None the Wiser

"Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think." --J.S. Mill

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Tuesday, September 02, 2003
You Don't Say...

Headline from today's WaPo:

U.S. Casualties in Iraq Rising

As opposed to falling?

Sunday, August 31, 2003
Update on the Lemonade Sisters

In this post I relayed the now-infamous story of two little girls who had their lemonade stand shut down for failure to obtain the proper business license from the St. Paul authorities.

As with the last such incident, the mayor has stepped in and told his local functionaries to back off. The little entrepreneurs are back in business, and business is good.

So why am I not smiling? Well, there's this:

According to a contrite officer of the Office of License, Inspections and Environmental Protection,

"We don't make the laws; we only enforce them."

You forgot "unthinkingly, blindly, and with no basic regard or compassion for our fellow man."

Also, there's this:

This is being praised up and down as some kind of victory for the common man, proof that, in the words of City Council Member Jay Benanav,

"You can fight City Hall sometimes. You've won!"

and of their mother,

"The girls got a kick out of knowing they could stick up for themselves."

No, this case absolutely is not proof that the system works, or that you can beat City Hall. All it demonstrates is that the mayor of the city of St. Paul was bright enough to know bad press when he saw it, and cut his losses. Had our enlightened, Platonic mayor decided to stick to the rules, there would have been exactly jack-squat anybody could have done about it.

They didn't beat City Hall. City Hall decided to cover its own ass with a rational PR decision, this time. Again, suppose the city refused to back down. What recourse would there have been? Zero.

So the real lesson of the story is that if you have to live under petty tyrants, you'd better hope they're merciful.

Just Terrible.

That's the only way to describe this steaming heap of nuggets, a column by a Rev. Peter Mullen, Anglican, in this weekend's Opinion Journal.

Essentially, he expresses dismay at the current state of the small-"c" church, particularly as evidenced by the recent ascention of Gene Robinson, an open homosexual, to the status of bishop in the Anglican Church. I'm of two minds about this:

Good for the Reverend, since whatever my own thoughts on homosexuality might be, I think the "Western church," as he calls it, has basically thrown in the towel. He makes a pertinent point, namely, that a church that simply follows the whims of popular secular opinion is no church at all, as it lays no claim to any kind of intransitory Truth.

The quality of the piece ends there, though. He writes, in unbelievably glib tones,

The Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New, condemns homosexuality as a sin. But it is not the only sin, though the church behaves as if it were. St. Paul lists a whole repertoire of sins: pride, vain-glory, envy, gluttony, hatred, malice, conspiracy, backbiting and so on. But when did you last hear of a churchman thrown out of the choir for gluttony, or a woman dismissed from the Ladies' Circle for backbiting? Besides, the Christian faith has always taught that we should hate the sin but love the sinner.

This mealy-mouthed concession strikes me as odd, considering the point I mentioned above. Does the Reverend not see the difference at work here? The real question isn't when the "last time" was that a person was ejected from the church for backbiting, but rather when the last time was anyone proclaimed gluttony and back-biting sinless, in keeping with the changing times.

Of course thieves and gluttons manage to find themselves ordained into the church's hierarchy. We're all sinful creatures. But how many of those attend Thief Pride Parades? Last I checked, the agenda of gay Christians was not to find acceptance in spite of their sexuality, but rather because of the fact that they were loved by God in that special way reserved for gays.

This bishop does not, to my knowledge, admit to the sinful nature of his tendencies nor ask the forgiveness of his parishoners. Campaigning for the wholesale acceptance of your vice isn't the same as begging God's mercy in light of them. The argument isn't over whether thievery is still a sin, but whether homosexuality is, and the Reverend ought to have realized this without pausing for thought.

Then, in the opposite direction, I have a problem with this:

Homosexual bishops? How long before we see paedophile bishops, necrophile Deans of Cathedrals and cannibalistic Archdeacons?

I'm sorry, but to compare willing adults egaged in willing behavior, sinful or not, to the forcible molestation of children is too much. Cannibalism? Gracious, grow a sense of proportion, Rev.

Even more puzzling is the fact that this seems contradicted by what precedes it:

Few would ever condemn a faithful, loving relationship between two people of the same sex...

Except you, four paragraphs later.

...but when promiscuous homosexuality becomes a sort of fashion statement, many people are sickened. Nowadays the love which once dared not speak its name screeches at us in the tones of high camp from every high street.

So what you're saying is that "few would condemn as sinful" something you place on the road to paedophilia? Unless, that is, you advertise it publicly? What is this guy actually saying?

Look, if the thing is morally impermissible because it's having its name-brand shoved in our faces, then by that standard heterosexuality must also be a pretty rotten condition. If it's a sin by its very nature, then this pair of sentences sounds like mere hokey-pokey, more appealing to that sentimental critter in all of us who wants to be good without making judgments about behavior. Which is what he says is wrong with the church.

What is wrong with your church, my friend, is that it has refused its proper role as a counter-cultural institution, and has instead sought broad acceptance (and the power that comes with it) by moderating its stance on touchy issues like these. This began with the acquiescence of church authorities to secular pressures and a failure of faith that led them to abandon the teachings of Christ for the more comforting and self-affirming spectacle of overflowing pews and donation plates.

In short, your church has made the deal that Machiavelli proclaimed necessary of politicians because of the human condition: In order to have the influence required to do good for others, you must sacrifice your own moral character in the process. Thus the Anglican church waxes coy on the meaning of "is" for the sake of attracting a larger flock--not realizing that all it gains by that process will be a flock with no shepherd. It will have already disqualified itself for that role.

So make up your own mind first, Padre, and maybe the rest of the world might take your religion seriously again.

Friday, August 29, 2003

If I can be allowed a moment of self-reflection, that last post was a great example of what I consider to be my own complete lack of skill and elegance as a writer. In fact, I think it's so miserable that I'm going to preserve it just as it is, an eternal reminder of why laziness and self-satisfaction erodes our potential.

(For those of you who aren't up to date on the issue, I once considered myself talented. I'm a great example of why high self-esteem is the source of, rather than cure for, much of what is wrong with young students today.)

Why Socialism Breeds Brutality

This story makes me angry, saddened, and afraid. [link via The Corner's Kathryn Jean Lopez] Yeah, it's got it all:

Mikaela and Annika Ziegler of St. Paul, Minnesota, found themselves on the wrong side of the law for operating an unlicensed lemonade stand. According to some wooden bureaucratic monster going under the name and title of "Licensing Director Janeen Rosas,"

...Mikaela was violating St. Paul Legislative Code Chapter 331A.04(d)(24), which requires a license for "A temporary establishment where food sales shall be restricted to prepackaged nonpotentially hazardous foods or canned or bottled nonalcoholic beverages; operating no more than fourteen (14) days annually at any one location."

Rosas said the city has received more complaints than ever this year about sellers at the fair, although she said no one had registered a gripe about the enterprising Ziegler sisters.

"If someone were to get ill from one of these products, with a license we're more able to track them back," she said. "And at the fair it's an equity issue. Allowing some people to sell without licenses gives them an unfair advantage over others."

Of course, by eliminating this silly and unnecessary regulation, and "allowing" everyone to sell lemonade at their own liesure and expense, you could eliminate with it this insultingly disingenuous hand-wringing over the fairness of the competitive market at the local State Fair. The claim that shutting down a 6-year-old girl's lemonade stand in the interests of equity inadvertantly proves the most essential and important point against government busy-bodies: the logic of enforced "equity" leads inexorably to such absurdities as these, and ultimately to tyranny. The (increasingly common) appeal to matters of public health is not just silly, it's immoral. Insinuating that little girls selling unlicensed lemonade poses a dire threat to the public welfare is low, though perhaps not by the standards of your average left-liberal, whose irrational hatred for the profit motive has led them to passionately defend, even now, such luminaries of 20th Century barbarism as Fidel Castro.

As we libertarians constantly warn, the icy inhumanity exhibited by such pathetic functionaries of the state does not ever decrease as regulation grows more complicated, burdensome, and vicious. By what logic can the socialist condemn the practice of harassing little girls over lemonade licenses? Their unremitting and foolish hostility to capitalism leads them into constant pronouncements against the culture that inculcates children into the supposedly ghastly machinery of free enterprise. By their own reasoning, these girls have been done a favor, and saved from a potentially corrupting lesson in the false joys of greed and selfish entrepreneurship.

Well, mission accomplished. What should have been a fun lesson in the rewards of individual initiative has been successfully crushed under heel, and replaced by the much more politically correct lesson in the arbitrary power of the state, and the need for total obedience to local authorities and their petty despotisms.

If you can't tell, I take incidents like this very seriously.

It reminds me of my recent visit to the DMV in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Short version:

I was visiting my dad. He was going to give me a car. I wanted a tag, to avoid getting pulled over, towed, and stranded by some dutifully vigilant state trooper in Tennessee.

So we went to the local authorities, to beg their leave to engage in this little transaction. First, of course, I insured the vehicle as per the state's requirement that I protect myself from myself. After an hour of wrangling over the minutae of my plans, they finally declared that they could offer me no tag whatsoever, since I neither lived in the state nor planned to live in the state. Even my proof of insurance was invalid, since I had purchased it in Indiana--where, you know, I do live. If my father was planning to sell the vehicle, and needed a temp tag to place on it in the meantime, no problem. But a gift? In transit? No dice.

Suddenly I understood. When I had called the DMV earlier that day, the woman who answered the phone strongly encouraged me to lie to whomever I encountered on arrival, and inform them that my dad was selling the car. I shouldn't even walk into the office, lest they suspect the ruse. My dad refused, citing something about honesty being some kind of policy. So much for that.

It occurred to me that what I was both experiencing and witnessing was the precise mechanism by which red tape breeds criminality. Even the local apparatchiks themselves thought the best way out of the jam was simply to break the law, and save myself and everyone else a big headache.

In the event, some loophole was invented on the spot, but only after I demanded to know why it was effectively illegal to recieve a vehicle as a gift in the state of Florida. It took them a while to get the point, but at least initially they were perfectly ready to turn me out of their office with no tag and no legal way to drive my car home.

My brother, in the meantime, is currently making car payments for a vehicle he can't register, because of some similar regulatory nonsense. The car was also, it happens, a purchase from a parent out of state, but since he can't legally drive it and six months have elapsed with no progress on that front, he's considering just giving it back and putting the money to some other use.

And businesses continue to flee California in droves, and the death toll in France mounts for lack of air conditioning. And socialism's popularity never abates.

Thursday, August 28, 2003
Old Reliable

The best thing about traditionalists is that they're, by definition, reliable. The philosophical battle over modernity is an interesting one, especially since the camps involved are very different than we're accustomed to thinking of them in this supposedly bi-polar American ideological landscape.

In truth, there does not exist in the U.S. any reasonably coherent "spectrum" that runs the gamut from left to right, and I think that the belief that such a spectrum exists is the source of much confusion and ill-will in contemporary political discourse. We refer to the "far left" and the center-right as a matter of convenience, but we do it so much we come to take the symbolism rather more seriously than we ought. In any case, I'm still working on my own comprehensive political theory, so I won't go on much more about that.

But consider this: perhaps the most bizarre allegiance to arise from the intellectual war on modernity is that between anti-porn feminists and what you might call "family values conservatives." Even though both "conservative" and "liberal" intellectuals have criticized modernity for various reasons, for the most part both sides envision themselves as its guardians--protecting the "advances" of modern society from the tyrannical impulses of their enemies.

Now, on the left this is increasingly not the case at all, since they are incapable of defending their program using anything but the language of modernity. Their problem is that they can talk relativism, but they realize (on some level) that they can't live it. The result is a growing enslavement to the mind- and soul-destroying fashions of the totalitarian post-modern academy. For this reason, the conservative side probably makes the more plausible claim to its identity as modernity's handmaiden.

But they have a problem, too, and this is spelled out best by such old-school conservatives (I do not say "paleo-") as Allan Bloom and Peter Kreeft. Often labeled the "far-right," such social and religious conservatives make, to my eye, the most intriguing and effective critique of Enlightenment thought available (Kreeft refers to it cleverly, if unfairly, as the "Endarkenment"). You must watch your step, however, because it's easy to mix them up and lump them in with the Jerry Falwells of the world, which the left does routinely.

I stumbled across this example of the method by one Jim Kalb, an orthodox Catholic with a formidable command of the topic. He rehashes a lot of territory here, such as the argument that the lack of a comprehensible set of standards is itself a standard, and that its imposition on society is therefore self-contradictory. I'm not sure I agree on this point, but this snippet is worth a look:

In fact, it’s impractical to demand that people have a public morality opposed to their private beliefs. Man and morality have an essential social component. The modern advanced liberal state is everywhere. It educates the young. It confers honor, disgrace and punishment. It suppresses public manifestations of non-liberal attitudes. It intervenes to reform public attitudes on things as basic and close to home as the relations between the sexes and rearing of children. It makes life and death decisions. It demands our supreme loyalty. How could it leave private morality untouched?

And in any case, saying “each of us is free to adopt whatever measure he wants” is just another way to say “man is the measure.” Why think the phrasing changes anything?

Whatever you think of it, this view of morality in the public square is precisely what animates many social conservatives who no longer feel free to raise their families according to their own moral standards. Their hostility to sex on television, explicit sex education, and so on are based on a sense that, especially in the mass communication age, the demand that they keep their ethics to themselves seems unreasonable and dishonest.

When you consider that leftists themselves present their pet cultural ornaments, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Will and Grace in one instance and free condoms in schools on the other, as deliberately-measured steps towards the creation of a more liberal social environment, it would appear that those concerns have merit. Only when the "liberalizing" effects of a broadly amoral politics and culture are asserted do leftists alter their course and scoff that, of course, these things will have no impact on the children and family lives of conservatives. They sneer that only superstition and paranoia inspire conservatives to believe that leftists are out to impose their values on the rest of us, and that of course liberals would never think of such a thing. You know, Tolerance, and all that.

The very existence of such a disagreement, in my view, puts the lie to the silly notion that our present struggle is not about the imposition of values.

An interesting exchange from one of Peter Kreeft's better books, A Refutation of Moral Relativism, goes something like this:

Relativist: You're just mad because we're winning.
Absolutist: No, I'm mad because you're lying. You preach tolerance but reality dictates that relativism is impracticable. So you impose your sick moral code--that is, your absence of any code at all as a matter of principle--on the rest of us, by law. You then claim a halo for your refusal to impose morality.

In essence, I think this is right. But I don't present Kalb's piece because I agree with it, I only do so as a matter of interest for the curious. What he demonstrates is that there is a perfectly rational and honest critique of modernity available, whatever else anyone may say about it. Really, all the best arguments are going on within the "Right," since leftists are today practically incapable of offering a plausible criticism of anything--at least, they are incapable of doing so as leftists.

Food for thought.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
The Last Word on Hamas

This post by the always-readable lefty blogger Oliver Kamm pretty much says it all:

[T]he EU felt that cracking down on front organisations for terror would be inimical to a negotiated peace. I throw up my hands in disbelief. Only when Israeli civilians feel safe when they travel on a bus or go shopping - the things that are the stuff of everyday life, but for which reserves of courage are required by Israelis - will a negotiated peace, and a Palestinian state, become a reality. And that requires a serious, good-faith effort on the part of the Palestinian Authority to defeat Hamas.

In the circumstances, the British government's pressure is not before time. The notion that the activities of Hamas can be segregated between the violent and the philanthropic is worse than ill-informed: it's frivolous. The distinction itself is a mainstay of Hamas's propaganda, and is a means by which it draws supporters into terrorism. The ostensibly non-violent activity - the Da'wah - agitates and recruits, provides infrastructure and raises funds. It is the route traversed by men who later become rioters and finally suicide-bombers.

There's much more.

My Hero

... is Tex at Whackingday. For a chuckle, read his hysterical (and characteristically indelicate) fisking of a recent book by David M. Jacobs, er, PhD:

The Threat: Revealing the Secret Alien Agenda.

Just About Right

In a post about what he refers to as the "destructive naivete" of Western intelligencia, Billy Beck muses that

If that UN Baghdad mission doesn't bag this year's Darwin Award, then the award itself is no longer authoritative.

Some might think this cruel and insensitive, and maybe it is. It also happens to be true.

Sunday, August 24, 2003
Puppies and Syllabi

What's the connection?

Well, there really isn't one, outside of my own present preoccupation therewith. For the purposes of a web diary, though, that's enough.

This week (and weekend) I got a fresh supply of each. First, the syllabi:

It's impossible for me to convey, in any vivid way, the depth of my loathing for the semester-opening shot across the bough that is syllabus distribution. Each and every time, I hope to be pleasantly surprised, intrigued even. Each and every time, I shake my head in disgust and steel myself for the road ahead.

The modern professoriate, like the swine of Orwell's Animal Farm, have not the barest clue just how miserable life as a libertarian student can be. We are the non-coddled minority, one of several distinct groups against whom no slander is considered too coarse. It begins, always, with the syllabus. It's my glimpse into the extraordinary exercise in restraint that every class discussion, debate, or assignment is certain to be.

If you aren't a leftist, you simply have no idea what I'm talking about, and probably never will. Andrea Dworkin would not have it so bad if she were forced to quietly sit through five years of Catholic Catechism. Not only do I have to suffer an equivalent test of mental torture, but my very professional future depends upon near-total smiling acquiescence to the thing.

Scanning my syllabus each semester, I have the opportunity to witness the fine art of the Stacked Deck unfolding before my eyes. This fall's set of readings is a classic in the genre. All the right notes are hit, but in case you're a beginner, I'll just highlight the big things to look for when sniffing out indoctrination shoddily dressed up as education:

1- Do the class readings heavily favor a particular view or related set of views (e.g., feminist, social constructivist, environmentalist, and so forth)? Do class lectures favor explication of these viewpoints ("conceptual frameworks") at the expense of all others on, say, a four-to-one basis?
2- Does that same side of "the debate" always have the last word? Is the same side of the ideological divide consistently answered by the other? And answered? And answered? And answered some more?
3- Do the words "oppressive," "capitalist," and "system" manage to find their way into readings with mind-numbing frequency? (If so, that "tuning out" sensation you may experience is not just normal, but healthy.)
4- Is something which is obviously true described as an "Enlightenment assumption"?
5- Does the word "social," by some bizarre coincidence, appear exactly the same number of times as the word "justice"?
6- Are you obviously being spoon-fed socialist propaganda, the aroma of which is powerful enough to overwhelm even the most generous splash of patchouli essence?

There are others. These should serve as a working start.

I must say that one exception to this virtually iron-clad pattern of systemic Deck-Stacking has arisen this semester, but I'd rather avoid revealing the good professor's name. After all, his/her commitment to diversity, peace on earth, the rehabilitation of the Soviet Union's undeservedly ghastly reputation, and other forms of cosmic justice might just come into question if it were discovered there were traces of "objectivity" (that discreditable pretense of The Patriarchy's secret police) in his/her course lectures and reading requirements.

In short: Woo-hoo! School's in!!

Honestly, I am really glad it is, and I have to say that even the most transparently biased of my teachers at IUPUI have been unfailingly amiable and generous with their time. My gripe is institutional and philosophical (I won't say "cultural," since I believe the institutionalized leftism of the academy to be a kind of anti-culture), and in any event it's interesting to note that they may have discovered the one way possible to make radical chic uncool--by growing beards and cramming it down young peoples' throats.

In other, better news, there is a new addition to the family: Maribel, or Mary, the Beagle. She spent her first night with us last night and so far, she's just as sweet and lovable as you might expect.

(I must say, I got a little thrill out of the very experience of making a tax-free purchase, though this was immediately negated by our rather heavily-taxed purchase of doggie paraphernalia afterward.)

We rode about an hour into the countryside, noted the seemingly endless expanse of supposedly disappearing rural scenery that constitutes 99% of every road trip we take, and paid a visit to a kindly woman with an eight-week-old litter of wrinkled-nose-inducing cuteness. What a sight. Six or so baby beagles frolicking--it's been a while since I've seen anything frolic up close--in the grass.

We picked the one with the red head, the white markings splashed on her hindquarters, and the kissable little dash of white on the nose.

OK, this is getting nauseating, even for me. Needless to say, Mary is absolutely precious, though it's been a little heart-breaking to hear her crying and whining while she looks around for her litter-mates. Ever so slowly, she's settling in. As she does, I'm getting a lesson in the special joys of sleep deprivation. And getting into it with relish.

Well, I still have some studying and puppy-kissing to do, so I'll touch base again later.

Saturday, August 23, 2003
Men in White

Here's an interesting shot of Jew-hating thugs running around in white sheets with their faces behind masks, burning effigies of their enemies and hiding behind one of the three monotheistic traditions. Hint: it isn't the Klan. It's a far more serious bunch.

I find the similarity intriguing.

An interesting dilemma is this: The rally depicted in the linked article would be considered protected speech in the USA, though there are a lot of people who would prefer that it wasn't. The right, and most of the libertarian center, generally stands up for the freedom of racial provocatuers such as the KKK to march and hold rallies and so forth, even in Jewish neighborhoods.

I happen to agree that even this execrable form of expression is and ought to be protected by the US Constitution. The left, predictably, disagrees, since the offensive character of the expression in question does not find its source in some convergence of sacred Christian symbolism and human excrement.

A reversal of viewpoints takes place when we shift our attention to the West Bank. Leftists become indignant and even downright principled where the right to assembly is being siezed upon by Hamas, the PIJ, or anyone else who murders Israeli children for sport.

The right, meanwhile, loses its adamant devotion to the sanctity of free expression when the racial terrorists in question are Arabs hiding behind the Koran, rather than WASPs hiding behind the Bible.

So what's the answer? I'm not sure, but I think some of the relevant differences are as follows:

1- The US government does not actively fund and encourage the activities of the Ku Klux Klan.
2- The Klan is not (any longer) a serious political movement of any appreciable influence.
3- Hamas is rather commited to the slaughter of civilians and has proven itself so through recent, frequent, concrete acts of mass murder.
4- The PA has agreed, as a condition of Israeli concessions, to put a stop to "incitement" in the West Bank and Gaza, and has no Constitutional obligations one way or the other. It has never done so.
5- The conditions of civil society do not exist in a war zone, by definition.

There are others, but it's early and I'm just getting warmed up. The controversy here has only been hinted at to my knowledge, and I present it here only as food for thought. I should probably say also that even though the link I provided is for LGF, I really dislike Charles' practice of labeling such posts "Religion of Mass Murder."

(I know, it's meant to counter the constant protestations of Islamic apologists like Hussein Ibish that Islam is a "religion of peace," or even the "religion of peace." There are, ahem, fertile grounds for a rejection of such a claim, but I think his blanket characterization only gives ammunition to those critics who accuse him of bigotry, while alienating more than a few undecided readers. In any event, I still enjoy and recommend Charles' blog, and I regret that I have to routinely qualify my support for his work in this way. Charles, just a few degrees cooler, buddy...)

In other, more light-hearted news, I'm getting a puppy. A Beagle, preferably. We'll see how that goes, but the search begins today. I adore Beagles, and agree with Andrew Sullivan that they are very good for the soul. In fact, I prefer them to people, and it is a source of some consternation for me that they cannot be trained to work at the DMV.

Later, I'll give you dear readers an update on the first week of classes here in Indianapolis, and the depressing ritual of syllabus review.