Friday, July 31, 2009

Conservatives: Hawks and Owls

From the League of Ordinary Gentlemen:

A couple not-insignificant obstacles remain between any meaningful alliance of the dissident and movement conservatives. Probably the most glaring is the hawk and owl divide – or if you prefer, the realist/neocon divide. You see, to me no true conservatism can embrace the sort of hawkish, militaristic policies that the neoconservatives lay claim to. These are liberal internationalist policies sprinkled heavily with right-wing machismo. Conservatives are supposed to be wary of “statism” yet nothing says statist like a security or police state built on the back of the global war on terror overseas contingency operation. Nothing promises Big Government like a Really Big Military. (Well, except for maybe Really Big Bailouts and Really Big Entitlements…)

And yet, for some reason, all across the movement – from politicians to bloggers – very few seem to put these simple concepts together. Strong defense has become such a catch-all term, it now defines everything from preemptive war to “harsh interrogation techniques.” Once upon a time, conservatives believed that strong defense actually meant, well, a strong defense. Which included a defense of civil liberties, even at the expense of our total, all-encompassing security. Defense means we work to protect our country, with an army and a navy and a responsive Commander in Chief – it does not mean we work to erect a security state that is so flawless that nothing remains worth protecting, where words like “liberty” and “freedom” have become less concepts and more keywords, less actualities and more distant histories.

For those that don't know the writer, E.D. Kain used to be editor and contributor to NeoConstant, a neocon news journal that went offline earlier this year. I don;t know the full details of his conversion process, but it gives me hope that "mainstream" conservatism can remember and someday reclaim its non-interventionist heritage.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Health Care (the miniseries) - Episode #1 - Yo Momma So Fat

Problem: Risky Behavior - Obesity, Smoking, Drinking, Drugs, Sex, etc.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker has an interesting post suggesting that "the higher US mortality rates (compared to other countries) are due much more to differences in personal habits and personal care than to defects in the US health delivery system." In fact, when looking at the US health system's performance on cancer and other serious diseases, it tends to vastly outperform other countries.

Diabetes is quickly becoming an epidemic of obesity, and the cost of diabetes care alone is increasing by over $8 billion every year and accelerating, spending, with over $174 billion in health care costs in 2007. Add in alcohol related costs of $174.9 billion, smoking related costs of $137 billion, drug related costs of $114 billion, and the highest level of sexually transmitted diseases in the industrialized world (over 65 million people infected and 50% of the population at some point contracting an STD), is it any wonder we spent $2.4 trillion in health care in 2007?

Solution: If we want to control costs, altering our behavior would seem as good as place as any to start, as the numbers suggest that changing our "lifestyle" choices could reduce the need of health care by over 25%. And 25% of $2.4 trillion is a lot of money. Unfortunately for fame seeking politicians and lazy-ass Americans alike, there is no real government solution. I would have little to no problem with the idea of taxes on junk food, cigarettes, and alcohol if they worked, but in reality the taxes most often lead to criminal behavior and can't be allowed to work to actually change behavior.

Asking people to take personal responsibility is oh so passé, isn't it? Yes, I concede that standing on a soap box alone changes nothing. Yet, without a realization that the problems of Health Care are of the results of millions of people making terrible individual decisions, the buck will forever be passed, and no legislation or reform or tax or new system will make Americans any healthier.

There is a moral argument for providing health care to those who need it and can not afford it, but on the other hand, "handing something off to the state so citizens don’t have to take responsibility for themselves and others doesn’t doesn’t really contribute to the moral fabric of a society."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health Care & Reform - Intro to a Miniseries

All right, how do I do write about health care and make any sense? It has proved difficult if not impossible to do. I will start out by stating that just about every person I know thinks the American health care system needs some type of reform. I would agree. What I don't agree with is the extent of reform currently being proposed. Let's begin with a recent Michael Ramirez cartoon/graphic from Investor's Business Daily:

This cartoon is obviously incomplete, as it does not show the crucial seventh category, those that don't have prospects for long term health care, want it, but can't afford it. Nevertheless, the point of the cartoon is a good one, principally, that the hysteria of the left is overblown and the numbers they use are intellectually dishonest. Furthermore, very few if any of the proposals on the table differentiate between the different groups of uninsured or offer substantive ways to target a reduction in their numbers.

On the other hand, those on the right would be wrong to underplay the current and future problems of Medicare, Medicaid, and socialized health care as it already exists (by which I mean unpaid care to some that is reflected in the higher rates charged to everyone else).

I started a list of the factors driving up costs and reducing access to health care, and quickly realized I could not cover everything in a single post if I wanted to finish anytime this month, so I hope to piecemeal each point as time allows. Once I get out as many points as I can, I hope to summarize my thoughts, since each point will do very little on its own, and I hope to be find clarity as I go.

So This is What Happens When I Leave For a Few Days.

Sorry for not posting in a while, BUT, since Thursday I have been on a series of trips that included flying to business meetings in New York, flying back at 6am Saturday only to hop in a car and drive 5 hours to Clyo, GA for a wedding, head another couple hours South for dinner and to spend a night/day with the in-laws, and then the lovely return drive Sunday evening. Four Days, 2,700 miles, and about 17 hours of total sleep.

That said, my Google Reader had a daunting number of unread items waiting for me when I returned, and I thought I may just do a quick round-up of items that interested me from around the great webby way.

First, as a segue from the debate between Loathsome and Professor that continued in my absence, I thought The Acton Institute had a timely piece on reason and faith:

God intends for us to exercise our reason and seek to know reality. Jesus says that He is the Truth, and He promises His followers that “the truth will set you free.” The truth that Jesus speaks of is not, of course, purely scientific and rationalistic. It is the truth of the universe and of humanity.

The Questioning Christian does a book review of Robert Wright's The Evolution of God that quotes the following passage from the book's Afterword:

Though we can no more conceive of God than we can conceive of an electron, believers can ascribe properties to God, somewhat as physicists ascribe properties to electrons. One of the more plausible such properties is love.

And maybe, in this light, the argument for God is strengthened by love’s organic association with truth — by the fact, indeed, that at times these two properties almost blend into one.

You might say that love and truth are the two primary manifestations of divinity in which we can partake, and that by partaking in them we become truer manifestations of the divine.

Then again, you might not say that.

The point is just that you wouldn’t have to be crazy to say it.

Also timely to recent comments is Vox Day's blog entry of the myth of a flat Earth:

Christian theologians, almost without exception, likewise accepted the fact that the earth is a sphere. The only two Christian writers known to have advocated a flat earth were a 4th-century heretic, Lactantius, and an obscure 6th-century Egyptian Monk, Cosmas Indicopleustes. Later, these two obscure and uninfluential writers were used as the prime evidence to prove that the flat-earth view was accepted by the Church as a whole—or at least by large parts of it.

Human nature loves a good echo chamber, regardless of (non)belief.

In addition to the stories above concerning faith, I have others on politics, health care and race (Gates vs. Crowley) that I would like to get to soon, but I have to go earn a paycheck.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New Era? Not so much.

Per the LA Times:

Invoking an argument used by President George W. Bush, the Obama administration has turned down a request from a watchdog group for a list of health industry executives who have visited the White House to discuss the massive healthcare overhaul.


As a candidate, President Obama vowed that in devising a healthcare bill he would invite in TV cameras -- specifically C-SPAN -- so that Americans could have a window into negotiations that normally play out behind closed doors.


"It's extremely disappointing," said Anne Weismann, the group's chief counsel. Obama is relying on a legal argument that "continues one of the bad, anti-transparency, pro-secrecy approaches that the Bush administration had taken. And it seems completely at odds with the president's commitment . . . to bring a new level of transparency to his government."

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of politics to me is that politicians in general decry the "politics as usual" of secrecy, influence peddling, wasteful spending, corruption, and partisanship only as long as it takes to get elected. Then they quickly resort to all of these tactics, and sometimes worse, to stay elected. I am particularly disgusted by Obama's failures to live up to basic promises since he offered so few objective qualifications to lead besides his powerful and emotional rhetoric calling for change on these matters.

Whether it was his promise to post bills online before signing or to restrict lobbyists from working for him, or his present political maneuvering over health care, Obama is showing himself to be no different than any other politician who makes promises on the campaign trail they never intend to keep.

Perhaps even more disconcerting than retaining politics as usual is Obama's eagerness to utilize what the Washington Post recently called "a perfect extension of Bush's worst trait as president," whipping up sky-is-falling atmospheres of crises to push through large, transformative, and mostly unexamined legislation:

Bush learned the hard way that running government as a perpetual crisis machine leads to bad policy and public fatigue. Obama's insistence on taking advantage of a crisis to push through every item on the progressive checklist right now is threatening to complete that cycle within his first year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Personal Reflections on Scriptural Interpretation.

In the comments sections dealing with different differing views Lumbee and I take towards the death penalty, Jose asks a question: How can different Christians interpret the Bible differently? It is an important question.

From a big picture standpoint, Lumbee and I are on the same side, Christian believers searching for truth, much like scientists, except we are examining the spiritual as opposed to the physical. We agree in many more ways than we disagree, so it is important that this perspective is maintained while we discuss "internal" differences. Neither of our positions are entirely original, and whoever may be wrong or right on this particular issue is not as important as the fact that we are on the same journey, searching for truth, working out our salvation both individually and together as a body (church/corporation) of believers, and doing so with love and (hopefully) some degree of humility.

That's the big picture answer. On the technical level, there are different approaches that differ with respect to biblical interpretation, and at any point in history, even within the writings of the New Testament, men have dissented as to the best approach. The Bible is a collection of books (perhaps fiction as well as non-fiction), poetry, essays, letters, songs, sayings, dream sequences, history, and laws that combined, and under the inspiration of God, reveal God's nature and will.

Christians can agree that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but that doesn't quite settle the interpretation problem, especially considering the number of literary forms present in scripture. I may read a passage in John's Revelation talking about a seven headed, ten horned monster, and in the context of a dream, interpret that to figuratively represent Rome's seven hills and ten rulers Someone else may read that passage and be convinced that a literal seven headed, ten horned monster will spring forth at some future point and wreak havoc on Earth. This is certainly an extreme example (although who knows what is possible with genetic distortions), but it offers a clue to the tension between the literal/figurative, Micro/Macro, historic/timeless, and many other competing interpretations available to a Christian reader.

The beauty and mystery of the Bible is that any passage can and perhaps should be interpreted on several different levels. As with the best literature, the Biblical texts can be both factual and allegorical, speak to the audience in history and to us today, and provide specific as well as general instruction. But the fact that the Bible and the Christian faith has stood the test of time, and every assault levied against it, confirms (to me) that the Bible is more than simply great literature, which is where Lumbee and I start and finish together.

I won't speak for Lumbee (he has explained his position previously), but I try to interpret any passage in the Bible against the context and trajectory (yes I love that word) of the rest of scripture, and try to weigh all possible interpretations against each other in this light. In every word, the Bible offers truth, but HOW to extract that truth is perhaps not always simple, at least to me.

Friday, July 17, 2009

How to Review a Book

Put it in front of you, close your eyes and try to perceive what may interest you about it. Then write about yourself

So says Pierre Bayard, "distinguished" professor of literature at Paris University, in his bestselling book, Comment Parler des Livres que l’on n’a pas Lus (How to Talk about Books that You Haven’t Read).

I freely admit that the list of classics and/or popular books that I have not read far outweighs the list of books that I have. Furthermore, many of the "great" books I have read were so long ago and in compulsory environments that I can barely remember anything about them. I imagine this is likely the case for 99.99% of people. So why does everyone feel so compelled to maintain an intellectual facade and pretend the can discuss books they have never read? I don't understand the guilt, yet I feel its pangs as much as anyone.

I enjoy the challenge of tackling both classics and bestsellers, trying to understand novels not only on their own terms, but also trying to appreciate why they are considered successful. But in reality, my reading habit is scattershot and irregular at best, and I often prefer to read non-fiction.

I plowed through Infinite Jest when it came out, including all the end notes, but failed to read any of the Harry Potter books. I read my first Grisham book (The Appeal) only after I heard him speak in person, but I blazed through the Dan Brown thrillers one after another (Digital Fortress sucks!). In terms of classics, I am probably somewhere in the twenties of the books I have read from the Modern Library Top 100, Time Top 100, or Newsweek's All-Time Top 100. Sad, I know. I hope to get to many more of the classics in time, but the list of great books I haven't read will always be bigger than the list of those I have. C'est la vie.

Orgasms: The New Apples

Per a UK Telegraph article on NHS (UK Government's publicly funded National Health Services) advice regarding teenagers and sex:

Entitled Pleasure, the leaflet has been drawn up by NHS Sheffield, but it also being circulated outside the city.

The leaflet carries the slogan "an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away". It also says: "Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes' physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?"


Mr Slack believes that if teenagers are fully informed about sex and are making their decisions of their own will in a loving relationship, they have an equal right as an adult to an enjoyable sex life.

What constitutes a loving relationship to a teenager? Does sex really need to be marketed to teenage school children, by government health care no less? Maybe this is some sort of reverse psychology that by promoting sex, the authority figures are really hoping that kids rebel and don't have sex? Maybe this is a sign of things to come under the soon to be hijacked US health care system?

So many questions, so few answers. Bizarre, and as mentioned in the article, deplorable.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Crazy People Series - Part Two: Ralph Nader

A while ago I posted a series of quotes from Norman Mailer under the caption of him being crazy since many of his views and positions are not considered mainstream. Nonetheless, I admire or agree with Mailer of some issues, and will take good points or ideas from wherever they come. On to another person on the list of crazy people I agree sometimes agree with, Ralph Nader.

From an Academy of Achievement interview:

The theory of democracy is that the more people that are knowledgeable about what's going on, and are involved, the more likely the better ideas are going to come to the forefront. But, if just a few people dominate many in various areas, whether it's in a city, or in a nation, or in one direction or another tax policy or foreign policy, they may make mistakes because they don't have all the wisdom in their heads. This whole idea of a marketplace of ideas is also a marketplace of engagement and involvement. Once we can develop opportunities and institutions for people of all ages and all backgrounds to get involved in the civic challenges of their choice, then a lot these more 'headline problems' are going to be addressed, whether they're government deficits, or inadequate housing, poverty, discrimination, or what have you.

Things are a lot worse now in Washington than they were ten, twenty, thirty years ago. The giveaways of the people's assets -- the federal lands, the minerals, the R&D that the tax payers paid for -- is bigger than ever. Corruption is bigger. Money in campaigns is more influential in what Congress does or doesn't do. And I've seen more and more that the federal government can really be lawless with impunity. The president can refuse to spend funds that he's supposed to spend by congressional authority. They can engage in foreign adventures, they can violate people's civil liberties, they can refuse to enforce safety laws, and nothing happens.


Since I was a law student, I have been against the death penalty. It does not deter. It is severely discriminatory against minorities, especially since they’re given no competent legal counsel defense in many cases. It’s a system that has to be perfect. You cannot execute one innocent person. No system is perfect. And to top it off, for those of you who are interested in the economics it, it costs more to pursue a capital case toward execution than it does to have full life imprisonment without parole.

And finally, below are some one-liners that commonly pepper his speeches:

-Once you don't vote your ideals... that has serious undermining affects. It erodes the moral basis of our democracy.

-The corporate lobby in Washington is basically designed to stifle all legislative activity on behalf of consumers.

-The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is the velocities with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on their door. That's the only difference.

-When strangers start acting like neighbors... communities are reinvigorated.

-No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.

-Competition, free enterprise, and an open market were never meant to be symbolic fig leaves for corporate socialism and monopolistic capitalism.

Maybe I should do Jesse Ventura next, or is that too crazy?

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Supreme Swing Court

The New York Post has an op-ed from attorney Michael W. Schwartz on the Supremely Split high court:

The modern court has issued rising numbers of 5-4 constitutional decisions -- rulings that fasten virtually unchangeable rules upon the country, on matters of intense national importance, by a court whose members can't agree among themselves about the decisions they're issuing, or the reasons that justify them.

The court, that is, functions not as the "one supreme Court" envisioned by the Constitution, but as a collection of nine individuals who privilege their own self-expression above the constitutional role assigned to the court -- namely, in Chief Justice John Marshall's famous phrase, to "say what the law is."


The baleful effects of this practice of sharply divided rulings in constitutional cases are many and varied. The justices' indifference to speaking with one voice has meant, over the last 35 years, that a single "swing justice" has become the controlling voice of American constitutional law.

Can some of the legal historians out there help me understand what contributed to the breakdown of what was intended to be a unified Supreme Court?

Bankster Capitalism

Glenn Greenwald at Salon pulls the news clippings together on the events preceding Goldman Sachs' new "blowout profits":

Remember all of this -- the $700 billion bank bailout, the AIG scandal, dark and scary threats of imminent global meltdown if there wasn't full-scale capitulation by the citizenry to the immense transfer of public wealth to the private investment banking sector? Such distant, hazy memories: so many exciting celebrity deaths and riveting celebrity resignations ago. If sequences of events like these don't cause mass citizen outrage, then it's hard to imagine what will.

Greenwald goes on to detail the inside baseball that Goldman Sachs played to secure government favor, but the comments to his post provided an important addition:

Several commenters add a crucial point: back in September, the Federal Reserve allowed Goldman (and a few other surviving institutions) to convert from an investment bank into a bank holding company. The Wall St. Journal claimed at the time that the move meant the firm would "come under the close supervision of national bank regulators, subjecting them to new capital requirements, additional oversight, and far less profitability than they have historically enjoyed." A mere nine months later, Goldman boasts of "blowout profits." So much for "less profitability." As for allegedly greater regulations and capital restrictions, they freely admitted from the start: "'We don't believe we'll have to get out of any businesses,' says Lucas van Praag, a Goldman spokesman. Adds Morgan Stanley's Mark Lake, 'There will not be much in terms of divestitures'."

But what the conversion did allow was access to lending from the Federal Reserve. Since then, the Fed has increased its balance sheet by $2 trillion while steadfastly refusing to disclose the beneficiaries of that credit. Thus, even aside from the bailout money it directly received and the billions in bailout money which it indirectly received (through AIG), Goldman has had access to massive amounts of Fed lending in order to fuel its bulging profits. That unimaginably enormous (though entirely secret) lending is, in part, what is behind the Ron Paul-sponsored bill to audit the Fed -- a bill that is now co-sponsored by a majority of House members from across the political spectrum (progressive, conservative and everything in between), yet which continues to be blocked by Congressional leaders from receiving a floor vote.

I love capitalism when it means private people making consensual decision in an open market, and entrepreneurs using their savings to invest in business endeavors that succeed or fail based on the ability to compete. This is not it. We have bank-controlled "Finance Capitalism" built on debt, leveraging, and government entanglement.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

God, The Bible, and Slavery

In the comments of the previous post, Jose asked the Christians that participate on this blog to address the issue of slavery in the Bible, specifically whether it should be seen as socially acceptable.

I am almost certain I cannot provide a satisfying answer to Jose, for I am not sure I am satisfied myself, and have my own questions. I will share how I reconcile seeming conflicts within the biblical record on slavery, and perhaps other commenters can jump in and offer their insight.


There are a couple of perspectives I use in interpreting the Bible’s references to slavery. The first is to see the Biblical record a whole, and look at the trajectory set from the beginning, throughout the Bible, and into the present.

Jose, you already specified the terms for slavery we are considering, the Hebrew words ebed and amah. Since you have already spoken to Rabbis about the use of those terms in the Bible, I don’t want to recover the ground, but for the sake of common reference, I offer the paper Slavery 1808 B.C. by Rabbi Alan Mayor Sokobin which can be downloaded here. I think Sokobin does a good job of briefly but clearly showing that in the Hebrew system “allowed” (I will get back to this) in the Old Testament Bible, it is not fair or accurate to say that slaves had “no rights whatsoever.”

That said, knowing that slaves had some rights, protections, and expectations for treatment and release does not fully solve the problem. What it does do is show that God’s chosen people were set on a new trajectory, a radical departure all other forms of slavery.

In the New Testament, the arc of this trajectory becomes even more radical, culminating in the famous scripture of Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

What can be frustrating, even to Christians, is that in reading through the New Testament, Paul, while presenting the radical truth above, seems in so many other of his writings to take a more passive or socially conservative stance towards the practice of slavery, and as he does on many other matters (including gender roles), he subtly instructs his readers to change the system from within rather than outright resistance or overthrow. It is clear that the early days of Christianity were fraught with peril and persecution for Christian believers, including Paul. Paul’s contributions to the New Testament were mostly letters to new groups of believers, and it is possible that Paul carefully crafted his letters with one concern being the protection of himself and his believers should the letters fall into the hands of government authority. For whatever reason, Paul chose mostly to write around social/political matters that would be considered highly subversive.

Whether Paul was being strategic or imperfect is not really important. What is important is that Christianity grew stronger and bolder, and on most social matters, including slavery, Christians and Christian culture has historically continued (albeit with struggles and setbacks) along the trajectory from savagery, despotism and discrimination towards freedom and justice, inspired to make a reality out of the charge in Galatians 5:1 to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

A second perspective is more philosophical, and harder to put into words, but I’ll begin with a couple of rabbit trails and hope it gets back to slavery. The first sidebar is viewing the Biblical record as a Metanarrative for God’s Unfolding Purpose, which happens to be the title of a great little book by Suzanne de Dietrich. To sidetrack even further, I just pulled my copy of the book off the shelf to provide a passage from her preface:

The recurring motif is God’s will to save mankind and the world. This will has been at work since the world began, and it will continue to be operative throughout history until it has reached its final goal and God is all in all.

Christians and non-Christians alike often get so entangled in the micro-level analysis of the chapter/verse/word details that we forget the macro-level message. It is like listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony note for note and maybe capturing a melody or two, but missing its transcendent beauty. Or like reading Robert Frosts’ The Road Not Taken and either limiting it to a literal story, or using it to create a rule that only the less traveled road should be taken in every circumstance. As the saying goes, we often don’t see the forest for the trees.

This leads to the second sidebar, which is that I personally like to consider the history of humanity in many ways as analogous to the life of a person with God as Father:

  • In our earliest days, humanity created havoc (sin) without understanding the consequences.
  • In humanity’s youth, God ruled through commandments, and often used force in order to make clear the consequences of not following them with correct action.
  • Just as humanity was coming to understand examine itself intellectually and mature into an adolescent adult, God sent Christ to Earth, giving Humanity a new image of authority and new standards that made it clear that actions were no longer enough, and that virtue extends to the heart and mind. Humanity both rebelled against and hungered after this new level of responsibility, and it would require time for humanity to understand the true significance of Christ.
  • Since Christ, humanity has had to learn to be an adult. It has been instructed to have faith and act with purpose, and our Father is, for now, watching from a distance, but his will has been made clear and continues to work in our hearts.

So what does this have to do with slavery, or any other specific issue? For me, everything. It provides a narrative, and perhaps the following insight: God doesn’t necessarily change, but we do. In humanity’s march from savagery to civility, God can only teach as fast as we are willing to learn.

So to finally answer your question, no, I don’t think God blesses or accepts any practice that removes a person of his/her rights and places them under total control of another.

Slavery is wrong, and so are the evils of violence, sexism, racism, and sexual discrimination. It is my hope, and I believe God’s as well, that sooner rather than later Humanity continues to more fully live according to the truth and example provided in Christ.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ayn Rand Was Not Nearly Selfish Enough

So says Norman at LibertarianChristians.Com:

Rand’s understanding of self-interest was incomplete because it relied solely on the self, not God, to know its interests. This view was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the origin of reason. She claimed that man has to choose to be man. The notion that man makes himself, that “man is a being of self-made soul,” is a logical contradiction (see John Robbins: Without a Prayer, Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System). Reason cannot come from unreason, consciousness from unconsciousness, nor free will from determinism. If man did not choose reason, he must have been created with it. This is precisely the teaching of the Bible, which proclaims that man was made in God’s image and spoken into being through His very Word. Man’s reason, and therefore his ability to be self-interested, comes from God. In recognizing that God created man, one can conclude that it is God who knows what is in man’s self-interest, that is, what is in man’s best interests.

Just as Rand’s philosophy fails at the beginning of life, so it fails at the end. Rand’s view of “rational self-interest” is based on the necessity of man to use reason as his tool to stay alive. But no matter how well a man uses his reason he will still die. He can never be smart enough to live forever. Death is inevitable to man. If he is to live, God must grant him life. Again, it is precisely this kind of life Christ promises in the Bible. Man’s only hope to live is to have life given to him. Just as God made man alive at his first birth, so it is God that gives him eternal life when he follows Christ.

Christianity = Not Either/Or, but Both: G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton is sometimes called the Catholic C.S. Lewis. That may be interpreted as either a true or back-handed compliment, but Chesterton would perhaps offer a third option, both.

In Chapter 6 of Orthodoxy, titled "The Paradoxes of Christianity", Chesterton opens:

THE real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.

Chesterton then proceeds to give many insights and examples with the purpose of showing that "whenever we feel there is something odd in Christian theology, we shall generally find that there is something odd in the truth."

Chesterton asks the reader to consider why is Christianity attacked as being extreme in ways that seem to contradict each other? Why is Christianity criticized for being too optimistic and too pessimistic? Too meek and too violent? Too chaste and too fruitful? Too universal and too exclusive? Too austere and too artistic?

And then in a quiet hour a strange thought struck me like a still thunderbolt. There had suddenly come into my mind another explanation. Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation (as has been already admitted) would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape. Outrageously tall men might feel him to be short. Very short men might feel him to be tall. Old bucks who are growing stout might consider him insufficiently filled out; old beaux who were growing thin might feel that he expanded beyond the narrow lines of elegance. Perhaps Swedes (who have pale hair like tow) called him a dark man, while negroes considered him distinctly blonde. Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least the normal thing, the centre. Perhaps, after all, it is Christianity that is sane and all its critics that are mad -- in various ways.

But Chesterton does not end there. In fact, he argues against moderation as the ONLY answer:

Nevertheless it could not, I felt, be quite true that Christianity was merely sensible and stood in the middle. There was really an element in it of emphasis and even frenzy which had justified the secularists in their superficial criticism. It might be wise, I began more and more to think that it was wise, but it was not merely worldly wise; it was not merely temperate and respectable. Its fierce crusaders and meek saints might balance each other; still, the crusaders were very fierce and the saints were very meek, meek beyond all decency... [W]e want not an amalgam or compromise, but both things at the top of their energy; love and wrath both burning.

Chesterton writes by way of example, and illustrates the paradox of courage:

Paganism declared that virtue was in a balance; Christianity declared it was in a conflict: the collision of two passions apparently opposite. Of course they were not really inconsistent; but they were such that it was hard to hold simultaneously. Let us follow for a moment the clue of the martyr and the suicide; and take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. "He that will lose his life, the same shall save it," is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice.

He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying.

Moving on to unravel modesty and pride, Chesterton produces a memorable quote:

The Church was positive on both points. One can hardly think too little of one's self. One can hardly think too much of one's soul.

Chesterton's writing has it problems, particularly for Protestants, but I find this chapter a fascinating interpretation of Thomistic Aristotelianism.

A non-Christian (at least explicitly) application of dueling extremes is the tension between liberty and virtue. Man is not free without virtue, for without virtue he is a slave to animal instincts and desires. Only when man governs himself can he deserve and hope for a society built on liberty and freedom.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Chart of the Day

Sorry that the posts have been few and far between this week, it has been my busiest real work week in quite a while, and that is a good thing. So, I have a backlog of bookmarked articles that I hope to get to soon, but in the meantime, a little congressional muckraking in the form of a chart from one of the few true fiscal conservatives in DC, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona. Courtesy of Cato:

As shown in the chart below, two-thirds of the earmarks go to a small, exclusive club within the House of those on the appropriations committee, committee chairs, and party leadership. He characterized the appropriations process as a “spoils system,” which is evocative of government corruption of the past, such as Tammany Hall.

But unlike the original Tammany Hall, today’s spoils system is not party-based. Instead, it’s run by an elite and bipartisan group of spending robots within Congress, who pose as representatives of the people when they travel outside the beltway. As Flake implied, it’s odd that the great majority of members and their constituents, who get the short end of the stick from the spoils system, don’t revolt.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Two Quotes

I have been pondering these two quotes, trying to determine if and how they relate to each other:

No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.
- C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man


The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.
- Blaise Pascal, Pensées

The Pascal quote (I hope the link to the full Google Books page works for context), has long been a favorite of mine.

C.S. Lewis, later in the same essay, clarifies and summarizes with the following:

The head rules the belly through the chest. —the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment— these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.

The heart and its love is the key to man, and the key to faith. Per Pascal:

The only knowledge which is contrary alike to common sense and human nature is the only one always to have existed among men.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Transparency, 2009 Edition

The Obama administration may have brought a new level of transparency to Washington, but it has not changed the shameless actions of politicians, lobbyists, and the media. Packing legislative bills full of pork, using television networks as political apparatus, and now newpapers as influence peddlers. Politico reports on a flyer distributed by the Washington Post:

"Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate," says the one-page flier. "Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. ... Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders …

“Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less. …

“Offered at $25,000 per sponsor, per Salon. Maximum of two sponsors per Salon. Underwriters’ CEO or Executive Director participates in the discussion. Underwriters appreciatively acknowledged in printed invitations and at the dinner. Annual series sponsorship of 11 Salons offered at $250,000 … Hosts and Discussion Leaders ... Health-care reporting and editorial staff members of The Washington Post ... An exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done. ... A Washington Post Salon ... July 21, 2009 6:30 p.m."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Blog Post of the Day

Of course I didn't write it, but I can link and quote purtty good:

Earlier this year, Congress passed a “Stimulus” Bill. It was 973 pages long. This past Friday, the House passed a “Climate Change” Bill. It was more than 1200 pages long.

This got me wondering: how long, exactly, is our Constitution? How many pages did it take our country’s founders to lay out the structure and functions of our Federal Government?

Easy to answer. I found the Constitution online and copied it into a Word document, in Times New Roman 12 point type. So how long is it?

Including the preamble, all signatures and all 27 amendments, it’s 20 pages.

Without the signatures and amendments, it’s 11 pages.

Think about that. The entire foundation of our country - the complete design for our entire government — is clearly explained in only 11 pages.

No single Amendment is a full page. Many are only a single sentence.

Yet the bill that was passed on June 26, 2009 by 219 of our elected representatives — people to whom we’ve entrusted our Constitution, men and women who have sworn an oath to uphold it - was more than 1200 pages long. That’s over 100 times longer than the U.S. Constitution! And not one member of Congress, NOT ONE, read the whole thing!

A word comes to my mind to describe this: “INSANE.”

I cannot believe that this type of legislation and legislative behavior is what the signers of our Constitution intended when they invented Congress.

Therefore, I am respectfully proposing a 28th Amendment to our Constitution. I call it the Brevity Act.

No law, bill, resolution or any act of Congress shall exceed 2000 words, including all footnotes, amendments and signatures. Congress shall not vote on any item longer than that. Each item requiring a vote shall be read aloud in its entirety in session to a majority of members. Those not in attendance may not vote on the item.

2000 words is about 5 single spaced pages in a 12 point Word document. If it’s longer than that, then it’s too complicated to be a single law or bill, so it must either be cut or turned into multiple bills, each requiring a separate vote.

Furthermore, a Brevity Act should be part of every State Constitution, County Charter and City Charter.

To those who would oppose this Act because it would require Legislatures to vote separately on every single item in the budget, I say, it’s about time!

And to all challengers to the 219 Congressional morons who voted to pass a bill which they never read, here’s your campaign speech:

My opponent voted for a Bill he/she never read. Only an idiot would do that. Would you walk into a voting booth with a blindfold on and just push some buttons? Or would you read and consider what you’re voting on before you vote? I promise I will not vote for anything I haven’t read in its entirety.

Let the debate begin!

Bravo Bob Gale. I absolutely agree. In fact, after reading Mr. Gale's bio on the Big Hollywood blog, he may be my new hero:

Bob Gale is a Screenwriter-Producer-Director, best known as co-creator, co-writer and co-producer of "Back to the Future" and its sequels. No need to mention his other credits here, that’s what IMDb is for. In addition to writing movies, Gale has written comic books including Spider-Man and Batman, thus proving to his father that he did not waste hours and hours reading comics in his youth. He has also served as an Expert Witness in over a dozen plagiarism cases, even though this has occasionally required him to wear a suit and tie (oh, the horror!). When he’s not in production, writing, shooting off his mouth or wasting time on the internet, he actually does take out the trash, even when his wife doesn’t ask. Well, sometimes he does…

Big Government Capitalism: Green Energy

The Old Gray Lady reports on the making of Government sausage, Waxman-Markey edition, complete with economic botulism:

The bill was freighted with hundreds of pages of special-interest favors, even as environmentalists lamented that its greenhouse-gas reduction targets had been whittled down.

Some of the prizes were relatively small, like the $50 million hurricane research center for a freshman lawmaker from Florida.

Others were huge and threatened to undermine the environmental goals of the bill, like a series of compromises reached with rural and farm-state members that would funnel billions of dollars in payments to agriculture and forestry interests.

Automakers, steel companies, natural gas drillers, refiners, universities and real estate agents all got in on the fast-moving action.

The biggest concessions went to utilities, which wanted assurances that they could continue to operate and build coal-burning power plants without shouldering new costs. The utilities received not only tens of billions of dollars worth of free pollution permits, but also billions for work on technology to capture carbon-dioxide emissions from coal combustion to help meet future pollution targets.


The bill’s centerpiece is a cap-and-trade program that sets a ceiling on emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and allows polluting industries to trade emission permits or allowances to meet it. Mr. Obama said during the presidential campaign that all of those permits should be sold at auction, but the bill’s authors ended up giving away 85 percent free at the outset of the program, which won votes but that some environmental advocates said undercut the bill’s integrity.

Any guess as to the likely single biggest beneficiary of the bill? It looks to be General Electric. GE, who somehow managed to became a huge winner under the recent bank rescue legislation, has now secured promises for receiving FOR FREE so many of the carbon credits that they have started a new venture, Greenhouse Gas Services, to create a new profit center for the company. No wonder GE CEO Jeff Immelt recently wrote the following:

“The global economy, and capitalism, will be ‘reset’ in several important ways. The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner.”

And just in case the money from carbon credit trading weren't enough, I heard on the radio this morning that manufacturers who provide best in class energy efficient product will receive government payouts. Apparently:
From what I can make of the legislative gobbledygook on page 479 of the bill, it looks like the feds would pay the manufacturers of "Superefficient Best In Class Products" for each unit that they produce.
* $75 for each dishwasher
* $250 for each clothes washer
* $200 for each refrigerator or refrigerator-freezer
* $250 for each clothes dryer
* $200 for each cooking product
* $300 for each water heater


How much money are we talking here? Well, the entire section relating to super efficient appliances would get $600 million for FY 2011, 2012 and 2013 - and then "such sums" as may be necessary in the future.

The bill specifically says that "no less" than 40% of the money in those first three years shall be for "Premium Awards for Development and Production of Superefficient Best-in-Class Products."

And who leads in the development and manufacturing for all of these devices?

Big Government Capitalism: Health Care

Wal-Mart is supporting government mandated health care coverage. Michael F. Cannon of CATO shares his inside knowledge of why:

A couple of years ago, I shared a cab to the airport with a Wal-Mart lobbyist, who told me that Wal-Mart supports an “employer mandate.”

...But it all became clear when the lobbyist explained the reason for Wal-Mart’s position: “Target’s health-benefits costs are lower.”

...Wal-Mart has gone native. That great symbol of the benefits of free-market competition now joins its erstwhile enemies among the legions of rent-seeking weasels who would rather run to government for protection than earn their keep by making people’s lives better.

Corporations using the government as leverage to reduce risk and competition. I am sure that is what the founding fathers had in mind.