Saturday, March 12, 2005

All Creatures Great and Small... The Lord God Made Them All

I would recommend that people, Jews and non-Jews alike, read this powerful essay by Elie Wiesel. It is nominally directed at Jews but applies to all: although it is important that we invest our primary philanthropic energies in our family and community, there must be some left for real people in need all over the world. Only God can give full attention to every creature simultaneously, but they each deserve some attention, and attentiveness.

When you use the link to the Forward, it will ask you to register for free. Once you register, come back and hit the link again, and it will allow you to proceed directly to the article.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Escaping The Hangman's News

After nearly forty years of listening to radio news, this was the dumbest ever. After the anchorette announced that a man on trial for rape had overpowered a deputy, stolen her gun, killed the judge and two other people, commandeered a car and escaped, she added this:

ABC's Aaron Katursky reports that there is no word yet as to a possible motive.

More Shameless Self-Promotion

I have been traveling for the last week, in my endless defense of capitalism and all things good and proper, and so let me note a bit tardily for all Reform Clubbers a "Statement of California Economists In Favor of Constitutional Spending Limitation," published jointly by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Pacific Research Institute (where I am a senior fellow). The statement, published as part of a double-page advertisement in Tuesday's Sacramento Bee, was written, and the forty-two signatures gathered by, ... yes, yours truly. Nobel laureate Milton Friedman is one of the economists endorsing the statement, a very, very good group indeed. The statement and economist list are reproduced below. The Left is fond of arguing that "California should be a leader," meaning of course that it should use political and regulatory processes to steal the property of others; I too believe that the Golden State should lead, in a direction rather different:

NOBEL LAUREATE MILTON FRIEDMAN AND FORTY-ONE OTHER LEADING CALIFORNIA ECONOMISTS ENDORSE THE FOLLOWING

STATEMENT IN FAVOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL SPENDING LIMITATION

<>March 2005
<>

<> Every California family must make difficult spending choices among housing, groceries, clothing, and the like within a fixed overall budget. Similarly, Californians through democratic processes choose between overall public and private spending, and among various public programs. Because there always are limits to the ability of taxpayers to finance public spending, there must be an overall budget maximum for state spending programs, a constraint within which government officials and agencies must learn to operate. < style="font-family: times new roman;">
California’s tax rates are among the highest for the fifty states, and its business environment in terms of investment and employment expansion is poor. This means that Californians cannot afford higher taxes; indeed, California cannot become fully competitive with other states without tax relief, and taxes will not be reduced until spending is brought under control.
Despite revenue growth of $5 billion for the next fiscal year, the longer term structural deficit in the California state budget now is estimated at about $6 billion or more annually. This now-familiar imbalance between pressures to spend and the ability of Californians to finance larger government results from the political environment within which public officials make choices: Pressures to spend more each year are exerted by large, identifiable groups that can deliver sizeable blocs of votes, while the benefits of fiscal discipline accrue to millions of less-organized taxpayers and to the economy as a whole.

A constitutional spending limit will help to reform the inconsistent spending mandates now embedded in California law, and will force government to recognize and operate within the limited incomes earned by Californians. A mere balanced-budget requirement---even if it could be enforced---would allow government to spend as much as it manages to collect, a system that will not force public officials to recognize fully the cost of government spending. That is why constitutional spending limitation now is necessary for the long-term economic health of California.

< style="font-family: times new roman;">< style="font-family: times new roman;"><>Signed (Affiliations for identification purposes only).< style="font-family: times new roman;"> < style="font-family: times new roman;">

Armen A. Alchian University of California, Los Angeles

William R. Allen University of California, Los Angeles

Charles W. Baird California State University, Hayward

Ronald Batchelder Pepperdine University

Richard A. Bilas California State University, Bakersfield

Thomas E. Borcherding Claremont Graduate University

Henry N. Butler Chapman University

Henry G. Demmert Santa Clara University

Harold Demsetz University of California, Los Angeles

Arthur Denzau Claremont Graduate University

Larry Dougharty Former Mayor, City of Manhattan Beach

Fred E. Foldvary Santa Clara University

Milton Friedman Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Gary M. Galles Pepperdine University

Thomas W. Gilligan University of Southern California

Rodolfo A. Gonzalez San Jose State University

Peter Gordon University of Southern California

Steven F. Hayward Pacific Research Institute

Dale M. Heien University of California, Davis

David R. Henderson Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Jack Hirshleifer University of California, Los Angeles

Jesse R. Huff Former Director, California Department of Finance

Ronald N. Johnson San Diego, California

Daniel Klein Santa Clara University

Robert C. Krol California State University, Northridge

Clay La Force Dean Emeritus, Anderson School of Management,

University of California, Los Angeles

Tibor R. Machan Chapman University

Michael L. Marlow California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

John G. Matsusaka University of Southern California

Lawrence J. McQuillan Pacific Research Institute

Tom Means San Jose State University

Robert J. Michaels California State University, Fullerton

Lydia D. Ortega San Jose State University

Neal A. Pepper Los Angeles, California

Philip Romero Former Chief Economist to the Governor of California

Alan C. Shapiro University of Southern California

Stephen Shmanske California State University, Hayward

Edward Stringham San Jose State University

Shirley Svorny California State University, Northridge

Thomas D. Willett Claremont Graduate University

Paul J. Zak Claremont Graduate University

Benjamin Zycher Pacific Research Institute

Life Hacking . . .

Although I do not utilize a personal digital assistant, a paper planner, an inbox, an outbox, a diary, or even a wall calendar, I have become fascinated by the internet sites on Life Hacking. These websites tell you how to manage your personal information and affairs with maximum efficiency or, failing that, with maximum aesthetic and creative appeal. A Martha Stewart of Life Hacking is quite likely on the way. Two sites that have caught my attention are 43 Folders and Lifehacker. Check it out. It's fun, even if you carry the info around in your head and your email box like I do. Actually, they've got hacks for that, too.

Back With More Theology - Oy Vey!

Oh, oh, Hunter, I must have forgotten to ask "Lead us not into temptation" this morning (actually the Jewish version is: 'Please do not bring us to be tested or humiliated'). And here I was looking forward to a restful day.

Sadly, it is my view that Prof. Beckwith is wrong. Or, conversely, if he is right it is meaningless.

Let's start from my second point and work back. If God does not have to be in Hell because He does not occupy space, then He is not anywhere else, either, so there is no point to the question.

The premise of the question is as follows. The Scriptural idea of 'His honor fills the earth' (Isaiah 6:3) has been traditionally understood by Jewish and Christian theologians alike to refer to a type of presence that, although ethereal, is designed to be a gracing of Creation in a manner that can be defined in terms of Space. Now there is a sort of theological paradox in this, but it is quite clear that Scripture conveys this concept. Indeed it is only because this is true that it is possible to speak of the immanentization of His presence in more concentrated ways in particularized locations, as in 'And they shall make Me a dwelling-place and I will dwell among them' (Exodus 25:8).

Since this is a reality, it now becomes interesting to ask if indeed this presence exists also in Hell, pace your sister-in-law. To answer that it doesn't because the Divine is beyond Space is a tautology and simply not responsive to the query.

If so, what is in fact the answer? First we must say, as Joseph did, '(only) the Lord has the answers' (Genesis 40:8). On the other hand, to the extent that He has revealed glimpses of His wisdom, we are obligated to make our best effort to fathom, just as Joseph, after that introduction, did in fact provide an answer.

Let us approach this matter in stages. Firstly, why would it be problematic for God's presence to be in Hell? We say that it is everywhere on Earth to some degree, including Jeffrey Dahmer's refrigerator and brothels in Thailand with 11-year-old boys and girls for sale. It is even in the chambers of Judge Greer, whose life's prime ambition seems to be the death by starvation of Terry Schindler Schiavo.

So if indeed Hell is a place on Earth, as implied in many verses about Gehenna being underground, then God's presence would have to be there, barring a drastic reinterpretation of the verse in Isaiah. But so what? That level of presence allows itself to be humiliated by the presence of Evil, that humiliation being redeemed in turn by the ultimate victory of Good. And since you need that ultimate victory to redeem the existence of Evil in God's Creation anyway, it is but a small step to the idea that it palliates the offense committed against His presence as well.

On the other hand, if we take the verses about Gehenna's physical reality to be symbolic, and we posit Hell as a spiritual reality that is not bounded by Space, then perhaps we could leave God out of that reality in a spatial sense. But again, this is not saying much, because if Hell ain't spatial then it ain't special not to have an immanent presence there.

Speaking of big brains . . .

The famed pro-life philosopher Francis Beckwith is in my department. Knowing that he dwells on deep questions from time to time, I asked him one presented by my sister-in-law. She wondered, "If God is omnipresent, is God in Hell?" This is the sort of question to make the scholastics dance (on the head of a pin, perhaps). When I heard it, I shrugged it away as one of those many mysteries that characterize the faith. After all, how could I know?

Nevertheless, I saw good Beckwith walking the hall and asked him. He responded instantly that God is not in Hell. Why? He explained that though God is the necessary condition for everything that exists, He does not actually take up physical space. Thus, he does not, of necessity, have to occupy space in Hell. He then started to talk about whether one would need to go to church again if one crossed the international date line on Sunday. We'll save that for another time.

Beckwith occasionally browses this blog, so perhaps he'll write in if I (due to lack of philosophical training) have failed to adequately explain his argument.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

In Tuition

The great Karnick is trying to figure out why he's smarter than other folks, and he has discovered "Intuition and Common Sense".

Since I grew up amongst a cadre of remarkable geniuses, many of whom had mastered several disciplines, I will teach you the secret of great intellects.

It is a thing that I call 'educated intuition'. It is a process whereby the collective study and deliberation of a lifetime merge into one blinding flash of intuitive clarity that comes in the moment that a large problem or a complex question is raised.

If you know great scholars and geniuses up close, you will observe that no matter how nuanced and confused a question is presented to them, they always know the answer INSTANTLY. They actually process problems in reverse; they know "yes" or "no" immediately, and then they unpack the details of their conclusion from their psyche - afterward.

Intuition and Common Sense

In today's edition of Tech Central Station, your faithful correspondent tackles the matter of the scientific value of common sense. There is more to this question than is perhaps immediately apparent. It goes to the basic question of how people find truth.

I think that most people operate on intuition most of the time, by which I mean that the brain continuously processes huge amounts of information, quite logically and rationally, far more quickly than we could possibly do consciously. We use a variety of terms to describe this activity, such as "sleeping on it," something "percolating," or a problem being "in the back of my mind."

This is the process classically known as intuition, and it is a truly valuable concept. It is simply the way the human brain operates. It should not be seen as some sort of spooky, New Age concept but instead as a highly scientific and testable proposition. The fact that a person can come to an absolutely correct and ultimately provable conclusion about something but not be able to outline (at least immediately) the exact process of reasoning by which the conclusion was reached—that is the working of intuition.

Of course, intuititively derived conclusions can be dead wrong and even dangerous, so testing each such proposition, through use of reasoning and evidence, is an essential part of the process of accumulation of knowledge. Nonetheless, intuition can be a valuable way of pointing people toward truths.

The Enlightenment, and especially the flowering of its concepts that occurred during the twentieth century, elevated philosophical Rationalism to a position of not just preeminence but actual dispositiveness, and tended to chase away other ways of acquiring knowledge. This is a mistake, however, given that, as noted earlier, intuition and rationalism can work together to advance human knowledge more quickly and reliably than either can do alone.

Intuition, I believe, is the process that often operates behind the development of what we call common sense, and the sense behind the latter concept is the subject of my Tech Central Station article for today.

Some brief excerpts:

One of the major principles of life that was discarded during the past half-century, and particularly during the last quarter-century, was the deceptively simple notion we call common sense. The idea that there could be such a thing as true folk wisdom was increasingly disdained, to be replaced by a usually laudable desire for scientific evidence and an often excessive regard for experts. . . .

There is much folk wisdom that is quite wrong, to be sure, but it is important to remember where much of it comes from: several-thousand years of trial and error by humans very much like ourselves, in genetic terms at the very least. . . .

But we should always have respect for propositions that prove true even though we aren't quite sure why. . .

Which brings us to a fascinating article in the New York Times, on the matter of colic in infants. Colic is the prolonged, unexplained crying that some babies habitually do during the early months of their lives. Scientists, the article notes, are in great disagreement over the causes of colic, and equally discordant over what parents should best do about it.

What is particularly interesting about this as regards common sense is the solution suggested by a doctor who has studied the problem and come up with a five-step treatment that seems to do wonders in quelling infants' crying jags. It is an excellent case of human experience over the ages being codified into common-sense truths that are nonetheless true despite being difficult to prove in logical, scientific terms. . . .

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Incredible Shrinking Country

I had always maintained that my admiration for Charles Krauthammer knew no bounds. Add to that the fact that both his family and mine have the tradition that we are descended from Rashi (1035-1105), author of the greatest comprehensive Biblical and Talmudic commentary in history.

But today I have a bone to pick with him over his endorsement of Sharon's strategy in unilateral ceding of territories prior to negotiations. Hey, maybe I got a little carried away, but the writing is hot, smokin' hot.

Rather vs. The National Enquirer

Kathryn Lopez interviews the author of a new book taking down Gunga Dan. The catch: He's a top reporter for The National Enquirer (Did anybody think they'd see "top reporter" and "National Enquirer" in the same sentence? You have now.)

Through The Peephole Anew

In the category of Trailing Edge Film Reviews, I rented The People I Know, a 2002 movie starring Al Pacino, Kim Basinger and Tea Leoni (and back from the dead, Ryan O'Neal).

If I wanted to knock it, I could say that it was just Pacino doing a remake of Carlito's Way set in the Upper West Side. And that point is indisputable.

But the film has depth, with the usual great performance by Al, a very endearing Kim (she can do this childlike smile that makes you feel glad to be alive) and Tea at her most magnificent - now that is one underrated actress, always solid at minimum, often inspired.

What stands out for Republican types is the relentless scourging of all the liberal totems. Come to think of it, perhaps that accounts for its laggardness at the box office.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Neuchterlein on the Democrats' Dilemma

It is always a joy to see a new article by James Nuechterlein, former editor of First Things and a senior fellow of the Institute on Religion and Public Life. In a long book review in the current issue of the magazine, Neuchterlein has provided an excellent analysis of why the Democrats have been in decline. A few excerpts give a flavor of Neuchterlein's arguments and clear writing:

"it is not too much to say that the Democrats’ current electoral dilemma boils down to this: their old economic issues no longer work, and on cultural issues they lose."

"The degree to which moral and cultural differences determined last November’s results is hotly debated, but everyone agrees that to the extent that they did matter, they overwhelmingly helped the Republicans. Liberals find it necessary to deny recurring suspicions that they are antinomians, moral relativists, and secularists set on removing religious values from the public square. Their discomfort with cultural issues is reflected in their protests that matters such as partial-birth abortion, school prayer, or same-sex marriage are not proper items for political debate; they are rather “wedge issues” that conservatives illegitimately bring into the public arena in order to divide the nation (read: in order to cost Democrats votes). A party whose response to a whole category of issues is to say, in effect, “we’d rather not talk about it,” is a party that has allowed the opposition to frame the terms of discussion."

"To sum up in a phrase: the Democrats are a center-left party in a center-right nation. They stumble over their message because if they clearly say what they most deeply believe it gets them in political trouble. Consider the contrast with their opponents. Republicans are conservatives who are proud to say so and who do not fear that saying so will hurt them. Democrats are liberals who, in a correct analysis of their political situation, assiduously avoid using the word that most commonly describes them. Their label discomfits them and their positions give them an edgy relation with the majority of voters."

Neuchterlein's argument is strong, fair, and definitely on target. Highly recommended.

The Ascendant Reagan

Former Reagan associate Peter Hannaford has a fascinating book review up at American Spectator. He read Reagan's Revolution by Craig Shirley and likes it . . . a lot. Shirley's book details the events of Reagan's 1976 campaign against Gerald Ford that fell just short of the mark. For trivia buffs, the Reagan-Ford battle was the last one to be resolved at the convention. (That's why the nets used to cover conventions in prime time. There was dynamite waiting to happen.)

As usual, here's a taste:

The final night of that convention brought the unprecedented call by President Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan to come down to the floor and address the delegates. Reagan's short speech riveted the audience. Shirley captures the intensity of the moment and concludes that this speech was a turning point for the Republican Party. Thereafter, Ronald Reagan and the conservatives would be in the ascendancy.

Instead of becoming an aged almost-was, Reagan came back to change American politics and the world. Every Republican before or since (with the exception of Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln) suffers from comparison.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Theoretical Equivalent of Children . . .

There are some people who really, really dig the state. These are the kind of guys who get within fifteen feet of dudes like Ben Zycher and Alan Reynolds and start itching because they are allergic to libertarians. Maybe you've met one. It's the person who thinks you should have to pay the IRS for theoretical rent income on your guest bedroom. Because you keep it absent, you are failing to generate taxable income and should be penalized. Churches are a problem because they avoid many taxes and by golly, the religious types should just pitch in for one building and take turns using it on a schedule.

James Lileks has uncovered this thinking among those who say there is no Social Security crisis. Why? Because people are having less children, so the number of people you support in your lifetime is actually going DOWN! You see, a young family man in the past might have had to support four or five children pretty frequently, but now you've usually only got one or two kids. With less dependents, there's plenty of room for you to open up the old wallet and pay for half the retirement of theoretical gramps.

Let Lileks say it:

“Dean Baker of the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy Research calculates that the ratio of all workers to all dependents – including children, retirees and adults who don’t work for wages – is close to highest it has ever been. This so-called ‘total dependency,’ approach covers a multitude of unknowables, such as the cost to a worker of supporting a child vs. a Social Security beneficiary.

“But if you’re looking at the strain on today’s workers of paying to support the nonworking population, it’s much lower than it used to be,’ said Baker, author of ‘Social Security: the Phony Crisis.”

Wow. Wow. Get it? They’ve just made the costs of raising your own kids and the taxes paid to support “adults who don’t work for wages” morally equivalent, part of your general responsibility as a citizen. Apparently your obligation to fund the sunset years of Theoretical Gramps is ethically indistinguishable from your obligation to the kid across from the dinner table with your chin and last name.

If the latter is the case, it’s nice they’re out in the open about it all, no? They believe that the obligation to tend for your family is indistinguishable from your obligation to keep Theo. Gramps in meds and bingo chits. But it’s not. I have a greater obligation to my family than to strangers. Note the clumsy attempt to equate retirees with all welfare recipients – “dependents” becomes your kids, someone’s gramps, and adults who don’t work. All equal, presumably, in their claims on your pocketbook.

This is the lamest argument I’ve heard for the do-nothing-ever-nowhere-anytime approach that seems to characterize the opposition these days, but at least it tells you where some opponents of private accounts reside. It’s not Social Security they love, I suspect, it’s what it represents. It’s not socialism as they’d like, but it’s all we’ve got. In their vision of society, all obligations to one another are equal – at least that’s the presumption from which their ideas flow. You’re permitted to take of your own first - as long as you understand that this bond doesn’t have any real ideological basis for its special status. It’s a privilege we keep around until it withers on the vine.

Do I have an obligation to others? Of course. But I would prefer the freedom to express it as I see fit, thank you.

Faculty Speech Patterns: Churchill, Summers, JWR

The University of Colorado's Ward Churchill and Harvard's Larry Summers have both engendered great controversy with recent statements. Churchill engaged in anti-mourning of the folks in the Twin Towers and not because he thinks they went to Heaven. Summers observed sex differences might be more to blame for fewer women in math and science than DISCRIMINATION. (I thought Summers' remark about women in science and mathematics was a big yawn, personally.)

Reform Clubber Jay Homnick sorts it all out in his latest column for Jewish World Review.

Rather Badly Behaved: Dan's First Big Hit

The Weekly Standard has a fascinating story about allegedly unethical conduct by Dan Rather during the tense moments following the Kennedy assassination.

Those who recall the false AP story about Bush supporters cheering news of Bill Clinton's heart problem will experience deja vu. Here's a taste:

It was a different lie--one delivered on national news, and at the expense of children--that caused Rather trouble at the time. As reporters from around the world descended on the Texas city, Rather went on the air with a local Methodist minister who made a stunning claim: Children at Dallas's University Park Elementary School had cheered when told of the president's death.

The tale was perfect for the moment, reinforcing the notion among distant media elites that Dallas was a reactionary "City of Hate." It slyly played to a local audience, too: The school named was in upper-income University Park, one of two adjacent municipal enclaves that shared a school district and a reputation for fiercely protected, lily-white privilege. Finally, for the ambitious Rather--a native Texan and then a Dallas resident--the account represented the very sort of revealing, local dirt that the throngs of out-of-town competitors would have to work far harder to get.

Except that it wasn't true, and Rather knew it, Barker says.

More on the Godless Founders Debate

Turns out The Nation has a little jig about the Godless Constitution running right now, too. I suspect Poor Richard (Mark Anderson) may be working from that script rather than the pitiful book by Kramnick and Moore.

Happily, Michael Novak and Christopher Levenick take that view to the woodshed today at National Review Online.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Mystery Edom Talks

Kudos to Professor Thomas Levy of UC-San Diego for his fabulous archaeological dig, results of which have just been published in the British journal, Antiquity.

Judy Siegel, in her excellent article in the February 22 Jerusalem Post, tells the story succinctly. Most contemporary scholars had been denying ("on the basis of no physical evidence" in Siegel's felicitous phrase) the Biblical account that the state of Edom existed in the days of David and Solomon and interacted with the Jews (then called Hebrews or Israelites) in Israel.

In past years, archaeologists had avoided digging in this area of modern Jordan's highland zone because of "the logistical difficulties of working in the extremely dry and hot region". In other words, they preferred to look for the wallet under the lamppost because the light was better.

Professor Levy's dig, conducted in 2002 and funded by the university, with a grant from the C. Paul Johnson Family Foundation, found evidence of two major phases of copper production. High precision radiocarbon dating tells them that it dates back to the 11th or 12th century BCE, a century or two before David and Solomon.

Additionally, they dug up evidence of massive fortifications and industrial-scale metal production, as well as over a hundred building complexes. All we can do is chuckle, my friends, and perhaps sigh as well. The truth is always there, hiding in plain sight.