December 29, 2004
December 28, 2004
My last two posts, on gay marriage and polygamy and my religious skepticism betray a difficult contradiction. Viscerally, I don't feel we should legalize either gay marriage or polygamy, but without Christian teaching as an authoritative source for public morals, I have to resort to the reasonable but not entirely convincing argument that our mores have evolved over centuries, and radical tinkering with them is more likely to prove deleterious than positive. A change like legalizing gay marriage is thus a kind of social mutation, more likely to be harmful than not, much like biological mutations.
You can argue that gay marriage weakens a central function of legal marriage between a man and a woman -- providing a healthy environment for reproduction -- but that argument isn't very strong when it comes to polygamy. It's not totally off the mark, because one could surmise that polygamous (really, polygynous) households aren't as healthy for kids as monogamous ones, but who knows?
And of course, Jewish monogamy isn't even sanctioned biblically. It's a rabbinical innovation, going back to Rabbi Gershom, whose edict instituting monogamy for 1,000 years some think recently expired (others think it expired with the Jewish millenium years ago, and others regard it as eternal.)
If we're suitably multicultural and regard adults' sexual and reproductive choices as wholly private, and the legalization of homosexual monogamy as a matter of equal protection, in fact, legalized polygamy is at least logically on its way.
The idea of legally recognizing polygamy will meet great resistance in this country, but absent Christian cultural hegemony, if you support legally recognizing homosexual marriages, there's no principled basis for objecting to polygamy. Indeed, we can say polygamy has been tried over centuries, while gay marriage hasn't.
It's a puzzlement.
Update: revised "establishment of heterosexual monogamy" to read "legalization of homosexual monogamy." Also added "no" to form "no pinicipled basis." I need a copy editor.
"This wasn't news to me, because I'd spotted an item six months back in that invaluable publication Pensions News. Contracting marriage with more than one spouse simultaneously is a crime in the United Kingdom. However, if a polygamous marriage is entered into abroad in a jurisdiction permitting polygamy, that marriage is regarded as valid under English law. Hence, the interest of Pensions News: trustees of pensions funds were concerned that, under new anti-discrimination regulations which came into effect in Britain last year, they'd be obligated to pay out to more than one widow, thus doubling, trebling or quadrupling their liability.
But you see how easy it is to start talking about polygamy in a nuts-and-bolts, incremental, legal-harmonisation, partners'-benefits, insurance-agent kind of a way. Just tidying up a bit of the fine print, old boy. Nothing to worry about. But, once a polygamous union is recognised as such by the Inland Revenue for the purposes of avoiding 40 per cent death duties, how long can the broader British state withhold recognition? No lack of taxation without representation!
When I mentioned the Pensions News item in a North American column on same-sex marriage, I was besieged by e-mails from huffy gays indignant at being compared with some up-country Nigerian wives-beater. 'It's not the same thing at all,' they insisted. But why? If the gender of the participants is no longer relevant, why should the number be? 'Don't be ridiculous,' they huffed back. 'There's no demand for it.' Au contraire, recent investigations into de facto polygamy in Muslim communities in France and Ontario suggest that even in Western jurisdictions there'll be many more takers for polygamy than for gay nuptials."
Steyn is right. There's no principled difference. Consenting adults. Private lives. Why not? And there is a demand for it, not just from Muslims, but from various Mormon splitoff groups and God knows who else.
Rich Santorum said it, and they flogged him as a troglodyte.
Steyn goes on to observe that the current situation can't last, and suspects that given the collapse of Christian belief, the Muslims will outlast the gays:
Last year, I was strolling down the boulevard de Maisonneuve in Montreal and saw across the street a Muslim woman, covered from head to toe in black, struggling home with her groceries past a "condom boutique" whose front window was advertising massive discounts on a, er, item of useful gay-sex paraphernalia. I wish I'd had a digital camera: there, in a single image, were the internal contradictions of the multicultural society. It seems highly improbable to me that gay hedonism and creeping sharia can co-exist for long. As yesterday's dispirited poll results implied, the modern multicultural state is really a nullity, a vacuum. The question is what's likely to fill it.
With four wives, they're certainly likely to outbreed them.
December 27, 2004
Hugh was half right. As a piece of sloppy agenda journalism, the WaPo piece deserved a bit of fisking.
"Intelligent Design" is not an explanation for anything, but a non-testable inference from the complexity of the universe that there must be a designer, i.e. a creator god who is responsible.
It's an offshot of creationism, but retreats from Biblical inerrancy into a very general conclusion that there's some kind of Creator. It's really a weak form of Deism, at best, because the Intelligent Designer could have set the universe in motion according to scientific laws, and after that need not be further involved in controlling events.
I'm reminded of a hymn by Joseph Addison, set to lovely music by Haydn, that we used to sing in compulsory chapel at boarding school:
The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim.
It's not a new idea at all, actually, but it's not a scientific idea at all.
There's no doubt that current hypotheses about the origin of elementary particles and the universe, involving eleven-dimensioned superstrings and such, and possible parallel universes and so on, are more bizarre and alien from everyday experience than is the concept of a Father God, and for the average person require as much or more of a leap of faith than believing in an omnisicient, omnipotent God who is both benevolent and loving toward his creatures and at the same time allows them to be drowned en masse in tsunamis.
So I don't fault those who believe in a Creator. I can't refute them, and their belief may buttress the social order better than does my skepticism. I'm not, however, persuaded that religionists can prove what I can't refute, or that applying Occam's Razor (do not multiply entities needlessly), a Creator is required to prove any known process or set of facts, or adds anything to any scientific theory.
I'm not necessarily personally happy with this view of things, any more than I am with presbyopia, hearing loss, or my mortality. That we still live on Dover Beach and haven't figured out how to live morally or meaningfully in world of weakened or absent religious faith is an unfortunate reality, but our unhappiness and loneliness in the universe neither brings a Supreme Being into existence nor proves Him a creature of human imagination.
The question that began the discussion is, if we must have public schools, should we teach Intelligent Design in science classes? The answer, it seems to me, is no, and the reason is that whatever it may be, ID is not a scientific concept, but a weak form of creationism, a religious concept which could then be taught in a philosophy or comparative religion class, but not in a science class.
Obviously, these thoughts are not the last word on the issue at all. No doubt we'll be returning to this topic.
Wired's Chris Anderson publishes an important article on the changes in marketing brought about by the growth of the Internet, especially its reduction of transaction costs.
For example, a theatrical movie has to sell 1,500 tickets per week to pay the rent at a theater, and the customers will mostly have to come from nearby. Thus, there are theaters all around my county, but relatively little variety. Netflix, on the other hand, can carry tens of thousands of titles that could never pay for a theatrical release, and it rents them in large numbers. In fact, Amazon and Netflix, Rhapsody and iTunes sell more of the down-list items, in aggregate, than they do of the big hits. (The same is presumably true of blogs, though I haven't researched it -- little blogs like this one, taken together, get more hits when taken together than the Instapundits of the world.) The "long tail" is the line of little productions that can find a market for the first time in the Internet age, even if their individual audiences are relatively small.
There are several consequences of this phenomenon:
- Certain productions are now potentially profitable that weren't in the age of theatres, book and record stores. Anderson uses the example of "Bollywood" films, that have almost no theatrical release in the U.S., because the audience, though large, is not concentrated enough to support such releases. On the other hand, Netflix has a large audience for these films. The same phenomenon creates new opportunities for obscure styles of music, documentary films, and back list books.
- The common mass media culture is no more. When I was a kid, half of America, from 6 to 60, watched Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights. In my family now, it's an effort to find something that we all like to watch together (NBC's "Ed" was one program we found). As a result, we may have less unity in culture consumption, but a richer and more varied production. "Masscult" is being replaced by "multicult."
- The authoritative position of mass media and its iconic figures, the Cronkites and Rathers, the Beatles and Oprahs of the world, is not what it once was. If Caeser had his Brutus, Rather had his Powerline.
- As a result, there are new incentives for people like me to write. My mother half-jokingly aspired to have me become a junior Walter Lippman (a big-shot newpaper columnist of the era). I didn't go into journalism, and haven't had incentives to write more than an occasional letter to the editor or op-ed submission. In the era of the blog, I can find an audience, whether 20 hits a day, 100, and (I hope) more in the future. There's no money in it, at the moment, but there's an audience, and a discussion I am a part of. There's a creative explosion out there, a thousand flowers blooming.
It seems to Anderson, and to me, that the culture will have a richness and diversity unprecedented in history, as well as less uniformity, and perhaps, less unity. And we are only at the beginning.
December 26, 2004
Powerline's Hindrocket raises this interesting question:
It's always struck me that casualties resulting from natural disasters inspire less horror than those caused by violence. More people have been killed today by tidal waves in Asia than have been killed in the last year and a half of violence in Iraq. Yet it is unlikely that today's earthquake will stay in the news for more than a day or two. I'm not sure why this is, but, frankly, I share the tendency to pay much greater attention to political violence than to natural disasters. But that shouldn't make us indifferent to the tragedy suffered by so many today in South Asia.
Another variant is raised by the carnage caused by Israel's notoriously dangerous drivers: traffic deaths far exceed deaths from the intifada, but the question of road safety is off the Israeli radar screen.
Although there's some social psychology work on risk assessment, we probably don't need much research to tell us that intentionally caused deaths raise more hackles than accidentally caused ones. And of course:
As Holmes observed, even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over and being kicked.' Id." American National Fire Ins. Co. v. Schuss, 221 Conn. 768, 775-76, 607 A.2d 418 (1992).
There's also the question of consequences. Although sea walls and a warning system might reduce tsunami deaths, in generally these deaths are perceived as "acts of God" that human action can't prevent. Deaths caused by terrorism or war, on the other hand, are caused by intentional human action, and in additon to the moral questions involved, defense, deterrence, and retaliation all might reduce such deaths, and because we can do something to prevent them or reduce their numbers, we are no doubt more attentive to them.
Frankly, I'm not certain I've fully answered the question, but it's a start.
KIEV, Ukraine -- Exit polls projected an easy victory Sunday for opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko in a bitter campaign that required an unprecedented three ballots and Supreme Court intervention to pick a new Ukrainian leader.
Elated opposition supporters flooded Kiev's Independence Square, the center of protests after the Nov. 21 election that was beset with fraud allegations and eventually annulled. Music blared from loudspeakers and fireworks lit up the sky. In Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's home base of Donetsk, the streets were largely empty, with only a few people stumbling home from the bars.
Last time, the exit polls also favored Yuschenko, of course, but it looks like he'll be certified as the victor this time.If he wins, and lives up to a tiny portion of his promise, it's a change of historic proportions. A definitive separation of Ukraine from Russia will further weaken any hope of Russia reemerging as a great power in the near or middle range.
However, that in turn does increase the chances of Russia becoming another Argentina -- a country in long-term decline, with a penchant for authoritarianism and radical nationalism.
Nevertheless, a victory for nationalism in a populous and resource-rich nation like the Ukraine is an important positive development.
HT Roger L. Simon.
December 25, 2004
Power Line's Hindrocket is optimistic about the culture's ability to maintain the religious aspect of Christmas:
As government's sphere of influence has grown steadily over the past century, the concept of "separation" has become much more problematic. The most obvious example is today's vast public education system, which impacts most families more than almost any other institution, and which had no parallel in the time of the Founders. As government's tentacles have grown ever more intrusive, and more and more of our economy, our social institutions and our lives in general have fallen within the sphere of the state, there is a real danger that if religion is excluded wherever government is present, religion may be marginalized and virtually driven underground. This is, I think, the left's intention and strategy.
I just don't think it's working. The American people have stubbornly refused to fall in with the idea that religion is a disreputable anachronism. For whatever reasons, we are in the midst of a religious revival in America that is steadily moving our culture away from its European roots.
He's a pretty wise fellow. And in any case, the religious breed more than the militantly secular.
One such award goes to Philip Longman, for a Foreign Affairs essay on the new trend in demographics, that of decreasing fertility and declining population.
While at one time, Stanford Professer Paul Ehrlich gained notoriety, and eventually scorn, for his erroneous doomsaying preductions about world population growth and the resulting inevitable famines, Longman, echoing Pat Buchanan's doomsaying, predicts declines in absolute numbers of people, rapidly aging populations, declining entrepeneurship, and other dire results.
One concluson I draw from this is that Alasdair MacIntyre may have been right when he suggested that it's impossible as a matter of principle to predict what will happen in human affairs. On a less general note, the extrapolation of a current rate of change, e.g. a fertility rate, may lead to absurd predictions. For example, if an adolescent of 13 is 5 feet high and grows 2 inches a year to age 14, does that mean she'll be another foot higher at age 20?
Another interesting observation in the Longman piece is that religious people (Mormons, observant Catholics, orthodox Jews) are likely to out-reproduce the seculars. Does this mean cultural change is likely paralleling the political change Steve Sailer notes -- Bush did best in the states with the highest fertility rates among whites.
None of this is certain, but these trends are in the long run perhaps more significant that some of the more ephemeral (although important) issues we gabble about these days.
In this regard, one hopes it is not impertinent to ask whether a photographer who does not "swear allegiance or otherwise join up philosophically with them (insurgents)" can take their pictures. Mr. Stokes might like to state whether the Associated Press photographer who took a sequence of pictures of an execution on Haifa Street, Baghdad is one of these "brave Iraqi photographers" to whom the insurgents are willing to entrust their stories. If so, at what point did the "brave Iraqi" photographer become aware that the story of the day was going to be the live execution of two Iraqi election workers?
What would be the legal and moral status of a reporter who went to the Ford Theater on a tip from John Wilkes Booth that something important was going to happen there? Or to Pearl Harbor on a tip from a Japanese diplomat that there would be fireworks there? Why is this tipoff different? Booth and Tojo wanted their stories told, too.
Mainstream journalism is very sick, indeed. More so than we thought.
December 24, 2004
Powerline's Hindrocket takes Agênce France Presse to task for misstating what he says is the true explanation for the plight of the Palestianian refugees in Lebanon.
I don't think Hindrocket has the history quite right, but he's right in taking AFP to task for its matter-of-fact presentation of a one-sided view as true enough simply to be background for the story.
Jarring indeed to a G.O.M. like me.
It's simple enough, folks:
- When "its" is a possessive or genitive, it takes no apostrophe. Just substitute "his" in the phrase and you'll see the use. Example: "Its eyes shone in the darkness."
When "it's" is a contraction of "it is," it takes the apostrophe. Example: "Baby, it's cold outside."
Late addition: See examples of apostrophe abuse here.
Here was where the killers really lucked out. The AP photographer, though caught at unawares, who definitely had no "foreknowledge" of what was going down and at the worst expected a street demonstration, did not take cover, even as soldiers and Marines are trained to do when shooting starts. He was made of sterner stuff and held his ground, taking pictures of people he did not know killing individuals he did not recognize for reasons he would not have known about. This -- in the midst of "30 armed insurgents, hurling hand grenades and firing guns" -- as the Associated Press report says. And he continued to take photographs for a fairly long period of time, capturing not just a single photograph, but a sequence of them.
There's no gainsaying the logic in Wretchard's suspicions, and I haven't seen a convincing refutation. The debate continues.
December 22, 2004
James Lileks takes a relaxed view of the "Happy Holidays" issue. Lileks is often wise and always entertaining. He in turn is responding to James Wolcott, who writes for Vanity Fair, who claims that even on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, people say "Merry Christmas," and they still say it at Macy's.
Mebbe so, but Lileks acknowledges that store clerks these days act confused when wished a Merry Christmas.
I've been doing the same experiment, returning a "Merry Christmas" for a "Happy Holidays."
It's a Dave Carter flying pig thing. And people are confused, which is sad.
The Republic, however, does still stand.
Nick Kristof is a New York Times columnist who often seems to mne to be misguided, but likes to travel to out-of-the-way places, and shows in his columns that he has a big heart. He ponders here (free subscription) what he sees as the surprising paradox that Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, a man of both faith and right-wing pedigree, actually cares about the poor and human rights:
One of the most conservative, religious, fascinating - and, in many ways, admirable - politicians in America today is Sam Brownback, the senator from Kansas who is a leader of the Christian right.
Sure, Mr. Brownback is to the right of Attila the Hun, and I disagree with him on just about every major issue. But 'tis the season for brotherly love, so let me point to reasons for hope. Members of the Christian right, exemplified by Mr. Brownback, are the new internationalists, increasingly engaged in humanitarian causes abroad - thus creating opportunities for common ground between left and right on issues we all care about.
Perhaps uncharitably, I can't help wondering if many on the left don't care about a human rights issue unless it provides an opportunity for America-bashing, and certainly not if the human rights violators are soi-disant "anti-imperialists" or socialists, just as some on the right only used to talk about human rights when they could use the issue to bash communism.
Kristof is bemused, but impressed that Sen. Brownback actually believes and tries to put his faith into practice.
“There is more in heaven and earth, dear Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy.”
And more than in mine.
The whole article is worth a read.
Merry Christmas, all.
Reminds me of the French African schools where African children studied in textbooks from the metropôle about "Nos ancêtres, les Gaulois." Translation: "Our ancestors, the Gauls."
Personally, I'd prefer to think about a Tahitian Christmas, with canoe races and barbecued fish. I wonder if there's even a word for "snow" in Tahitian.
For something more authentic, you can hear a bit of a Tahitian Christmas song, "Noela Alleluia," here.
December 21, 2004
It's interesting that the ranks of those irritated or outraged by this imposition of PC blandness are filled not just with the (largely mythical) raging fundamentalists, but with non-Christians and non-religious people of all sorts.
Religious liberty does not require an imposed blandness and homogeneity, as I've previously argued here, notwithstanding the insufferable Frank Rich. I could go off on him again, but work and breakfast beckon.
I was trained as an anthropologist back before blogs and such. It's the direct contact with daily life that lets you understand a society and its culture.
It's hard to quarrel with Stones's conclusion:
Because I have been both a driver and a manager, I can say that the UPW proposal, if successful, will likely force many store closures. According to the article, the UPW is targeting the large chain stores like Papa John's, Pizza Hut, Domino's, and others. With costs increased for these large chains, mom and pop shops, free from having to negotiate with the UPW, would take market share. With smaller market share, hours for workers at the chain stores would be cut back and stores could be closed.
He goes on to suggest that a strategy of raising pay to attract the best workers might provide a competitive edge. He might be right, although I'd be surprised if it isn't tried now and then.
I know that we have a lot of food delivered, and very quickly know which stores are competent, as well as what tastes best. It's a competitive business, which is why it's so efficient.
My sister lives in a part of New York City where apartment dwellers are deluged with Chinese and other take-out menus. She reports that a nearby building had a sign like this:
Marx was right. Capitalism is revolutionary. What he didn't realize is that socialism -- and a union shop is, to some extent, an island of socialism -- is conservative and static.
December 20, 2004
Haim Harari, a prominent Israeli scientist, applies his mind to terror, in a very insightful talk, excerpted here:
The problem is that the civilized world is still having illusions about the rule of law in a totally lawless environment. It is trying to play ice hockey by sending a ballerina ice-skater into the rink or to knock out a heavyweight boxer by a chess player. In the same way that no country has a law against cannibals eating its prime minister, because such an act is unthinkable, international law does not address killers shooting from hospitals, mosques and ambulances, while being protected by their Government or society. International law does not know how to handle someone who sends children to throw stones, stands behind them and shoots with immunity and cannot be arrested because he is sheltered by a Government. International law does not know how to deal with a leader of murderers who is royally and comfortably hosted by a country, which pretends to condemn his acts or just claims to be too weak to arrest him. The amazing thing is that all of these crooks demand protection under international law and define all those who attack them as war criminals, with some Western media repeating the allegations.
The whole thing is worth reading and worth pondering.
HT Roger L. Simon.
December 19, 2004
Ever since then, I've been getting the schools alumni bulletin four times a year. Annually, the school asks for and gets substantial gifts from its alumni, who are corporate executives, law firm rainmakers, physicians, and heirs. Fair enough.
I recently received the Fall 2004 Bulletin, which reproduced this article from the Boston Globe, about an alumna, Kathy Mulvey, who directs an anti-corporate activist group formerly known as Infact. In the same article, there was a thick section listing expressing gratitude to the plutocracy for their generous gifts.
I was amused even while being alarmed.
Here was a celebration of a classic prep-school Bolshevik, celebrating her campaigns against the very institutions that make the Andovers of the world possible.
Among other things, Mulvey’s group’s campaigns sought to coerce General Electric “out of the nuclear weapons business.” I doubt I am alone among Andover alumni in understanding that U.S. superiority in nuclear weapons protected us and much of the world from domination by the bloodiest tyranny in the history of the world. In discouraging maintenance of the deterrent, the Mulveys of the world, whatever their motives, gave aid and comfort to those who were not only enemies of this country, but of civilization itself.
December 18, 2004
The memo by choice, does not address what, if any, regulation or limitation of this right is permissible under the Amendment.
Because I believe gun bans are ineffective in curbing crime, are a potential instrument of tyranny, and their advocacy reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of rural America now and in history, I'm pleased by this memo.
We shall see if the courts adopt this interpretation of the Amendment.
The American Civil Liberties Union is using sophisticated technology to collect a wide variety of information about its members and donors in a fund-raising effort that has ignited a bitter debate over its leaders' commitment to privacy rights.
Some board members say the extensive data collection makes a mockery of the organization's frequent criticism of banks, corporations and government agencies for their practice of accumulating data on people for marketing and other purposes.
Some might say, this is rank hypocrisy.
Although this particular incident is likely transitory, there are bigger problems with the ACLU. My impession is that there are several:
- Partisanship. During the California recall campaign, the ACLU tried to prevent this democratic exercise using the absurd claim that the then-current voting system discriminated against minorities, even though minorities and whites used the same system. In short, minority voters were too stupid to follow the instructions. This lawsuit was a transpartently partisan effort to save Davis.
- Property Rights. Even though property rights are fundamental to human rights (imagine if everything you owned belonged to the government, which could take it away at will), the ACLU generally neglects these rights, because it's basically socialist in ideology, and instead treats government handouts as "rights".
- Anti-Religious Bias. The ACLU uses energy fighting any expression of religion in any way related to government, regarding any religious expression, even those of traditional American "civic religion" as a violation of the Establishment clause. In short, it wants to impose an extreme version of secularism.
- National Security. The organization ignores reasonable requirements of national security in favor of an "absolutist" view of civil liberties. Its alarmism over the "Patriot" Act is an example. Not all of the Act's provisions are unreasonable threats to liberty, given the threat to both liberty and life posed by Al Qaeda and its allies.
- Reverse Racism. The ACLU has favored racial preferences as general public policy, rather than taking a race-neutral approach to the issue.
These and other errors are serious problems, and prevent many like me from supporting the ACLU. Indeed, the very name provokes derision. And yet, threats to freedom of expression and opinion, and to property rights, abound, and merit an organization to watch over them. In my view we need not an "anti-ACLU" but an alternative ACLU with a view of these issues closer to the libertarian than to the left-liberal or socialist view. Is it likely to happen? Five years ago I would have said no, because the transaction costs involved in creating such a group would be too high.
Perhaps the rise of the Blogosphere makes a difference. The analysis, organizational work, and fund-raising involved are formidable. But stranger efforts have suceeded.
December 17, 2004
Yes, Virginia, there really is a "plus-sized community" at the University of Oregon. Of course, Oregon's taxpayers are funding this nonsense.
It seems increasingly wiser to me to send your kids to trucking school.
December 16, 2004
Blogizdat, in his contribution to the Hugh Hewitt Vox Blogoli VI discussion, observes from his Reformed perspective that:
The responsibility for the proclamation of God's truth does not fall to the Mainstream Media, nor does it depend on them getting the story right. Quite the contrary. We should not even expect fair and even-handed treatment. We - the Body of Christ on earth - have been promised that lies, slander and persecution would come our way because of our belief. (Read Fox's Book Of Martyrs for account of the early history of such things.) We have absolutely no reason to think that secular society, or the government and media that represent it, will be anything but derisive toward our claims of an incarnate God and a risen Savior.
This view echoes the Gospel of John, where Jesus says "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."
Yet the view of many Christians in this discussion has been a lamentation of the fact that Christiany was in some sense hegemonic in the culture, and there are those such as the MSM who would dethrone it and may have already done so.
Mark D. Roberts, a very thoughtful and learned Presbyterian pastor, for example, writes of the Newsweek story:
To Meacham’s credit, he faithfully recounts the extent to which most Americans believe, not only in Jesus, but also in his virgin birth. If you take the current population of the United States (294 million), the numbers are impressive:246 million Americans claim to be ChristianBut, once again, watch closely how Meacham continues. “Others, though perhaps fewer in number, are equally passionate about their critical understanding of the faith.” Stop. This is a telling statement in which Meacham once again shows his unbalanced bias. For one thing, if the vast majority of Americans believe what Meacham has just said they believe, then it’s disingenuous to say “perhaps fewer in number” are passionate about their critical understanding of the faith. There’s no perhaps about it. Even if every single person in American who doubts the historicity of the Christmas story were passionate about this doubt – which is highly unlikely – they would still be outnumbered by over 100 million!
241 million Americans view Jesus as God or the son of God
232 million American believe Jesus was born of a virgin
196 million Americans accept the Christmas story as history
Am I’m being too picky about Meacham’s words here? No, I don’t think so. Someone who writes a cover story for a magazine such as Newsweek ought to pay close attention to every word. (Moreover, Meacham’s article was surely edited by several top editors who should have caught his biased statements.) I’m paying close attention to Meacham’s words because here you can find his bias, his unexpressed assumptions. When he writes that there are perhaps fewer who are passionate about their critical understanding of the faith, he shows that he is, once again, wildly exaggerating the significance of the opinions of those who doubt the Christmas story.
Roberts seems to be saying that the Christian view is dominant among the people, and Meacham, the article's author, in defiance of that fact, is insinuating into a mass medium the views of a numerically insignificant and intellectually suspect groupuscule.
One of the points in my previous post is that our culture is historically Christian and still professedly Christian in its majority, and those of us who are not believers should accept and even rejoice that this is so, for this largely Christian country is a wonderful if flawed creation, in which even dissenters and skeptics can flourish. Moreover, a mere "absence" of faith in the culture would leave all of us bereft in some sense, because an "absence" is not a "presence." I would add that secular society has not provided an alternative that can satisfy most people, but rather lives off the diminishing capital provided by a culture that was once largely Christian (and in a minority sense, religiously Jewish). Where the disintegration of the religious tradition is further along, as in Europe, the culture and society become literally and figuratively sterile, so that its very survival is in question.
Blogizdat, on the other hand, reminds us of the view that God's kingdom is not of this world (kosmos), and believers should not expect acceptance from, let alone hegemony over, earthly society. The kingdom of God on earth is for some other time, as in Daniel 2:44, where the prophet says:
And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.
So the question is, are the Christian faithful a saving remnant, swimming against the stream of a culture ruled by the "prince of the powers of the air," or should Christianity seek somehow to guide or permeate the culture. Where the church is too much of this world, its activity subsidized and its teachings enforced by the state, it seems to grow corrupt and weak.
From a Christian perspective, which is the appropriate response to the scoffing of the Meachams? Is it wrong but expected, like the fact that a spider is venomous, or is it a symptom of a terrible loss and hollowing out of the culture, which the Hughs, Marks, and Als justly strugle? As a sympathetic outsider, I can duck giving an answer, but I'd be curious to hear some.
December 15, 2004
Looking at the Newsweek article as journalism, three characteristics appear most salient.
The first is the author's choice of topic. The place of Christmas in the culture is fascinating for many reasons. The author has chosen challenges to the veracity of the story that come from a rather narrow segment of society, a small coterie of unorthodox Biblical scholars and the shrinking ranks of "liberal" Christians.
There is no sense in which these challenges are news. There are no startling new discoveries or even hypotheses, no emerging movement either among intellectuals or the general public, that makes these particular views news.
Second, the author has taken on the NPR-news channel approach to the story, by choosing a group of "experts" to whose authority he defers. Whether it's lawyers handicapping the Peterson trial, or retired generals and professors explaining Middle East events, the appeal to authority (in this article, often not even identified) is a convenient substitute for investigation. The orthodox Christian complaint that the article selects as authorities too many people with a negative view of the story's veracity has some merit to it.
Nevertheless, the author has carefully structured his article using another common journalistic technique, defining a controversy in pro- and anti- terms, and appearing to balance the two sides, and coming to a comfortingly plausible resolution of the issue.
These are common journalistic techniques both in print and broadcast media. The appearance of objectivity emerges from the citation of authority and the apparent balance of pro and con.
A story using the same information entitled "Why the Christmas Story is Poppycock" would probably never be published in a mass medium, as opposed to a journal of skeptics or literati. Such an article would have the virtue of clarity as to the author's intent and conclusions, a journalistic "truth in labeling." But it would be an obvious op-ed piece, not a "news story." The blandness and supposed objectivity of the story make it more p.c. and more apparently "objective," than the pithy, virile skepticism of an Ingersoll or an H. L. Mencken, but they also disguise the true "Bah! Humbug!" message of the Newsweek piece.
The article is also revealing about what part of the audience is important to the author and editors. Social scientists have coined the phrase "reference group" to describe the coterie or class to which a particular individual looks for approval. The Newsweek piece, although published in a mass journal, "refers to" a relatively small group, urbanites in the word-using professions, with graduate educations and a suspicion of religion, or at least of religious claims to truth, as opposed to appropriate sentiments. My sense is that the author was not concerned with the approval of dittoheads or parishioners of evangelical or Catholic churches, but people he might meet at the right cocktail parties in Georgetown or Cambridge.
Such people have little in common with the average American, and don't understand him. This "reference group" looks to the "scholars" of the Jesus Seminar with far greater deference than do the folks in the pews. The mass of Americans rightly has no fear of a fancied supposed onslaught of believers against constitutional liberty. The "reference group" has many members who do, and will greet with a sigh of relief the article's polite, "objective" debunking of the nation's dominant faith tradition.
This is a free country where the unchurched such as I flourish, along with parishioners of an astonishing variety of religious belief and practice, most of it Christian at least in name. It is also a country with an overwhelmingly Christian majority of largely orthodox profession of faith, and clear Christian historical origins.
There is been a tendency to obscure this fact, a fact that threatens no one, and indeed goes far to explaining many of our country's admirable qualities.
Nowadays Frosty the Snowman may grace City Halls, but there can be no crêche and no angels. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" replaces "O Come All Ye Faithful." "Happy Holidays" crowds out "Merry Christmas," and "Happy Hanukah," for example. The bell-ringers of the Salvation Army are banished from Target because other solicitors are annoying. Even to one such as I, these changes seem a shame, both musically and culturally.
"Happy Holidays" however, has no life. It is the presence of an absence. Will the lost and broken turn with hope to the Jesus Seminar's footnotes and emendations? What kind of pageant will be left for children to dress up for? Whence "goodwill toward men"? Let freethinkers be freethinkers. Let skeptics be skeptics. And let America's Christians be Christians. They don't bite.
Further comments here.
December 14, 2004
A bridge officially designated the tallest in the world was inaugurated by President Jacques Chirac in southern France on Tuesday - a spectacular feat of engineering that will carry motorists at 270m above the valley of the river Tarn.
Before a crowd of around 1 000 people, Chirac unveiled a plaque by the largest of the bridge's seven pillars which rises to 343m above ground level.
Designed by British architect Norman Foster, the Millau motorway viaduct stretches for 2.46km between two plateaux in the Massif Central mountain range and when it opens to traffic on Thursday will remove one of the country's most notorious bottlenecks.
At least France tries. When have we last seen a spectacular public work in this country? And if we did, would it be designed by a Yank, a Pom, or Daniel Libeskind?
December 13, 2004
"In 1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed her ambassador to Italy; the first American woman ambassador to a major country, she held the post until resigning in 1957. Two years later Eisenhower appointed her ambassador to Brazil. The opposition to her appointment in Congress was led by Wayne Morse of Oregon. Clare commented Morse's actions were the result of him being 'kicked in the head by a horse.' This remark proved so controversial that Clare resigned the ambassadorship a few days later."
It's this sort of thing that led me, as a tad, to follow the Senate as normal boys my age followed batting averages.
What mere outfielder could hold a candle to the inimitable Everett McKinley Dirksen, the Illinois minority leader, who during the same controversy remarked (supposedly in a Yogi Berra moment, but who knows?), "Why beat an old bag of bones? Why thresh old straw?"
I suppose "you had to be there." Those were different times, when giants walked the earth. Or at least the floor of the Senate.
Hugh Hewitt is truly the Great Panjandrum of conservative bloggers. When the Arlen Specter kerfuffle erupted after the election results were in, Hugh sensibly argued for caution on the part of those who sought to block his elevation to Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Beyond the the "big tent" argument for preserving the majority, Hugh thought that messing with the traditional seniority arrangements of the Senate was unwise.
A front-page article in the Washington Post is on the "nuclear option" in the Senate. Bill Frist's finger is on the button. Push it, Senator.
The "nuclear option" refers to a strategy of rising to a point of order, in the midst of a filibuster, that the 60-vote cloture rule when applied to a judicial nomination is unconstitutional. When the Vice-President, presiding, accepts the point of order, a simple majority can sustain the ruling of the chair. If the votes are there, bu-bye filibuster.
As a tactic, this ploy may well be brilliant. As a strategy, it is questionable. The filibuster is a traditional device in the Senate, and is a means by which minorities can delay, if not thwart, the tendency of majorities to ride roughshod over the opposition.
The filibuster, in short, can be a check against the tyranny of the majority. Although liberals saw it as a great evil when the South employed it to block civil rights legislation, they now invoke it to prevent a few judicial appointments that stick particularly sharply in their craw.
Looked at purely tactically, the "nuclear option" may well be an ingenious means of getting a particular judge confirmed. Looked at institutionally, the "nuclear option" will tend to make the Senate more like the "other body," where the majority gets to convert its wisdom or folly of the moment into legislation. The worm will inevitably turn. Some day, a liberal President will ask a Democratic Senate majority to confirm a nominee or pass a bill that the centrists and conservatives find especially distasteful. In the absence of the filibuster, all the minority will be able to do is pule and whine, as minorities will.
We should, therefore, think as long and hard about the "nuclear option" of eliminating the filibuster by a bare majority, as about dumping Arlen Specter for careless and purely theoretical remarks. Certainly, it seems to me, the "nuclear option" should be avoided until they pay the price of a real around-the-clock, make-them-talk-until-their-bladders-swell-to-bursting, Farmers'-Almanac-reading filibuster, as in olden times. The mere ritual of announcing a filibuster should not be allowed as a namby-pamby substitute for the sublime oratorical meanderings of a Wayne Morse, who strapped a bottle to his leg and spoke for, I think, 24 hours to stall a Tidelands Oil bill whose provisions are lost in the mists of time. Let us see if Harry Reid can find his equal, or a contemporary echo of the remarkable Huey P. Long, whose extended oratory echoes to this day.
Then, and only then, let us consider pushing the button.
Hugh got it right about the seniority system -- tinker with it only in extremis, because traditions matter. The filibuster is a more important, republican with a small "r" tradition, because it is a barrier to a purely majoritarian legislative branch in the European style. Change is inevitable, and if the cause is important enough, the Schumerites' efforts destructive enough, and the absence of red-state Democrats who will vote for cloture certain enough, perhaps this button must be pushed. But not at the outset, and not lightly.
"There's a man who walks his dog mornings in Central Park who wears a T-shirt reading, 'Another Dalton Parent for Bush-Cheney.' [Dalton is a tony East Side school. It's doubtful that more than a handful of the parents are Republican, and it's doubtful that any of the teachers is.]"
Not as ballsy as this guy, but a respectable más macho second place finish.
I woke up at 2:00 am sweating in an overheated house, and for some reason remembered the phrase, "A pig can cross the country without changing trains, but you can't." I googled this quip, and found a single reference in a railroad business newsletter put out by the Blanchard company, consultants:
BNSF and NS announced a new non-stop intermodal run-through program, something we knew was brewing as far back as last September, when the fans were all a-dither over BNSF and NS officials spied together in places like Harrisburg, PA. Recall Robert Young’s quip in 50s – “A pig can cross the country without changing trains, but you can’t,” referring to the inevitable trainchange in Chicago. Well, according to the two railroads piggybacks couldn’t either, at least via Chicago.
Robert Young won a Pyrrhic victory by triumphing in a proxy fight for control of the New York Central Railroad, then a gilt-edged American company. The railroads were in the business of killing the passenger business, which they regarded as a diversion. They may have been right.
What I don't know is why I was dreaming about taking a round-trip train trip from New York City to Albany, something I've never done. I've never even been to Albany.
The fevered brain does strange things in the middle of the night.
December 12, 2004
"When you call someone, you either call him by his first name or using his/her family name with Mr. Mrs. or Miss before it. According to your knowledge of that person.
In Iraq it’s a little different. You call him/her with the first name but after getting married and have a child you call him with his/her son/daughter name but you put the word Abu which means ‘Father of’ like Abu Ali means father of Ali and if he has a daughter you call him Abu Zainab for example. For mothers you put the word Um before the name of the child which means ‘mother of’. It’s done to show more respect than using his/her first name especially for old people. I know many people by their Abu or Um and I don’t know their real names, because they don’t use them any more."
Anthropologists call this teknonymy, which means "naming after one's child." It's a custom that tends to de-emphasize ancestry, as compared to our American use of surnames that emphasize patrilineal ancestry.
A discussion of naming practices in different places may be found here.
A great liberation. The Times takes a long time to read, even though I discard most of it. Nowadays, what with the Internet and Real Clear Politics in particular, there's not much in the Times that one needs to read. Even the insufferable Frank Rich is available on line if I need to induce a surge of adrenalin.
Twenty-five years ago, it was mandatory that I watch the 22 minutes of distilled establishment wisdom on the network news. In those days, not all the commercials on the news were geriatric, and our nation turned its lonely eyes to Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley. When I was a kid, I listened to WOR radio in New York at 6:00 pm, with 15 minutes of news from Lyle Van, who always signed of with "G'night, little redheads." No doubt by now the redheads are grayheads like me.
Media come, and media go. I suppose I can buy a book of double crostics or perhaps do them on line.
Cronkite, who was pleasantly avuncular, was succeeded by Rather, who was fake-folksy in the style of Ross Perot, and ended his career with the fake documents, exposed by the blogosphere. The Times was full of lies as early as Walter Duranty, and when the Herald Tribune died had a monopoly of newsprint gravitas. Things hadn't happened until they made the Times. Although we are still waiting for the Times story on the Groningen Protocol, it won't take a Times story to make it real.
There is less and less in the Times that I even bother to open up, such as consumption tips for New York City non-breeders, whether weekend getaways or restaurant reviews.
As Hoagy Carmichael put it, I get along without you very well.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
And thanks for my Sunday mornings back.
December 9, 2004
Professor Plum has gone hunting for the wild edu-moonbat-cliché, and assembled a collection of mission-statement-educratese from ed schools around the country. Read the prose and weep for our children. What's amazing is some schools do as well as they seem to.
Here's a sample, with plummy comments in brackets:
Ed school in California
“(W)e commit ourselves to work actively for the establishment of a just and equitable society… (W)e also aim to nurture transformative structures, practices, and discourses that actively promote greater equity. This commitment challenges us to think with a global perspective, to embrace the notion of a preferential option for the poor, and to act with a conviction of equity.”
[They "work actively." That's good to know. Otherwise, we might have thought, mistakenly, that they worked passively. Laying around the office or slumped over on the desks. How exactly do you embrace a notion? "Come here, and let me give you a hug." Nurture a transformative perspective? And that means...? What do you do, feed it mashed potatoes and keep it warm--adding fertilizer every week? How does discourse--which no doubt is real different from talking--promote greater equity?]
Ed school in Minnesota
The Department of Human Relations and Multicultural Education provides education in self awareness and skills essential for living and working in a pluralistic, democratic society. Human relations is a multi/interdisciplinary applied field in the study and practice of social responsibility within western and non-western cultures. The department is committed to addressing the serious questions of survival, equity and quality of life facing people around the world. The curriculum presents the voices and perspectives of groups which have historically been excluded from the western canon. Investigative and critical thinking skills are taught in which mainstream and alternative viewpoints are examined for values and veracity.
“Human Relations courses examine the impact of power, resources, cultural standards, and institutional policies and practices on various groups in our society and develop active citizenship skills for participatory democracy. Specifically, the department addresses issues of social and environmental justice within a global context related to race, gender, class, age, religion, disability, physical appearance, sexual/affectional orientation and nationality/ culture...”
[Wow! They have A LOT on their plate! I wonder if they prepare teachers to teach anything. They probably run out of time--what with solving all the world's problems--while poor kids down the street from this school of EDUCATION can't read or write, and probably have pretty crummy self-esteem. But, hey, faculty and students feel good about themselves as world change agents. What exactly is an "affectional orientation?" I hope they aren't excluding pedophiles--I mean, THEY have been excluded from the "western canon." And it's just not fair!!]
It's impossible not to wonder if Step 1 for school reform is to close all the schools of education!
I know, I'm becoming a crank and wingnut in my old age, but read this stuff aloud and listen to it, if you can stand it.
There's a lot more. Worth reading, if you have the stomach for the examples. As Leonard Pinth-Garnell used to say, "It's delightfully bad".
December 8, 2004
The Los Angeles Times's ongoing series on King-Drew medical center shows an unmitigated disaster:
Earlier this year, a consulting group tested King/Drew's nurses and determined that at least one in five could not pass competency tests.
Nursing expert Jean Ann Seago, who reviewed King/Drew's nursing citations for The Times, said she'd seen rampant problems before with one hospital unit or one rogue nurse, but never throughout an institution.
'If it's sort of the general culture of the whole hospital, oh my God,' said Seago, director of the UC San Francisco nursing administration program. 'Somebody needs to get a grip on the situation.'
The series describes not just a hospital where people make mistakes. Some mistakes are inevitable. It describes a corrupt charnel house where most of the victims are African-American.
Nevertheless, Democrats and "civil rights activists" in the area have spent more energy defending the hospital than seeking to protect the people hurt by mismanagement and incompetence.
A good illustration of the fact the Democratic party is, above all, the party of government employees and bureaucrats, in the King/Drew case with an overlay of race-based patronage.
The party's kowtowing to the teachers' unions and opposition to most school reforms other than pumping in more money, is a similar pattern. Who cares if the patients aren't cured and the children don't learn?
December 6, 2004
December 5, 2004
IN AN ERA IN WHICH MOST US POPULATION GROWTH is occurring in the South, West and heartland, American liberalism is defined by people in the Northeast. At a time when rising tuitions are pricing many working-class Americans out of a college education, the upscale campus is becoming the base of American progressivism. In a country in which most working-class Americans drive cars and own homes in the suburbs, the left fetishizes urban apartments and mass transit and sneers at 'sprawl.' In an economy in which most workers are in the service sector, much of the left is obsessed with manufacturing jobs. In a society in which Latinos have surpassed blacks as the largest minority and in which racial intermixture is increasing, the left continues to treat race as a matter of zero-sum multiculturalism and white-bashing. In a culture in which the media industry makes money by pushing sex and violence, the left treats the normalization of profanity and obscenity as though it were somehow progressive, making culture heroes of Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt. At a time when the religious right wants to shut down whole areas of scientific research, many on the left share a Luddite opposition to biotech. In an age in which billions would starve if not for the use of artificial fertilizers in capital-intensive agriculture, the left blathers on about small-scale organic farming. In a century in which the dire need for energy for poor people in the global South can only be realistically met by coal, oil and perhaps nuclear energy, liberals fantasize about wind farms and solar panels. And in a world in which the greatest threat to civilization is the religious right of the Muslim countries, much of the left persists in treating the United States as an evil empire and American patriotism as a variant of fascism.
American progressivism, in its present form, is as obsolete in the twenty-first century as the agrarian populists were in the twentieth. If you can't adapt to the times, good intentions will get you nowhere. Ask the shade of William Jennings Bryan.
They probably won't wise up, no matter who tells them.
HT: Winds of Change.
December 4, 2004
King/Drew, a 233-bed public hospital in Willowbrook, just south of Watts, had a long history of harming, or even killing, those it was meant to serve.
Over the last year, reports by journalists and regulators have offered stark glimpses of failings at King/Drew: Nurses neglecting patients as they lay dying. Staff failing to give patients crucial drugs or giving them toxic ones by mistake. Guards using Taser stun guns on psychiatric patients, despite an earlier warning to stop.
Over the same period, a team of Times reporters has been systematically examining the hospital. They conducted hundreds of interviews, studied years of malpractice cases and reviewed records of the hospital and its regulators. They looked closely at individual departments and physicians. And, to put their findings in perspective, they consulted outside experts in hospitals and medical care.
The investigation reveals that King/Drew is much more dangerous than the public has been told.
The story's flawed in that most of it is anecdotal, the anecdotes being heart-rending. There really aren't any statistics and there's no explanation of what's going on.
The story also focuses on the protests of many "activists" including Rep. Maxine Waters, at the closing of the trauma center at King-Drew.
My question--where's the indignation about the incompetence of the management that's supposed to serve?
Where's the indignation, for that matter, about the corruption and mismanagement in black-run institutions, such as the City of Compton and the Compton School District, whose victims are ordinary people?
And if Rep. Waters needed surgery, would she choose King/Drew, or Walter Reed in D.C. or Cedars-Sinai in L.A.?
December 2, 2004
"Weighed weighed measured counted." The handwriting on the wall, interpreted by the prophet Daniel at Belshazzar's feast.
Interpretation: ""This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians." (Daniel 5: 26-28, PERES being a pun on "Persian.")
The blogosphere is alive with discussion of the Groningen Protocol, which sets the bureaucratic standards by which doctors can murder children. This in a country that abhors the death penalty for people like the fanatic who killed the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh and almost decapitated him.
This is not only an evil in itself but also an ominous trend.
I remember a few years ago that in reference to Holland among others, I outraged a discussion list on psychology and law about capital punishment by disdaining the views of the "decadent social democracies of Europe." How prescient I was, alas!
Here are some links to discussions of this issue.
- SueBob has a moving discussion that's personal because of her own sister.
- The Fourth Rail has a detailed discussion of the history of killing of the mentally ill and other "useless eaters" in Nazi Germany -- a precursor to the extermination camps.
- Hugh Hewitt was the first, or one of the first, to expose this issue -- this is his latest
- Mark D. Roberts relates the issue to the Slaughter of the Innocents, a recurrent theme in the Bible, and below links to several blog entries
- The Diplomad compares Dutch views on baby-killing and the death penalty.
- QandO has some insightful comments
Although like most Americans I am neither 100% anti-abortion nor an abortion maximalist, it must be asked, does a society that not merely tolerates but constitutionalizes abortion, including late-term abortion, open the portals of the abyss? Or more broadly, is there a moral pattern the includes the constitutionizing of abortion, the trivializing of marriage, the abandonment of parental responsibility, that opens those portals? And are the Muslim fanatics the Assyrians, come down like the wolf on the fold, the destroyers of a culture that is rotting from within?
And what are we to make of a "philospher" and "ethicist" lionized by the literati, who holds that raising a human child to harvest its organs for another is not particularly disturbing, as this critique contends?
The handwriting may be on the wall. Will we soon be where Kipling's Recessional suggests we may be headed?
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!
Perhaps this abomination evokes Biblical language for a reason, though you don't have to be a religious believer to find the Groningen Protocol abhorrent.
New Republic editor Peter Beinart understands the basic contradiction of the Kerry campaign:
"On national security, Kerry's nomination was a compromise between a party elite desperate to neutralize the terrorism issue and a liberal base unwilling to redefine itself for the post-September 11 world."
The activist base is anti-anti-Islamist, as the left at the start of the Cold War was mostly anti-anti-Communist. The change to anti-communism among many liberals had to be fought for. Will anyone fight for the analogous change today?
The contradiction between the hawkish Kerry (we should have been tougher at Tora Bora) and the dovish Kerry (wrong war, wrong place, wrong time), papered over with silly Vietnam talk and symbolism (the convention salute), was obvious, although attacked superficially (flip-flop). The ruse didn't sell.
That's why people like me concluded Bush, warts and all, was the only option.
Beinart calls for an anti-Islamist liberalism. My guess is that the most likely vehicle for this, if it materializes is, of all people, Hillary. She's a smart enough politician, who campaigned tirelessly in upstate New York, and may have learned something in the White House.
We shall see.
December 1, 2004
There is a demographic fear that as Europe's fertility falls below replacement value, Muslim immigration and higher birth rates will lead to the Islamification of Europe and end up making dhimmis, or tolerated minorities, of non-Muslims.
The decline in the birth rate has multiple causes, no doubt, but one may be the decline of traditional values and religion in general there. It's ironic -- a society which isn't making enough children licenses doctors to kill some of them.
Meanwhile, the Salafis and Islamists believe in something, and are ready to take human life in its name. Is Jim Geraghty right when he says, "Hugh [Hewitt] wonders why his favorite bloggers are saying nothing, so here's my brief bit of something: The canary in the coal mine just slumped over, coughed, and died."
They had demanded that Temaru's folks end their occupation of the Presidential Palace. Most did, at Temaru's request, but a hard core stayed, and Flosse used this as a pretext to scuttle the talks. Since Abu Chiraq and Flosse are buddies, if not partners in crime, Flosse must be counting on support from Paris to keep his snout in the Polynesian trough a while longer.
At least the French haven't started shooting unarmed people, as they did in Ivory Coast.
I don't think you have to be 100 per cent "pro-life" or "anti-abortion" to be concerned about this. Especially when the doctors openly take the matter into their own hands. Marcus Welby M.D. is dead, and good medicine involves some pretty invasive procedures and a necessary distancing. for doctors to be the authorized keepers of the gate between life and death concerns me.
There has always been some euthanasia -- the 50-year husband who hastens the death of his wife has bone cancer -- and decisions not to use aggressive or heroic measures at the end of life. But active killing, without consent, led in Germany to active killing of healthy people who happened to be on the undesirable list.
If you believe, as I do, in the bottomless capacity of human beings to do evil, to infect even their noblest goals with greed, lust, pride and whatnot, the lifting of this taboo is scary.
Theres an intelligent Christian take on this story here. I don't necessarily buy it all, but it's worth reading.
November 30, 2004
"The crime: stealing childhood, and in this instance stealing it in painful, ugly, public fashion.
"The little girl, around 2 years old, kicked, squirmed, and shrieked in her mother's arms. The mother, old enough to know better, held on tightly, determined to go through with her plan: getting her daughter's ears pierced.
"Piercing screams did not prevent this mom from accomplishing her ear-piercing mission. She carried the girl triumphantly back into the mall, adorned with two tiny gold button earrings -- all the better to show off her wispy blonde curls, red velvet dress, and tiny, teary face."
Two-year olds will scream over a broken crayon or a doll's dress they can't quite manage to get on the doll, or over an inoculation.
So is Vennochi overwrought, waxing indignant over this incident?
One of our daughters got her ears pierced at nine, because she wanted to. The other, older, has no interest in going near the piercing machine.
This event, though, seems to be an imposition by an adult on a child for the sake of the adult's vanity. Sure, we all get pleasure from our kids' finger-paintings, home runs, and even SAT scores.
But we don't own our offspring. In this culture, we no longer force our sons and daughters to marry for our convenience, or to go into the family business if they choose not to. Aside from the fact that we can't easily impose these choices, we see children as free, autonomous beings, whom we protect and discipline, but only partly make in our own image. Ultimately, they are free, and if we're both wise and lucky, we prepare them with enough discipline, and high enough standards, that they can use their freedom well.
Not owning our children, but having them on loan, isn't an easy condition to manage. That said, forcing a frightened two-year-old to get her ears pierced seems unjust to me.
November 29, 2004
The anti-Bush faction (just about everyone but us) used the occasion to comment on their dislike of the war, W. et al., although they don't hold it against the troops.
My 11-year-old posted this comment:
I would like to say that I thought it was sweet and that we should forget about all of the politics behind the war. What's done is done and they are there. At this point, we should just be supporting the troops who put their lives on the line for this country even though you may think it isn't necessary. The troops are already there, we should just try to keep them alive and support them. FORGET ABOUT THE POLITICS!
She is a wise child, methinks.
There was a nomination here of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. Hysterically funny, especially if you've been to The Big Easy.
Must be a Pelican State moment, because I had already thought of Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. Also a 1949 movie.
This in turn put me in mind of A. J. Liebling's The Earl of Louisiana, which is not a novel but reads like one.
Members of my family have nominated To Kill a Mockingbird, Angela's Ashes, ( a memoir, not a novel, but who cares?), and Body and Soul. I've never read any of these.
Zoë, my eighth-grader, is reading Mockingbird in English class, and is frustrated because they take so long. Zoë devours fantasy books. She's read over 9,000 pages since school started in September. After a bit of cross-examination, she chose Rhapsody, by Elizabeth Haydon, or for a younger child, The Wind Singer by William Nicholson. Zoë has good judgment about these things.
Katharine, the sixth grader, would probably stick with the Harry Potter series as a reread. I'd reread them, too, had I but world enough and time.
November 28, 2004
"While television cameras have focused on the carnival-like sea of hundreds of thousands of orange-clad protesters in the Ukrainian capital, the blue army of men like Kolukh has been steadily on the march, pouring in by bus and train from the east.
These mostly impoverished miners and industrial workers voted in Ukraine’s disputed presidential election for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian prime minister who is fighting to hold on to a victory widely condemned as rigged.
Some 20,000 cheered Yanukovych as he called on them to do all in their power to stop a constitutional coup — raising fears, as the standoff entered its seventh day, that the remarkably festive mood in this ancient city could turn violent, with repercussions far beyond Ukraine’s borders."
A civil war or partition could be nasty.
HT: Andrew Stuttaford at The Corner.
While similar events unfold in the Ukraine, whose population is 200 times larger and whose weather is 200 times worse, the occupation of the Presidential Palace in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, continues.
Oscar Temaru, leader of the indpendence movement, is in Paris, as is Gaston Flosse, the Ferdinand Marcos of French Polynesia, Jacques Chirac's poodle. Temaru and Flosse are negotiating with the Chiraqistanis for new elections. Flosse wants them in 18 months, Temaru immediately. Flosse has threatened to cut off the talks and return to Tahiti if the occupation is not suspended. Temaru has appeared to ask his followers to vacate, but they have refused.
We are still waiting for the American gunboats to appear on the horizon and throw the French out.
Unlike Krugman, who is a permanent fount of misinformation and spleen, Rich occasionally stumbles upon an insight. So it was on November 28, in this column.
Rich's riff was on the Monday Night football commercial where starlet Nicollette Sheridan appears to have accomplished a seduction of football player Terrell Owens in the locker room, a scene ending with the actress, seen from behind, dropping her towel, leaving a few bits to the imagination.
Now this scene has evoked considerable indignation from some circles, an indignation Rich derides as inconsistent at best and feigned and opportunistic at worst. Rich points out that the soap-comedy-sitcom in which the actress stars, Desperate Housewives, is a big hit, as much in the red states as in the blue, and suggests that those who criticize the football commercial scratch that prurient itch watching the sitcom itself. He also puts in the ritual dig at Rush Limbaugh, whose success and talent have made him the left's favorite whipping boy, pointing out that Rush has had his drug problem and divorces.
On one level, Rich's critique is fair enough. Our culture, including its corporate and commercial side, is saturated with sex, and not just the high-toned variety (think "erotica" as opposed to "porn"). This saturation includes even the MSM (main-stream media), and even football. Rich points to scantily clad cheerleaders and commercials for aphrodisiac drugs. In this light, the noisy reaction to one pre-game bit is either beside the point or hypocritical, argues Rich.
Fair enough. But Rich stops there. He does not address at least two issues.
First, as Dennis Prager points out here, there's a difference between public and private displays. The issue is not whether Terrell Owens and Nicollette Sheridan indulge in a bit of hanky-panky, but whether they display it on prime time to an audience of millions who have not necessarily chosen to see this particular type of display.
People get naked and do the nasty. People relieve themselves. Except in selected venues, where the audience know what it is getting, these are private matters, and there's a great deal to be said for their remaining so.
Hypocrisy? Not necessarily. My father used to say that there are no dirty words, just words that are out of place. Soil in the garden is a blessing, but on the living room carpet it's just dirt. Although some of the same people who are offended by the Sheridan's towel drop don't want their children to learn about birth control even if the girls end up pregnant when abstinence education fails, others just want their prurient interest scratched constantly and in public.
Second, the noise about the NFL commercial is not necessarily hypocrisy, but a surrogate for a general concern about the coarsening of the culture. A generation ago, feminists made great noises about the "objectification" of women and the commercial exploitation of sex. Some of this noise was traditional pecksniffery disguised in avant-garde clothing, but it also made a reasonable argument for respecting women as whole human beings – in short, for public decency.
The culture has been coarsened and just because I say so I'm neither Bin Laden nor a Jerry Falwell.
There is a mass culture, and Proust, Joseph Beuys, and Penderecki will never replace it, which is probably just as well. But is it exploiting sex, violence, and various stupid ideas to a fault? Rich doesn't address the issue. He's content to mock the critics of the NFL episode. Easy enough, but beside the point, and par for the course.