Saturday, January 12, 2013

Odds and ends 1/12/2013

I’m going to take a break from this blog. I’m drained and I need to focus on my other interests. As Bilbo Baggins said: “I want to see mountains again, mountains Gandalf! And then find somewhere quiet where I can finish my book.”

On that note, here’s Peter J. Leithart of First Things on writing a book:

Writing a book is like groping through a cave that no one else has explored or ever will, because you create the cave as you go. When it’s all done I can’t remember how I got through all the tunnels to emerge, blinking, into the sun. Once the book is published, readers will (I hope) be able to follow my simplified map. What they won’t see are all the blind alleys I tried out along the way.

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And then there are the little thrills of discovery that occur only during writing. Fictional characters and events take on a life of their own and evade the author’s every effort to control them. Non-fiction has its own pleasures. Writing a sentence making one point, an apparently unrelated point comes suddenly to mind (from where?), and it’s as if you broke through a rock pile and discovered another cavern to explore.

This is the process of writing, and it is an almost entirely solitary experience. You might discuss a major decision with an editor or a friend, but even the most diligent editor and the closest friend will quickly find you tedious if you let too much of your hand-wringing show. Time was when there would be physical evidence of paths not chosen, but now that writers use word processing programs most of that is erased, revised, and lost forever. “Submerge” and “surface” are too exact to be entirely metaphorical. For every book, fiction or non, there is a fantasy book that exists (or existed) only in the mind of the author.


I was going to write an article on John Boehner’s reelection as Speaker of the House, until I read Jeffrey Lord’s piece at the American Spectator:

There are conservatives who believe when you do business with Barack Obama you keep in mind that he and his liberal allies are operating with, to use Reagan’s words, “a different set of standards.”

They believe the President has no intention of cutting spending, and has every intention of reserving unto himself the right to ignore and evade when not undercutting the Constitution. And if, along the way, he can stiff Israel and allow Iran to get nuclear weapons — thus further diminishing America’s role in the world —he will do that as well. All with America’s best interests at heart, he will insist.

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There will be many more such problems ahead for conservatives. Disguised as debates over the debt ceiling, immigration policy, health care, climate change, Supreme Court nominees, and more. Will the response from conservatives be one of Churchillian vigor, imagination, and a willingness to risk? Or will it be the equivalent of the Chamberlain approach to the Austrian Anschluss —simply protesting while passively accepting.

Really, nothing more remains to be said.


Daniel Greenfield makes a point about putting your money where your values are (re: “Economic anonymity”):

All cultural products are part of the values economy. When you put money into the values economy, you are subsidizing a particular set of values and regardless of where your real tastes and beliefs lie, you will get more of what you buy. If you buy a set of lead pencils every month, the company will go on making more lead pencils. If you buy cultural products at odds with your values, then more of the same will keep on being made.


R.R. Reno responds to Daniel Henninger:

Where he goes wrong is lumping this insider game with various efforts to use the tax code to encourage socially productive behavior. He writes: “The bill has $335 billion for the child tax credit, the sort of expenditure some conservatives like. But then no complaining about the rest of it.” He goes on, “You can’t pick and choose which tax heist to join. You’re in for all of them. In time everyone’s a tax gangster.”

Only a very ideological person can fail to distinguish between a tax code designed to subsidize the extraordinary costs of being a parent—the single most important act of citizenship anyone can perform—and one that subsidizes the production of ethanol. Unfortunately, many so-called conservatives think the way he does. For them, having a child is a “lifestyle choice” among many. Why should government be in the “social engineering” business of encouraging people to have children?


Thomas Sowell writes on the role of “educators”:

Schools were once thought of as places where a society’s knowledge and experience were passed on to the younger generation. But, about a hundred years ago, Professor John Dewey of Columbia University came up with a very different conception of education — one that has spread through American schools and even influenced education in countries overseas.

John Dewey saw the role of the teacher not as a transmitter of a society’s culture to the young, but as an agent of change — someone strategically placed with an opportunity to condition students to want a different kind of society.

A century later, we are seeing schools across America indoctrinating students to believe in all sorts of politically correct notions. The history that is taught in too many of our schools is a history that emphasizes everything that has gone bad, or can be made to look bad, in America — and that gives little, if any, attention to the great achievements of this country.


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the kind of tyrant C.S. Lewis warned about: a “tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims” (via Science 2.0):

Progressive social authoritarian Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been engaged in what progressive social authoritarians love to engage in – controlling choice and thinking and freedom to shape it into their personal world view.

The rationalizations that social authoritarians engage in to force their world view on others is how Bloomberg could say society needed to ‘keep perspective’ with a straight face when yet another mentally ill person committed murder in December by pushing someone in front of a subway train, though when a mentally ill person shot up a school in Connecticut, he said guns should be banned.

This is the same Mayor Bloomberg who banned food donations to the homeless “because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content.” You can feed pigeons, but not actual starving homeless people in NYC – only The State may help people, other people may not.


Holman W. Jenkins writes of the upcoming lost decade in the Wall Street Journal:

The fiscal cliff turned into just another trial of strength by advocates of the welfare state to prove the welfare state is not rationally reformable in advance of a funding crisis. But we already knew that.

Entitlement cuts will come, you can be sure, but here's a secret: There is very little fiscal or political or solvency value in enacting today cuts that won’t take effect for years.

The bond market, as of now, judges the U.S. government good for its debts. Whether the market continues to believe in our credit-worthiness doesn’t depend on whether we hike the Medicare age today for retirees decades hence. The market’s confidence in the U.S. to service its debt (without recourse to inflationary money printing) is much more affected by expectations of long-term growth than by dog-and-pony exercises on spending that future Congresses will revisit umpteen times in the future.

Let us repeat for emphasis: The crisis we fear, when investors no longer will finance our deficits, doesn't begin with a failure to cut entitlements or raise taxes on the rich. It begins with an unexpected, persistent failure of the economy to grow.

This would quickly precipitate the political class into a dilemma that ends naturally in the printing of money.

Nothing proposed by the negotiators in terms of tax hikes (Mr. Obama’s agenda) or spending cuts (the alleged GOP agenda) would really help. We kid ourselves if we think we can settle these issues today. Arduous and bitter politics over taxing and spending will be our lot for decades to come.

Joy. It’s articles like this that leave me emotionally catatonic and unable to summon the strength to formulate cogent political arguments.


Doug Bandow of the American Spectator registers his disgust at northeast Republicans for throwing a hissy fit over Hurricane Sandy “relief,” and offers prescient advice (re: “Mother isn’t there”):

Americans organize every day to help each other, and usually outside of politics. Indeed, the U.S. always has been distinguished by the readiness of its people to respond to crisis. Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville remarked upon the phenomenon nearly two centuries ago when he visited America. Americans continue to form “little platoons” and give hundreds of billions of dollars every year to help meet society’s deepest needs.

Private assistance is better than government welfare for several reasons. First, genuine compassion is not compulsory. Giving away other people’s money is not being generous. Choosing whether to give and thinking seriously about how much to give to whom are important moral decisions. Placing responsibility for making such decisions on individuals is a form of character development. Said Benjamin Franklin: “When you are good to others, you are best to yourself.”

Charity also strengthens the sinews of community. As Marvin Olasky famously explained, compassion originally meant to “suffer with.” It was relational. People met each other. They learned about and from each other. They helped each other.


Literary agent David Adams Richards scolds the literary community for discriminating against Christianity in the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Within Canada’s writing and intellectual community, many people I know will not consider the idea that skepticism toward the existence of God may not be absolutely progressive.

It is a credulity of thought that is almost prerequisite in much of our literary culture. Darwin proved it, or someone proved it, and now our literary quest is to make such proof absolute. The derision toward anyone who believes is swift and non-negotiable among many writers today, or at least in their writing. It is as if a doctrine has been set in motion in which not to demean religion is sacrilegious.


Robert Stacy McCain points out the reign of bald immorality that Republicans can’t seem to break in minority voters’ minds:

Every cell of Charles Rangel’s being is corrupt and immoral. His entire career has been one enormous lie and everyone who ever voted for him should feel a deep sense of personal shame. Yet despite his proven wrongdoing — which would have been enough to send any ordinary citizen to federal prison — this congressional crook was re-elected by his constituents and remains a Democrat in good standing.

Why do Republicans sit silently and accept this? What combination of cowardice and stupidity in the GOP leadership grants a free pass to such despicable creatures as Charles Rangel?

Do Republicans actually believe that citizens of Harlem and other such deep-blue districts are incapable of understanding that the absurd philanthropic pose of Democrats like Charles Rangel — “He has our interests in mind”! — is a perverse crime against truth?


Mark Goldblatt on “The Folly of Courting the Black Vote” (via Patheos):

According to one of the foundational myths of the modern political left, if you oppose a program intended to help racial minorities, you’re a racist. Why you oppose the program — whether you think it unaffordable, or unworkable, or even detrimental to the people it’s intended to help — doesn’t matter. The mere fact of your opposition convicts you. But this leads to absurdities. If, for example, I think that affirmative action pushes promising black students into learning environments for which they’re underprepared and thereby causes higher dropout rates — and there’s substantial evidence it does exactly that — I’m a de facto racist not only for wanting color-blind admissions but for wanting African Americans to succeed.

Such rhetoric, and let’s admit this, has been very effective. It has cowed generations of Republican politicians. It has forced them away from their principled opposition to big government interventions and made them sound like weasels as they promise greater sensitivity to African American issues. (Think of Trent Lott’s 2002 stop, drop and grovel tour.) But the very notion of “greater sensitivity to African American issues” carries two hidden premises, both of which are inimical to Republican ideals: first, that the interests of individuals are determined by their communal identity rather than by their personal circumstances; and second, that the government should play a leading role in fulfilling the interests of individuals rather than merely ensuring the conditions that allow individuals to fulfill them on their own.


Melissa Harris Perry says you shouldn’t assume a black man thinks like other blacks, who, by the way, think one way because their black. Racist and incompetent!


Barry Shaw explains “why a two-state solution will never work” in the Canada Free Press:

It would be the death knell because it would be the final stage, when Israel would have been reduced to a withered rump of a strategically weakened state, impossible to defend or protect itself from certain onslaught by a threatening circle of radical Islam. A Palestinian state would not be the buffer zone against such an assault; rather it would be the spearhead over whose territory a major attack would take place.

Whenever I discuss the subject with Israeli politicians, experts, European diplomats and journalists, all of whom foster the utopian dream of a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines with parts of Jerusalem given to the Palestinians as their new capital, I ask them one question, one critical question, that gnaws away at me. It gnaws away at me all the more so because I never receive an answer from them that assuages my concerns and fears.

In fact, their lack of an adequate response, their incomprehension of the premise of my question, amplifies my concerns and fears. Nobody, none of these experts, none of these people who are pushing this two-state package, none of the influence and opinion makers, is able to confront this question. Many haven’t even considered the question relevant.


Noah Beck dispels some myths about Israel and Hamas in the Christian Post. Excerpt:

The parties in this “cycle of violence” are morally indistinguishable. But Hamas purposely targets Israeli civilians and uses Palestinian civilians as human shields to maximize their casualties and score sympathy points. Israel, on the other hand, protects civilians on both sides of the conflict by using bomb shelters and the Iron Dome defense system in Israel, and by warning civilians – with leaflets, texts, and phone calls – to clear targeted areas in Gaza. Israel also expends tremendous resources gathering military intelligence for pinpoint strikes on terrorist targets – operations that it sometimes abruptly aborts when civilians unexpectedly enter the targeted area. Critics forget that if Israel’s goal were to massacre the Palestinians, Israel could do so in a few hours of indiscriminate bombardment (as Assad has done daily in Syria) rather than in days or weeks of precise military actions.


Pre-Sandy Hook, the Orange County Register pondered California’s dystopian future.

The Democrats’ new two-thirds-plus supermajority in the Legislature may embolden them to go to extremes. Mr. Paredes warned that Democrats will try to pass more gun-control legislation, in particular requiring the registration of ammunition and defining “assault weapons” so narrowly as to include hunting rifles.

Mr. Dean cautioned that Democrats may use the need for more law enforcement funds as a reason to assault Proposition 13, the 1978 tax-limitation initiative. A year from now, Californians could find themselves paying higher taxes on homes they will find it harder to defend on their own.


“Why Don’t Men Come to Church?” asks Rod Dreher.

In my 15 or so years as a Roman Catholic, I only rarely worshipped in a parish in which I related to the priest as an authority figure. I believed that his sacramental authority was real, but I’m talking about his pastoral authority. Most of the priests I dealt with struck me as — what’s the word? — is it soft? I wanted and needed a pastor, not a guidance counselor. There was a lack of masculine authority present, and I felt it. I can think of at least five Catholic pastors in my personal experience who did have and exercise spiritual and moral authority in a masculine way, and they were great. They reminded me of my own father: caring, but strong and authoritative.

Dreher ridicules Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Sex and the City lifestyle (re: “Life worth living”). After Wurtzel laments her immature, middle-aged selfishness, she fires off this bit of cognitive dissonance: “I am committed to feminism and don’t understand why anyone would agree to be party to a relationship that is not absolutely equal. I believe women who are supported by men are prostitutes, that is that.” Doesn’t she realize this is the problem? Dreher fires back:

I don’t feel especially compelled to answer this snide remark of a drying-out husk of a woman like Elizabeth Wurtzel, but it is useful, I think, to point to this as perhaps the most vivid example of why Elizabeth Wurtzel is such a horrible, miserable person. She is incapable of really loving anyone but herself. I think of how my life works, with my wife — the same way every family I know in which the mom stays at home works — and I instantly grasp that what Elizabeth Wurtzel doesn’t know about love and marriage is a lot. I have a good career as a writer, and provide well financially for my family. Because we have been blessed in particular ways, it’s been easier to make that choice. But we made that choice for me to be the sole breadwinner as soon as we decided to start a family — and I was making a lot less money then. It’s one of the main reasons we decided to leave New York City back in 2003: we knew we couldn’t afford the number of kids we wanted to have, or the security we owed them, if we stayed in New York on my writer’s salary.


Pope Benedict XVI warns that the war on marriage is part of a greater war on human nature (courtesy of the London Telegraph):

“In the fight for the family, the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question,” the Pope said in Italian during an end-of-year speech.

“The question of the family ... is the question of what it means to be a man, and what it is necessary to do to be true men,” he said.

The Pope spoke of the “falseness” of gender theories and cited at length France's chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, who has spoken out against gay marriage.

“Bernheim has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper,” he said.

He cited feminist gender theorist Simone de Beauvoir’s view to the effect that one is not born a woman, but one becomes so – that sex was no longer an element of nature but a social role people chose for themselves.

“The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious,” he said.

The defence of the family, the Pope said, “is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears.”


A.N. Wilson writes in the Daily Mail how the sexual revolution failed in its goal of liberating humans from nature:

The truth is that the Sexual Revolution had the power to alter our way of life, but it could not alter our essential nature; it could not alter the reality of who and what we are as human beings.

It made nearly everyone feel that they were free, or free-er, than their parents had been — free to smoke pot, free to sleep around, free to pursue the passing dream of what felt, at the time, like overwhelming love — an emotion which very seldom lasts, and a word which is meaningless unless its definition includes commitment.

How easy it was to dismiss old-fashioned sexual morality as ‘suburban’, as a prison for the human soul. How easy it was to laugh at the ‘prudes’ who questioned the wisdom of what was happening in the Sexual Revolution.

Yet, as the opinion poll shows, most of us feel at a very deep level that what will make us very happy is not romping with a succession of lovers.

In fact, it is having a long-lasting, stable relationship, having children, and maintaining, if possible, lifelong marriage.


Matthew J. Franck writes about marriage redistributionists’ sliding scale of values in the Public Discourse:

If denying same-sex couples the “right to marry” was such an obvious and gross injustice as to merit such energetic claims today, why had it never occurred to either of these august scholars decades ago, at the beginning or the middle of their careers? In the books of proud advocacy each had published, say, twenty or thirty years ago, there was not the slightest hint that American public life was disfigured by this particular injustice.

Redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships simply didn’t occur to them, because it didn’t occur to anyone. Yet that day they espoused that view with the fervor of men who had always thought so, and for whom it was unthinkable to believe otherwise. If they reflected on this change in their own thinking, would they conclude that their reasoning powers had been deficient years ago, or their moral sympathies inadequate?

Or, as I like to say, Moses was a homophobe.


Larry Thornhill comes to Brent Musberger’s defense, and to the defense of male appreciation of female beauty:

Bi-coastal and university faculty lounge progressives may have their knickers in a knot about Musburger’s straightforward appreciation of La Webb. But normal American men and women see nothing remarkable in what Brent said. In fact, most would have considered it an oversight not to remark on the most pleasing looks of young Webb, and the amazing good luck of the talented McCarron.

But, sadly, it’s not normal America ESPN caters to in its pronouncements, but to the freak-bubble of the cultural left.

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These are the circles of geek-branch feminism, where any male attention to female pulchritude is considered sexist, evil, and actionable. ESPN’s gutless apology will cut no ice with the far greater number of the well-grounded who know that male appreciation of female beauty is not an offense, but is in fact an absolute requirement for the continuation of the species.


Finally, a moving excerpt from ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary on Bo Jackson. Former Auburn coach Pat Dye quoted Jerry Bryan on the 1983 Iron Bowl victory:

Teams like these come along only once in a long while. A team and its coach prove themselves great on the inside where the heart is. The public watches, understands, and is proud.

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