioned to govern public affairs. But problem is that liberals, who see themselves as the natural governing class in this way, are not philosophers. They flatter themselves. They are a mix of ideologues, technocrats, and utopians. Plato's philosopher king was none of these things.

In addition, because the philosopher king is a philosophic lover of wisdom, he is not interested in rule. The responsibilities of government are a distraction from his true love: further investigation of the good, the true, and the beautiful. His rule assumes also a public that is incapable of sober, intelligent reflection on public affairs with a view to the truth, i.e., self-government. While many populations are that way, ours is not. Aristotle said that for a people who are "similar in stock [to the rulers] and free," government that is most appropriate is "political rule" in which citizens rule and are ruled in turn (The Politics, 1277b7-16). He was describing what Lincoln called "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," where the people are free, not only by law, but also in character. The liberal preference for big government, however, is based on the view that, like the people chained to the wall in Plato's cave, people are in general incapable of taking care of themselves.

People who are incapable of self-government, people who need caretakers and overlords, who require nannys and stewards, he likens to natural slaves, people who are in themselves cannot direct their affairs for their own good. This appears to be how liberals see the American public. Hence their preference for constituitional change by Supreme Court re-interpretation instead of by popular amendment; hence, their preference for federal government power over government that is close to the people and responsive to them; hence, their resistance to the privatization of social security; hence, their preference for government controlled health insurance as opposed to a market based system.

There is still a strong, free spirit in the country. American are still unusually attached to the nobility of self-government. We can see this in the public unease over recent unprecedented levels of government spending, and in the collapsing public approval for a government run health care system. The upcoming vote on plans for that system will be the Waterloo of American liberty. Either we will keep a government for the protection of our liberties, or we will be kept by an overlord for our protection from all the dangers and pitfalls of life. But that overlord is a looming danger that overshadows all other dangers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Obama Bows to Foreign Crowns

So far, President Obama has bowed twice before foreign heads of state--both of them kings.

The headlines read that specifically conservatives are upset at this. But why should indignation be the reserve of conservatives on this point? I can see how liberals should be at least torn over it. On the one hand they value being culturally sensitive. If it is customary in Japan to bow before the Emperor, they believe the President should avoid offense (except to Americans) and bow. On the other hand, they are egalitarians. Why should one human being bow before another, especially in a political content like this?

For the President personally, there is another consideration. Though he is not descended from slaves, those who are look to him as representing them in a special way. Slaves in America had to bow before masters. The journey up from slavery, Jim Crow, and social subordination in general has been a long, bloody, humiliating, but gloriously triumphant one. For our first black President to distinguish himself as the President who bowed to foreign masters is a disgraceful dereliction of duty, both political and moral.

Here is his bow to the Saudi king. Perhaps he just wants to bring back bowing to heads of state among Americans.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Love a Liberal. Donate to the National Debt.

This Christmas, what do you get the person who has everything, for example, your politically liberal friends who own both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue?

Well, consider that liberals are happiest when they are forcing you to put your money where their mouths are, so to speak. The best gift for those friends and family members, therefore, would be donating money to an approved left-wing cause. As they seem to believe that private initiative cannot be trusted to address human needs, it would be most thoughtful to donate to a government program. But which one do you choose? There are so many.

Thankfully, the Department of the Treasury has solved your problem. You can cover all government programs by donating money to help pay off the national debt. Last year, for love of country, people gave $3 million, the highest giving since 1996.

This is what you find on the Treasury website:

How do you make a contribution to reduce the debt?

Make your check payable to the Bureau of the Public Debt, and in the memo section, notate that it is a Gift to reduce the Debt Held by the Public. Mail your check to:

Attn Dept G
Bureau of the Public Debt
P. O. Box 2188
Parkersburg, WV 26106-2188
Conservatives might consider giving to help pay down this publicly burdensome debt if there were evidence of repentance among our national leaders--any sign of repentance among the Democrats, and signs of genuine repentance among the Republicans. Otherwise, it would be like working extra hours to help finance your husband's crack habit.

But liberals object to the very notion of a public, or even broadly cultural, celebration of "Christmas." They celebrate things like "Sparkle Season." Since such concepts, however, have no connection to the the notion of gift-giving (unlike Christmas which celebrates God's gift of his Son for the redemption of sinners), you're off the hook.

You can read the Reuters story here.

You can see the national debt clock here, along with related information and articles. There are so many numbers to the left of the decimal point that it may take you a while to figure out what the number is. I had to work at it. It's about $12 trillion. And that's before we spend trillions more slowly nationalizing health care services.

Here is another clock with live updates and many other helpful figures (GDP, government spending, average household debt, etc.).

The picture at the top of this post was taken a year ago when the sign ran out of digits to accommodate the $10 trillion figure. AP reported: "The clock was put up by the late real estate mogul Seymour Durst in 1989 when the U.S. government's debt was a mere $2.7 trillion, and was even turned off during the 1990s when the debt decreased."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Memorial Day: To Mark Their Place

This is the great poem I learned as a boy each Remembrance Day in Canada. I reproduce it here for Memorial Day.

Second Battle of Ypres, 1915

In Flanders Field
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pelosi's America and the Promise of Harmony

I have noriced that everyone is better looking when they smile. A smile beautifies any face. But Nancy Pelosi appears to be an exception. Her smile is frightening, and she is smiling a lot these days. The reason for it is far more frightening. She is gleeful because her plans for a New America are being realized.

Think of it this way...

Consider other Narfbuscuit insights.

P.S. Well-earned smugness for anyone who got the allusion to Samuel Huntington.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wise Public Policy Frees the American Spirit

During a recession, there is much less money in circulation than there was before. That's what a shrinking economy means. Fewer people have jobs. People spend less. Governments have revenue shortfalls. But non-profit organizations, everything from local churches (which depend entirely on giving) to big universities (which have large endowments to carry them), also suffer a decrease in contributions.

These circumstances make it all the more useful to learn what three sociologists from Rice and Notre Dame universities have discovered regarding American giving patterns, particularly among churchgoers. In Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money (Oxford UP, 2008), Michael O. Emerson (sociology professor at Rice University), Christian Smith (sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame), and Patricia Snell (Notre Dame religion and sociology researcher) have that, "When it comes to sharing their money, most contemporary American Christians are remarkably ungenerous."

Fifty percent of American who do not attend church give nothing to charity.

Twenty percent of American Christians give nothing to charity.

Regular churchgoers give two percent.

Nine percent of self-identified Christians give ten percent or more of their after-tax income to charity.

Twenty-three percent of active Protestant church attenders give ten percent or more.

As real income have risen in the last one hundred years, giving as a percentage of income has declined.

The poor are more generous in their giving than the rich.
Compare these two figures: "Regular churchgoers give two percent" and "Twenty-three percent of active Protestant church attenders give ten percent or more." This appears to indicate a significant difference between Protestant and Catholic giving. I suspect that most of the giving in those Protestant churches is from Evangelicals, including Evangelicals in the old mainline churches.

Clearly, there are many people who simply will not give to charity, regardless of how much money they have. I recall that when Al Gore's tax statements were released during the 2000 campaign, we discovered that he gave a miniscule amount to charity out of his ample income. Liberals, it seems, don't believe in private giving. They believe in establishing generous though inefficient and generally ineffective government programs. People with lower incomes are more generous in their giving, as these reports confirm.

The last fact calls to mind the 2006 book, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, by Arthur C. Brooks, the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Whitman School of Management, and president of the American Enterprise Institute.

But there are others who give regardless of their income, but who would give more if their income weren't so squeezed under the burden of having to pay for bloated government programs, including government schools. If taxes were lower, including property taxes (on Long Island, you can pay $10,000 a year on a middle to lower middle class home), people would give more money to private charities which are far more responsive to what I would call "neighbor needs" and far more effective at bringing remedies. Marvin Olasky's The Tragedy of American Compassion is the classic study on this point.

John Fund, when he spoke here at The King's College the other day, told us that occasionally he will ask a liberal audience the following question. If you received a million dollars for some reason, and you wanted to give away ten percent to a worthy charitable work, raise your hand if you would give it to your local welfare office. In all the years he has been asking this question, only three people have raised their hands. One person was just hard of hearing, and otherwise would not have raised her hand. One person was Swedish. The third person worked in a local welfare office.
Freeing the world-transforming energy of the American spirit, which is powerfully informed by the Spirit of Christ in many of those Americans, entails lowering taxes not only to spur business enterprise and technological innovation, but also to release the imaginative and vigorous charitable giving and labors of a citizenry already inclined to serve one another directly, personally, and sacrificially.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mapping the Uninsured

Here is a really fun and informative interactive map that shows the percentage of the state population that has no health insurance.

The top rate is over 40%. The lowest rate is 3.4%, but those lowest rates are all in Massachusetts where people are required by law to have it. The top rates are all in the border states, like Texas and California, where there are particularly high concentrations of illegal aliens. Almost all of the states with a rate of over 25% are Democratic districts.

My friend Matt Laslo at PRI (Capitol News Connection) put me on to this.

Here's an interactive map at NPR that distinguishes the numbers for uninsured children from those of adults under 65.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Big Government Needs Big Laws

Big government requires big laws. It seems appropriate, therefore, that the House health care reform law (HR-3962) requires 1,990 pages to cover everything that needs to be put right.

Back when it was HR-3200, but only about half the size of the present bill, Jimmy Fallon had this fun with it.

Incidentally, the law is sponsored by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich) who takes a withering blow in Time magazine's cover story on "The Tragedy of Detroit" by Daniel Okrent (Oct. 5, 2009). "Dingell has in fact played a signal role in destroying Detroit," that is, his own constituency. With proven judgment like that, the longest serving member of the House of Representatives lends his good name to the Congressional effort at reforming one sixth of the U.S. economy.

Two words: buy gold.