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Archive for November 2010




This latest Wikileaks document dump reveals a simplistic, even childish, understanding of democracy on the part of Assange and his enablers.   Popular control of government does not mean that there can be no delegation of power.  The public can delegate power to conduct diplomacy, with the understanding that secrecy and discretion are its essence.   Secrecy in foreign negotiations does not violate popular sovereignty or consent. 
The minimal bright side to this latest data dump, which will surely have a chilling effect on our ability to negotiate on the world stage, is the revelation of how normal the Arab diplomats sound.  We have been bombarded with the idea that Islam is the Other, fundamentally at odds with the Western world.   And in certain respects it is.  But it is nevertheless somewhat reassuring to hear the Arab leaders and diplomats act just as calculating and rational in their assessments of security risks as anyone else.   Undoubtedly, Brezhnev’s diplomats sounded just as urbane.  Still, rational discourse is a powerful, universalizing endeavor, as Habermas would say, with at least the potential to start breaking down irrational difference.

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Cranks Without Power

Mr. Hume:  I saw your post about John West’s ISI article “Darwin, Scientism, and the Misguided Quest for Darwinian conservatism” just as I finished reading the two new biographies of Galileo. (For review in the New Criterion. The biographies are here and here.  The reason for there being new biographies this year is that it’s the 400th anniversary of the publication of The Starry Messenger — which, incredibly it seems to me, is not on

Well, reading West after spending a week in Counter-Reformation Italy, I am just very glad that nitwits of that particular strain no longer have any power center in Western society. I’ve met West — debated him, in fact — and found him a monomaniacal crank of the less interesting sort.

We shouldn’t be smug, though. Authoritarian power centers with the ability to stifle dissent from orthodoxy are not exactly unusual in human affairs. Magna est veritas et praevalebit, but sometimes it takes a century or two.

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Darwin and intellectual conservatism

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has a webjournal called First Principles. Here’s a bit about ISI:

In 1953, Frank Chodorov founded ISI as the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, with a young Yale University graduate William F. Buckley, Jr. as president. E. Victor Milione, ISI’s next and longest-serving president, was the enterprising individual whose efforts realized Chodorov’s plan through publications, a membership network, a lecture and conference program, and a graduate fellowship program.

And now here’s an article, Darwin, Scientism, and the Misguided Quest for Darwinian Conservatism. It’s not just the the people at Answers in Genesis.



Bringing Back the Blasphemy Laws (ctd)

Cross-posted over at the Corner:

Via the Daily Mail:

A teenage girl has been arrested on suspicion of inciting religious hatred after allegedly burning an English language version of the Koran – and then posting it on Facebook. The 15-year-old, who lives in the Sandwell area of Birmingham, West Mids, was filmed two weeks ago on her school premises burning the Islamic religious book. Police have confirmed the video was reported to the school and has since been removed.

Yes, the girl’s act was graceless, and not to be condoned, but the principle of free speech should not have some sort of opt-out designed to protect religious sensitivities, and the principles of common sense and budgetary restraint should have meant that there were better uses for police time than the arrest of a fifteen year old for an “offense” of this nature.

Doubtless David Cameron will soon speak up to condemn this farce, but until he does there’s always Cranmer:

Contrast the response of the police over this girl’s decision to burn a copy of the Qur’an with their complete indifference to the decision taken by Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art to desecrate the Bible. The response to that ‘exhibit’ was measured, but the offence to many Christians was no less palpable. Yet the state permits freedom of artistic expression, and the Bible is considered fair game. One cannot coerce the non-believer to revere that to which he or she is completely indifferent and, in an increasingly post-Christian and secular context, the Bible is perhaps no different to the Conservative Party’s last manifesto. They vie equally in a public library for the bottom shelf.

But Catherine Heseltine of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee reminds us that the burning of the Qur’an is one of the most offensive acts to Muslims that she could imagine. She said: “The Qur’an is the most sacred thing to over a billion Muslims worldwide. You can see that in the way Muslims treat the Qur’an – washing before touching it and in many Muslim homes you will find it on the top shelf above all other books. We will never destroy the quranic texts. We believe it is the word of God. God’s guidance for us in this life.”

And so in public libraries it must sit on the top shelf. Even though not everyone agrees that it is ‘God’s guidance’ on any matter whatsoever…

[T]here is an emerging state coercion here which is moving perilously close to the need for an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment: not, in any sense, to cause offence to Muslims; but to stick two fingers up to the ubiquitous, illiberal totalitarianism which denies freedom of expression by negating the right to offend against the supposed sensibilities of minorities. The doctrine of the state is compelling respect and enforcing reverence for that which the majority may consider profane. That is not only an offence against democracy: it is an offence against the conscience and a negation of… religious [liberty].

Over to you, prime minister.

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Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width

In a recent book, libertarian Joel Kotkin exulted over the prospect of us adding 100 million to our population by 2050. In contrast to those East Asian and European nations with declining demographics, he argues, by taking in masses of immigrants, the U.S.A. will become more vibrant, creative, and prosperous.

On this theory California, which has done on the state level exactly what Kotkin wants the U.S.A. to do on the national level, ought to be much move vibrant, etc. than it was 40 years ago.  Strangely, this seems not to be the case: so much so that Joel Kotkin has felt compelled to write an essay about it.

What on earth has gone wrong here?  “Mismanagement,” says Kotkin.  Yes, that must be it. What else could it possibly be?

[A tip of the hat there to Denis Mangan.]

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Divine ADD

Haitian-Americans in a Catholic parish in Queens, NY, have been ecstatically praying since an earthquake wiped out an estimated quarter-million of their island countrymen 10 months ago, following which Hurricane Tomas unleashed cholera in the survivors’ tent camps:

Certain women in [the] parish say so many Hail Mary’s on their own that [the pastor] no longer assigns them the prayers as penance for sins . . . In October, people packed into SS. Joachim and Anne, chanting and dancing and holding sick relatives’ pictures heavenward for healing.

Good luck with that. 

(The New York Times displays the usual nauseating agnosticism towards the religious delusions of the left’s favored victim groups:

On a Saturday night in the basement of [the] mostly Haitian church in Queens, in a bare white room vibrating with hymns and exclamations, a young woman may find herself channeling the Holy Spirit to reveal news from Haiti.

Oh, really?  Yet let a Tea Partyer question the efficacy of deficit spending, and the Times will be certain at the very least to offer a contrary view.)

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for the human ingenuity that tries to foil such tragic Acts of God as the Haitian earthquake through heroic feats of engineering, and when such preventive efforts fail, that tries to save as many surviving victims through medical science.   I am grateful that human reason has conquered so much of the squalor and suffering that nature unleashes upon the world.  I hope that Haiti’s suffering comes to an end through tolerance, honesty, enterprise, and discipline.    

Happy Thanksgiving to all.



Body scan contortions

It is amusing to hear right-wing media hosts rail about TSA’s body scans as an extension of the Obama socialist agenda and as an environmental health hazard.  It was of course the Bush Administration and its supporters in neo-con think tanks that hyped the idea that the U.S. is under civilizational threat from Islamic terrorism and that created the bureaucracies whose primary function is to respond to the Islamic menace, which therefore can never be deemed to have been exagerrated.  Maybe a Bush Administration adoption of body scans would have provoked the same resistance from the right, but I doubt it.  Nevertheless, any push-back against the idea that we need ever more stringent security measures is welcome.  (I haven’t heard what the right-wing media is offering as an alternative to the body scans, but I would guess that they are calling again for profiling the hell out of Islamic passengers.  That’s a logical idea in theory, the problem is that it is nearly unworkable in practice.)  As for myself, I have yet to encounter an intrusion that breaches my privacy threshold and couldn’t care less about these scans from a privacy perspective.  But I object to the burdens on commerce that they impose and to the “Be Afraid” message that they send out.  It would be nice if the right wing stood up for rationality and true risk assessment.  There have been scores of deaths in American workplaces over the last year from psychopaths and zero deaths anywhere in the U.S. from Islamic terrorists.   Ditto in every of the preceding 9 years.  As for auto fatalities, don’t get me started.  If we went back to pre-9/11 airport security measures, my guess is that flying would still be far safer than driving.




The case for an established church

Matt Yglesias makes it implicitly, Royal Wedding and the Case for Monarchy:

The point here is that it seems inevitable in any country for some individual to end up serving the functional role of the king. Humans are hierarchical primates by nature and have a kind of fascination with power and dignity. This is somewhat inevitable, but it also cuts against the grain of a democracy. And under constitutional monarchy, you can mitigate the harm posed by displacing the mystique of power onto the powerless monarch….

If humans are superstitious and collectivist by nature (which I grant some would dispute) then the same logic would apply to an established religious order. Something innocuous such as…the Anglican Church?



True Burkeans! Or not?

Continental Divide:

Throw your Euro stereotypes out the window: Last weekend, a Greek government that has cut public-sector pay and lowered pensions won a clear victory in local elections. Despite strikes and violence, despite the fact that Greece’s debt is still growing and more cuts are coming, there will be a Socialist mayor of Athens for the first time in 24 years. (And, yes, in Greece, the Socialists favor budget cuts, and the conservatives oppose them.)

Technically the Greek conservatives, New Democracy, are being conservative and yelling stop. And I suppose  one could argue that the Socialists are attempting to maintain the social order over the long term. But it just makes me wonder if coherent ideologies aligned with specific parties are a transient affair, a function of the age of plentitude and culture wars well below the Malthusian trap.

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What every schools chief should know

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is under attack for nominating the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines to be the next New York City Schools Chancellor.  The New York education establishment and its political patrons are outraged that someone with no background in education might run the city’s schools.  Bloomberg counters that management skills are the most important qualification for the job, given the size and complexity of the New York system.

The only reason why previous exposure to the education world might in fact be a useful credential for a schools chief is as a vaccine against the multiple idiocies of that world.  Business leaders have shown a depressing tendency to lap up the latest edu-fads, whether the need to teach “critical thinking skills” in the 1980s or the efficacy of smart boards in the 2000s (former Los Angeles mayor and developer Richard Riordan, for example, is pushing those boondoggles through his education foundation).

The following is just a brief list of ed-school nostrums that the ideal inoculated chancellor or principal would laugh out of his jurisdiction: (more…)

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