Can one be both socially conservative and libertarian? Answer: yes

Roger Simon discusses something I had been meaning to write about. His post touches on the tension between social conservatism and the libertarian impulse.

I myself identify as both a social conservative and a small-l libertarian. The contradiction, in fact, is only an apparent one. Allow me to explain.

First of all, there is a fundamental difference between libertarianism and libertinism. Libertinism seeks not liberty but license — the license to ‘do as thou wilst’ while being fully insulated from the consequences of irresponsible behavior. Libertarianism, on the other hand, seeks to get the state out of one’s wallet and bedroom to the extent practically possible, but by definition rejects the concept of the state insulating one from consequences of one’s own irresponsible behavior.

Yes, I believe deeply in a number of values that are generally considered socially conservative, and believe society would benefit greatly if more people would strive to live by these time-proven values. But I believe in furthering them by persuasion and personal example, not by state coercion with its reverse Midas touch.

The answer of every GOP candidate when asked about social issues (other than work ethic and self-reliance, which were still considered social issues when I was young) should be this: “My beliefs are well known, but I do not believe it is the government’s task to enforce them. Now, about the federal deficit and the economy…”

Of course, here’s the flipside: if you don’t want public resources to be used to enforce your beliefs, neither should they be used to enforce those of the other side (no subsidized abortions or s3x changes, no creating a ‘protected/privileged class’ out of a s3xual preference,…). And if you want to engage in risk behaviors (be they nutritional, sexual, smoking,…) do not seek to simultaneously deny us the right to criticize these behaviors yet tax us to foot the bill for them.

And the flip side of rejecting state coercion in “family values” matters is, what ‘cousin Dave’ calls, “get[ting] government out of the business of rearranging society with its offerings of perverse incentives. ”

“Bring the state back to basics.” Even if you do believe that the state should do some stuff beyond what I call “night-watchman duties” (national defense, public law and order, border protection, international relations), as long as it cannot handle the essentials properly it should not concern itself with peripherals. One does not argue about interior decoration while the house is on fire.

Religion as a “containment vessel” for irrationality

“buzzsawmonkey” at @corrcomm quotes his father, a scientist, on the irrational (see comment #16):

When I was young, I thought—we all thought—that science and rationality would triumphantly replace religion.  We were wrong, because man, while capable of rationality in certain areas, is not a rational animal.

There is no removing the non-rational from human beings—and if you try to do this, all you get is bad science, because the non-rational impulse will invade and corrupt the ability to think rationally.  It is the lack of a place and a control for non-rational thinking that creates false science like the hysteria over cancer from cell phones or power lines, or over global warming.

Human non-rationality is like a universal solvent, which dissolves whatever it touches.  The problem with a universal solvent is to find a vessel to contain and control it so it cannot do any harm. The only vessel that has proven itself capable of containing non-rationality over any period of time, and making it possible to control it so that it is not harmful, and even to harness it for useful ends, is religion.  Religion is not a perfect vessel; there are spills and breakages. But it is the only vessel which has been able to contain non-rationality and harness it for good.

Nail, meet hammer. I now see where buzz’s way with words comes from.

Today in history: April 19, 1943: start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Passover is the day when Jews celebrate their release from Pharaoh’s bondage in Egypt. There have been many more Pharaohs in later history, and the most infamous of them had a habit of carrying out “Aktione” on Jewish holidays in order to capture the maximum number of Jews at synagogue or the home (out of hiding).

Today is the 1st day of Passover (15 Nisan on the Jewish calendar). Exactly 67 years ago on the secular calendar (19 April 1943), and exactly as many years plus one day ago on the Hebrew calendar (14 Nisan 5703), the Nazis (y”sh) has planned a major “Aktion” to empty out what was left of the Warsaw Ghetto. To their surprise, they were suddenly faced with an armed revolt: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had begun. Below are two videoclips about it:

As we face new Pharaohs — aided and abetted by self-described “progressives” who seem to find common cause with the most reactionary forces imaginable — let me share with you a song by David Draiman (the Jewish frontman of heavy metal band Disturbed) about precisely this.

Have a wonderful Passover. And NEVER AGAIN indeed.

NPR director caught showing true colors in sting operation

Unbelievable. James O’Keefe’s latest sting, he set up a fake Muslim Brotherhood front group, and had somebody posing as one of its directory approach senior exec Ron Schiller of NPR (National Public Radio, a.k.a. New-class Preening Radio). Video can be seen here.

A man who appears to be a National Public Radio senior executive, Ron Schiller [no relation to CEO Vivian Schiller], has been captured on camera savaging conservatives and the Tea Party movement.

“The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian – I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move,” declared Schiller, the head of NPR’s nonprofit foundation, who last week announced his departure for the Aspen Institute.

In a new video released Tuesday morning by conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe, Schiller and Betsy Liley, NPR’s director of institutional giving, are seen meeting with two men who, unbeknownst to the NPR executives, are posing as members of a Muslim Brotherhood front group. The men, who identified themselves as Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik from the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center (MEAC) Trust, met with Schiller and Liley at Café Milano, a well-known Georgetown restaurant, and explained their desire to give up to $5 million to NPR because, “the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere.”

On the tapes, Schiller wastes little time before attacking conservatives. The Republican Party, Schiller says, has been “hijacked by this group.” The man posing as Malik finishes the sentence by adding, “the radical, racist, Islamaphobic, Tea Party people.” Schiller agrees and intensifies the criticism, saying that the Tea Party people aren’t “just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”

[…] Schiller doesn’t blink [when the interlocutor “reveals” his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood]. Instead, he assumes the role of fan. “I think what we all believe is if we don’t have Muslim voices in our schools, on the air,” Schiller says, “it’s the same thing we faced as a nation when we didn’t have female voices.”

When O’Keefe’s two associates pressed him into the topic, Schiller decried U.S. media coverage of Egypt’s uprising against former dictator Hosni Mubarak, especially talk of the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence on the protests and future of Egypt. Schiller said that is what he is “most disappointed by in this country, which is that the educated, so-called elite in this country is too small a percentage of the population, so that you have this very large un-educated part of the population that carries these ideas.”

When the man pretending to be Kasaam suggests to Schiller that “Jews do kind of control the media or, I mean, certainly the Zionists and the people who have the interests in swaying media coverage toward a favorable direction of Israel,” Schiller does not rebut him or stop eating. He just nods his head slightly.

The man posing as Kasaam then joked that his friends call NPR, “National Palestinian Radio,” because, according to him, NPR is the only media outlet that covers Palestinians’ perspective. Schiller laughed.

When the ersatz Islamists declare they’re “not too upset about maybe a little bit less Jew influence of money into NPR,” Schiller responds by saying he doesn’t find “Zionist or pro-Israel” ideas at NPR, “even among funders. I mean it’s there in those who own newspapers, obviously, but no one owns NPR.”

Response in the blogosphere to Ron Schiller being caught shilling on camera, predictably, fast and furious. (H/t to Insty for most links.)

  • Roger Simon on Pajamas Media: The Protocols Of The Elders of NPR. “What this video reveals most of all is the cultural and ideological ignorance of modern liberalism.”
  • Claire Berllinski on Ricochet: The Utter, Craven Ignominy of NPR. “I cannot believe this. I can’t believe what I just read and watched.” Neither can I — if this had been a scene in a novcl I was writing I would have thrown it out as too cartoonish. ” . . . I would say I’m at a loss for words, but I’m not lost for them at all. They’re right on the tip of my tongue. I just can’t use them on Ricochet.”
  • Byron York at National Review: GOP leader amazed at ‘condescension and arrogance’ in NPR video, calls on Dems to support defunding. As one who routinely spends time among NPR types and often sees depressing displays of patronizing gentryism/elitism, I am amazed that he is even surprised.
  • NPR “Appalled” By Executive’s Comments.“I am shocked, shocked, to hear that gambling is going on in this establishment.” Or in case the revulsion is genuine, NPR should look at the “root cause” (as they are fond of lecturing us to do). In this case, the echo chamber created by New Class liberal groupthink in which ideas such as those expressed are not even exceptional.
  • UPDATE: ZOA calls upon Jews to write to their congressmen to defund NPR.
  • UPDATE: House majority leader Eric Cantor : “As we continue to identify ways to cut spending and save valuable resources, this disturbing video makes clear that taxpayer dollars should no longer be appropriated to NPR […] At a time when our government borrows 40 cents of every dollar that it spends, we must find ways to cut spending and live within our means […] This video [in which Schiller was also heard saying that NPR does not need public funding, Ed.] clearly highlights the fact that public broadcasting doesn’t need taxpayer funding to thrive, and I hope that admission will lead to a bipartisan consensus to end these unnecessary federal subsidies.”
  • UPDATE 2: Ed Driscoll weighs in, and singles out a pathetic attempt at damage control.
  • UPDATE 3: the Shiller also said he was proud of the way their token black commentator Juan Williams had been fired, which is not what NPR has been saying to the outside world. Williams himself, now enjoying a comfortable perch at “intolerant” archrival Fox News despite his conventionally liberal views, can barely contain his schadenfreude: “They prostitute themselves for money”. Tonight on Fox at 9 PM Eastern.

I will leave the last word to Roger Simon:

Is the explanation for this, as some have suggested, that they were just trying to raise funds at any cost? That journalistic trope goes pretty thin. I will suggest another explanation:[…] Lost in a delusional world of political correctness, the elders of NPR have forfeited the ability to think critically. They simply can’t see the facts anymore — or don’t care to. It’s too threatening to their limited weltanschauung. Hence, you get idiotic projections such as Schiller’s statement of how dumb Republicans are and how what America needs is more educated elites.

That they all sat there through the worst kind of anti-Semitic bilge that would make even George Soros and Pat Buchanan blush is as predictable as it is sickening.

What is needed now is not just the defunding of NPR, but also its marginalization. And one of the best ways to marginalize is through well-deserved ridicule. The authors of this video at Project Veritas are thus greatly to be praised. Yes, what they have done is a form of entrapment, but the fools who were trapped deserve it as much as any knave in a Moliere play. NPR and its clones are the true reactionaries of our time. They are no more liberal than Boss Tweed. Taking off their masks is a public service.

Surprise: Jewish groups that “signed” Soros-backed anti-Beck letter repudiate, citing misrepresentation

Yid With Lid has the goods:

Carried in the January 27th edition of the Wall Street Journal was an advertisement/open letter from four-hundred Rabbis organized by a socialist Jewish organization called Jewish Funds for Justice (JFJ), with strong ties to financier George Soros (the full ad is embedded at the bottom of this page). As discussed the day the ad came out, the rabbis efforts brought shame upon themselves, their holy profession and the entire Jewish people, and even worse have committed a Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name). A conversation with one of the signers, Rabbi Steven Wernick , the day after my initial post raised more questions (which as of this moment the Rabbi still hasn’t answered).

That however, is the not the end of the story.  Over the past few days, three of the groups used to corroborate the false charges raised by Jewish Funds For Justice have repudiated the letter arraigned by the George Soros proxy. All three weren’t contacted prior to the use of their names, disagreed with the thrust of the letter and were not happy that they were included. A fourth came out and said the letter was too one sided.  Not surprisingly  the only group/person not raising some objection to the letter has an association with George Soros.

The first one to weigh in was Jeffrey Tobin of Commentary who saw the letter as an overt attempt to silence someone with home they disagree politically[…]

Yesterday in the Wall Street Journal there were two letters published from organizations named in the JFJ open letter:

Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld Vice President American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors wrote:

I suppose that I am to rest easy now that these rabbis and the individuals they quote in their advertisement find Glenn Beck and Roger Ailes… represent a greater threat to the welfare of the Jews than George Soros. I have no position on Mr. Beck, but I am frankly puzzled as to how he merits so great an expenditure by this group. What a waste of communal resources this represents when there are so many needy people, Holocaust survivors and others.

This absurdity and the fact that these rabbis have never seen fit to comment on Mr. Soros’s support for entities that have harmed Israel and Jewish interests (and in my view, Western interests generally), force me to speak out. [my emphasis]

[…] I also know that in my 30 years of participation in large-scale annual commemorations I have yet to meet a survivor who expressed support for Mr. Soros.

Most surprising was the second letter which was from Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, who has often used his organization as an arm of the progressive movement. Foxman defended Beck and Fox News as friends of Israel :

I was surprised to see my name and statements attributed to me used in the advertisement from Jewish Funds for Justice calling on Rupert Murdoch to “sanction” Glenn Beck for his repeated use of Holocaust and Nazi images on his Fox News program.

I want to make it clear, for the record, that I do not support this misguided campaign against Fox News, even though my name was used.

While we have said many times that Nazi comparisons are offensive and inappropriate when used for political attacks, in my view it is wrongheaded to single out only Fox News on this issue, when both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, can share equal guilt in making trivializing comparisons to the Holocaust.

Furthermore, the open letter signed by hundreds of rabbis is a trivialization in itself—bizarrely timed for release on United Nations’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. At a time when Holocaust denial is rampant in much of the Arab world, where anti-Semitism remains a serious concern, and where the Iranian leader has openly declared his desire to “wipe Israel off the map,” surely there are greater enemies and threats to the Jewish people than the pro-Israel stalwarts Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes and Glenn Beck.

A fourth person sited in the letter Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University, said that she didn’t disagree with the thrust of the letter but felt it was distorted because of it was one-sided:
I don’t disagree with the thrust of JFSJ’s ad. That said, I do worry that it is a distortion to focus solely on the conservative end of the political spectrum.

When I saw the original ad I seriously wondered if these above organizations had completely taken leave of their senses. I am relieved that this is not the case. I cannot say that this incident lowers my esteem of the ones behind it by much, since it is currently approaching absolute zero in microkelvin steps.

See also YWL’s earlier coverage here and  here.

Reading the Constitution in Congress: shades of King Josiah (2 Kings 22-23)?

A commenter at Don Surber’s place wonders aloud about this historic parallel:

Back in Old Testament times when Joash was King in Judah, some dusty scrolls were found when the Temple was undergoing a white glove clean up. Written on these scrolls was the Law of God [The Constitution!]. The King had the Law read to him and was moved by what he heard. He realized that he and the Nation were ignorant and had strayed from its Constitution. So, the King set a date for the public reading of the scroll.

Presumably the king he meant was Josiah (or Yoshiyahu in the original Hebrew). See 2 Kings 22:

10 Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. 11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. 12 He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: 13 “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

The remainder of 2 Kings 22 and 2 Kings 23 details the reforms Josiah instituted in his kingdom at that point. One of them sounds very relevant today:  “He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes” (2 Kings 23:7). K Street? The MSM of the day? Beltway Bandits in general?

Xmas video: George Winston, “December” [repost]

[Repost from last year, as life is dumping too many surprises on me to let me blog.] With best wishes from this Jew to his Christian readers. George Winston is often pigeonholed as a “New Age” pianist, but he himself rejects the label, preferring to call his style “rural folk piano”. Technically, he’s head and shoulders about any “New Age” pianist, it must be said.

The video below couples some seasonal imagery with two tunes from the “December” album. “Joy” is mostly a fantasy arrangement of the tune of Bach’s “Jesu meine Freude” (known to English-speakers as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”), the final movement of cantata BWV147 — you’ll recognize the melody coming in at 0:52. “The holly and the ivy” is a very Winstonian arrangement of a traditional Xmas carol. Both tracks are transposed to Ab major: having absolute pitch, I freely admit to being a sucker for anything in that key (or its relative F minor).

Have a wonderful holiday! And for an eloquent statement on how a Jew views Xmas in America, read this nice post by “Ayatollah Ghilmeini”.

Zombie and the Heinlein Political Compass

In an otherwise very interesting post on how the original ’60s counterculturists and today’s Tea Party may have more in common than they realize, Zombie proposes yet another version of the political spectrum/compass. As I have never had much use for the simplistic “left/right” or “conservative/liberal” divide, I’ve always been intrigued by attempts to come up with something more thorough.

One can, of course, easily add so many variables that one can no longer see the forest for all the trees. One would end up having to do something akin to what statisticians call “principal component analysis”: trying to explain as much as possible of the variation in a dataset using as few variables (or fixed linear combinations of them) as possible. Many attempts have been made: this Wikipedia article, while it obviously has numerous flaws, is a good starting point for reading.

Actually, if I were to give Zombie’s spectrum a name other than the “Zombie spectrum”, I might call it the Heinlein Political Compass. Its two main axes directly refer to two of my favorite Heinlein aphorisms:

A. “Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.” (Time Enough for Love (1973) and The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (1978)).

B. “Correct morality can only be derived from what man is — not from what do-gooders and well-meaning aunt Nellies would like him to be.” (Starship Troopers, Ch. 8 )

This former dictum corresponds to Zombie’s horizontal axis (degree of government control). In the well-known “smallest political quiz” (a.k.a. the Nolan Chart), this variable is split up in two axes, which represent economic and personal liberties. (“The [social] conservative wants the government out of your wallet and in your bedroom; the liberal wants it out of your bedroom and in your wallet; the authoritarian wants it in both and the libertarian in neither”, as the common folksy description goes.)

The latter dictum defines Zombie’s vertical axis, belief in, vs. skepticism about, the malleability of human nature. Stalinists, Maoists, and the Khmer Rouge take one extreme position (best illustrated by the Soviet regime’s approval of the anti-hereditary theories of Lysenko), while Nazism, with its belief in complete racial determinism, takes the other extreme. In more temperate climes one might find, on the upper half of the axis, the liberal who daydreams of people giving up armed conflict or financial self-interest, and on the lower half of the axis, the hard-nosed conservative who may love world peace and lovingkindness every bit as much as the liberal but simply accepts the fact that man isn’t wired that way.

Anyhow, without further ado:

The Zombie/Heinlein chart bears a more than superficial resemblance to Jerry Pournelle’s Political Axes. Pournelle (who has multiple academic degrees) wrote his political science thesis on how people’s political orientations cannot be explained by a single axis. He ended up picking two main ones:

  • “Attitude toward the State”: varying from state worship at one (totalitarian) extreme to the state as the ultimate evil at the other (anarchist) extreme
  • “Attitude toward planned social progress”.

This latter axis, while strongly correlated with the Zombie/Heinlein vertical axis, is not identical to it. One can still believe in some form of planned social progress (such as trying to undo discrimination against certain groups — or for that matter, in favor of specific groups) while being skeptical that human nature will ever fundamentally change. Note, for example, that 200 years ago the idea of slavery being a moral outrage was considered revolutionary, while nowadays, almost nobody would consider buying and selling human beings as anything other than a moral outrage. Yet I would be hard-pressed to say that human motivations and urged changed in any significant way — only the rules by which the game is played have fundamentally changed.

On a Sabbath note: Both Judaism and Xianity are ambivalent on the “malleability” axis. Certain Christian core beliefs (such as that in original sin) would appear to favor the “innate” half-axis, while others (such as the belief in the transformative nature of ‘accepting Jesus’) point in the other direction. Some interdenominational faultlines cross that axis: compare the Quaker insistence on total pacifism with “Just War theory” (originally Roman Catholic), for instance.

Meanwhile, the Jewish belief in “Tikkun Olam” (literally “healing the world”) would seem to fall on the “malleable” half of the vertical axis, and has been (successfully ab)used by some liberal Jewish theologians to sell Jews on the liberal orthodoxy du jour. However, Jewish rabbinical thought is full of statements that point in the other direction, from mundane skeptical attitudes such as “if you are planting a seedling and they come tell you the Messiah is coming, finish planting and then go greet the Messiah” to the fundamental belief that every human being has innate altruistic (“yetzer tov”, literally “good impulse”) and egoistic (“yetzer hara”, literally “bad impulse”) — and that it is good that human beings are this way, as “were it not for the yetzer hara , nobody would marry, build a house, or beget children” (Genesis Rabbah 9:7).

10/10/10 post: the original “Powers of Ten” movie, and a reflection

In honor of today being 10/10/10, the original “Powers of Ten” movie has been posted on YouTube by its original authors. Here it is (watch on YouTube to view at 480p resolutions):

There is the mysterious passage in Exodus 33:20, where G-d says to Moses: “for none shall see My Face and live”. Elie Wiesel used to interpret this as “…and live as before”. Eventually Moses is allowed to “see” G-d, but not his face. My mental image of this, reading the passage for the first time, was of Moses being shown something a bit akin to this movie, but in an infinitely more vivid fashion: the radical perspective of just how insignificant man is on the scale of the Universe (and its Maker), and how man actually fits in the context of the Universe, is something very few people at the time would have been truly (emotionally, not just intellectually) able to grasp without surviving the experience — or being forever changed.

In the words of one of the greatest poets ever to grace the English language:

Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of Thee,
And thou, O L-rd, art more than they.

We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see;
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.

Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before…

5771: l’shana tova

To my fellow Jews: a happy New Year 5771!

Walter Russell Mead wrote an article that reflects on the trying times America is going through, and how it made it through: Buck Up, America!

As a turbulent year that was (generally but also personally) passes before me in review, I give you Dream Theater’s  intrumental “Stream of consciousness”.

UPDATE: after posting this, I just found out that, unbelievably, Dream Theater founder Mike Portnoy called it quits. “A change of seasons” indeed…

Today in History: Operation Valkyrie (July 20, 1944)

66 years ago to the day, a group of German military officers and civilians lead by Col. Klaus Schenk, Count Stauffenberg tried to put an end to the Hitler (y”sh) regime. In a unique example in modern history, the leader of the coup attempted the assassination with his own hand. Due to a quirk of fate, their target survived the bomb meant for him. Stauffenberg soldiered on regardless, to no avail: eventually, many conspirators paid the ultimate price, Stauffenberg among the first.

Here is the closing scene of the movie “Valkyrie”. Despite my apprehension about anything coming out of Hollywood, and about Tom Cruise (who does have a vague physical resemblance to the historic Stauffenberg), I can only say that the movie displays an almost astonishing level of historical accuracy (at least by Hollywood standards).

By a quirk of the calendar, July 20 this year falls on Tisha Be-Av, the day Jews commemorate a long litany of calamities that befell the Jewish people on or around that day. Had the assassination succeeded, it is quite likely that the “Final Solution” machinery would have ground to a halt and that a large part of the Jews of Hungary would have escaped its mauls.

Some historians have tried to make Stauffenberg into something he wasn’t. He was an unapologetic German imperialist and militarist, an elitist with little use for democracy as we understand it, and approved to some degree of Nazi racial doctrines even though he considered their implementation “exaggerated” and “excessive”.  In short, he was not a saint. But let us honor his memory for what he really was: somebody who, in a place where there were no men, strove to be one (במקום שאין בו אנשים השטדל להיות איש). And let us likewise honor those who stood and fell with him.

The strange case of UIUC adjunct Kenneth Howell

Fox News has an article on the controversy involved in the “not firing firing” of UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) adjunct professor Kenneth Howell for private Emails expressing what some read as approval of Catholic doctrine on same-sex relationships. The case is less black and white than either side lets on, but disturbing nevertheless. A few impromptu remarks on this drama playing out at what is, interestingly, the birthplace of the first widely available web browser (Mosaic, which later became Netscape).

Dr. Howell is an interesting character. An ordained Presbyterian minister by background, he converted to Catholicism and moved to UIUC to become involved with the Catholic student center, of which he eventually became the director. He simultaneous started teaching as  an adjunct associate professor on Catholic doctrine at UIUC, and by all accounts was popular with the students and well-liked by them. He was given an award for teaching excellence.

In an Email responding to a query about this, he expounded the reasoning behind Catholic doctrine on same-sex relationships, specifically the “Natural law” argument. He, however, did not state this in a manner disassociating himself personally from this doctrine (“Catholic moralists defending this doctrine put forward the following arrgument:”[…] or something of the sort). As he himself is by all accounts a devout Catholic, it was understood by some as personally agreeing with them, which led to complaints against him and his annual contract not being renewed. (Technically he was not fired, but I am familiar enough with academia to know how appearances are kept there.)

Leaving aside Jewish (or my own) views on homosexuality, I am personally of two minds about the affair. On the one hand, every college lecturer would do well to remember the admonishment of Avtalyon in Pirkei Avot 1:11: “Scholars, heed your words. For you may be exiled to a place of evil waters [i.e., malicious elements who will distort your words to suit their purposes]. The disciples who come after you will then drink of these evil waters and be destroyed, and the Name of Heaven will be desecrated.” On the other hand, for every Dr. Howell there are dozens of lecturers and professors who vigorously advocate Marxism (a doctrine in whose name even more people have been killed than in the name of National Socialism), spout antisemitic and/or anti-American drivel from their bully pulpits,… with impunity. (OK, most of these enjoy the protection of tenure, unlike Dr. Howell.)

Meanwhile, as the Fox article explains, students have rallied to his defense, including from some rather… unexpected groups.

Thousands of supporters are rallying behind Dr. Kenneth Howell, the University of Illinois professor fired for expressing his Catholic beliefs, via a \”Save Dr. Ken\” Facebook group.”
“It’s turning into a whole movement for freedom of speech in the classroom,” said senior Tim Fox, a member of the group and former resident at the university’s Catholic student Newman Center.The “Save Dr. Ken” Facebook group includes alumni, current students and outside supporters who are familiar with Howell through his books or his appearances on EWTN, a Catholic television network. Howell is actively involved in the group and has written personal responses to some of his Facebook supporters.

“Save Dr. Ken” is actively working to take its protest beyond Facebook. Its home page offers detailed instructions on how to protest Howell’s dismissal, separately tailored to students, alumni and outside supporters. […]

Students are also organizing a mass boycott of all university religion courses unless Howell is reinstated by the fall, Melissa Silverberg, editor-in-chief of the university’s student newspaper, the Daily Illini, confirmed.

Howell is a popular professor; his students voted for him to receive an “Excellence in Teaching” award last fall, and now they are rallying for him.

[…] Students at the center are not the only ones protesting. The campus secularist group, Atheists, Agnostics & Freethinkers, has taken up Howell’s cause. Howell had worked with the group in the past, helping organize a public debate between an atheist and a Catholic on “Does the Christian God Exist?” last February. Its president wrote a letter to the university chancellor, Robert Easter, saying, “[Howell] has shown a commitment to the questioning of all ideas. His loss is a profound blow to the University of Illinois and its purpose… Who will next be silenced?”“Even people who disagree with what [Howell] taught think that his firing was wrong,” said Silverberg.

But not everyone is in Howell’s corner. Some students say they are not so sure he should be coming back.

“I wouldn’t necessarily get behind this protest,” said David Bettinardi, a senior. “Teachers can abuse their authority, and if a teacher talks about his personal beliefs in class, it becomes less education and more indoctrination. That’s true for a professor with any set of beliefs – atheist, Catholic, whatever.”

Other students said Howell’s dismissal was not just an issue of freedom of speech, but revealed a double standard at the university.

“Professor Howell didn’t mean to insult homosexuals; he was just stating the Catholic position,” said Mike Hamoy, a senior chemistry major who took Howell’s class in fall 2009. “I’ve had multiple professors who have mocked how much Catholic families reproduce or who have implied to the class that God is a joke. Why aren’t these professors fired for their open insults?”

The logic behind the double standards is very simple, Mike. If you agree with the Anointed and thus are a loyal member of the New Class, you can get away with nearly anything. But woe unto those who dare stray off the reservation, or who simply are “not one of us”…

Modern leftism as a secular/Pagan neo-Calvinism

Glenn Reynolds links his spouse and Ann Althouse in this hits it out of the park with this one:

THOUGHTS ON FREE WILL, SCIENCE, AND POLITICS, from the Insta-Wife.

Related: “Another manifestation of that trendy liberal theme: Choice won’t make you happy.” Unless it’s, you know, choice-choice, in which case it’s sacred.

UPDATE: Reader Donald Gately writes: “I’ve also noticed that AP has been running a series of ‘Americans are medically over-treated’ stories.” I question the timing.

Posted at 10:29 pm by Glenn Reynolds

Glenn’s inimitable snark aside, this post confirms something I have been suspected for a while: that the New Class’s doctrine of eco-friendly left-liberalism has a deeply rooted Calvinist streak. I am not thinking of John Calvin’s faith, but of a humanity irredeemably tainted with sin (against Gaia); of predestination rather than free will; of a humanity composed of elect (the New Class), lesser elect (those belonging to identity groups with grievances), and the damned; and of what the Dutch of an older generation would refer to as “that which is fun is sinful”. Except the sins now consist not of sex, booze, and rock ‘n roll but of having a large carbon footprint (except for the Elect, who are elect no matter what they do), of eating non-organic food, and of being insensitive towards the historically disadvantaged.

Others have already pointed out amusing parallels between the obsession with organic foods and Jewish dietary laws (which I myself observe in moderation, for reasons of faith). The new idea that “free will is overrated”, however, is not amusing at all to me but the harbinger of something quite sinister.

As for myself:

“You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill/I will choose a path that’s clear: I will choose free will”

The Tea Party as a “social justice” movement?!

Via Insty I found this intriguing article by one “Timothy Dalrymple” (presumably not related to Theodore Dalrymple, which is itself a pen name) that tries to explain the Tea Party movement as a “social justice” movement.

What I witnessed in the Tea Partiers […] were a moral, sensible, and patriotic people who had a justified concern that their representatives have grown disconnected from those they represent, and are perpetuating a dysfunctional political culture that will thrust our country back to the precipice of economic collapse. Washington cannot pour rivers of money we do not possess into thousands of programs we do not need, in exchange for the mountains of votes that will keep them in power, and complain when the taxpayers get upset. The Tea Partiers are not objecting [to Washington’s profligate spending] because they would rather leave the poor to rot than surrender a little more of their money; polls show (as I will discuss in the next part of this series) that Tea Partiers are perfectly willing to accept the need for moderate taxation and social services. Rather, Tea Partiers are objecting because they fear that Washington is caught in a vicious circle of reckless spending and political payback that will cripple our economy and harm all Americans, rich and poor.This led to the question on my mind that morning. Since it is intent on the formation of a more accountable and more restrained government that will better serve the interest of all Americans: Is the Tea Party movement a social justice movement?

[…This] obviously depends on how the term is defined. The irony is that one cannot exclude the Tea Party from the social justice category without betraying that “social justice” is a partisan political theory.Defining social justice is no simple task. The term first gained some measure of literary solidity in the mid-19th century in the writings of the Sicilian Jesuit, Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio, and it was passed down by various Catholic popes and theologians. Father Coughlin popularized the term in the Roosevelt era through his enormously popular weekly radio broadcasts. First he saw social justice as a way of charting a course for worker’s rights between the Scylla and Charybdis of godless communism and heartless capitalism. Never afraid to claim the favor of God for one political party over another, Coughlin coined the phrase, “The New Deal is Christ’s Deal,” and once reported to Congress that, “God is directing President Roosevelt.” From there, his vision of social justice careened into more radical political territory, and eventually his popularity dissolved in a flurry of fascist sympathies and antisemitic paranoia. […] Although Coughlin was an ardent critic of Marxism, his vision of social justice centered on the advocacy of what we would consider liberal policies on behalf of workers and the poor. He rejected Roosevelt when he believed the latter had fallen in bed with Jewish Wall Street capitalists, and his National Union for Social Justice [!!] advocated dramatic redistributions of wealth through taxation of the wealthy, government seizure of property for the greater good, and the nationalization of crucial industries.

A radically different kind of socialist, David Ben-Gurion, shared with Coughlin (y”sh) his loathing for Marxism if basically nothing else. (He had the left-wing  Mapam party placed under surveillance by the Shin Bet domestic security service.) Ben-Gurion used to refer to his own (rather pragmatic) doctrine as tzedek chevrati, which literally translates as “social justice”, and used to say that his ideas derived from the Hebrew prophets rather than from any socialist or social-democratic  theoretician. (Israel owes its birth in no small measure to the single-mindedness and charismatic leadership of Ben-Gurion, but had the country not thrown the socialist albatross off its neck, it would never have become the economic powerhouse it is now.)

When Glenn Beck condemned social justice as a “code word” for liberal political activism, the question that was presented to progressive activists like Jim Wallis was whether social justice is the sole province of left-wing political agitators. With apologies to Albert Einstein, we distinguish between general and special theories of social justice. The general theory is that “social justice is in fact a personal commitment to serve the poor and to attack the conditions that lead to poverty.” That is how Jim Wallis defined the term in a Washington Post column. The special theory, by contrast, asserts that social justice is when one attacks “the conditions that lead to poverty” by advocating specifically the policies that liberals prefer. In other words, on the special theory, it is not enough to fight for the conditions that would allow the poor to prosper; one must do so through redistributionist policies, or living wage movements, or stronger unions, or etc.

In other words, as I always argue, this meaning of “social justice” is basically code-speak for “equality-of-outcome policies”.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must acknowledge that I know Jim Wallis and I promise I will elaborate in the next post in this series, in which I will respond to an article in which Wallis argues that the Tea Party movement is un-Christian. What is important presently is that when Wallis is pressed on whether he is merely anointing his own political preferences in religious rhetoric, he retreats to the general theory of social justice. People all over the spectrum, he says, are social justice Christians; what is important is simply “to stand up for the poor, even against wealth and power when necessary.”

I would say that standing up against the Chicago Machine, against crony capitalism, against a bloated government apparatus that arranges for itself ever greater benefits and job security at the expense of the rest of us, and against billionaires advocating liberal causes that are no skin off their bones (but for which the middle class ends up holding the bag)  would count as “standing up against wealth and power when necessary”.

Wallis cites Martin Luther King, Jr., as the prototypical “social justice Christian,” and frequently refers to social justice not only in relation to poverty but also to issues of race, immigration, health care, and the environment.

The Catholic theologian Michael Novak also offers a universal definition of social justice. After noting all the ambiguities in its history and meaning, Novak suggests that social justice is a joint, cooperative action (thus “social” in its form) for the good of the whole of society (and thus “social” in its end). By this definition, social justice is not an “ideological marker,” but is “ideologically neutral.” Social justice “is practiced both by those on the left and those on the right” because there is “more than one way to imagine the future good of society.”

If we adopt Novak’s definition, or Wallis’ universal definition, then the Tea Party movement is in fact a social justice movement. The great majority of those attending the rallies would tell you that the policies they advocate are for the common good of all, including the poor. On the conservative way of seeing things, the interests of the haves and the have-nots are not as easily divisible as Wallis portrays them. Much though it may strain the credulity of the trained progressive, Tea Partiers sincerely believe that taking more and more money away from society’s most productive citizens, and thus disincentivizing productivity and diminishing the resources for private investment; spending more and more in Washington, and thus making economic decisions on political criteria and expanding a federal government that is rife with self-serving inefficiency and corruption; and giving more and more through government distribution, fostering a culture of dependency and vote-buying, is poisonous to our national character and economy and will adversely affect everyone, the poor most of all.

Furthermore, the Tea Partiers would tell you that they are “standing up” against powerful media and political (and even religious) establishments that would mock, slander, and squelch their movement. In his beloved image of “speaking truth to power,” Jim Wallis is no longer the one speaking. He is the one spoken to.

Yet Wallis does not actually hold to the universal theory of social justice. When Wallis actually uses social justice language amongst his supporters, it clearly means pressing for the systemic changes that Wallis and other leaders of “the faith community” prefer. I have never seen Wallis refer to a movement pressing for conservative policies, even when those policies are overtly intended to serve the poor and needy, as a social justice action.

One might respond that movements must press for a biblical vision of justice in order to qualify for the social justice category, and that conservative policies are simply not oriented toward the biblical ideal. To which the answer must be: According to whom? Countless thousands of conservative Christians vote the way they do, and press for the policies they do, precisely because they believe that they fulfill the biblical ideal of justice.

Or one might say that conservatives are really motivated by selfishness and not concern for the poor. Yet this is simply a failure of imagination, a failure to comprehend how conservatives quite genuinely believe that their policy preferences are for the betterment of all society and not only for themselves. Just because conservatives have a different vision of the just society does not mean that they do not care to bring justice to the poor and needy.

Thus one must adopt the general, ideologically neutral theory of social justice, and then accept that all sorts of activities from soup kitchens to living wage demonstrations to, yes, Tea Party rallies, can count as social justice movements — or else one must adopt the special, partisan theory of social justice and accept that Glenn Beck had a point. I leave it to my liberal friends to determine which is the more painful.

Heh.

Friday Night songfood for thought: Rush, “The Weapon”

This is Rush live, from the Grace Under Pressure tour. Forget the goofy intro: the song begins at about 1:20. (Never figured out how to make a YouTube embed in WordPress start at a specific time stamp.)

As nearly always, the music is by Lifeson and Lee, and drummer Neil Peart wrote the lyrics. It’s not my favorite Rush song musically, but the lyrics have gone through my head countless times.

We’ve got nothing to fear but fear itself
— Not pain or failure, not fatal tragedy
— Not the faulty units in this mad machinery
— Not the broken contacts in emotional chemistry

With an iron fist in a velvet glove
We are sheltered under the gun
In the glory game on the power train
Thy kingdom’s will be done

And the things that we fear
Are a weapon to be held against us…

He’s not afraid of your judgement
He knows of horrors worse than your Hell
He’s a little bit afraid of dying —
But he’s a lot more afraid of your lying

And the things that he fears
Are a weapon to be held against him…

Can any part of life be larger than life?
Even love must be limited by time
And those who push us down that they might climb —
Is any killer worth more than his crime?

Like a steely blade in a silken sheath
We don’t see what they’re made of
They shout about love, but when push comes to shove
They live for the things they’re afraid of

And the knowledge that they fear
Is a weapon to be used against them…

Zombie: the new free speech movement

My intrepid blog-ancestor has an essay up on the satirical mock-holiday “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”.  The crux of his/her argument is in this paragraph:

This is not an argument over the right to be “provocative” or “offensive”; rather, is it something much more significant — an argument over who gets to determine what counts as provocative or offensive in the first place. The Western world dragged itself out of the church-dominated Dark Ages and into the Enlightenment in part over this precise issue: The freedom to engage in speech and actions which formerly had been classified as the crime known as “blasphemy.” It seems such a trivial and quaint issue in retrospect, and hardly worthy of note from our hyper-secularized 21st-century perspective, but tell that to the millions of people who for centuries lived under the yoke of governments which used accusations of blasphemy and other religious misbehaviors as a primary tool of tyranny and oppression. The modern world dawned with the American and French Revolutions and the emergence of the explicitly secular state — the Americans rejecting the Church of England as Britain’s legally enforced national religion, and the French shrugging off centuries of acquiescence to domination by the Catholic Church in civil affairs. In both cases, new governmental paradigms were established in which there was an inviolable separation of church and state, which in practice meant no civil laws enforcing religious doctrines and (most importantly for our discussion) no laws against blasphemy.

In 19th-Century France and Belgium, paleoconservative Catholic clericalists known as “ultramontans” (from “ultra montes”/”beyond the mountains”, i.e., Rome) and the emerging [classical-]liberal bourgeoisie were locked in an existential struggle for the soul of their societies. A similar struggle (mixed in there with nationalist elements pitted against the Papal State) existed in Italy during the risorgimento. Contemporary anti-clerical propaganda was as offensive as anything one can see on Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Of course there were protests, and of course the clericalists retaliated in kind (with propaganda depicting anticlericals as devil-worshippers etc.) — but few anticlericals seriously feared for their lives. Of course, nothing would have been further from the truth a few hundred years before. But who (outside perhaps Spain itself) still expected the Spanish Inquisition?

Everybody Expects the Islamic Inquistion

Well, the Spanish Inquisition may be a distant memory now relegated to Monty Python skits, but the self-appointed Islamic Inquisition is threatening to take its place. Remember that the Spanish Inquisition (and the much larger papal inquisition which preceded it) existed for the purpose of enforcing religious dictates on the general populace, including and especially religious crimes such as heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy. Punishment for these deeds could be severe and often as not included torture or execution. This is exactly what the Islamic fundamentalists want to impose on us in the 21st century: Obedience to religious dictates, enforced where necessary by violence.

[…]

Islamic extremists still seem to think that banning Facebook or threatening to kill the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day organizers will somehow make the problem of blasphemy go away. They don’t yet understand that we in the West have spent the last 600 years not merely earning the right to be blasphemous, but more importantly creating a society and a worldview in which there is no such thing as blasphemy, because all forms of speech are permitted and religious bullies no longer get to determine what is forbidden.

Read the whole thing.

Rahm Emanuel in full damage control mode to Jewish community

Clearly David Goldman’s earlier revelations about the Jewish community (and leadership) starting to turn its back on 0bama were not just wishful thinking. Herb Keinon in the Jerusalem Post (via WeaselZippers)  reports on furious damage control efforts by WH staff chief Rahm Emanuel that simply smell like panic.

He is being assisted in these efforts by a number of rabbis that either have drunk the Kool-Aid or are trying to limit the damage of an administration they themselves perceived as (actually or potentially) hostile. This latter practice, “shtadlanut” (literally: “intercession”) has been around for as long as there has been a Jewish diaspora, arguably longer (cf. the Book of Esther).

Calling these rabbis “Jewish uncle Toms” is unfair : besides, there are enough real ones, so let’s not cheapen a perfectly good insult by overuse. Terms like “shtadlanim” or perhaps  “court Jews” are more accurate to describe their specific behavior.

Thomas Sowell: Race and resentment

Thomas Sowell has a “read the whole thing” article on race and resentment. The salient grafs:

Recent stories out of both Philadelphia and San Francisco tell of black students beating up Asian American students. This is especially painful for those who expected that the election of Barack Obama would mark the beginning of a post-racial America.[…]

Those who explain racial antagonisms on some rationalistic basis will have a hard time demonstrating how Asian Americans have made blacks worse off. Certainly none of the historic wrongs done to blacks was done by the small Asian American population who, for most of their history in this country, have not had enough clout to prevent themselves from being discriminated against.[…]

Resentments and hostility toward people with higher achievements are one of the most widespread of human failings. Resentments of achievements are more deadly than envy of wealth.

The hatred of people who started at the bottom and worked their way up has far exceeded any hostility toward those who were simply born into wealth. None of the sultans who inherited extraordinary fortunes in Malaysia has been hated like the Chinese, who arrived there destitute and rose by their own efforts.

Inheritors of the Rockefeller fortune have been elected as popular governors in three states, attracting nothing like the hostility toward the Jewish immigrants who rose from poverty on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to prosperity in a variety of fields.

Others who started at the bottom and rose to prosperity– the Lebanese in West Africa, the Indians in Fiji, the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, for example– have likewise been hated for their achievements. Being born a sultan or a Rockefeller is not an achievement.

Achievements are a reflection on others who may have had similar, and sometimes better, chances but who did not make the most of their chances. Achievements are like a slap across the face to those who are not achieving, and many people react with the same kind of anger that such an insult would provoke.

In our own times, especially, this is not just a spontaneous reaction. Many of our educators, our intelligentsia and our media — not to mention our politicians– promote an attitude that other people’s achievements are grievances, rather than examples.

When black school children who are working hard in school and succeeding academically are attacked and beaten up by black classmates for “acting white,” why is it surprising that similar hostility is turned against Asian Americans, who are often achieving academically more so than whites?

This attitude is not peculiar to some in the black community or to the United States. The same phenomenon is found among lower-class whites in Britain, where academically achieving white students have been beaten up badly enough by their white classmates to require hospital treatment.

These are poisonous and self-destructive consequences of a steady drumbeat of ideological hype about differences that are translated into “disparities” and “inequities,” provoking envy and resentments under their more prettied-up name of “social justice.”

Asian American school children who are beaten up are just some of the victims of these resentments that are whipped up. Young people who are seething with resentments, instead of seizing educational and other opportunities around them, are bigger victims in the long run, whether they are blacks in the US or lower-class whites in the UK. […]

People who call differences “inequities” and achievements “privilege” leave social havoc in their wake, while feeling noble about siding with the less fortunate. It would never occur to them that they have any responsibility for the harm done to both blacks and Asian Americans.

I have for a long time wondered why the Tenth Commandment is “thou shalt not covet” (לא תחמוד), as “coveting” something is not an act but an intent. However, it is covetousness that will lead to violating all of the others.

Lag BaOmer

Tonight Jews everywhere (but especially in Israel) celebrate the minor Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer (literally: “33 [days] into the Omer”, i.e. 18 Iyar). Originally, the holiday marked an event that happened around 120 CE in Roman-occupied Judea:

“In the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, a plague decimated 24,000 students of the great sage Rabbi Akiva–a result, says the Talmud, of the fact that they “did not respect one another.” The plague’s cessation on Iyar 18–the 33rd day of the Omer Count or “Lag BaOmer”–is one of the reasons that the day is celebrated each year.” [Wikipedia]

In Israel, children and adults starts bonfires on that day, often holding barbecues and/or potato roasting over them. Also, a great number of couples get married on that day, as the day interrupts (for Sephardim: ends) the “blackout period” for marriages that follows Passover. (For Ashkenazim, it resumes until Shavuot.)

A number of other historical events took place on the day [view historical and future secular dates here]. On Lag BaOmer in 1948, for example, the Hurva synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem was destroyed, while on the very same day, the Haganah and a few other pre-state Jewish defense forces were formally merged into the IDF.

To me, the ultimate “end of a plague”, however, took place in 1945 — and by coincidence, the secular dates nearly coincide this year.

There is a hoary Jewish joke about the belief in clairvoyance of Hitler (y”sh). Upon being told that a Jewish seer predicted he would die on a Jewish holiday, he had the clairvoyant arrested and asked which Jewish holiday. The answer: “any day on which you die will be a Jewish holiday”. To be called Yom mavet haMamzer? 🙂

As it happened, on the eve of Lag BaOmer 5705 (April 30, 1945), the Amalek of that generation took his own life in his bunker in Berlin. On the next day, May 1, 1945 and Lag BaOmer 5705 itself, having been Chancellor of Nazi Germany for one day, the “Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda” and his wife followed him into the grave after murdering their children. These events happened after a last-minute offer of conditional surrender was turned down by Soviet general Chuikov. Following a breakout attempt by part of the remaining defenders, the city finally capitulated the next day, May 2, 1945.  By coincidence, there is a Sephardic tradition (unfamiliar to most Ashkenazi Jews like myself) of marking the next day, Lad BaOmer, as a holiday.

Lag BaOmer sameach!

Yom HaShoah post: Shostakovich, 13th Symphony, “Babi Yar”

Tonight and tomorrow until sundown, Israelis and by many Jews abroad mark Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day).

On September 29–30, 1941, an Einsatzkommando shot 33,771 Jews in a ravine named “Babi Yar” outside Kiev.

Dimitri Shostakovich wrote his 13th symphony in B flat minor, “Babi Yar” in commemoration of the victims. He used texts by the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko for the vocal sections.

Below is a YouTube of the first ten minutes of this long work. The Russian texts are subtitled in English.

As for the victims, HaShem yikom damam.