Sunday, July 27, 2008
That's the end of my stint at Blogspot, I should say. All of my new posts are at Politics & Prosperity. (Note to readers: This is a new location. Please change your bookmarks and feed links.)
But don't go away empty-handed. There are more than 2,000 posts here; you can't have read all of them (if you've read any). Check out "The Best of Liberty Corner," browse the archive, and explore the various categories linked in the sidebar.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Here's a perceptive op-ed from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal: "Home-schoolers threaten our cultural comfort." In all fairness, however, I think that the level of acceptance for home schooling has risen tremendously, at least in some parts of the country.
Here in Richmond, Va., sympathy for home schooling (or at least a lack of antipathy) is fairly high. I imagine that most of the rejection comes from leftists and/or adults who are into minimalist parenting. I suspect they are made to feel guilty by home schoolers, or more traditional parents in general.
Some of the article's criticism is applicable to anyone who puts material goods ahead of the basic spiritual, emotional and intellectual needs of their children:
Young families must make the decision: Will junior go to day care and day school, or will mom stay home and raise him? The rationalizations begin. "A family just can't make it on one income." (Our parents did.) "It just costs so much to raise a child nowadays." (Yeah, if you buy brand-name clothing, pre-prepared food, join every club and activity, and spend half the cost of a house on the daughter’s wedding, it does.) And so, the decision is made. We give up the bulk of our waking hours with our children, as well as the formation of their minds, philosophies, and attitudes, to strangers.
It's the old "here are the keys to the car and leave me alone" syndrome; only now it's "go play your video game, go on the internet, play with your iPhone, and leave me alone" syndrome. But when parents can no longer afford such distractions, as our economic downturn threatens levels of frugality unheard of in decades, the spoiled children will come home to roost. And then what?
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
The coverage at The American Spectator is generally good. But everyone's entitled to say something stupid at least once and awhile. In this case it's G. Tracy Mehan, III ("This Bud's Not for You") waxing nostalgic about his hometown company, Anheuser-Busch, which has just been bought out by the Belgian mega-brewer, InBev. In his desperation Mr. Mehan says he's willing to abandon his "free-market, free-trade principles" all because of "an American brand." I'm just as nostalgic as anyone else at times, but when push comes to shove, A-B is an overrated producer of stale suds. So if InBev buys out a US brewery, what's the upshot? I imagine that most of the jobs will stay and, heck.... maybe the beer will get better! After all, the Japanese gave America better cars. That's what the market is all about.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Here's a great pictorial exhibit on ANWR and the impact of oil drilling in northern Alaska from Dr. Philip Blosser: The politics of oil and the truth about ANWR drilling (July 8, 2008). The facts speak for themselves.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.
I know that not everyone reading this blog has a direct interest in religion or Catholicism. But theologically-minded or not there's no denying that the Catholic Church figures heavily in the news, especially on political and ethical issues. Many conservatives—from Ronald Reagan through to the current president—have seen this as an important (and benevolent) role at the very least. One can cite the "tag-team effort" of Reagan and John Paul II in the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc. Then there is the enthusiastic alliance of George Bush and Benedict XVI in the ongoing culture wars.
At the same time, for many conservatives it is safe to say that the apparent "left turn" by the Church since the 1960s and Vatican II has been a source of consternation. This "modernization" (a.k.a. "modernism" in theological circles) or accommodation with contemporary culture is a point noted by people from every political viewpoint, by believers and non-believers alike. There is no disputing it. Yet whatever the superficial vicissitudes, it would seem that this change in policy has never affected Catholic fundamentals, which remain markedly unchanging. Still it has had an impact on day-to-day activities: the roles of the clergy and laity, the liturgy, pastoral policies, etc. And these things have been keenly felt, often with a sense of confusion and disappointment. Historically speaking, this is not without precedent. The Catholic Church has had plenty of ups and downs throughout the millennia—periods of apparent decline and corruption followed by reinvigoration and reform.
Now with the pontificate of Bendict XVI it is clear that the "Vatican II generation" is coming to an end, and in more ways than one. Benedict (Josef Ratzinger) was a key participant in the Council's proceedings and will likely be the last cleric from that era to be made pope. He also signals the end of a generation because he has become one of the most outstanding critics of the post-conciliar Church. A good example of this is a recent discussion in Homiletic & Pastoral Review of Benedict's encyclical Spe Salvi ("On Christian Hope"). As the Brian Graebe notes:
[I]t is what the encyclical does not say that has engendered no small amount of controversy. As numerous commentators quickly recognized, Spe Salvi contains not a single reference to any of the documents from the Second Vatican Council..... Throughout his writings, interviews and memoirs, Joseph Ratzinger clearly sees the legacy of Vatican II as having been hijacked, and needing to be restored to its proper place in the heritage of the Church.
Benedict is even more outspoken on the Catholic Mass (e.g., the liturgy) and his moves to restore the traditional forms of worship to the Latin (Western) Rite and to the Church as a whole. The recent Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum which has garnered so much attention, is just one example. And the Mass, being the public worship of the Church, is undoubtedly the most visible point of dispute in recent years. To put it in a nutshell, both conservatives and liberals have seen the liturgy as not only an outward manifestation of Catholic culture and piety but also as a crucial indicator of theological direction. They are both right. The question is, how did people respond to the undeniable confusion that erupted in the wake of Vatican II?
Many people (including priests, monks and nuns) simply left. It was one of the worst mass exoduses from the Church in its 2000 year history. Others stayed on, as they always do, with varying degrees of commitment. Then there were the theological minorities on the "left" and "right." Some liked what had happened and wanted to push things even further: changing Catholic teaching on contraception and divorce, admitting women to the priesthood, etc. Others dissented in the opposite direction, criticizing the New Mass that came out of Vatican II as well as many of the pastoral decisions. This "dissent on the right" spanned the spectrum from cautious conservatism to outright schism (e.g., those who denied that the pope was really the pope). In particular, those who insisted on maintaining the old Latin liturgy and criticizing some or all of the post-conciliar Vatican policies were known as Traditionalists. Even these latter represented many different shades of opinion. However it is interesting that a large of number of traditionalists over the years, including some fairly strong critics of the Vatican's past policies have reconciled themselves, no doubt encouraged by the new course in Rome. The most recent example is the traditional Redemptorists based in Scotland.
It is clear that this pope is on a mission. His efforts at the restoration of "pre-Vatican II" Catholicism, as some have put it, were understandably cautious in the first months of his pontificate. But he now seems to have the bark of Peter under full sail. In addition to promoting the old Mass, which has seen an explosion of interest since it was freed up last year, Benedict is planning a commission to restore the New Mass to its original, more reverent rubrics. Meanwhile, as the Church of England, which broke from Rome in 1534, continues to fall apart in its own eager concessions to theological and moral progressivism, Bish. Andrew Burnham has announced his desire for a mass return to Rome on the part of conservative Anglicans.
Populist myths to the contrary, direction comes from the top—whether it's in a family, a government, or a church. And after decades of papal inaction and/or neglect, which reached a low point in the much publicized clerical sex scandals a few years ago, Benedict XVI is taking a hands-on approach which is filtering down to all levels. The new generation of clerics is generally more orthodox than their predecessors and it is these men who are being promoted to influential positions. For example, Raymond Burke, previously Archbishop of St. Louis and an outspoken conservative, is now the first non-European head of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial tribunal in the Church. Meanwhile, Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, a champion of traditional liturgy, is due to be appointed head of the Congregation of Divine Worship.
Summary: Apart from these purely religious developments it will be interesting to see on a secular level what impact a reinvigorated leadership of the Church has on the worldwide culture wars, on such topics as abortion, "alternative lifestyles," and so forth. Just a few generations ago Catholicism had a tremendous moral influence on popular culture in the United States. It seems likely that the left-liberal status quo, now at the zenith of power and hubris, will once again be challenged.... from the highest levels!
Monday, July 07, 2008
Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.
Here's an interesting commentary from The New York Times (July 3, 2008):
Baby boomers, hired in large numbers during a huge expansion in higher education that continued into the ’70s, are being replaced by younger professors who many of the nearly 50 academics interviewed by The New York Times believe are different from their predecessors — less ideologically polarized and more politically moderate.
Whether this will reveal itself to be a positive trend remains to be seen. I never trust liberal analysis of what's "good" or "moderate," etc. But it is true that philosophical attitudes follow definite cycles. For example, after the French Revolution and Napoleon there was a conservative reaction in Europe. This happened again in the wake of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution, though it was cut short by the "success" of F.D.R.'s New Deal (in fact, it was the progressives riding on the coattails of American victory in World War II). In that sense, the leftist dominance of American campuses pre-dates the hippies.
Certainly a conservative resurgance—which we see elsewhere, in politics and religion—is welcome, though it's no cause for complacency. So much damage has been done it will take a lot of work just to clear up the debris left by the old regime.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.
I won't be posting as often to Liberty Corner in the coming weeks, as I catch up on some offline projects. Meanwhile, let me share my explanation of what's wrong with the world (of politics) in less than 300 words.
* * *
What's wrong has to do with human nature. That nature is flawed and it is also unchanging. However the safeguards that were once in place to deal with man's frailties are falling away bit by bit. So the drift to the left has, as you've probably guessed, only increased.
Leftists dominate politics because they promise more than candidates and officials on the right. It's not what you deliver but what you promise. Leftists can raise the gas tax but they can still promise more programs.
Leftists have an edge because they cater to people with too much time on their hands: welfare recipients and comfortable ideologues. Leftists, as a general rule, don't like to raise their children. Other people can do that. Now these people have more time to spend on their leftist politics.
Political responsibility is not just a question of keeping busy, but what you keep busy with. For leftists it always seems to be someone else's business. Leftists also offer more perks than conservatives for those who want to spend their time irresponsibly. People can do what they want and the consequences are either ignored or become the justification for more leftist programs.
Leftists offer meaningless freedoms. Real freedom requires responsibility and has to be worked for. It means that rewards are greater, but they are deferred. Leftists cater to instant gratification. They let consenting adults do whatever they want (except own firearms).
Finally, the leftist creed offers all the spiritual satisfaction of religion. You can feel better than others without changing your lifestyle. You just need to recycle more stuff. You can worship the earth, but you don't have to obey the Ten Commandments. And any rules that are made are made for someone else ("not me"), imposed by means of government programs.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.
When watching film versions of great books I am reminded of the old "classic comics"—those illustrated presentations of famous literature that were put out in the '50s and '60s. I managed to get hold of one or two ragged copies of them as a kid in the '70s. Of course, there is always the danger that popular presentations of classic stories, abridged in print or film, can result in the dumbing-down of great literature. The Veggie Tales series, for example, goes too far in that direction, turning stories of the Bible and famous novels into silly preschool caricatures. It reveals the tendency of adults to underestimate children. But if done right, movies can give young people a taste for good books, and they can be enjoyable in their own right.
This past week my kids and I watched the 1971 BBC miniseries of James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. Like a lot of British productions from the period it is low budget and you can see them recycling some of the same actors as both British soldiers and Indians. Yet they really did the most with what they had. There are memorable characters and good dialogue. Cooper has Indians declaiming like Shakespearean actors. But that is no more anachronistic than having ancient Romans talking like Elizabethan Englishmen. What matters is the story. That is probably why my kids also liked the 1953 version of Julius Caesar. And there's plenty of well choreographed action in Last of the Mohicans—realistic but not too violent for younger viewers. No doubt because it was a British non-Hollywood production it was true to the original story, more accurate (and I would say probably more enjoyable) than the 1992 version.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Even conservatives are divided on how to deal with China. Most are agreed that it is ruled by an oppressive regime, but they often part ways on how to remedy that. Can China be coaxed along through burgeoning capitalism into accepting a de facto western economic and political order? Or is this just appeasement? According to China expert Lloyd Richardson in The Policy Review (in a book review that was recently forwarded to me), those who benefit most from the controlled capitalism of Bejing are a tiny minority of urban Chinese, not the broad masses in the countryside. Moreover, these Chinese yuppies are entirely beholden to the Communist Party for their tenuous position. Quoting James Mann's book Soothing China, it is possible that in two or three decades "China will be wealthier, and the entrenched interests opposing democracy will probably be much stronger. By then China will be so thoroughly integrated into the world’s financial and diplomatic systems, because of its sheer commercial power, . . . there would be no international support for any movement to open up China’s political system." In conclusion, there may be no easy answers. But it does not help that, in Richardson's view, there has been no honest debate about China for decades.
Brought to you by the same people who helped create the government-subsidized ethanol fuel driven food shortage.... According to WorldNetDaily the new compact fluorescent light bulbs, which are meant to phase out standard incandescent bulbs in 2012, can cause toxic exposure if broken. Mercury vapor from the broken bulbs can potentially result in toxic levels 100 times that considered safe by the EPA. It's yet another example of what happens when the government tries to make decisions better handled by the marketplace. My wife brought this to my attention. After reading the article she looked all over the bulbs and couldn't find anything. Then she looked at the box they came in. There is an easily overlooked warning about mercury and the need to dispose of the bulbs properly at the county landfill, not in one's trashcan. When you consider the loud, colorful warnings on all sorts of other household products this sort of oversight is just a little scandalous.
It just goes to show that concerns for the environment are highly selective, no doubt depending on which special interest lobbies are at work. It's rather like the way in which the ill-considered DDT ban of the 1960s has resulted in the return of epidemic levels of malaria in Africa. The propaganda of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (the original eco-panic bestseller) to the contrary, even the World Health Organization has come out advocating limited use of DDT in households to prevent outbreaks of malaria which are deadly to nearly 1 million children each year, under the age of five in sub-Saharan countries.
Stupid bias in books is ubiquitous, but it is particularly obvious in children's literature. There is a reason for that. Not only are most works of popularized history and social sciences low brow, but the level of juvenile books is even lower. For that reason I give my twelve-year-old credit for spotting the obvious bias in The Cold War by Britta Bjornlund, which we got from our local library. Reagan was an "aggressive" leader but Gorbachev gets all the credit for ending the forty year standoff of East and West. Ms. Bjornlund also has a pet cat named "Trotsky," so go figure.
But there are some good books for younger readers if you hunt for them. A truly first-rate study is Albert Marrin's Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel which was put out by Viking Penguin in the late 80s, and which draws heavily on the work of scholars like Robert Conquest—the British historian who was one of the first to tell western readers about the full scope of Russia's mass murders. I'd recommend Marrin's work for older readers as well. It provides an accurate and unflinching portrayal of the USSR and the man who came to rule it.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
“Every man of any education would rather be called a rascal, than be accused of deficiency in the graces.“—Samuel Johnson
The following is a list of social graces compiled by a gentleman of experience, who has offended against most of them.
1. Don’t invite yourself into the conversations of others. Do not ask “what are you talking about?” or “what are you laughing about?” If people want you to know they’ll tell you.
2. Prefer brevity to volubility. Keep your answers relevant, and do not go into intimate details when unnecessary. When people ask “how are you doing?” reply “I am fine.” They do not want your life story.
3. If you find the conversation of most people boring, assume they feel the same about you. The less we speak, the better conversationalists we become, and the more people will prefer our company.
4. Avoid activity that draws attention to yourself. Do not guffaw loudly or talk at high volume among strangers. Do not assume that the entire world is interested in your cell-phone conversation.
5. Be observant. Size up the situation and the audience before speaking. Do not act like a talk show host who dispenses opinions indiscriminately.
6. Do not be unduly helpful. Quiet compassion is more appreciated than ostentatious sympathy. The latter is an excuse to indulge our own emotions rather than to soothe those of others.
7. Do not spend much time being “unique.” People who make a point of not being boring become predictable in their non-conformity.
8. Choose your battles. Don’t be a zealot about everything, especially matters of taste. Your judgments will carry more weight the more sparingly you utter them.
9. Complain less. Most of our trials are minor irritations that everyone is subject to. The amount of sympathy we obtain is inversely proportional to our whining.
10. Be slow to criticize. Do not offer unsolicited advice.
(P.S. Point 10 may be optional, especially if one is a blogger.)
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Popular culture in Poland is very different from ours. There is widespread outcry over the fact that a 14-year-old girl is being pressured by Planned Parenthood to abort her unborn child. Most Poles find this politically-motivated emotional exploitation reprehensible. See: Poland in an Uproar after Coercive Abortion Pressure Put on 14-Year-Old by Planned Parenthood.
On a related note is the story of a Agata Mroz, a 26-year-old champion Polish volleyball player who chose to delay invasive therapy for a fatal case of leukemia until the birth of her baby daughter (April 2008) even though it lead to her death just three months later. See: 2005 Polish Volleyball Champion Sacrificed Her Life for Unborn Child.
This sums up what the culture war is really about, more than just ideology or polemics. As Edmund Burke pointed out long ago, the most important things in life are beyond politics and it is these things that define our political values, not the other way around. That may explain why the Poles are more successful in fighting the culture wars than many of their Western counterparts, despite the fact that they have the added liability of a totalitarian past. Nor can it be put down to simply a political reaction. After all, Russia is still a huge mess. The difference is Poland's strong religious heritage which has survived political and cultural vicissitudes.
For a related commentary on Polish social conservatism, see our January 24 post.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
On a more uplifting note, here is a piece about James Boswell's Life of Johnson, a 1,200+ page book I've read through twice, by Henrik Bering in Policy Review:
Among the great encounters of literature, none ranks higher than the one that took place between James Boswell and Samuel Johnson in Tom Davis’s bookstore in Russell Street, Covent Garden on Monday, May 16, 1763.
Of particular interest are [Johnson's] reading habits. Dropping by for a visit, Boswell found Johnson dusting his books, with a “cloud of dust flying around him,” “wearing a pair of large gloves such as hedgers use,” and living up to Boswell’s uncle’s characterization of him as “a Herculean genius, born to grapple with whole libraries.” (When visiting others, Johnson would make a beeline for their bookshelves and lose himself completely, “almost brushing the books with his eyelashes,” as the novelist Fanny Burney has noted.) One of the Life’s nicest images shows us Johnson outside “swinging upon the low gate” of the Thrale residence without his hat, totally absorbed in his book.
Johnson was a host of contradictions: by turns kind and brutal, stern and forgiving, a subtle intellect which could be incredibly rigid, an intellectual bruiser and a kind and humane man, and for Boswell it was imperative to get the emphasis right ("The
Ultimate Literary Portrait").
Policy Review always has good political and social analysis. This is the first time I've seen a literary essay. It was enjoyable.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.
Islam expert Robert Spencer writes in First Things how it is unacknowledged that "Christian principles played" a big role in the abolition of slavery in the West, which was "an enterprise unprecedented in the annals of human history." By contrast,
Slavery was taken for granted throughout Islamic history, as it was, of course, in the West as well up until relatively recent times. Yet while the European and American slave trade get lavish attention from historians... the Islamic slave trade actually lasted longer and brought suffering to a larger number of people.... There is evidence that slavery still continues beneath the surface in some majority-Muslim countries as well... ("Slavery, Christianity, and Islam").
Say what you like about American "puritanism" and the rest of it, there are some things we do have over the Europeans, like social priorities. According to veteran Catholic reporter John L. Allen, who provides sometimes sensible analysis for the National Catholic Reporter, there is a huge moral divide between American and European Catholics, and presumably between Americans and Europeans generally. Speaking about a visit to Rome this past April, he noted that
if the dominant “single issue” temptation for American Catholics is to focus almost exclusively on abortion, the analogous “single issue” tendency within Catholicism in Italy and elsewhere in Europe is the death penalty.
Although my guess is that Allen also opposes the death penalty, like many Catholic leaders, including the current pope, he points out that
For American Catholics, this focus on the death penalty rather than abortion can often seem terribly imbalanced. According to Amnesty International, there were 1,591 executions worldwide in 2006, while the estimated number of abortions around the world each year is on the order of 45 million. On a purely quantitative basis, some would argue, there’s no comparison in terms of which is the more grave threat to human life. Moreover, many abortion opponents would also argue that while all killing is wrong, with the death penalty we’re usually talking about convicted criminals, while abortion strikes at the most innocent and vulnerable ("What
abortion is to American Catholics, the death penalty is for Italians").
It should be pointed out (and Allen does point out) that opposition to the death penalty on the part of the Church is a prudential option rather than a matter of dogma. Some believe that executing criminals is "unnecessary." I respect those who are at least consistent in being against the death penalty and killing the unborn. But personally I say: punish the guilty, protect the innocent. To me the two are inextricably intertwined.
Another good piece in First Things is by R. R. Reno who warns that we are coming closer to realizing Plato's utopian design in which the state defines all relationships, not only political and economic, but also social and domestic, with new state backing of same-sex unions. Reno calls it the "politicization of culture."
[T]he left imagines itself expanding the scope of freedom for all. It seems all gain and no loss. In California, homosexuals can get married, and nobody is prohibiting heterosexual marriage. Everybody seems to be getting what he or she wants. But what seems is not necessarily so. When the state can rise up to redefine marriage, then the counterweight of tradition is diminished, the political instruments of power are emboldened, and our collective liberty is at peril ("Personal Freedom Without Political Liberty").
Monday, June 09, 2008
Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.
Actually, Richard Scarry books have be dumbed-down for years, but I only noticed it recently because of my young children. I regret now that some of their older Scarry books have bit the dust from over-use. As it turns out, they were irreplaceable.
What about new editions and reprints? Don't count on it. For example, I own a copy of Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever, an original from the 1960s. It's in rather poor shape so I was thrilled to see that it has been re-issued. It's the most visually appealing of all his books with some great stories. But it turns out that the story of the Quebec bruin, "Pierre Bear," is gone. I imagine it's because he is shown hunting seals and turning their pelts into fur coats.
For a sad comparison of Scarry's popular Best Word Book Ever between 1963 and 1991 editions, see this. Not only is the artwork altered in the name of political correctness, in many cases it just plain remedial compared to Scarry's originals. Another point made by critics is that the language has been made stupider compared to what kids a generation or two ago were reading. Unlike Scarry, these publishers don't know how to write for children, only overindulged leftist adults.
Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.
On my way to work I stopped by my local library to drop some items in the book return slot and found both doors and a couple of windows boarded up. According to some people nearby, kids had knocked them out with rocks.
In recent years I've seen the place became a daycare center for kids waiting for their parents after school. I've often encountered gangs of loud and ill-mannered adolescents hanging around the entrance, who like to occasionally hassle and intimidate other (well-behaved) children. I had to up put with plenty of that in my youth, but never around the library. But things have changed, and public institutions seem bent on feeding the problems that plague them.
Perhaps what annoys me most is the fact that there are multiple computer banks most of which are used by young people to surf the internet or play online games. It's tax-supported entertainment. And considering just how ubiquitous PCs and the internet is today, I can't imagine the justification for it. Pay phones, for instance, have been taken out of most public places because cell phones are so common. And you can be sure all the loud kids at the library have cell phones—it's the only way their parents get in touch with them. Of course, libraries have long provided useless media for young people, like trashy books and magazines and the so-called "graphic novels." When I was growing up in the 1970s and early '80s I liked comic books (when they were still largely aimed at kids) but I didn't expect my library to stock them anymore that I expected to go there to watch television.
This is another example of the hazards of "public" institutions. If it were a private library, with even a token membership fee, I doubt it would keep out any of the deserving residents—those who are serious about reading and studying—while it might give the rock-throwing juveniles a reason to congregate somewhere else. It's an old lesson of civilization that as soon as you make anything "free" you provide an open invitation to freeloaders and riff-raff. The people who really could make the best use of these things are gradually driven off.