Sunday, February 24, 2013

Odds and ends 2/24/2013

“By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than the flies of a summer.” –Edmund Burke

James V. Schall writes chillingly of the “disorder in the souls of so many” in the Catholic World Report:

Undoing what has now been done to family law and the understanding of marriage now involves the deeper issue of habits of disorder in the souls of so many of the population. While it is possible to rid ourselves of bad principles and habits, it is monumentally difficult, even if we want to. But for the most part, as a people, we do not want to. This election was, by most standards, an approval of the direction of the government, an assurance that it was on the right—that is, popular—path that rejects the central premises of reason about moral life.

The larger matter, if it is larger, is the central government has succeeded in positioning itself as the chief dispenser, not only of jobs, health, and well-being, but also of what is moral and right. Government has established a claim and an agenda that would make all real moral, economic, and political understanding and activity dependent on itself. The country has radically changed its soul from one that insisted the main actors are individuals and their voluntary organizations to one that holds the ungrounded government responsible for all the major (and minor) issues.

In this new capacity the government conceives itself as being subject to nothing—not to the Constitution, amendments, reason, or natural law. It will not be put quite this way, but that is the effect. This is what we elected.

Remember Obamacare? James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal does:

If the law is impracticable to implement, or if it gives too much discretion to executive-branch agencies like the IRS or the HHS, these problems could have been anticipated if lawmakers had not been so anxious to ram the bill through. Any single Democrat who was a member of the Senate in December 2009—including Baucus, Cantwell, Nelson and Wyden—could have single-handedly halted the process simply by joining the 40 Republicans in declining to approve a vote on the floor. Instead, every last one of them yielded to political pressure and voted “yes.”

“Democrats are getting nervous and consequently are trying to put some distance between themselves and the ACA,” [Walter Russell] Mead observes, using the abbreviated formal styling of ObamaCare as the Affordable Care Act. “We don’t blame them for trying, but it may be a futile effort. For better or worse, their fates are now tied to that of Obamacare.”

Indeed there isn’t much point in blaming them for trying. But they deserve the blame for imposing this monstrosity on the country. To quote Bill Nelson: “I want somebody to be accountable for this, and if it was a mistake, for somebody to own up to it.”

Joel Kotkin and Harry Siegel, writing in the Daily Beast, present a grim picture of Japan’s low fertility rate.

In some places in Japan, particularly in the countryside, there are already too few working adults remaining to take care of the elderly, and kodokushi, or “lonely death,” among the aged, the unmarried, and the childless, is on the rise. Long a model of frugality, the demographically declining nation now has by far the high-income world’s highest rate of public indebtedness as spending on the elderly has shot past what the state can extract from its remaining productive workers. Last month, the nation’s new finance minister, Taro Aso, outright said that the elderly should be given grace to “hurry up and die.” This situation will not be made better by a desexualized younger Japanese generation: one in three young men ages 16 to 19 express “no interest” in sex—and that may be a good thing, given that 60 percent of young women of the same age share their indifference.

If I had to assign blame for roughly half of Japanese 16-19 year-olds’ disinterest in sex, I would blame it on immersion in a constantly endorphin-drenched technological society over-fixated on career and pleasure.

Not only is sex dead, but love is dead, Kelly O’Connell declares.

Our culture is mortally ill and will die unless we reverse course on this essential issue. In a variety of instances we can see how the very notion of love itself has fled from an increasingly materialistic, over-sexualized and spiritually apostate land. For example, traditional concepts of marriage are replaced by cohabitation, hookup dating, pornography, and endless tales of misbegotten trysts—like the army of young and attractive female teachers seducing students, which hits the papers on a weekly basis.

All of this reveals a sad and alarming absence of real love. Again, consider how materialism, technology-mania, and pop-psychology have overwhelmed America’s traditional concern with friends, family and care for strangers. Further, ponder how a lack of understanding of God’s love—whether miss-delivered from the pulpit via various heretical sermons, or in private Christian lives and their pagan practices—has caused a catastrophe for America.

The only circumstance in which I would permit abortion is if it is an either/or proposition, as in the baby’s life endangers the mother’s life. But, when that is the case, usually the baby is developed enough to survive outside the womb. Mary Elizabeth Williams differs (hat tip Albert Mohler):

All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

One might extend this argument to infants. They, too, are not autonomous, as they depend on their parents for basic bodily functions; therefore, they are disposable based on her judgment of “what is right of her circumstances.” Sickening.

Mohler weighs in on the Boy Scouts’ dilemma. He begins by quoting 1 Kings 18:21:

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go on limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

There is no refusing to pick sides on the permissibility of sexual perversion. You either become the tool of culture, concerned with what is cool and in fashion, or you teach boys to be gentlemen. There is no between (re: “Herem”).

The indispensable R.R. Reno on “diversity”:

For someone like me who worked in academia for twenty years it’s a familiar way of talking. “Diversity” is one of what Richard Weaver called “god terms.” It’s a word like “inclusion” and “empowerment” that’s meant to conjure an unquestionable good that puts an end to questions and criticism. Nobody can be against diversity.

As Weaver observed, what god terms refer to remains vague. What counts as diversity? As a young faculty member I asked about the diversity requirement in the curriculum. “Would a class on St. Augustine work?” I asked, “He wasn’t a white European.” I was being disingenuous. I knew that diversity has a political meaning associated with what used to be called the New Left. The word conjures the countless cultural, moral, and legal changes necessary to break down the old social consensus to make way for a new one.

Diversity can be a strength if it gives you adaptability in meeting a challenge. But the endgame must not be in dispute. I fear what “diversity” means is multiculturalism, a plurality of views, incompatible with each other, on what is good and righteous.

Reno continues:

More than thirty years ago Evangelical Christians woke up as a political force in America. They transformed the Republican Party into a vehicle for their cultural agenda, which wasn’t to restore the old consensus (though that’s what liberals often said to imply that they were racists) but to fight against its wholesale replacement by a new consensus that is indifferent to important moral truths.

When I saw this article cross-posted at Michael Berry’s website, I thought it was satire, the kind of thing Berry is known for in KTRH land. Then I realized it was a real article. Elation never so quickly turned to sadness. Excerpt:

The [Massachusetts] Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has decided that transgender students will be allowed to use the restrooms of the gender with which they identify, and the same goes for playing on sports teams. This is a huge victory for advocates of transgender rights, as well as for common sense.


I concur with the directives. The thing is, as a rather gender non-conforming lesbian, I know what it is like to be accosted in a restroom because of people questioning my gender. It isn’t fun, and, further, it is humiliating. Not allowing people to use the restrooms with which they are comfortable creates a world of trouble for all involved. This is a great move, and I’d also suggest gender neutral facilities as the next directive in this legislation to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to accommodate genderqueer [sic?] and gender non-conforming students.

S/he writes later: “Anatomy need not come into play here.” Of course not. We are the gender we imagine ourselves to be! Parents in Massachusetts must be thrilled.

If belly putters really gave professional golfers an advantage over the competition, why wouldn’t every professional golfer use a belly putter? Rick Reiley does not ask. The answer is too inconvenient to his premise that belly putters are like steroids.

Let me ask you: If you could serve in tennis knowing the toss would be at the same spot every time, wouldn’t you? If you could shoot at a target range with the pistol bolted down, how much easier would it be? If a tailback could start on track blocks, wouldn’t he?

Belly putters do not anchor to a fixed object. They anchor to the golfer. So, as with the short putter, it’s still up to the golfer to maintain a steady posture. That’s the challenge of putting, and it hasn’t been subverted by the belly putter.

The libertarian dilemma is playing out in Colorado as a result of marijuana legalization:

Public use also prompted a dispute that wasn’t resolved Tuesday. Jackson and others wanted to ban marijuana use on publicly visible patios, porches and backyard. Marijuana activists chafed.

“So I can drink a beer on my porch? But I can’t smoke a joint?” asked marijuana advocate Christian Sederberg.

State Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, said lawmakers would hesitate to regulate something legal people do on private property. What about backyard grills that send the smell of hamburgers into the nose of a neighbor who’s vegetarian?, she asked.

“I don’t know how far we want to go telling people what they can’t do on their own porches,” she said.

Colorado law now does not distinguish marijuana from tobacco or beer. Respect for parents’ raising children, especially teenage children, will not be a legitimate reason to restrict people from smoking marijuana publicly. The stigma of marijuana usage will fade. For aspiring parents, Colorado just became a less desirable place to live.

Eileen Norcross writes an interesting article on sin taxes in the American Spectator. I am against sin taxes, especially when they are proposed in conjunction with the legalization of some markets like gambling and marijuana. When I lived in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, I voted against a ballot measure authorizing slot machines and table games, simply because the firefighters and the teachers bashed me over the head with apocalyptic messaging. Apparently, if we didn’t legalize and tax gambling, schools were going to crumble, and fires were going to burn out of control. I saw through the ruse, and frankly I didn’t like the idea of a casino going up in my neighborhood, which was transient and poor enough. The ballot measure passed anyway.

Mary Sanchez shills for the president’s preschool proposal in the Kansas City Star:

For decades, experts in early-childhood education have argued that a relatively direct way to improve school achievement is to enroll all children in preschool.

A more “direct way to improve school achievement” is having an intact family and involved parents. The problem with public education is not a lack of preschool. It’s a lack of accountability.

National Review’s Rich Lowry notes the existing federal preschool program, Head Start, has been weighed, measured, and found wanting:

The HHS study concluded: “There were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children.”

In other words, paraphrasing the president, “we know this program does not work.” One would have thought that an elaborate, state-of-the-art study of Head Start would have merited mention in a speech advocating expansion of Head Start–like programs.

Michelle Malkin writes on the uneducation of America’s youth (re: “Inventory”):

Common Core was enabled by Obama’s federal stimulus law and his Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” gimmickry. The administration bribed cash-starved states into adopting unseen instructional standards as a condition of winning billions of dollars in grants. Even states that lost their bids for Race to the Top money were required to commit to a dumbed-down and amorphous curricular “alignment.”

In practice, Common Core’s dubious “college- and career”-ready standards undermine local control of education, usurp state autonomy over curricular materials, and foist untested, mediocre and incoherent pedagogical theories on America’s schoolchildren.

The president also proposed hiking the federal minimum wage to 9 dollars per hour. Over at RealClearPolitics, James Dorn necessarily explains why that’s a bad idea:

Labor economist Douglas K. Adie, in an important study of “Teen-Age Unemployment and Real Federal Minimum Wages” (Journal of Political Economy, 1973), found that a 10 percent increase in the federal real minimum wage increases the unemployment rate for teens by 3.62 percent. That effect is greater in the long run as employers change their production methods to save on the higher-priced labor, and is more pronounced for minorities.

If Congress increased the minimum wage to $9 an hour, a 24 percent rise in the price of unskilled labor, and indexed it, one could predict with a high degree of confidence that the unemployment rate for teens, especially minorities, would rise—unless there were offsetting forces to increase the demand for low-skilled workers.

The way to create jobs and increase one’s real wage rate is not to increase the minimum wage, but to increase one’s productivity.

Joseph Sunde blogs at the Acton Institute:

If the great secret of capitalism is its power to leverage and channel the human spirit toward more transcendent ends, the great irony of progressivism is its propensity to take on the image of its own materialistic critiques.

As we continue to see Christian business leaders refusing to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s Golden Image—choosing economic martyrdom over secularist conformity—the more this administration’s limited, debased, and deterministic view of man and society will reveal itself. Through it all, even as the furnace grows hotter and hotter, Christians should remember that a fourth man stands close by, offering peace and protection according to a different system altogether.

Matt Welch of Reason spreads the gospel at CNN about the president’s State of the Union. The first paragraph contains a familiar point:

As exasperated appeals for an obstructionist Congress to get off its duff, the exhortations provided emotional catnip for Democrats. For the rest of us, however, they were sobering reminders of what governing liberalism has deteriorated into: content-free calls to take action for action’s sake.

Consumers of national governance are within their rights to ask just what we’ve gotten in return for ballooning the cost of the stuff since 2000. The answer may lie in not just what the president said, but what he has assumed we’ve already forgotten.

“Let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years,” said the president, who promised a “Recovery Through Retrofit” three years ago. “The American people deserve a tax code that...lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America,” said the man who before he took office vowed to, uh, give “tax breaks to companies that are investing here in the United States.”

That “aging infrastructure badly in need of repair”? Well, what happened to the $50 billion from the stimulus package dedicated to precisely that task, or the $50 billion plan 18 months later? Making college “more affordable”? That has been the motivation for continuous ratcheting of government involvement in higher education, which has – surprise! – coincided with a several-decade increase in tuition costs and student loan debt.

Matt Purple writes a terrific article in the American Spectator on government giving the wrong answers to the problems facing today and technocrats:

An intellectual pipeline exists in Washington, with economists and think tanks conjuring up ideas, wonks and journalists discussing them, and legislators passing the final results. It pays the bills for a lot of people, but it’s also very out of place. Politicians like to think of themselves as addressing the challenges of their time. But the challenge at the moment, inherent in our massive debt, is to do the one thing that Washington big thinkers can’t fathom: stop.


Just like the “experts” who fiddled with lending standards to increase home ownership, or the technocrats who inflated an education bubble by gobbling up the student loan industry, or the Wall Street whiz kids who thought they could eliminate risk, Obama and company will continue to believe they can think their way through this crisis. All they need are the smart people; virtuosos and eggheads capable of managing an entire economy without producing any unintended consequences.

Weakest comeback ever?

“A lot of these Texans that come here, they don’t go back. I mean, who would want to spend summers there in 110-degree heat inside some kind of fossil fuel air conditioner? Not a smart way to go.” –California Governor Jerry Brown

Fossil fuel air conditioners?! The horror!

Josh Hamilton burns bridges.

I’m no Rangers fan, but I followed Hamilton’s career with Texas because of his remarkable comeback from drug addiction and his powerful witness to the saving grace of Christ. His comments here really call into question his character.

Two quick notes about this article on Taylor Swift in the Huffington Post:

1. Why is she, at 23, dating 18 year-old boys? It’s as if her early career success has frozen her in a 17 year-old emotional state.

2. She should be ashamed for publicly ridiculing her ex. If it were me, I would dress her down. Harry Styles wisely holds back, probably because a man can’t win in the public square against a darling like Swift.

You can’t make this up: “Academic takes swipe at David Attenborough wildlife documentaries for ignoring gay animals” (hat tip David Mills [no relation]).

Dr Mills who carried out the study said: ‘The central role in documentary stories of pairing, mating and raising offspring commonly rests on assumptions of heterosexuality within the animal kingdom.’

Dr Mills says this perception is created by the documentaries despite evidence that show animals have ‘complex and changeable forms of sexual activity, with heterosexuality only one of many possible options.’

Darrin Grinder writes an interesting article in the Huffington Post on George Washington’s faith:

If being a Christian means that one goes to a Christian Church fairly regularly, supports that church monetarily, believes in an Old Testament deity that acts in the world but whose relationship is far from personal, then Washington was a Christian. He was reared in the Church of England (later the Episcopal Church), attended services regularly, and there is no shortage of Washington’s statements regarding the role of religion in civil life, in the destiny of America, and in the affairs of the world. But many of today’s Christians would argue that a Christian is one who “accepts Jesus as a personal savior,” and for that there is absolutely no evidence in Washington’s life. In fact, there are few instances of Washington’s having said the name “Jesus” in any of his public or private writings or speeches.

My sister became a Christian, coincidentally Episcopal, in her mid-teens. I’ve never heard her discuss her conversion or testify to the saving grace of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In fact, she avoids God talk generally. But I see her character and her works, and I have no doubt she’s a Christian. Many people are just uncomfortable talking about that part of their lives.

Robert Royal writes an intriguing piece on popular dismissal of religious teachings in the Catholic Thing:

Despite all the talk of tolerance and openness in our society, Catholic teachings people find neuralgic get simply excluded in one of two ways. Some are stigmatized as sheer irrationality – e.g., “homophobia” is just mental illness or ingrained prejudice. We don’t yet have the “psychiatric” wards and re-education camps of the older totalitarians. But give it time. Blessed are you if the human resources department has not already scheduled you for sensitivity training to deal with your “issues.”

The other way these “issues” get treated is to classify them as mere “policies” as if the next pope or one down the line can simply change Catholic teaching to suit whatever happens to be the dominant mood. Then everyone can go home happy – and undisturbed.

“To hand over the moral law to man’s subjective opinion, which changes with the times, instead of anchoring it in the holy will of the eternal God and his commandments, is to open wide every door to the forces of destruction. The resulting dereliction of the eternal principles of an objective morality, which educates conscience and ennobles every department and organization of life, is a sin against the destiny of a nation, a sin whose bitter fruit will poison future generations.” –Pius XI

David Paul Deavel writes an excellent piece on Ash Wednesday in the Catholic World Report. He bores down to the main draw of religion: affirmation of his wrongs, and the means to transcend them.

Ash Wednesday would probably be the most popular holy day of obligation if it were a holy day of obligation. As it is, no canonical penalties for absence drive Catholics to attend. But attend they do in droves. Why do they come? They come for what might be called the “bad news of the Gospel.”

The ashes and the words of imposition are their own stark sermon. They grab us by the jowl just as we sometimes do to children who will not look at us for fear of hearing what we say. “From dust you were made; to dust you shall return.” We have what Walker Percy called “the thanatos syndrome,” a strange taste for death and destruction, with a corresponding insensibility to the God who is life itself. This taste and its corresponding tastelessness we call sin. We are dying. The task of the Ash Wednesday preacher is two-fold: 1) repeat out loud the diagnosis written in ash on my forehead and 2) ask the corresponding question—are you willing to undergo the treatment you started at your baptism?


Tell me I’m not good enough. Tell me I’m dying. Tell me the treatment is disturbing and drastic, that it will take up all of my time. Tell me I’ll have to give up lots of things I like and take up other things I hate. Tell me it’s worth it.

What a terrific point, but—I am suspicious of faith originating from weakness. I do not want to approach Jesus on the cross and say in so many words, “I’m a hopeless wreck. You’re my last hope. Please save me.” I want to come to Christ from a position of relative strength—that is, aware of my shortcomings and confident in God’s wisdom and the path He has readied for me to follow.

Four years ago, David Mills of First Things wrote of human desire and giving up on Lent:

Our eldest, then about two years old, one day announced “I want...” but did not finish the sentence. My wife and I waited for her to tell us what she wanted — to be picked up and rocked? a cup of milk? her stuffed bear? — but again she said only “I want” and let her voice trail off. She said it a third time, still sounding equally unsure about what she wanted. And then, with a look of enlightenment on her face, said in a loud, firm voice, “I want!

There, I thought, was the fallen human condition expressed. We are creatures of ravenous, indiscriminate desire. We want this and we want that, but most of all, We Want.

Hence the value of Lent, which begins today, and of an old discipline that seems, even among Catholics, to be now somewhat neglected: the traditional discipline of giving things up for Lent. Bookish people being as fallen as anyone else, we might take a brief break from the pressing issues and interesting intellectual questions to reflect on the value of this discipline. Giving things up for Lent has, in my experience, two obvious benefits.

The first is that you very quickly find out how much a hold the world has on you. This is a lesson to which the Christian will give intellectual assent, but few of us really see what it means. We like to think of ourselves being happy to give up anything for the Lord just like that, with a snap of our fingers, even our lives, but most of us find it hard to give up something that really doesn’t matter. You dream of standing up to the lions in the coliseum, and find yourself snapping at the waitress because the restaurant is out of your favorite dessert.

Freedom from guns? Sure. Why not? Same as freedom from religion.

The Los Angeles Times ran a remarkable story on a men’s support group in a housing project. Quotable:

Project Fatherhood became part of the fabric of Jordan Downs. As the Wednesdays piled up, the men grew comfortable talking about their problems. They “were carrying deep troubles, questions and fears about being dads,” Leap says. “Problem was, they didn’t have many examples of good fathering, so they were coming up with answers from scratch.”

In searching for the above article, I found another L.A. Times article, this one printed in 1996, about a national movement among divorced and absentee fathers to reconnect with their children. This quote from family historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead struck me: “Men can’t be fathers unless the mothers of their children allow it.”

This is a distillation of George Gilder’s wisdom immersion text, Men and Marriage. Excerpt:

Although his relationship to specific children can give him a sense of futurity resembling the woman’s, it always must come through her body and her choices. The child can never be his unless a woman allows him to claim it with her...He can have a child only if she acknowledges his paternity; her child is inexorably hers. His position must be maintained by continuous performance, sexual and worldly, with the woman the judge.

William J. Meisler writes on the welfare state and manhood in the American Thinker:

The purpose and result of the welfare state is to remove both the element of risk in life and the reward that comes to those willing to take that risk. For the welfare state to accomplish its purpose, everyone must be brought down to a level of single sameness as much as possible, submerging the individual to the group, and no one must be allowed to strive to achieve more for himself than is beneficial to the whole group. In the welfare state, there is no place for individual nobility, heroism, courage, or virtue. Since risk, reward, courage, and virtue are essential to manliness, it follows that the presence of such virtue in the male population is a major impediment to the establishment of the welfare state.

Since manliness is the primary obstacle to the establishment of the welfare state, the obvious solution for the statist is to disparage manliness and make men more like women, which is exactly what our educational system and popular culture, both in the hands of the left, have been busy doing: shaming traditional male behavior in young boys, drugging the boys who are allegedly hyperactive, promoting gun control, and encouraging men to show their “feminine side” – while at the same time insisting that women can do anything men can do and encouraging women to mimic male patterns of behavior, including promiscuity, to the point that now women are to be deployed in combat. Even dodgeball and bullying are threats to the socialist enterprise; both must be suppressed. Better, the progressives think, to encourage state-sponsored false self-esteem or “it takes a village”-type thinking. What better way to discourage individual virtue?

The welfare state is nothing less than an assault on manly virtue. It is no accident that in the welfare-dependent family, the position of father is obsolete. Government entitlement programs simply apply that concept more broadly throughout society.

“Oppose all efforts to denude the nation of its founding justification, that is God-given, unalienable, natural rights that the government can neither confer on the individual nor deny to him. The statist seeks the authority to do both, which explains his contempt for, or misuse of, faith. Moreover, faith provides the moral order that ties one generation to the next, without which the civil society cannot survive.” –Mark Levin

“A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken homes, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any rational expectations about the future — that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure — that is not only to be expected, it is very near to inevitable.” –Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Wendell Talley writes about our obscene culture at Daniel Horowitz’ Madison Blog:

One type of obscenity — the $15M payoff to Meg Whitman for her role in guiding Hewlett-Packard with all the grace and skill found in the Hindenburg landing — I have discussed before.

The other type is just as retch-inducing but more accepted. It is commanded by the notorious division of our aristocratic class (Gaga, Kardashian, Sheen, et al.) With all of the subtlety of a streaker at a funeral this class of elite has used every available media tool to amplify behavior that fifty years ago was considered boorish, at best, and perverted in the main. The danger posed by these jokers lies in their softening the view of destructive character traits that will kill, pauperize or imprison an average person. The unchecked aggression celebrated by rappers — from gunplay to womanizing — is the bane of ghettoes coast to coast. Using a sex tape as a CV worked for Kim Kardashian but the mentality that uses such a ploy is a flaw every sensible father would want rooted out of his daughter. As Gertrude Himmelfarb has written, the wealthy can long sustain a lifestyle that would ruin a poor man within a week.

I’m no prude. I understand people have always done what the culture warriors impotently rail against. The difference is that in the 50s when Ingrid Bergman had an affair with Roberto Rossellini she was hectored from the public eye for five years. Today we would have seen vivid evidence of the Bergman-Rossellini tryst. The former can be reactionary and merciless in its extremes but it sets a useful boundary. The latter is viewed as more liberal and enlightened but it obliterates needed social custom.

This is where conservatives part ways with our Libertarian friends. No society marinated in slime can remain free. A debauched people is not a people capable of self-government. They will eventually demand and deserve a tyrant.

Andrew Durand at Acculturated comments on the hypersexualized Super Bowl halftime show and commercials:

I am not thoroughly convinced of some of your arguments particularly about whose responsibility it is for eliciting sexual thoughts in men. Very easily the comparison to Islamic oppression of women is brought up when women are asked to “cover up”. This is an extreme example, and is of course wrong. There is a time when attitudes toward “female beauty” become fearful which is damaging, but there are men who are asking for modesty because they want respect. Respect for the very fact that they too struggle with sexual urges, and physically dominating and sexual images make that struggle difficult for even the most “civilized” men–i.e., Augustine.

With some exceptions, physically sexual desire is the urge men deal with. Again with some exceptions, women deal with emotional sexual urges. For a man to exploit this, by gaining the trust of a woman for his own gains, physically or socially, would be disrespectful, and even abusive, to women. The argument that women must control these urges in order for them to be “civilized” is neglecting very real problems. In both cases, deception is employed. Women “deceive” men with their physically suggestive beauty, and men deceive with emotionally suggestive security.

Bill Croke mopes about the decline of America in the American Spectator. Excerpt:

The schools are an administrative and intellectual wreck, and kids not knowing how to even dress themselves is a good metaphor for their current state. Those students, especially those of college age, are subject to that ironclad liberal orthodoxy of cultural Marxism commonly called political correctness, with resulting hate speech codes, the gist of which is that the kids are taught to despise America’s institutions, civic traditions, and the very constitutional sinews of free speech and opinion. Anyway, the latter is a moot point: because they learn so little history, soon their ignorance of the important aspects of the American experience will be total. College campuses are hideous islands of totalitarianism on a national landscape that is more and more reflecting their toxic example.

John M. Smoot discusses 5 drawbacks to anonymous sperm donation in Public Discourse:

Second, selling sperm corrupts our society’s concept of fatherhood. Humans should care for their children. It has always been considered a tragedy when they fail to do so. Our society already suffers from an absentee father crisis. What message does it send to children when men so obviously don’t care when, where, or to whom their children are born? The boom in the sperm sale business will damage children’s perception of what it means to be a man and a father. As anthropologist Margaret Mead has written, “the supreme task of any society is to teach its men to be good fathers.”

Third, the sperm sale industry deliberately creates fatherless children. Thanks to better treatments for male infertility, fewer heterosexual couples are purchasing commercial sperm. Instead, the buyers are primarily single heterosexual women and lesbian couples. Single heterosexual women who want marriage and children are giving up on men swamped by a culture antithetical to male maturity. An excess of recreational sex, pornography, and video games has fostered male self-absorption.

I refuse to donate sperm for money. If you want my gametes, you’ll have to get them the old-fashioned way.

William Deresiewicz dissects what is essentially political correctness in the American Scholar:

The baby boomers have become the Establishment; their morality has become the mainstream; and the sensibility of ’60s art has become the upper middle brow, the house style of the upper middle class. Irony is taken for granted. Formal innovation is expected. A mixture of aesthetic registers is de rigueur. Ridicule is aimed at what’s left of the cultural enemy. Nothing shocks, and nothing is intended to shock. Beneath the gestures of transgression there exists a moral consensus that is every bit as unexamined, as immobile, and as self-congratulatory as that which girded the ruling class the Bobos displaced. Somehow, the rebels of half a century ago have grown up to become the new Victorians. There’s a right way now to eat, vote, laugh, think.

Which means it really shouldn’t be that difficult to make an avant-garde. Here are some of the pieties that it might undertake to profane. That people are basically good. That freedom is the chief ingredient of happiness. That we control our fates. That society is slowly getting better. That we are more virtuous than those who came before us. That the universe coheres in a mystical whole. That it all works out in the end. In short, the whole gospel of self-improvement, progressive politics, ethical hygiene, and pantheistic spirituality. The upper middle brow is as committed to the happy ending as is Hollywood. Tragedy is inadmissible: the recognition that loss is loss and cannot be recuperated, that most people’s lives end in failure and emptiness, that the world is never going to be a happy place, that the universe doesn’t love us.

I appreciated this comment from “secretcognition”:

How about some of the blatantly obvious sacred cows of the bobos, which Bill is probably too scared to point out: that all cultures are equal and should be respected, that rape isn’t about sex, that men and women aren’t fundamentally different both physically and mentally, and that maybe ceding economic control to the government sometimes causes corruption and waste? In other words, a more serious and well-intentioned dialog with the conservatives.

If you really, truly want to offend the bobos, it doesn’t take much; I like to do it by pointing out that not all cultures should be respected equally because I don’t like prison camps in North Korea or female circumcision in Africa. Or that I am very grateful to have been born in a western country where I can freely speak my mind without facing the possibility of prison, torture, or worse. Of course, these things make the bobos of Manhattan very uncomfortable, which is why I don’t have too many friends.

At First Things, Russel D. Moore reviews Benedict XVI’s papacy. I only quibble with scrubbing “illegal alien” from the language.

Benedict has countered the sexual revolution with an Augustinian view of the meaning of human personhood. A human person, he has reminded the world, is not a machine. We are not merely collections of nerve endings that spark with sensation when rubbed together. Instead a human person is directed toward a one-flesh union, which is personal and spiritual. Destroying the ecology of marriage and family isn’t simply about tearing down old “moralities,” he has reminded us, but about a revolt against the web of nature in which human beings thrive.

And Benedict has stood against the nihilism that defines human worth in terms of power and usefulness. He has constantly spoken for those whose lives are seen as a burden to society: the baby with Down syndrome, the woman with advanced Alzheimer’s, the child starving in the desert, the prisoner being tortured. These lives aren’t things, he has said, but images of God, and for them we will give an account. When society wants to dehumanize with language: “embryo,” “fetus,” “anchor baby,” “illegal alien,” “collateral damage,” and so on, Benedict has stood firmly to point to the human faces the world is seeking to wipe away.

In 2009, George Gilder introduced his book, The Israel Test (re: “Chuck Hagel’s aggressive neutrality”):

The prime issue is not a global war of civilizations between the West and Islam or a split between Arabs and Jews. These conflicts are real and salient, but they obscure the deeper moral and ideological war. The real issue is between the rule of law and the rule of leveler egalitarianism, between creative excellence and covetous “fairness,” between admiration of achievement versus envy and resentment of it.

Israel defines a line of demarcation. On one side, marshaled at the United Nations and in universities around the globe, are those who see capitalism as a zero-sum game in which success comes at the expense of the poor and the environment: every gain for one party comes at the cost of another. On the other side are those who see the genius and the good fortune of some as a source of wealth and opportunity for all.

The Israel test can be summarized by a few questions: What is your attitude toward people who excel you in the creation of wealth or in other accomplishment? Do you aspire to their excellence, or do you seethe at it?

“We are especially referring to what is called the natural law, written by the Creator’s hand on the tablet of the heart and which reason, not blinded by sin or passion, can easily read. It is in the light of the commands of this natural law, that all positive law, whoever be the lawgiver, can be gauged in its moral content, and hence, in the authority it wields over conscience. Human laws in flagrant contradiction with the natural law are vitiated with a taint which no force, no power can mend.” –Pius XI

Last, but not least, Rod Dreher reflects on a critique of natural law argument in First Things by David Bentley Hart. First, Hart:

The truth is that we cannot talk intelligibly about natural law if we have not all first agreed upon what nature is and accepted in advance that there really is a necessary bond between what is and what should be. Nor can that bond be understood in naturalistic terms. Even if it were clearly demonstrable that for the majority of persons the happiest life is also the most wholesome, and that most of us find spiritual and corporeal contentment by observing a certain “natural” ethical mean—still, the daringly disenchanted moralist might ask: “What do we owe to nature?”

To his mind, after all, the good may not be contentment or even justice, but the extension of the pathos of the will, as Nietzsche would put it: the poetic labor of the will to power, the overcoming of the limits of the merely human, the justification of the purely fortuitous phenomenon of the world through its transformation into a supreme aesthetic event. What if he should choose to believe (and are not all values elective values for the secular moralist?) that the most exalted object of the will is the Übermensch, that natural prodigy or fortunate accident that now must become the end to which human culture consciously aspires?

Denounce him, if you wish, for the perversity of his convictions. Still, after all hypothetical imperatives have been adduced, and all appeals to the general good have been made, nothing would logically oblige him to alter his ideas. Only the total spiritual conversion of his vision of reality could truly change his thinking.

Dreher surmises:

If you don’t believe there is any cosmic order undergirding the visible world, and if you don’t believe that you are obliged to harmonize your own behavior with that unseen order (the Tao, you might say), then why should you bind yourself to moral precepts you find disagreeable or uncongenial? The most human act could be not to yield to nature, but to defy nature. Why shouldn’t you?


As long as the will remains unconverted, and unwilling to consider conversion, reason is mostly powerless to change things, except insofar as the claims of reason are consonant with their metaphysical dream — that intuitive feeling about the immanent nature of reality. In our time and place, this metaphysical dream is no longer truly Christian, though it is obviously informed by Christian ideals and sentiments. This will fade, and is fading. This is the problem religious and social conservatives face, or, as it were, fail to face.

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