Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Odds and ends 1/1/2013

Happy New Year! In 2012 I began the process of seizing the gift (contra the “burden”) of life. I resolve to continue doing so in 2013. May it be a year of great and positive change in your life as well.

Rabbi Ben Greenberg makes an emotional plea for gun control at Patheos:

There was one conversation absent from any of the public moments to memorialize the victims of Aurora: a frank and open dialogue about our society’s glorification of guns and violence. A Second Amendment meant to preserve militias to protect our shores from foreign invaders has facilitated a pervasive culture of guns and gun ownership. After Aurora we were told not to bring up this systemic issue so as not to politicize the tragedy that transpired. I too refrained from any mention of gun control either during the large community rally we organized or from the pulpit.

Yet, another massacre has occurred. We mourn the loss of another 27 lives, 20 of them between the ages of 5 and 7. Is now also not the time to discuss one of the most pertinent issues we face as a country? How many more mass shootings have to happen with legally purchased guns before it is permissible to address our nation’s perverse obsession with guns? I for one will no longer be silent. I for one cannot bear the guilt and complicity of silence. It is bearing on my soul and tearing at my heart. For the sake of those murdered this year and for all those who we still could save from future mass killings, we must raise our voices and declare: enough is enough!

The rabbi thinks we can save people from future mass killings by disarming them. His bleeding heart is afraid to admit Sandy Hook Elementary was and remains a “gun-free zone.”

The dread “gun culture” is a consistent theme for the liberal press. It shows their discomfort not with the law, but with American culture itself. They conflate gun culture with gun “violence.” First of all, not all violence is bad. Second of all, the overwhelming majority of gun owners are responsible citizens.

I’m inclined to side with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre:

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

And despite our laws, bad guys will get their hands on guns.

(Hack writer Jonathan Capehart’s hysterical reaction to the LaPierre press conference typically lacks sense and reason.)


Liel Leibovitz, writing in the Tablet after the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting, puts the gun control conversation in perspective:

Let’s assume that one year before James Holmes stepped into the Century 16 multiplex and fired off hundreds of rounds, killing at least 12 people and wounding 58 others, the United States had banned all guns. In that scenario, Holmes is still a budding psychopath, his mind gradually consumed by violent visions. He still wants to make a name for himself by taking the lives of innocent people. But he can no longer step into a store or go online and buy himself an AR15, a Glock .40, a Remington 870, and 6,000 rounds of ammunition.

What does Holmes do now? One of two scenarios. In the first, with weapons now unavailable, Holmes abandons the whole massacre thing as just too darn difficult and channels his bad vibes into other pastimes, like mountain biking or Zumba. In the second scenario, Holmes remains just as committed to planning and executing an attack on this scale and finds a way to carry out it, regardless of legalities. Drugs, after all, are against the law, and they are easier to procure in some New York neighborhoods than fresh fruit. Even without access to assault rifles, how easy would it have been for Holmes to simply build a makeshift bomb and blow up the whole movie theater, killing many more than he did?

But even before police sappers cleared Holmes’ apartment of its devious explosive devices, our national newspapers, politicians, and religious movements were ready with their requisite illogic: Guns did it, guns are bad, guns must go.

Those, sadly, were the thoughtful responses. It takes a second reading to realize that Anthony Lane, The New Yorker‘s film critic, wasn’t writing satire when he called for a moratorium on midnight screenings. “Those screenings,” he wrote, “starting when most people are in bed, often have a crazed and hallucinated air, which is all part of the game to those who enjoy them.” So do high-school and college parties; we might as well argue that an effective way of protecting our kids from school shootings is to ban schools altogether.


Carson Holloway, in response to Ken Burns, explains in Public Discourse how American liberalism is antithetical to It’s A Wonderful Life, which values noninterventionist government, community spiritedness, religion, and filial piety. Excerpts:

Religion also holds a place in the public life of Bedford Falls that America’s contemporary liberalism disallows. In the film’s famous last scene, George’s daughter Zuzu tells him, “Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” We know from the rest of the story, however, that George’s children attend public school, because earlier in the film, in the grip of anger and despair, he complains bitterly about the poor quality of his children’s teachers, who are supported by the taxes he pays. In Capra’s Bedford Falls—as in the rest of 1946 America—teachers were free to promote religious belief in public schools. This arrangement has since been undermined by liberal activist judges pushing for the state’s equal neutrality between religion and irreligion—despite that idea’s lack of roots in America’s traditions, its Constitution, or an impartial reading of how the founders understood the First Amendment.

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What prompts Bailey to stay and serve his fellow citizens is a most conservative impulse: filial piety. The Building and Loan, the business that allows Bailey to help ordinary people realize their dreams of home-ownership, was built by his father, Peter Bailey. His father asks him to consider taking over the business, explaining to him the importance of its work in the community. George Bailey resists, but changes his mind after his father’s death, especially when the business faces liquidation if he does not stay to administer it. Out of love and respect for his father, the younger Bailey keeps a photograph of him at his desk years after his death to remind him of his motive for maintaining the Building and Loan.

This kind of filial piety—the sense that one should weigh heavily the wishes of a father against one’s own ambitions, and perhaps even sacrifice the latter to the former—is utterly alien to and relentlessly undermined by contemporary liberalism’s cult of individual autonomy, understood as freedom from all traditional authority, even and especially the authority of fathers.

Finally, we might consider the standards that guide Bailey’s service to his fellow men. Why does he think it’s important to help them buy homes for their families? Bailey follows his father’s example, which is more than merely traditional. When Peter Bailey tries to convince his son to work at the Building and Loan, he justifies its work by appealing to human nature. He tells him that the institution’s work helps to satisfy a “fundamental urge,” that it is something “deep in the race” for a man to want his own, privately owned home. This standard found in human nature supplies the Baileys, father and son, with a standard of goodness, of what constitutes true human flourishing, that teaches them how to do good for their fellow men. The things that are good are the things that are experienced as good by human beings as such, and not merely the things that any particular set of human beings might happen to desire.

Contemporary American liberalism has largely rejected such standards of goodness as unduly restrictive and even oppressive. Fixed standards rooted in human nature might require that society say “no” to some disordered desires that are incompatible with our nature. Our liberalism, however, recoils from such discipline, because it is incompatible with liberalism’s egalitarianism, its insistence that all ways of life and all desires must be regarded as equally acceptable.

Patrick J. Deneen has a different take on the timeless Christmas classic at First Things:

George represents the vision of post-war America: the ambition to alter the landscape so as to accommodate modern life, to uproot nature and replace it with monuments of human accomplishment, to re-engineer life for mobility and swiftness, one unencumbered by permanence, one no longer limited to a moderate and comprehensible human scale.

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The front porch plays an important role in the film: Numerous scenes take place in the intermediate space between home and street. In a discerning essay titled “From Porch to Patio,” Richard H. Thomas notes that the front porch—built especially in order to provide an outdoor space that could be used to cool off during the summer—also served a host of social functions as well: a place of “trivial greetings,” a spot from which an owner could invite a passerby to stop for conversation in an informal setting, a space where courting could take place within earshot of parents, or the elderly could take in the sights and sounds of passing life around them. The porch “facilitated and symbolized a set of social relationships and the strong bond of community feeling which people during the nineteenth century supposed was the way God intended life to be lived.”

By contrast, Bailey Park has no trees, no sidewalks, no porches, but instead wide streets and large yards with garages. Compared to Bedford Falls, the development is pedestrian-hostile, and its daily rhythm will feel devoid of human presence, with the automobile instead displacing the ambulating passerbys. The residents of this modern development are presumably hidden behind the doors of their houses, or, if outside, relaxing in back patios. One doubts that anyone will live in these houses for four generations, much less one. The absence of informal human interaction in Bailey Park stands in gross contrast to the vibrancy of Bedford Falls.

George Bailey’s experiment in progressive living represents a fundamental break from the way of life in Bedford Falls, from a stable and interactive community to a more nuclear and private collection of households who will find in Bailey Park shelter but little else in common.


Der Spiegel reports on a German cabinet member’s aversion to a gendered God (hat tip Tristyn Bloom of First Things):

The German language has three definite articles for nouns to indicate their gender — der (masculine), die (feminine) and das (neuter). The noun der Gott, or God, is masculine. But Schröder told Die Zeit that the article for God shouldn’t matter. It could just as easily be the gender-neutral das Gott, she said, saying the article “doesn’t mean anything.”

At Baylor, I had a religion professor who, on the first day of class, asked us whether God had testicles. Okay, God is not a “He” per se, but it’s helpful for us think of Him that way. God of wrath, God as lawgiver are more in keeping with male, not female, nature. Also, there is symmetry between God’s 7 days of creation and men’s active participation in shaping the earth, amassing achievements to attract a woman to bear his children, and making the world more hospitable to said children.


Benjamin Wiker writes in “The Fiscal Cliff and Secularism” at the National Catholic Register (re: “Perfectibility of man”):

To live in a secular world means that the only heaven, if there is to be one, will be on earth. And since there are no souls in a secular, materialist world, then the only goods we can get are bodily goods. Thus, we run on from the self-preservation of having sufficient food, clothing and shelter to seek superfluous pleasures, titillations, entertainments and luxuries.

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Modern secularism is, both by definition and actual historical effect, the removal of Christianity and the Church from the defining center of the culture. But that removal leaves a kind of institutional vacuum into which the secular state itself rushes. The modern state takes over the whole “space” that had previously been occupied by both the Church and the state as distinct, complementary powers.

That whole space covered humanity’s full range of existence, stretching from this world to the next, from the temporal goods of the body to the eternal glories of the soul. But in a secularized world, that whole space — that whole spectrum of human desire and fulfillment — is crammed into the temporal realm, and it is the secular state that attempts to satisfy it.

That’s why the modern state has gained so much power. Subtract God and the Church, as secularism by definition does, and the state becomes the greatest source of collective human power on earth. And so to that power we run, and ask of it, or take from it, all we long for, all we can get.

The gargantuan budgets of modern states attest to our expectations of this “mortal god” (as the secularist philosopher Thomas Hobbes called it). To take our own case, the U.S. federal budget revenue for 2012 is about 2.5 trillion dollars, a bit over $8,000 of revenue per person. And our current U.S. debt is 16.5 trillion dollars, about $52,000 of debt per person.


Kelly O’Connell asks and answers: “Is America Becoming a Pagan Kingdom?” Excerpt:

While the American Constitution famously defends the right for unfettered religious belief and expression, modern society is seriously pruning back free religious expression. What is taking its place is a kind of state-approved religious expression which focuses on certain pagan beliefs, such as the deification of nature, the planet (gaia) and the cosmos. Considered the most grievous crime against the modern mind is the prejudiced claim of an exclusive religion or God, especially one whom proscribes certain “sinful” behaviors. This rejection of the biblical code is an acceptance of the ancient pagan standards that tolerated any religion except an exclusive claim which rejected all others.


George Neumayr profiles the detestable Martin O’Malley in the American Spectator. O’Malley was my governor for 5 years. Excerpt:

Born in 1963 to Catholic parents in Potomac, Maryland, O’Malley has used his education from the Church in the Washington, D.C., area—he went to Our Lady of Lourdes School, Jesuit Gonzaga High School, and Catholic University—to subvert her on moral issues, thereby raising his national profile in the eyes of progressives. In 2011, O’Malley openly defied his bishop on gay marriage. To the dismay of conservative Maryland Democrats, he announced that passage of gay marriage would be one of his top legislative priorities, and he admitted envy of checkered Catholic Andrew Cuomo’s success in slam- dunking secularism over the bishops of New York State. “There are times in Annapolis when a governor’s support can move an issue over the goal line,” he said. “I think we can learn from what they did.”

Far from afraid of the Church’s reaction to his stance, O’Malley publicized it. In August of 2011, he proudly released to the press letters that he had exchanged with then Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O’Brien about gay marriage. “Maryland is not New York,” Archbishop O’Brien had written to him. “We urge you not to allow your role as the leader of our state to be used in allowing the debate surrounding the definition of marriage to be determined by mere political expediency. The people of Maryland deserve no less.”

O’Malley replied disingenuously, “I do not presume, nor would I ever presume as governor, to question or infringe upon your freedom to define, to preach about, and to administer the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church,” (in reality, he objects to the withholding of Communion from pro-abortion politicians). “But on the public issue of granting equal civil marital rights to same-sex couples, you and I disagree….I look forward to working with you on other issues of mutual agreement. And I respect your freedom to disagree with me as a citizen and as a religious leader without questioning your motives.”

That’s not all. O’Malley’s record at the helm of Maryland’s economy is weak, even after taking into account the federal bloat spilling over the Beltway:

He proposed this year [2012] a new “genuine progress indicator” to measure economic growth in the state—an attempt to move away from hardheaded, measurable criteria toward vaguer indices of improvement, such as the amount of time Marylanders spend on “volunteer work” and the length of their commutes.

“This is a very disturbing development in Maryland if we are going to go and develop a whole new system to measure economic performance,” Jim Pettit of the group Change Maryland told the Capital Gazette. “There is a very touchy-feely aspect to all of this.” Petit observed to the paper that O’Malley’s new standard wouldn’t include data from the Internal Revenue Service showing that people and businesses are fleeing the state. “According to Pettit, 36,400 jobs have been lost in the state since 2007, and the number of Fortune 500 companies has dropped from 11 to three in that same time,” reported the paper.

Think jobs “saved or created” by the so-called stimulus package; a phony metric intended to hide failure.


Take this Pravda opinion piece for what it’s worth:

Liberalism is a psychosis. O’bomber even keeps the war going along the Mexican border with projects like “fast and furious” and there is still no sign of ending it. He is a Communist without question promoting the Communist Manifesto without calling it so. How shrewd he is in America. His cult of personality mesmerizes those who cannot go beyond their ignorance. They will continue to follow him like those fools who still praise Lenin and Stalin in Russia. Obama’s fools and Stalin’s fools share the same drink of illusion.


Conn Carroll writing at the Washington Examiner exposes “Obama’s trickle-down economics”:

Has QE worked as the Fed intended? Not really. Bank lending has inched up. It rose a whole 0.9 percent last quarter. But bank profits have skyrocketed. They grew 9.4 percent last quarter, their best performance in six years. And Bernanke’s QE is a big reason why. According to Businessweek, banks are keeping most of the benefits from the lowered lending rates, not passing them on to consumers.

And banks aren’t the only ones profiting from Bernanke’s money creation bonanza. Stocks are up too. As Bernanke himself testified to Congress, “This effect is potentially important because stock values affect both consumption and investment decisions.”

Which is great news ... if you own stocks. And guess who does? The rich. The wealthiest 5 percent of Americans own 82 percent of all individually held stocks. So whatever wealth effects Bernanke has created for the rich won’t be felt by the rest of us until they ... trickle down.


About a year ago, Obama started expropriating biblical phraseology (i.e., “brothers’ keeper”) to argue for socialism. Jerry Bowyer at Forbes objects:

The notion of keeper-hood is at the heart of the American left. The European left, at least since the time of the French Revolution, has waged open war on religious institutions and ideas.

But in the United States, where respect for the Bible remains high, the left more often attempts to appropriate religious language, misquoting it in support of statist solutions.

When someone like me points out that the Bible, in fact, does not say, “We are our brother’s keeper,” but instead quotes the first murderer (and soon to be first political ruler) as saying “Am I my brother’s keeper?” such a revelation threatens the whole enterprise in religious subterfuge.

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Throughout the rest of the Torah Israelites are reminded that God is their shmr, their Keeper, their Shepherd. In contrast, the law frequently makes reference to the moral and legal obligations that Israelites have towards one another with the phrase ‘your brother’. Even the king is referred to this way; Israel is instructed to choose as king “one from among your bretheren”. Even the king is a brother, not a keeper.

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The government can only be our shepherd if we are its sheep, or our guardian if we are its children. One can have a legitimate argument about whether a shepherd/nanny government is the right form for us at this time. But one cannot reasonably enlist the Torah, and most especially not the story of Cain and Abel, on the side of the Shepherd State without doing violence to the meaning of the text.

The keeper/shepherd point is apt, since “sheep” in American culture means people who cannot think for themselves. Let’s add to that people who cannot fend for themselves.

Quin Hillyer agrees: “We are not our brothers’ keeper.”

In the realm of political philosophy rather than faith, nothing in this nation’s history supports the idea that being a brother’s keeper is part of the American tradition. Again, communal concern for one’s fellow man, and volitional actions for mutual aid either individually or through voluntary institutions such as churches and civic clubs, are certainly a longstanding part of the American ethos. But to be a “brother’s keeper” is to tread dangerously close to the realm of George Orwell’s fictional “Big Brother” - an all-powerful state of the sort explicitly and rightfully rejected by our nation’s Founders and by large majorities of every succeeding American generation.

The point is not to belittle the laudable idea of “giving back” as expressed in Obama’s Thanksgiving proclamation (although in other circumstances he has used “brother’s keeper” in a more explicitly governmental context). Instead, it is to guard against the paternalistic notion that we or our government “know best” how to direct the individual lives of others. Insofar as the phrase “brother’s keeper” can be used toward the latter ends, it is a potentially dangerous use of language, turning fine sentiments into attitudes and actions contrary to both our religious and civic faiths. It is a phrase that should be unwelcome from any government official.

In Hillyer’s cross-post at the American Spectator, he accredits the bastardization of biblical sources to liberation theology. He also summarizes nicely:

We should all love our brethren …but we should not “keep” them, lest we ourselves in turn become “kept.”

Speaking of liberation theology, there’s this article by Giles Fraser in the Guardian: “Brazil’s poor need the church to revive its role as a force for political gain.”

A rough painting of Christ stood guard at the entrance of the next MST [Landless Workers Movements] settlement we visited. And a quote from Matthew’s gospel: “I will be with you to the end of time.” As we left, one of the workers made an impromptu speech quoting Brecht on dialectics and raised her fist in a defiant leftist salute. Here, Jesus and Marx walk hand in hand.

Liberation theology is a political religion, entirely faith-based, but not on salvation through Christ’s love and sacrifice.


Commentary reacts to “Racism at the Times (re: “Not ‘black’ enough”):

Tim Scott will not be representing black Americans in the Senate, he will be representing South Carolinians, who are, overwhelmingly, staunchly anti-tax, anti-union and anti-abortion. So it would seem that while white people can be liberals or conservatives according to the dictates of their thinking, blacks cannot. If you’re black but not liberal, in Professor [Adolph L.] Reed [Jr.]’s worldview, then you’re not really black.

Let’s stay on this theme. Victor Davis Hansen riffs:

Wasn’t Obama’s election supposed to mark a new post-racial era? What happened?

For nearly a half-century, cultural relativism in the universities taught that racist speech was only bigotry if it came from those – mostly white – with power. Supposedly oppressed minorities could not themselves be real racists. But even if that bankrupt theory was once considered gospel, it is no longer convincing – given that offenders such as Foxx, Rock and Lowery (who was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama) are among the more affluent and acclaimed Americans.

The Obama administration must shoulder some of the blame. Attorney General Eric Holder, our nation’s top prosecutor, has referred to African-Americans as “my people” and called Americans “a nation of cowards” for not focusing on race relations on his terms.

The president himself urged Latinos to “punish our enemies.” He weighed in unnecessarily during the Henry Louis Gates and Trayvon Martin affairs in ways that only added to the racial tensions. Vice President Joe Biden warned black voters at a campaign stop that Republicans were “going to put y’all back in chains.”

Lastly, Juan Williams of Fox News, who is useless on just about every other issue, writes:

The sad truth is that being black in America still automatically places you in a box. Yes, there is rapid growth in America’s minority population. Yes the President is black.

But as Parker suggested, some black Americans still think they have to act, speak and behave in a certain way that conforms to the identity that a white, liberal media has created.

In this perverse racial order, you simply cannot be authentically black if you are conservative – politically or culturally.


Raghu Rajan belatedly assigns blame for the housing market bubble. Better late than never (via Peter G. Klein at the Christian Science Monitor):

The key then to understanding the recent crisis is to see why markets offered inordinate rewards for poor and risky decisions. Irrational exuberance played a part, but perhaps more important were the political forces distorting the markets. The tsunami of money directed by a US Congress, worried about growing income inequality, towards expanding low income housing, joined with the flood of foreign capital inflows to remove any discipline on home loans. And the willingness of the Fed to stay on hold until jobs came back, and indeed to infuse plentiful liquidity if ever the system got into trouble, eliminated any perceived cost to having an illiquid balance sheet.


Command Posts ran an excellent article on the anniversary of George S. Patton’s death:

Perhaps the paradox of this metaphor provides a clue to his genius as a warrior. “Old Blood and Guts” was outwardly a fierce athlete and a profane killer, but inwardly a religious mystic who saw fate as a stream flowing through time and who conceived of himself as having lived, fought, and died in the past even as he fought now in the present and doubtless would fight again in the future. At times, this vision of himself was conventionally religious; he saw himself as an instrument of God’s will. Often, however, the vision was more idiosyncratically mystical.

His role was not providential, but rather driven by a more impersonal destiny in which God seemed to play no part. In either case, whether he was an instrument of God or a chip in the river of destiny, there was nothing passive about the fulfillment of providence or of destiny. It required his utmost exertion, courage, boldness, and exercise of personal will.

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In today’s army, the more conventional aspects of Patton’s spirituality would likely find ready acceptance. Many soldiers find strength in the belief that they are fighting on the side of God, and, in recent years, as the conservative politicians who shape American foreign policy, including America’s wars, claim to be guided by their faith, the role of religion in the military is more visible than ever before.

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He believed that brilliant strategy could never compensate for inadequate tactics. A plan was only as good as its execution. Conversely, he sincerely believed that good tactics, skillfully and violently executed, could even compensate for poor strategy.


In closing, I finished reading The Rape of Nanking the other day. In the epilogue author Iris Chang offers a chilling quote from Japanese General Matsui Iwane, who justified Japan’s inhuman treatment of the Japanese in this way:

The struggle between Japan and China was always a fight between brothers within the “Asian Family.” ... It had been my belief during all these days that we must regard this struggle as a method of making the Chinese undergo self-reflection. We do not do this because we hate them, but on the contrary we love them too much. It is just the same as in a family when an elder brother has taken all that he can stand from his ill-behaved younger brother and has to chastise him in order to make him behave properly.

See the C.S. Lewis quote at the end of “Free to choose” for perspective. What great evil meddling do-gooders perpetrate with the approval of their consciences!

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