Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 book breakdown

This past year, I read seventy-three books, down from seventy-five the year before, and buttressed by some help from Shakespeare.  Not bad.

Despite my halfhearted commitment to read more fiction, I only managed to read fifteen of the buggers during the course of the year, the same as last year.  On the other hand, I did read nine plays, and a helpfully annotated poem. 

In the spirit of tradition, I hereby offer another equally halfhearted commitment. 

Here are my recommendations from the past year.  I tried to stay away from the classics: Tacitus and Plutarch are marvelous, but since everyone already knows that, there's little point in me bringing it up.

The Rise of American Civilization - Charles and Mary Beard.  Simply excellent.  Perhaps second only to Paul Johnson's book on the topic in terms of the insight and enjoyment it provided.

Shakespeare's Kings - John Julius Norwich.  The reviews seem mixed on this one, but I rather liked it.  Deserves to make the list if only because it: 1) finally got me to actually read all the plays about the kings Henry; and 2) greatly aided my understanding in that regard.

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower - Professor X.  College isn't for everyone.  Or, if it is--which I doubt--our schools fail to prepare people in this regard.  An important if depressing book.

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming - Rod Dreher.  Part memoir, part paean to his late sister, this book, which I reviewed here, is touching, without being sentimental.  Much recommended.

And lastly, as my piece of fiction:

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck.  I choose this less to puff up my chest at my good taste--I enjoyed a famous novel!--than to remind us of its timeliness.  If the next great American novel has been published, I would be among the last to know, but there's a need for someone to do for our recession what Steinbeck did for the Great Depression.  Read his book until that one comes along.

2014 Reading List

The Crisis of Christendom - Warren Carroll
Tea Party Catholic - Samuel Gregg
The Fellowship of the Ring - J. R. R. Tolkien (*)
The Two Towers - J. R. R. Tolkien (*)
The Return of the King - J. R. R. Tolkien (*)
The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco (*)
Dad is Fat - Jim Gaffigan
Grimm's Fairy Tales
An Anxious Age - Joseph Bottum
Summa Theologica - Thomas Aquinas (Vol. V of V)
Darwin: Portrait of a Genius - Paul Johnson
Purgatorio - Dante Alighieri (*)
Love and Responsibility - Karol Wojtyla
The Black Rose - Thomas B. Costain
The Image - Daniel Boorstin
Dracula - Bram Stoker
The Ballad of the White Horse - G. K. Chesterton
Real Education - Charles Murray
Daily Life in Ancient Rome - Jerome Carcopino
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer
The Quest for Community - Robert Nisbet
How to Love Your Wife - John R. Buri
A History of the World in 6 Glasses Paperback - Tom Standage
Paradiso - Dante Alighieri (*)
Brave New Family - G. K. Chesterton
Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique Of A Heritage - Jacques Barzun
Leisure: The Basis of Culture - Josef Pieper
Gargantua and Pantagruel - Fran├žois Rabelais
The Man Who Was Thursday - G. K. Chesterton (*)
The Art of Manliness - Manvotionals -  Brett and Kate McKay
The Conquest of Civilization - James Henry Breasted
Out of the Silent Planet - C. S. Lewis
Philebus - Plato
The Church and the World in which the Church Was Founded - Msgr. Phillip Hughes
The Church and the World the Church Created - Msgr. Phillip Hughes
Just Married – Gregory and Lisa Popcak
Perelandra - C. S. Lewis
The Ordeal of Civilization - James Harvey Robinson
Being and Some Philosophers - Etienne Gilson
Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power - Josef Pieper
The Guns of August - Barbara Tuchman
George Washington - Paul Johnson
Baby Catcher - Peggy Vincent
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (*)
The Death of Christian Culture - John Senior

* Denotes reread

Friday, November 29, 2013

On Barzun

It is not easy to know what to make of the late, great Jacques Barzun.  He wrote too many books over his long life--forty books, one hundred and five years--for more than a handful of people to fully immerse themselves in his oeuvre.  At best, we can hope to sample but a few of his more influential works.

His opus, From Dawn to Decadence is brilliant, nay--what else?--magisterial.  To understand Barzun, one may as well start here, but one is still beset with difficulties.  For to plumb the depths of five centuries of cultural history as Barzun did, one would need to possess the mind of a Barzun.  Read his book, by all means, but only a lifetime devoted to careful study of the topics on which he writes will allow one to competently pronounce judgment on the work as a whole.

I stumbled upon a key to interpreting and appreciating the great man in A Jacques Barzun Reader, a wonderful collection of his writings assembled by Michael Murray.  In his essay on Diderot, Barzun writes:

The group of geniuses I have in mind [William James, Walter Bagehot... Diderot] are figures known, at least by name, to all who discuss ideas and their history... Their distinction lies in the perennial disquiet they inspire.  Their praise is mixed with doubts.  Most significant, perhaps, the reason for valuing their work are many and conflicting.  In a word, the men and their achievements resist classification. (p. 203)

It is that last phrase which applies above all to Barzun.  In our age, we classify thinkers politically first and foremost.  Such and such is a conservative, is a liberal, is a neo-conservative, a socialist, a libertarian.  What were Barzun's politics?  I've read over one thousand pages of the man's works and I cannot tell.  No doubt, he can be used as a cudgel with which to beat the political opposition, but that is a testament to our sophistry, not an indictment of his views.

It would be silly to insist that this is the proof of his greatness; buffoons can likewise appear politically indifferent.  But it is a clue.  In these times of tired political paralysis, in which we cast truth aside to root for our team, there is much wisdom in withdrawal.  There is more, yet, in a man like Barzun, who devoted his time and energy to culture, which informs and is therefore more lasting and important, than practical politics.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sweet, sweet failure

Over at his wonderful blog, Steve Sailer frequently discusses the importance of The Narrative.  Essentially, the media settles on a single interpretation of a story.  All reactions to it must accede to this frame.  The Internet provides a partial exception to this, but one which is not important insofar as the gatekeepers--or, rather, myth makers--are concerned, at least at this juncture.

For instance, when it comes to dealing with illegal immigration, we are bombarded by insistence that the "system is broken."  In order to fix this "broken system", we need "comprehensive immigration reform."  Since illegal immigrants, are, by definition thwarting the law, a sensible person might wonder what obstacle prevents the laws from being enforced.  Further, one may ask why we would expect these new laws to be upheld when the current ones are routinely disregarded.

The Narrative is designed to preclude anyone from raising these quite reasonable objections.  Far from trying to frame a debate between two sides positing different approaches towards the national question, the issue has been framed in such a way that only one approach can be seen as possible.  Once the idiot Americans realize the wisdom of the elites, the latter can get around to achieving the real goal: passing a bill to ensure more Democratic voters and cheaper labor for Republican businessmen. 

I am not a Republican, but if I were to offer them advice, it would be to convince them of the importance of understanding the Narrative.  In their typical, bungling way, the Republicans have "shut down the government."  This is a myth, given that most of Leviathan plods steadily along, and those parts which have been furloughed will almost assuredly be paid back, for work not done, once the "shutdown" ceases. 

So, who is to blame for the shutdown?  The Republicans have pointed the finger at the Democrats, who have returned the gesture in kind.  No surprises there.  Yet this is the wrong question to ask since the matter at hand is not one based on any objective criteria.

If this seems cynical and relativistic, bear with me for a moment.  First, considered factually, both parties are responsible so long as a deal remains undone.  Until a "compromise" is reached, it is entirely fair to place blame on any one--or both--of the parties.

Moreover, we are a representative republic.  Elections are decided by the whims of the citizenry; it is to them that appeal must be made.  Any decisions reached by the people are, by nature, subjective.

Hence the importance of Narrative.  In short order, the Republicans will cave, as they always do.  However, next time they decide to make a futile gesture, if they wish to break with history and accomplish something for a change, it is imperative that they agree on a Narrative, but also that the Narrative frames their option as the only reasonable solution to the problem at hand.

When it comes to Obamacare, they should have noted that the piece of legislation was such an obvious boondoggle, that it was nowhere near ready, and therefore, they should have offered to postpone the implementation for another year.  Actually, they did this, but when it was rejected, they ought to have immediately passed a budget funding it to the hilt.

Having stated their objections, Obama would then be forced to explain to the American people why his signature piece of legislation was such a train wreck.  Then, the Republicans could campaign against a failure; this, coupled with a real reform bill--and no, they don't actually have one, which is a big problem, but this is mostly hypothetical--would posit a substantial weapon in the upcoming election.

When it comes to the debt ceiling, so long as the Republican house refuses to pass a balanced budget, that is, one that does not require us to borrow any more money and therefore breach the debt ceiling, all objections are mere bluster.  If they can produce such a budget, then they point out that while Obama is content to bankrupt the nation's children so that he can avoid tough decisions, in the house, adults are ready to make hard decisions. 

The only problem with this approach is that there are no adults in the Republican house.  Which is why a balanced budget will never be passed, the debt ceiling will again be raised, Obamacare will become the settled law of the land, and the GOP will take it on the chin without having accomplished a single thing.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Party politics

In a recent piece over at VDare, John Derbyshire observes:

To be interested in party politics nowadays, other than as a clash of personalities—which anyway happens much more within parties than between them—is a puzzling but harmless eccentricity, like stamp collecting...

A friend quipped to me recently that the GOP is just the Democratic Party with an anti-abortion plank. That’s depressingly close to the truth.

Precisely right.

There are two takeaways from this tawdry state of affairs. First, disengage from party politics; or, if one remains engaged, do so in full knowledge that one is engaged in a "harmless eccentricity."  There is much for to be said for politics as a humorous diversion.  If one prefers one's comedy dark, what could be more amusing than a Nobel Peace Prize winning president lobbing bombs indiscriminately at the Middle East, just like his cowboy predecessor?  If not exactly edifying, there is nonetheless an appeal to this level of decay.

Second, that which cannot continue eventually stops.  Naturally, the precise manner in which affairs will be altered is impossible to foresee.  Still, it seems unlikely that our bifactional ruling party will be able to thwart the will of the people forever--or even, very much longer. 

Perhaps the solution will be political, which is to say, reasonably peaceful.  Or maybe, as Jefferson put it, the tree of liberty will be watered with the blood of patriots.  We can only wait and watch.

Monday, August 26, 2013

As things stand

"Christendom is honor and the fatherland and man with his back to the wall. It is the glory of lost causes and the splendor of certain defeat." - Frederick D. Wilhelmsen

I find myself returning to Wilhlemsen again.  About the man, I know nothing, yet his succinct quote seems to capture perfectly the mood of the moment.

My preternatural pessimism has been confirmed by a recent reading of Strauss and Howe's book The Fourth Turning.  The authors posit a generational theory of history that repeats its cycle every eighty to one hundred years.  According to their calculations, we have passed into a crisis stage, during which Americans will need to band together to cast aside our broken institutions and go about the arduous task of rebuilding new ones.

I shall pause here to allow the reader time for laughter.

A crisis is certainly upon us, but I see no indication that either the people or our foolish leaders possess even a fraction of the virtue needed to steer us through these tumultuous times.  Instead of frankly admitting that our nation is insolvent, and going about the thankless task of cutting inessentials, we're pondering another war, this time in Syria.  Rather than recognizing the multitude of problems that confront our growing underclass, we are seriously considering granting amnesty to some twelve million Mexicans, many of whom will merely join the fraternity of the left hand of the bell curve beneath the poverty line.

Meanwhile, having redefined marriage, the progressive forces march onward.  The most pressing social issue of the day--now that the bigoted traditionalists are all but vanquished--is to normalize transsexualism.  No longer will a man or a woman be constrained by biological reality.  In our triumphant future--which one can almost taste, we are so close--one can be whatever one feels.  

Mencken would have loved all of this, and perhaps Swift could use his genius to find a way to satirize it.  But I grow weary.  It is all far too stupid for words.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

The Trial of the Century

Two great writers chronicled the sub-culture turned dominant culture of the tumultuous 60's: Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe.  Thompson dove head first into the mess, developing his notorious gonzo journalism in the process.  Wolfe, meanwhile, stood off and above. 

Thompson at his best--Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72--was probably better than Wolfe, but decades of heavy drinking and indiscriminate drug use wear on a guy, and suicide puts an end to one's literary output, so Wolfe has had the longer career. 

Despite, or perhaps because of, its commercial success, a lot of critics seem to hate Wolfe's fiction.  Granted, Back to Blood bears the mark of an octogenarian who has lost his fastball, and A Man in Full starts well, but reads like it was finished by a writer who had just suffered a stroke--which Wolfe had.  I found I Am Charlotte Simmons to be devastatingly brilliant, but I seem to be fairly alone in this regard, so that's a topic for another day.

This leaves us with Wolfe's debut novel: The Bonfire of the Vanities.  Here, Wolfe prophetically paints a picture of contemporary America, where race, money and violence intersect in strange ways.  Parts of his book read like transcripts from the Zimmerman trial; we can't help but think about this event in Wolfe's terminology: The Trial of the Century, the Great White Defendant, and so forth.

The details of the case are actually rather dull.  Since Martin is dead, only Zimmerman really knows what happened.  And since Zimmerman was injured, his account is as least plausible.  If this were an ordinary trial, the prosecution would probably fail to convict.  But this is no ordinary trial; the malicious media has ensured that if Zimmerman walks, there will be Chaos in the Courtroom, and... blood in the streets.  It could be an interesting summer.

When it comes to crime in America, the depressing reality, as Wolfe recounts, is that it's mostly blacks killing other blacks.  So when the pattern is reversed and a white guy killed a black guy--never mind that the white guy isn't white, and that the black guy may have attacked him--we get a chance to excise our sins by placing our white guilt onto the scapegoat. 

If you want to understand race in America, and the Zimmerman case in particular, Bonfire is simply a must read. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Labor and immigration

I've been reading Charles and Mary Beard's delightful book The Rise of American Civilization.  One of the passages I came across yesterday caught my attention in lieu of the debate--or, rather, lack of debate--over Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

In case such obstacles were surmounted, one equally perplexing remained to plague the labor organizer, namely, the practice of importing laborers in armies bound by contract to specified employers, coupled with the reduction of the ocean fare by competing steamship companies which kept the tide of immigration at its flood.  When a union successfully organized a craft and struck, either against a wage cut or in favor of an increase, it was comparatively easy for the employer to cable to Europe for a new supply of workers and have them on the spot within a fortnight, if indeed a shipload of competent workers, bought by the latest steamer, did not stand at the moment on the docks in New York waiting for jobs.  That a trade union movement was able to get under way at all is a marvel. (Vol. II, p. 216)

Although a continuous supply of cheap labor acts to depress wages, the chief beneficiaries have been so effective at castigating immigration skeptics as inveterate racists that no one seems to have noticed this rather obvious fact. It would be much more honest to admit that the purpose of the bill is to ensure that corporate profits continue to climb, but our elites are not quite that brazen.

It may not meet the criteria of libertarian purists, but the old method of restricting immigration so as to drive up wages for men--who can then afford to marry children and pay for them--seems vastly preferable to the present policy of awarding women for becoming pregnant out of wedlock.  This system, moreover, reduces the pool of marriageable men, which further exacerbates the illegitimacy crisis. 

It would be difficult to come up with a more convoluted series of incentives.  One begins to suspect that the elites not only don't like ordinary Americans, they frankly despise them.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Our Opportunity

On November 6th, 2012, the citizens of my home state of Minnesota voted down a proposed amendment to the constitution that defined marriage as an act between a man and a woman. Six months later, the Minnesota state house and senate passed a bill legalizing gay marriage, which Governor Mark Dayton signed into law. As a Catholic who tries to live in accordance with the teachings of the Church, it's clear where I side, but I find it hard to get too worked up over something that was going to be embraced, sooner or later, by the denizens of what philosopher Charles Taylor rightly calls a secular age.

No doubt some of my passivity has to do with my comparative youth. Older readers can recall a time in which the love that dare not speak its name was actually quiet. I can't. I'm 27, and for as long as I can remember, gay marriage has been a Very Important Issue.

From a purely statistical point of view, this has always struck me as odd. There are probably more cat ladies who wish to marry but cannot find a husband than gays who wish to marry but are legally prohibited from doing so. But enough about Maureen Dowd. Ignoring the oft-cited and utterly preposterous 10% figure of Kinsey's, perhaps 1-3% of the population is homosexual. Since not all of them are clamoring to embrace the mostly respectable institution of marriage, the amount of energy devoted to this minute portion of the population strikes me as disproportionate, which it is, unless one considers gay marriage as a symbol—of which more, later.

Not only has gay marriage been seen as the next big civil rights issue, most of my contemporaries have either accepted it or supported it passionately. This is especially disconcerting considering that for the first thirteen years of my education, I attended Catholic schools. I recall one incident in particular. It was my junior year of high school, and I was in a class called Christian Controversies.

If our school aimed for orthodoxy, the class could have examined various heresies throughout human history—Arianism, Manichaeism, Protestantism, Modernism, etc.—as well at the corresponding teaching of the Church. Instead, we took topics that interested us and discussed how we felt about them. This is reasonable shorthand for what passes for education these days outside of, say, the math department, which hasn't yet displaced reality with paroxysms of emotion.

No one in the class had the foggiest clue why the Church taught what She did. So when someone brought up gay marriage, it was incumbent on me, the world's worst apologist, to cobble together a defense of Church teaching. Although I wasn't a mature Catholic, I felt instinctively that: 1) it wasn't in the least bit obvious that homosexual acts were ethical; and 2) there had to be something to the Church's teaching, even if I didn't quite know what that was. It wasn't until later that I would discover Chesterton, and my faith, but I like to think that I grasped his points about tradition being the democracy of the dead and defending the cardinal virtues having all the exhilaration of a good vice.

I made a mess of things, and I can't conceive that I convinced anyone. Since then, I've found my way back home, and could now offer a much better defense of the Church's teaching on sexuality. I keep in touch with some of my friends from high school. Two of them remain committed Catholics. The rest have apostatized, rejecting a faith I know they understood no more—and probably a good deal less—than I did more than a decade ago.

Granted, this is mere anecdote; all I've demonstrated is that my particular high school could reliably produce ignorant apostates. Georgetown has been doing that for years. My observations comport with the data, though. In a recent piece in The American Conservative, Rod Dreher cited the work of sociologists Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell in their book, American Grace. He noted that:

“They found that young Americans coming into adulthood at that time began to accept homosexuality as morally licit in larger numbers. They also observed that younger Americans began more and more to fall away from organized religion... Nones [nonreligious individuals who do not identify as agnostic or atheist] comprise one out of three Americans under 30.”

What I was seeing with my friends was playing out on a generational scale all across the fruited plain. We rejected the traditional ethic of restraint in sexual matters—and then we just sort of drifted away from religion altogether. Barring another great awakening, when my generation has children, a significant portion of them will grow up in a completely secular environment. The lucky ones will at least have a mother and a father.

The salient point here is that even if the forces of tradition were to make a brilliant case for marriage and find a way to sneak this message passed the gatekeepers, it would do little good. When it comes to sex, our minds are made up. We have decided, a priori, that sex is good, only to be abstained from if consent is lacking, or perhaps for those in “committed relationships”, whatever that may mean. Appeals to the Natural Law were unpersuasive to a generation that ought to have been familiar with the concept. They'll become even less effective as society becomes more secular.

Earlier, I mentioned that gay marriage was a symbol, by which I mean that it possesses a significance which far outweighs the immediate ramifications of its adoption. It's doubtful, for instance, if a small number of gays marrying could possibly be more disastrous than the epidemic of illegitimacy. But as a symbol, gay marriage is the apotheosis of the sexual mores that very precariously hold our society together: temporary commitment in a relationship that is as fertile as the couple and their doctor want it to be.

There are two points I wish to make about the symbolism of gay marriage. First, it provides nascent Nones a way to distinguish themselves from the superstitious proles who watch NASCAR and believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old. This requires surprisingly little effort, and almost no discomfort. One can update one's Facebook profile to display an equals sign, or wear a pro gay marriage t-shirt. This marks one as a member of the elect, while failing to make such a gesture renders one suspect.

The key point here is that once gay marriage is accepted, another symbol will be needed. If I read the tea leaves right, the next move could involve the transgendered. Someone, probably an idiot academic, has even created a term, cisgender, for those of us who know whether we are male or female. I was going to joke that those of us don't happen to think that we're dinosaurs may also be cisspecies, but then I looked it up, and apparently that's a thing, too. One of the drags of a civilization's collapse is that it makes satire all but impossible.

Second, gay marriage serves as an excuse for the majority to rub the noses of traditionalists in their failure. Most supporters, like my apostate friends, are uninterested in this, but this is immaterial since: 1) as Lenin discovered, it only takes a committed minority to make a revolution; and 2) moderate supporters aren't bound to be any better at defending the claims of benighted bigots than the moderate forces of Islam have been at stemming the tide of Jihad. Sooner or later, all of our institutions will be compelled to go along with gay marriage. Magnanimity will not be reserved for those who are regarded as hateful.

In the midst of all the gloom, the silliness, and the evil, there is hope. We will not return to a sensible definition of marriage in the foreseeable future, but if our opponents press us to accept their nonsense, we may have our opportunity. For while our arguments will continue to fall on deaf ears, if we set an example of peaceful defiance, we may stand as a stern rebuke to the spirit of the age. As Hilaire Belloc put it: "But if I be asked what sign we may look for to show that the advance of the faith is at hand I would answer by a word the modern world has forgotten: Persecution. When that shall once more be at work it will be morning." That is our opportunity.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Going Benedict

During one of the recent presidential debates, moderator Candy Crowley, who is as objective as she is beautiful, cut to an audience member who asked the candidates what they would do to rectify the situation whereby females make “only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn.” Despite the paucity of evidence for this much vaunted gap, Obama and Romney stumbled all over themselves in order to demonstrate how willing they were to help women.

Less than a month prior to the debate, an article in the Daily Mail noted that in the U.S., the labor participation rate for men had dropped to 69.9 percent, the “lowest level ever recorded.” A spurious wage gap between men and women is regarded as an occasion for Government to Do Something; if men are falling behind in the economy, they need to Man Up.

In her new book, Men on Strike, Dr. Helen Smith takes umbrage with this double standard and speaks up for the men who are reluctant to champion their own cause. In our haste to better society for women, we have eroded the institutional incentives which spurred a man to go to school, to work hard and to marry. Now, many men are going Galt.

She quotes the blogger Roissy: “Men slowly discover that the effort to win women's attention via employment is not rewarding them the way it did for their dads and grandads, and that now only herculean efforts to make considerably more than women will give them an edge in the mating market.” From a certain standpoint, dropping out is rational.

Probably the most important chapter of her book covers the kangaroo courts of family law. Men are routinely forced to pay child support for children that aren't their own; if they fail to pony up, they are sent to jail. Courts have even held that a boy who was statutorily raped by an older woman was liable for her child support. When it comes to procreation: women have rights, men have responsibilities.

Dr. Smith possesses a sympathetic understanding for the plight of men. Her book is filled with insightful anecdotes from men she has interviewed or who have commented on her blog. Since men are reluctant to bring their concerns forward, for fear of being seen as unmanly, Dr. Smith provides a helpful service in reminding men that they are not alone. The media remains oblivious to the extent, as well as the nature, of the man strike, but her book is a welcome addition to the trickle that will soon become a deluge.

There is a minor flaw in her book, or, rather, there is an unresolved dilemma among those who wish to supplant female privilege with justice. One camp argues that only a doctrine of separate spheres is sufficient to maintain a stable society; that female suffrage leads to civilizational collapse by way of unchecked hypergamy. A more moderate school of thought, to which Dr. Smith subscribes, wishes to replace our regime with one that, at least legally, treats men and women with genuine equality.

Regardless of the specific program, if the political problem proves to be intractable, more radical gestures may be required. For while opting out might work for individual men, the author astutely observes that such an approach is not good for civilization as a whole.

Perhaps a better model than John Galt, the striker, would be the great founder of monasticism: St. Benedict. Today's Benedictines would not need to be celibate like the saint and his monks. Instead, as the philosopher Alidsair MacIntyre suggested, we could start little communities with wives and children, far away from the evils of modern society. One might call it: going Benedict.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Scandal time

President Obama may be in some trouble.  For months, the conservative press, led by Fox News, has been hammering at him over Benghazi.  This scandal hasn't really gone anywhere, even though it now seems clear that the administration knew that the attacks were motivated by terrorism.  Despite, or rather, because of this unfortunate element, the administration simply lied, pinning the blame on the creator of a YouTube video that was--let's go with critical of Islam.

There are two odd elements to the Benghazi affair.  First, it should have been clear immediately that an attack which took place on 9/11 just might have some connection with terrorism.  Second, who on earth expects their government to tell them the truth?  Conservatives should know better.

This is all very cynical of me, but this is probably the right attitude to take towards leviathan at this stage of the republic.  Liberals ought to be more concerned with the propensity of their rulers to lie, since they inexplicably put faith in the government.  But since politics is little more team sport, well, this is what we get.

Conservatives will point out that if Benghazi was a story prior to the election, it would have hurt the President.  Perhaps, but so what?  Republicans lost because they appointed a crony capitalist to crow about tax cuts.  Romney's inability to appeal to the base had nothing to do with the President.

Anyway, the Obama has now been embroiled in a much more significant scandal.  The broad strokes: the IRS was targeting tea party types, treating them much more harshly than progressive groups.  And, someone--we don't yet know who--knew about this prior to the election. 

This scandal seems much more serious since: 1) everyone hates the IRS; and 2) this is banana republic type stuff.  When the government is interpreting the law in a political manner, that's as illegal as it is unethical. 

Now, from the perspective of a cynical libertarian, this is reasonable shorthand for how the government works.  For instance, see the story about Congress building tanks that the army insists it does not want.  Congress isn't about to eliminate any jobs, even if those jobs represent a total waste of resources. 

Conservatives like to claim that government shouldn't pick winners and loser, which is true, but it's still what they do every time they award a contract.  This targeting of political groups is much more pernicious, though, because it's not necessary.  If it turns out that the Obama administration knew about this, things could get very interesting.

Also on the scandal front, the Justice Department sought and obtained phone records of journalists.  Given the extent to which the press has carried the president's water, there's a humorous element to this.  Still, if the press turns--and this makes it more likely that they will--things will start to go very badly for Obama,

If Congress can kill off Comprehensive Immigration Reform, it looks like lame duck Obama will spend the rest of his term trying to avoid any association with scandals.  This will be both amusing and good for the republic.  The best we can hope for at this point is to prevent Congress from passing any idiotic bills.  This might do the trick nicely.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Brooks plays the fool

One problem with the Narrative is that while it keeps the peace, in the short term, by channelling discontent into tired trenches of something that occasionally resembles thought, on the whole, it tends to make us dumb. 

Witness David Brooks, house broken "conservative" over at the New York Times.  I actually like Brooks, when he remembers to stick with his light but amusing columns concerning the sociology of contemporary America.  But here, as Steve Sailer puts it, he "goes beyond self-parody." 

The schlock here is almost too thick to stand, but it will nonetheless receive a rebuttal.

First, immigration opponents are effectively trying to restrict the flow of conservatives into this country... In survey after survey, immigrants are found to have more traditional ideas about family structure and community than comparable Americans... Immigrants go into poor neighborhoods and infuse them with traditional values.

Surveys are amazing things, but you know what's even more amazing?  Empirical data.

"[U]nmarried immigrants are significantly more likely than unmarried natives to give birth... Hispanic immigrants have seen the largest increase in out-of-wedlock births — from 19 percent of births in 1980 to 42 percent in 2003. This is important because Hispanics account for nearly 60 percent of all births to immigrants."

Oh so close, David.

This notion that lawbreakers from the south are exemplar conservatives is risible, and doesn't square with the electoral data.  Sure, Hispanics tend to frown on buggery more than natives, but they still vote for the party of abortion and handouts.

Second, immigration opponents are trying to restrict assimilation.

Why, just think of Los Angeles, where a home crowd eagerly rooted for the U.S. soccer team against visiting Mexico.  Wait, that didn't happen?  Well, then, it's obviously the fault of those horrible natives for not helping immigrants assimilate. 

If this was 1965, Brooks would still be wrong, but at least he would be guessing.  We've had almost fifty years of substantial immigration from the third world, and the results aren't pretty.  But it's so much easier just to speculate wildly, so we'll stick with that.

Third, immigration opponents are trying to restrict love affairs... an astonishing 26 percent of Hispanics and 28 percent of Asians married outside their groups.

This is certainly a new one.  Presumably, without immigration, all of these people would have died alone.  Tragic, really.

Fourth, immigration opponents are trying to restrict social mobility.  Generation after generation, the children of immigrants are gradually better educated and more affluent than their parents.

Wrong.  As the last link above explains:

"In our book “Generations of Exclusion,” we show that the descendants of Mexicans do not experience the steady progress into the third and fourth generations that has been documented for those of European ancestry."

I guess Brooks doesn't read his own paper.

Moreover, American citizens are no longer seeing their own affluence increase from generation to generation.  That's just not a high priority, though, what with all these magical people living in the shadows.

Fifth, immigration opponents are trying to restrict skills. Current reform proposals would increase high-skill immigration. Opponents of reform are trying to restrict an infusion of people most likely to start businesses and invent things.

Apparently Mexico is a really stupid country.  They keep kicking out these high-skilled entrepreneurs, but lucky for us, we get them all, and they go on to start all these businesses and... wait, they don't?

Actually, while Mexico has its share of problems, sloughing off its unemployed masses to its norther neighbor while refusing to let in any undesirables from the south is pretty good policy.  Since it would be racist to implement Mexico's policy, we've really no choice but to send unemployed to Canada.  Take that you hosers!

No one wants to restrict entrepreneurs, but it would be asking too much to let in a handful of bright immigrants without taking in millions of unskilled workers. 

Our immigration policy makes us really dumb.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Controlling the discourse

One of the ways the media controls the discourse is by pitting two ostensibly opposing sides against each other.  Person A, let's call him President Obama, wants to drone strike the daylights out of Pakistan.  Person B, let's call him Mitt Romney, agrees, but he would also like to bomb Iran.  This is the allowable range of respectable opinion when it comes to foreign policy. 

When Ron Paul points out that bombing someone's homeland makes them more likely to hate you, if not take up arms against you, the proper response would be: no doubt.  But in the context of our discourse, the sensible point is not examined.  After all, the Republicans and the Democrats recognize the wisdom of drone strikes, so only an "extremist" would advocate a position so far outside the mainstream.

Once you recognize that this is how things work, it becomes an amusing exercise to look at other media narratives that help undermine common sense.

Take immigration.  The Narrative insists that: "our system is broken."  Exactly what that means, is unclear; for the purposes of the debate, it means that the Government must Do Something.  Some of the Republicans and the Democrats have thus gotten together to try to pitch a bill to enact "Comprehensive Immigration Reform."  This will fix our "broken" system.  And since the plan is "comprehensive", it will ensure that the problem is completely solved, forever and ever, amen. 

The debate is thus framed in determining whether or not the bill is "comprehensive" enough to "fix the problem."  Its authors insist that this is because it will "control the borders" and ensure that "undocumented immigrants"--the implication here being that we are dealing, not with lawbreakers, but some sort of bureaucratic oversight--can come "out from the shadows.

As a brief aside, the reasons for the "bipartisan support" should be clear.  The Republicans love immigrants because they work cheaper than Americans, and hence help boost corporate profits.  The Democrats love immigrants because they vote for the Democratic Party.  One would think that the Republicans might have noticed this, but they don't call it the Stupid Party for nothing.

No one bothers to ask some rather pertinent questions.  So here are a few.

1) What has been the effect of the last fifty years of immigration on the native population, that forgotten band of citizens who live here and pay taxes?

One would think that we might be interested in the experiment of the last five decades, but we are much more interested in looking Forward.

2) What is the effect of immigration on wages and employment levels of the native population?

Hint for economists: what happens to the price of a good, in this case, labor, when its supply increases?  Wages go down, unemployment goes up, and, well, it's not like we're in the middle of a recession or anything, right?

3) What countries tend to produce better immigrants?  Are there certain countries that we should be targeting in our search for immigrants? 

This question is totally verboten.  All races are exactly the same.  And even if some immigrants, say, from Chechnya, cause problems, well, that can be no reason to be a "racist".  Racism is very, very bad!

A helpful analogy here is to think of the U.S. as a prestigious university.  Harvard lets in the best and brightest.  Certainly it pays respect to diversity, at least certain types, but it doesn't let in any riffraff.  Instead of defending the brand, like Harvard has done, Kennedy's 1965 immigration act decided that it would be wise for the United States to adopt the admissions policy of The University of Phoenix Online.

4) Don't we already have a guest workers program?  Does American need another one? 

Regarding the first question, John Derbyshire's counts give him either 12--or 20 such programs.  Surely the next one will "fix the problem."  And the answer to the second, is, no.  We have massive unemployment and stagnant wages.  When wages continuously go up in an industry, and when businesses in that industry can't find any American help, then it makes sense to look elsewhere.  But not until then.

5) Are there any perks to being an American citizen?

Try not to answer this one.  If you're part of the underclass, the elites want to replace you with a wonderful Mexican who will work more cheaply.  If you're one of the members of our shrinking middle class, the elites want to replace you with an equally amazing Indian or Chinese person who will work more cheaply. 

Perhaps if we had a guest worker program for journalists and politicians, they would start to speak for the suckers who actually live and work in this country. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Getting Home

G. K. Chesterton once wrote that: “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.” In The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, author Rod Dreher takes the long way home, while his sister, Ruthie, arrives by the more direct route.

This divergence causes a rift between the siblings, one which isn't fully resolved until the book's final pages. Just as Ruthie was completing her first year leading a classroom as a teacher in their small hometown of St. Francisville, Rod was given a break: an assignment at the Washington Times. Ruthie was distressed, telling their parents: “He's way up there in the big city where we can't help him. What if he gets sick?”

Instead, it was Ruthie who got sick: she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She refused to inquire into the odds of survival; though they were overwhelmingly against her, Ruthie remained upbeat through it all. Her small town, the one Rod had left behind to pursue his dreams, rallied around her. People came from miles away to visit Ruthie, to pray for her, to raise money for her treatment and other family expenses. As an old friend tells Rod, “This is how it's supposed to be. This is what folks are supposed to do for each other.”

It would be difficult to do justice to Rod's tender treatment of his sister's battle with cancer. Suffice it to say that it would take Oscar Wilde's proverbial heart of stone to read this account and not be moved. It is always painful when bad things happen to good people; Ruthie's goodness is so evident that it pains us all the more. Yet despite it all—because of God, because of the way the people of St. Francisville could lean on one another—there is a strange peace, too.

So after a long journey, Rod returns; he and his wife pack up their three kids and move back home. He writes: “My friends and I talked a lot about the fragmentation of the modern family, about the deracinating effects of late capitalism, about mass media and the erosion of localist consciousness, about the consumerization of religions and the leviathan state and every other thing other the sun that undermines our sense of home and permanence.” Yet, “The one thing none of us did was what Ruthie did: stay.”

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming sounds many of the same notes as Charles Murray's recent book, Coming Apart. Through a largely analytical approach, Murray tells the story of small towns like St. Francisville: its best and brightest skip town for the attractions of the city. Murray emphasizes the dark side of small town American, its plight worsened by the flight of so many of its residents. As Rod tells it, his town had its problems, too: “poverty... drunkenness... drugs... meanness, and conformity, and lack of professional opportunity.” But there is something that Murray's statistics fail to capture. In our cities, we may bowl alone, but, in towns like St. Francisville, people come together for one another.

Many of today's books insist that the solution to the problem—whatever it is—involves ten steps, all of which are grandiose and implausible. Instead, Rod admonishes us to “seek reconciliation... and love people”; he recounts how he patched up things with the blogger Andrew Sullivan. There is something else, too. If, like Rod, we have left, we can consider making that journey back home.

UPDATE: Rod has kindly taken an excerpt from my review over at his blog.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The anatomy of a non-story

Although redoubts of conservatism do exist, the media is overwhelmingly leftist.  Sometimes, this is merely annoying, but it can be pernicious as well.  For instance, while the media occasionally covered Bush's wars, when the reigns of power were handed over to Obama, coverage declined--even as drone strikes increased. 

Recently, the right has been incensed over the paucity of coverage in the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell.  For a good write-up, albeit a gruesome one, see here.  Gosnell was illegally aborting children past the 24-week barrier set by the State of Pennsylvania, but his murderous run only comprises part of the story.  Descriptions of his clinic remind one Upton Sinclair's The Jungle or a Civil War hospital tent. 

The story itself is fascinating, although so ghastly that I can readily see why some would be reluctant to cover it.  Yet the flippancy of the media toward someone whom Terry Moran rightly describes as "probably the most successful serial killer in the history of the world" deserves a more serious investigation.  It's also worth contemplating the reasons such a significant story would be given short shrift.  So, in no particular order:

1) Unborn children are seen as far less important than babies.  Without a name, and a mother who weeps for her, an unborn child does not lay a claim upon at least the pro-abortion among us.  Which leads us to...

2) The line of demarcation that separates a child that can be murdered from one that cannot is very thin, often only a few inches.  Given that children born early in the third trimester still often survive, it is, at this stage, only the location of the child that makes murder permissible.  Shining a light on late-term abortions might cause us to point out this absurdity.

3) The left views abortion as somewhat embarrassing.  Smart people know to use their birth control so that this doesn't happen, but if it does, they take care of it quickly, they don't wait until 28 weeks into pregnancy.  I doubt that anyone will be so brash as to insist that the lesson here is that women need to be able to dispose of their children more quickly, but that's not to say that this isn't an angle some in the media would like to take.

4) Given the sanctity of abortion, its practitioners can get away with a lot.  One of the lessons of the Gosnell case was that the regulators who are meant to keep abortion "safe"--at least for the mother--failed completely.  This house of horrors had been running for years, and people knew about it.  But Gosnell was doing Moloch's work, and an investigation into his practice would have been the action of a turncoat.  Sure, women died in his clinic, but those lives must be balanced against the great good this man did.

5) There was no grounds for a leftist political program.  When children get mowed down in schools, it's horrible, but at least it provides an opportunity to talk about taking away guns.  Any takeaway here is bound to be bad for the abortion brand.  Everyone knows not all abortionists are like this, so let's just move it along.

6) Gosnell is black.  Perpetrators should be white, like Zimmerman, I mean the Duke lacrosse team that (practically) raped that stripper. 

7) Gosnell was racist--against blacks and Hispanics.  This one really irks the media, because if Gosnell was white, we could work the old racist angle.  But that dog won't hunt, even if it's another interesting aspect of this remarkable story.

8) A healthy percentage of the left knows that abortion is wrong, and they know that we know.  The parallel in terms of death is Nazi Germany, or perhaps Stalin's gulags, but there's a better example in black slavery, in this sense: just as slavery was indispensable to the south, abortion is indispensable in our society.  We're certainly not going to give up our illusions of sexual autonomy, and, although birth control is usually effective, we must be given recourse to abortion--just in case.  So you'll have to forgive us if we don't examine the issue too closely.  It's too important to do away with.

I actually agree with them in this regard, but if the price for maintaining one's lifestyle is millions of dead babies, that's a price I'm not at all willing to pay.  Eventually, we will dispense with our lifestyle, as the south did.  For now, we must be content to know that while we're not winning the cultural battle, the case against the evils of abortion becomes easier to make by the day--even if the media remains disinterested in that case.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sliding down

In our age of unreason, people are quick to point out what they think to be logical fallacies.  But while they can name them, they are seldom so good at identifying them correctly. 

For instance, when traditionalists who objected to the silly contradiction known as gay marriage pointed out that this would lead to polygamy, the paragons of progressivism protested that this was a slippery slope.  And so it was; the kind that we would, sooner or later, be compelled to slide down.

Marriage, as is understood in sensible eras, is the binding of one man to one woman for life.  We have long since abrogated this last condition, as "til death do us part" has become "til one of us has decided we are unhappy."  This was lamentable.  It was also probably the source of all of our trouble.

Recently, the gays have clamoured for the right to get married. This "right" has been granted in some states; sooner or later it will be granted in all.  Which is to say that we have dispensed with the arduous necessity of insisting that a man be married to a woman. 

All that remains of this venerable institution, so far as I can see, is that two people, of whatever sex--I mean gender; one must never deign to notice biological reality--are joined together for some indeterminate amount of time. 

We wretched conservatives thereupon insisted that the two person requirement was likewise arbitrary and intolerant, and that, therefore, it too would be swept aside.  Strictly speaking, this is not polygamy, which actually has a precedent in the annals of human history.  It is more of a monstrosity, a twisted triangle of sorts, or, in my own state, a horrid hexagon:

The Legislature’s proposed allowance for up to six adults to claim biological parentage of the same child takes the marriage debate to a new level. No longer will people be asking whether every child has the right to a mom and a dad — or whether same-sex couples can raise children just as well as opposite-sex couples. Now a child can have up to six persons whom the law will recognize as “presumptive biological parents.”

Now, this is not marriage as such, but that is to miss the point.  None of this nonsense bears much resemblance to marriage; these pale imitations approach it only, perhaps, by analogy.  And while the six "presumptive biological parents" are not entering into a partnership with each other, there is no logical reason why they should be prevented from doing so.

Gay "marriage" could only become a reality in a culture which was hopelessly confused about the subject.  In this sense, then, it does not matter: for a nation that seriously contemplates such a thing is already deeply morally confused--at best.  The paucity of gays, as I have already pointed out, will ensure that gay marriage remains largely a symbol: a sure sign that those evil reactionaries have been ousted by the progressives.

I only wish they would wipe the smugness off of their faces long enough to properly identify a logical fallacy; or to open a dictionary.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Missing the point on gay marriage

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world - Yeats 

This pretty well sums up the conservative's gloom, at least at the moment.  Progressive victories have eroded away much that we esteem.  Indeed, at the moment, the Republicans, the closest thing conservatives have by way of representatives, seem to have given up trying to do much besides trying to maintain current tax rates and the military budget.  On other issues, they're almost totally useless.

Let's take the issue of gay marriage, both as an illustration of Republican ineffectiveness and anarchy, as per Yeats.  The two principle points about gay marriage at this point are that: 1) it is inevitable; and 2) the victory is largely symbolic, given the dearth of homosexuals lining up to tie the knot. 

On the first point, gay marriage was made inevitable when marriage was redefined to be exclusively about the happiness of the husband or wife.  Happiness here is subjective; we are certainly not talking eudaimonia.  So a man may divorce his wife if he can upgrade her with a prettier model; or, what is commoner, a woman can divorce her husband because she is not satisfied--and prefers to eat, pray, love, mostly eat, her way into happiness.

According to this new way of thinking, marriage was solely a contract between two people.  This was a mistake, first, because of the disastrous effect divorce can have on children, but also because, even if there aren't any children, the marriage took place in the context of a community.  The reason weddings are such grand affairs isn't just so that the bride can have her day.  The witnesses consent to the marriage and, implicitly at least, promise to help the married couple keep their promises to one another. 

Once this ship had sailed, it's easy to see why gays insisted that they, too, ought to be allowed to marry.  It's somewhat amusing to see gays clamouring for the right to be married just as heterosexuals are abandoning the institution en masse.  One wonders how long it will be until most marriages are either performed quietly in a small church--or flamboyantly on Bravo.

Anyway, the conservatives lost the case for heterosexual marriage once it became a contractual affair.  If we were really concerned for children, divorce, or at least remarriage, ought to have been banned, if not by our State, at least by our churches.  This would have been no more effective in the long run, but that is the battlefield on which we should have fought.

As to the second point, there simply aren't enough gays who wish to marry for this to matter all that much.  Certainly it matters to homosexuals and their friends and family, but from a societal perspective, the forty percent illegitimacy rate far outweighs a few marrying gays. 

I note too, the absence of criticism towards single mothers on behalf of Republicans.  Yes, I know, it's very unkind to shame people for anything--except for smoking, perhaps--but raising a child alone is, in most instances, a socially irresponsible thing to do.  This is not to say that the children should be aborted, but that adoption should be considered.  More importantly, women should be encouraged to be more discerning towards the men they... let's go with date.

As an aside, one might point out that with the illegitimacy rate so high, almost no one can criticize single mothers without running afoul of some acquaintance or family member.  This is depressingly true.  Once anti-social behaviour becomes so endemic, it become virtually impossible for society to curtail it.

This is all very sexist of me, of course, but since women bear the burden of pregnancy, they will always be the sexual gatekeepers of our species.  One can blame men all one likes, but, as the saying goes, why buy a cow if the milk is free?  If we cannot depend on women's discretion, we're certainly not going to be able to depend on that of the man.  That would be like giving up on building a democracy in Iraq so as to attempt one in Afghanistan.

There are a number of reasons this function hasn't been maintained by women, but that's a separate post entirely.

Instructive here is how strange and uncharitable these arguments sound, partially because of the infrequency with which we hear them, but also because they take for granted that the actions of men and women have ramifications outside of the scope of their temporary union, and that we therefore should judge accordingly. 

Yet it is this, and not bigotry, which is the real reason for the disagreement over gay marriage.  It is also the conversation we should have been having.  It is never too late to start.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Our murderous president

It doesn't seem that long ago that the left was justifiably upset with President George W. Bush, whose toughness on terror meant playing loose with civil liberties.  Then President Obama was elected, and since  politics is a team sport, we didn't hear much from the left about all those awful things Bush had done because, for the most part, Obama was still doing them.

One noble exception has been Glenn Greenwald, who has done an outstanding job cataloging the bipartisan consensus on violating the civil liberties of the American people.  Today's piece is excellent: it concerns a Justice Department memo providing legal justification for Obama's policy of assassinating American citizens using drones.  Although he's utilized a similar approach to the Bush administration in running roughshod over American rights, the despicable former president never went this far.

Greenwald highlights six points of emphasis from the memo:

1) "Equating government accusations with guilt": the government asserts that it will only kill terrorists, but the government is the only arbiter to determine if someone is a "terrorist".

2) "Creating a ceiling, not a floor": the government could kill other "terrorists", for other reasons not outlined in the memo.

3) "Relies on the core Bush/Cheney theory of a global battlefield": since "terrorists" could be anywhere, they can be killed anywhere--no matter what other host nations might think about our drone invading their air space.

4) "Expanding the concept of "imminence" beyond recognition": a "terrorist" can be killed even if we have no evidence that he was planning an attack--not that this matters, since all evidence is secret, so every "terrorist" will undoubtedly be in the final stages of planning an attack on U.S. soil.

5) "Converting Obama underlings into objective courts": the justification for these procedures is determined internally by DOJ attorneys; the watchers are watching themselves, don't you worry.

6) "Making a mockery of "due process": these policies apply to citizens, who are being stripped of their fifth amendment rights.

The right is correct that Obama is an awful president, but it's not because he's a Communist; it's because he's taken Bush's horrible policies and expanded them at the expense of our constitutional rights.  But on important matters like this, the Republicans and the Democrats agree: if you don't want to be killed in a drone attack, don't be a "terrorist".  The U.S. government has never wrongly imprisoned people before, so good citizens have nothing to fear.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Equality or bust

Sometimes a news story is more noteworthy when it comes and goes without drawing a significant reaction.  In a small town, murder is huge news; in Chicago, a single murder is a sign of a good day.  This was the case with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision to lift the ban on women in combat.  Sure, there were some pieces celebrating such an historic step, but on the whole, this incident passed without much notice.  The forces of reaction, of which I am a proud member, were mostly silent, as if this formality is just something we will have to accept--which, I suppose, it is.

But that doesn't mean it's a good idea.  Sending women into combat isn't just questionable desirable, it's manifestly stupid.  Let us count the ways.

1) We've already seen what happens when we place men and women in close quarters.  The women get pregnant--or sexually assaulted--and the men fight over the women.  The Army's reaction has been to create this helpful website.

It's interesting that while this has been going on for years, our rejoinder is to simply insist that it shouldn't happen, and leave it at that.  In the eponymous children's television program, Dora the Explorer tells Swiper: "No swiping."  Whereupon, he stops.  This is, so far as I can tell, our plan to prevent sexual indiscretions in the military.  We must not be saying it loudly enough.

Yes, men shouldn't rape women; but men ought not kill people either.  The civilizing force that prevents a man from raping a woman is very similar to that which prevents him from killing a man.  But the latter is required in war, and... not without reason are war and rape close companions in the annals of conquest.

It might occur to our utopians that if we can wish away all rape, we can probably do away with war, too.

2) The same things might happen at the hands of enemy forces.  If we could get Al-Qaeda to read Jezebel, I'm sure the terrorists would promise to play nice with any women soldiers they happen to capture.  On the other hand, if the terrorists rape enough of our soldiers, the feminists who comprise part of Obama's base might stop fantasizing about free birth control long enough to remember that President Peace Prize is still fighting Bush's War on Terror.

3) Standards will be lowered to compensate for the physical discrepancies between male and female soldiers.  Oh wait, we already did that.  In civilian life, standards are often just convenient ways to weed out undesirable candidates, but in combat, it can be important to be able to carry one's pack, or help lift a wounded soldier to safety.  Soon we'll be hearing all sorts of heroic stories about our G.I. Janes.  And this time the stories won't be complete fabrications.

One could easily satirize women's ineffectualness in combat, but this would require Oscar Wilde's proverbial heart of stone.  It might work better if a female firefighter proved unable to rescue a corpulent cat lady.  Okay, so that's not much kinder, but it's certainly more humorous.

Actually, the more practical result, comes courtesy of Steve Sailer:

If more co-ed combat degrades American military performance, it's not like the Axis is going to win WWII, it's that a few more brave Americans will get killed in some inconclusive puttering around in Mali or wherever.

One last point.  The reason societies don't allow their women to fight in wars--except in desperate circumstances--isn't just because men are stronger than women; it's because women are more valuable.  If you send off your men to die, the women will have to have more children to replace those the tribe has lost.  If you send your women off to die, it's very difficult to conjure new family members from the remaining bachelors.  Of course, a nation, such as ours, that cannot even be bothered to reproduce at levels sufficient to sustain itself isn't likely to appreciate this point.  But I like to think that, somewhere, the ancients are laughing at us.

Monday, January 21, 2013

On not thinking clearly

When we stake out a position on a particular issue, we would like to believe that we are drawn to it by the logic that supports the side on which we come down.  This is seldom the case, and not simply because humans can be led against reason by emotion.  Instead, it is because the positions we take stem from the values we hold.  This sounds tautological, but an example should illustrate what I mean.

Recent debates about gun control aren't really about gun control.  No appeal to statistics is likely to move minds because people are really arguing about something else.  Nor do the sides even really disagree about the final end: a reduction in violence is sought by all.  Disagreement concerns the means by which this end will be acheived.  So one side believes government can be trusted to regulate firearms, while the other puts its trust in a well-armed populace. 

These positions are ultimately derived from first principles, but, more importantly, within a tradition that tries to examine the ramifications of such principles.

As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre points out in his excellent book, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?:

It is a Cartesian error, fostered by a misunderstanding of Euclidean geometry, to suppose that first by an initial act of apprehension we can comprehend the full meaning of the premises of a deductive system and then only secondly proceed to enquire what follows from them.  In fact it is only insofar as we understand what follows from those premises that we understand the premises themselves.  If and as we begin from the premises, our initial apprehension will characteristically be partial and incomplete, increasing as we understand what it is that these premises do and do not entail. pp. 174-5

With this in mind, let's switch topics; instead of gun control, we're going to focus on the existence of God.  These discussions tend to be pretty fruitless; with MacIntrye's insight, we can see why this is the case.  After defining his terms, a well-informed theist might pull out his Summa and begin to cover Aquinas's fivefold proof for God's existence.  This isn't a terrible way to go about it, but it tends to fall short as the rejoinder to a discussion of an unmoved mover is: "Who moved God?"  It's not a ridiculous question, but it is rather unhelpful, in that we're thrust back upon the definitions of terms.

The genius of the Summa is not the fivefold proof, but the systematic way in which St. Thomas builds his system.  We shouldn't cede ground to the agnostics and atheists and admit that Thomas's proofs are mere formalities, quick jots to move us along to meatier matters.  And yet, if we pretend that this is the case, how many other things become apparent?  We can't get to God's simplicity if we don't get past His existence, just as we can't get to the Secundae Partis until we finish the Prima Pars; for one part of his masterpiece depends on another, and Thomas is nothing if not thorough.  His thought must be evaluated as a whole, which might not require that one read the entirety of the Summa, but it does require that one do more than reject his proofs and move on to something else.

Back to God's existence.  If Thomas--and others; I am a dedicated if hopelessly amateur Thomist, but there are other theistic systems of thought, most notably that of St. Augustine--if theistic philosophers have examined the ramifications of there positions, it's far from clear that atheists and agnostics have done the same.  Certainly there were philosophers who tried to do so, most famously Kant, who was not an agnostic, but philosophized like one.  He rejected tradition in favor of an attempt to concoct a moral system derived from unaided reason.  Yet Kant, for all his brilliance, failed, as MacIntyre pointed out:

In moral philosophy the central question which the participants in those debates had hoped to answer was: What are those principles governing action to which no rational human being can deny his or her assent?  Hume's appeal to rational consensus concerning the passions, Kant's formulations of the categorical imperative and the principle of utility were all attempts to supply an answer to this question. Yet each one of these answers turned out to be susceptible of rejection by the adherents of rival answers, whose claims to rational justification were as much and as little contestable as those of its opponents. p. 176

Even more frustrating than the cavalier dismissal of theism is the arrogance of many modern atheists.  Richard Dawkins is their pope, but he seems just as oblivious to the failure of the Enlightenment.  Granted, they do not like what the Church has to say about sex--and here at least Freud may have a point; it is usually about sex--God must not exist.  But they have not explains how we shall be moral--or what being moral will entail.  It is unlikely that Dawkins will succeed where Kant failed; in fact, as MacIntrye makes clear, it's impossible.  But they seem to have simply glanced over this dilemma, blithely confident that we can just take the good parts of an ethical code without all that awful shame over mild indiscretions.  Unfortunately for them, that's not how traditions work.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Following Rome again

Most of the stories which bemoan the declining birthrate are from thoroughly disreputable sources, Catholics and other subversive traditionalists.  But occasionally one will find a secular source that will, in the midst of a piece which celebrates the lack of fertility, note that there may possibly be some problems with a declining birth rate.  I shall leave, as an exercise for the reader, the task of coming up with a list of such. 

The proof of the thesis, however, lies in the fact that governments often pay married couples to have children.  Such policies have not, alas, been successful.  It was with great amusement that in this, as in so many other matters, we have followed the Romans:

It was next proposed to relax the Papia Poppaea law, which Augustus in his old age had passed subsequently to the Julian statutes, for yet further enforcing the penalties on celibacy and for enriching the exchequer. And yet, marriages and the rearing of children did not become more frequent, so powerful were the attractions of a childless state. - Tacitus, The Annals, 3.25

Pat Buchanan insists that historians will one day call the birth control pill the suicide tablet of the west.  In this, as in so many other matters, he is probably correct, but the simple fact is that those who do not wish to procreate, will find means to avoid it.  The Romans did not need fancy pills to be overrun by the German barbarians. 

On the other hand, knowledge of the means of contraception used by the Romans did not prevent the early Church from being fertile and multiplying.  So there is a definite bright side here, only, it probably comes on the other side of the decline and fall of our present civilization. 

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2013 Reading List

And so it begins--again.

Whose Justice? Which Rationality? - Alasdair MacIntyre
The Illustrated London News - 1917-1919 - G. K. Chesterton
The Annals - Tacitus
In the Basement of the Ivory Tower - Professor X
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
Ugly as Sin - Michael S. Rose
Men at Arms - Evelyn Waugh
Officers and Gentlemen - Evelyn Waugh
Religion and the Rise of Western Culture - Christopher Dawson
Plutarch - Lives (Vol. I of II)
Eichmann in Jerusalem - Hannah Arendt
Unconditional Surrender - Evelyn Waugh
The Agony and the Ecstasy - Irving Stone
God's Revolution - Benedict XVI
Carry On, Jeeves - P. G. Wodehouse
What's Wrong With the World - G. K. Chesterton
The Superstition of Divorce - G. K. Chesterton
Plutarch - Lives (Vol. II of II)
A Secular Age - Charles Taylor
Eugenics and Other Evils - G. K. Chesterton
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Folkways and Mores - William Graham Sumner
The Great Deformation - David Stockman
Literary Converts - Joseph Pearce
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming - Rod Dreher
The Painted Word - Tom Wolfe
The Corrections - Johnathan Franzen
Unknown Quantity - John Derbyshire
The Stripping of the Altars - Eamon Duffy
Peer Gynt - Henrik Ibsen
The Idea of Progress - J. B. Bury
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction - Alan Jacobs
Parliament of Whores - P. J. O'Rourke
Men on Strike - Helen Smith
The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
The Rise of American Civilization (Vol I of II) - Charles and Mary Beard
Ireland - Paul Johnson
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Salt of the Earth - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling
Summa Theologica - Thomas Aquinas (Vol. IV of V)
The Rise of American Civilization (Vol II of II) - Charles and Mary Beard
Aquinas - Frederick Copleston
Gates of Fire - Steven Pressfield
Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile - Joseph Pearce
The Gulag Archipelago (Vol. II of III) - Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The Fourth Turning -  William Strauss and Neil Howe
The Cambridge Medieval History Series (Vol. III of VIII)
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man - Brett and Kate McKay
The Gulag Archipelago (Vol. III of III) - Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Why Read? - Mark Edmundson
The Quest for Shakespeare - Joseph Pearce
The Inimitable Jeeves - P. G. Wodehouse
Henry IV Part I - Shakespeare
Henry IV Part II - Shakespeare
Henry V - Shakespeare
Henry VI Part I - Shakespeare
Henry VI Part II - Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Kings - John Julius Norwich
Henry VI Part III - Shakespeare
The History of Music - Cecil Gray
Through Shakespeare's Eyes - Joseph Pearce
The Merchant of Venice - Shakespeare
Travels in Hyperreality - Umberto Eco
Lost in the Cosmos - Walker Percy
For Men Only - Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn
For Women Only - Shaunti Feldhahn
The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom
A Jacques Barzun Reader
War in European History - Michael Howard
Lepanto - G. K. Chesterton (edited by Dale Ahlquist)
The Descent of Man - Charles Darwin

2012 book breakdown

Last year was the first year I kept track of all the books I read.  I was curious to know how many I managed to read.  If I did my math correctly, I read 75 books this past year, or about 1.5 a week.  It's not a bad pace, but considering how little time I devote to writing or socializing, I could probably do better.  Or else I could try to write and socialize more, though the latter especially strikes me as a desperate measure.

Only fifteen of these books were novels; a full third of that total came courtesy of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.  I should probably read more fiction, but if given a choice between a classic novel and a history book, I reliably choose the latter.  There's nothing especially wrong with this, but fiction, at least the good stuff, stimulates the imagination.

I thought about giving the breakdown by ratings like Vox does, but I don't feel competent to rate the classics, of which I read a fair amount.  Even if a Platonic dialogue strikes me as middling, it's still Plato, which makes it rather better than middling and me a moron.  So instead, here are some of my favorites that aren't already part of the western canon.

The first three come courtesy of Will and Ariel Durant's lifetime reading list:

Renaissance in Italy - John Addington Symonds - Seven volumes, about 2000 pages of small type in my version, but worth every page.  Symonds prose is strikingly beautiful.

A History of Ancient Greek Literature - Gilbert Murray - A short book that covers its subject rather completely.  I can see this being a valuable reference guide for many years to come.

Napoleon - Emil Ludwig - I'm loathe to sympathize with someone like Napoleon, but Ludwig manages to evoke this sentiment in the reader without denigrating to sycophancy.

Three mostly contemporary pieces of non-fiction:

Bad Religion - Ross Douthat - As Chesterton is said to have said, "When men stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything."  American apostasy has not ushered in a new enlightenment, but has shed religion for nonsense which is worse in every conceivable way. 

The Revolt of the Elites - Christopher Lasch - He points out that our meritocrats have all of the vices of the aristocrats they have replaced, with none of the virtues.  Alas, Lasch passed away some years ago, as he would have had much to contribute to the current crisis caused by the meritocrats.

Family and Civilization - Carle Zimmerman - This book was actually first published in the 40's, but I read a recently republished abridgement.  Zimmerman draws on Greek and Roman history to demonstrate that, far from progressing towards a more enlightened way of (not) marrying, we're following in the decadent footsteps of our deceased predecessors.

And one novel, because I do so read fiction: 

Reamde - Neal Stephenson - I think the Baroque Cycle is still his best, but this is expertly planned and executed.  Stephenson is still very much at the top of his game, which is good, because if he loses his fastball, I'm going to need to find a new favorite living novelist.