Friday, April 07, 2006

Seduced by the Nanny State

My parents took charge of my oldest child for much of last week, so we decided to meet at a Cracker Barrell in Anniston, Alabama. Anniston serves as a midpoint between Athens, Georgia and Decatur, Alabama. When we asked for a table, I was shocked when the host asked whether we wanted the smoking or non-smoking section.



Because I live in Georgia where smoking is completely prohibited in any structure that permits the presence of children. I have children and have never been much into nightclubs, so I don't encounter smoke. It doesn't exist in my world.

And let me tell you something.

I like it that way.

I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I can justify it on conservative lines. The fact is that cigarette smokers generate what economists call negative externalities. The smoke, the smell, the unpleasant feeling in the back of your throat, you get the idea. If the smokers compensated the non-smokers somehow for all that unpleasantness, we might put up with it, but they don't, so we don't.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sit Down, Classism

By this time tomorrow you'll have to deny that we ever met. I have gone and written a shocking thing about immigration in tomorrow's American Spectator.

Better to give references than samples, but if you insist here's an ort:

Chuckles aside, the immigration debate seems to have hardened into two fairly describable positions. The first is espoused by the President and others of both parties. It maintains that all those illegal immigrants are here to help us by doing the work "that American simply will not do." Their lack of proper paperwork is a technicality that it would be churlish of us to mention while munching on the yummy grapes that they so graciously picked.

The second view, held by most of the population and given eloquent expression by various talk show hosts and callers, argues that the first courtesy owed a host is the knock on the door. Unless the immigration laws are strikingly draconian, and absent a flight from genocide or tyrannical oppression, they should be obeyed, if only as a rite of passage. As to the claim that Americans will not do the same work, that's hardly a sufficient basis for introducing anarchy. Plus it's probably not really true; open the jobs to the law-abiding public and let's see if they really can't be filled.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"We", Me & Thee

(Author's Note: With the assistance of some ancient writers, what was intended as a comment beneath Hunter Baker's fine citation of Richard Niebuhr [below] reached epic length, and so must needs be promoted to this main page, for its bulk alone.)

On the subject of Christ and Christianity in our polity, our beloved correspondent James Elliott writes:

...someone might take that last sentence as a dig at Christ, which really wasn't the intent.

I for one appreciate that clarification, James, but before taking offense at such things, intended or not, the careful Bible reader should keep in mind
"And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven."
- Luke 12:10

Unlike the major figures of some religions, Jesus was pretty mellow about Himself. And so let's move ahead to the proposition in question, on its own terms:

No one likes a martyr.

Well, true enough, but not for the reasons one might think. We all tend to wallow in that which we despise. Time to invoke a little Nietzsche:

On such a ground of contempt for oneself, a truly swampy ground, grows every weed, every poisonous growth—all of them so small, so hidden, so dishonest, so sweet. Here the worms of angry and resentful feelings swarm; here the air stinks of secrets and duplicity; here are constantly spun the nets of the most malicious conspiracies—those who are suffering and plotting against successful and victorious people; here the appearance of the victor is despised. And what dishonesty not to acknowledge this hatred as hatred! What an extravagance of large words and attitudes, what an art of "decent" slander! These failures—what noble eloquence flows from their lips! How much sugary, slimy, humble resignation swims in their eyes! What do they really want? At least to make a show of justice, love, wisdom, superiority—that's the ambition of these "lowest" people, these invalids!

And how clever such an ambition makes people! For let's admire the skilful counterfeiting with which people here imitate the trademarks of virtue, even its resounding tinkle, the golden sound of virtue. They've now taken a lease on virtue entirely for themselves, these weak and hopeless invalids—there's no doubt about that. "We alone are the good men, the just men"—that's how they speak: "We alone are the homines bonae voluntatis [men of good will]." They wander around among us like personifications of reproach, like warnings to us, as if health, success, strength, pride, and a feeling of power were inherently depraved things, for which people must atone some day, atone bitterly. How they thirst to be hangmen! Among them there are plenty of people disguised as judges seeking revenge. They always have the word "Justice" in their mouths, like poisonous saliva, with their mouths always pursed, constantly ready to spit at anything which does not look discontented and goes on its way in good spirits.

Among them there is no lack of that most disgusting species of vain people, the lying monsters who aim to present themselves as "beautiful souls," and carry off to market their ruined sensuality, wrapped up in verse and other swaddling clothes, as "purity of heart"—the species of self-gratifying moral masturbators. The desire of sick people to present some form or other of superiority, their instinct for secret paths leading to a tyranny over the healthy—where can we not find it, this very will to power of the weakest people!

I think our aforementioned friend from the left has the makings of a Nietzschean. Nietzsche designed that condemnation not in the smallest part for the religious; however, consider that it fits hand in glove with today's modernist left (perhaps a third of this country and a large majority in Europe), and almost everybody everywhere else, left or right, who cannot discuss any issue without putting it into their own handwringing moral terms.

Even the weak use their weakness as a will to power: no one is immune. They hate America not even for what it is, but for what they themselves are not. That Nietzsche fellow was a smart guy. No wonder he went nuts.

Is it all moral narcissism, or an abrogation of the duties of moral conscience in simply deferring to a (claimed) higher moral authority, or a combination of both?

Is that all it is?

As far as American Christians go, sure there are some cementheads. But The Reform Club, for instance, a delightful (yes, no, mebbe so?) polyglot of Judeo-Christianism, seeks not to whine or pontificate, only to convince. I have noticed that to a man (and a woman), we use the secular vocabulary of the Other. (As does a fellow named Beckwith...)

We happen to believe the Bible leads us to and confirms what is true about man and the human condition. But we need not use the Bible as an authority, and endeavor mightily not to: the truth can and must stand on its own.

My use (or anyone's) of "we" is admittedly creepy, cultish and excluding, so let me apologize. I don't like reading it, and I shiver at writing it. I just couldn't find a way around it. What I want to convey,though, is that "we" disagree on many things, and are a "we" only for that one thing, the most important thing, that we have in common.

"We" believe that most important thing is that there exists a higher moral order for which man's brute will and reason are insufficient. We cannot put that light under a bushel basket in the public square.

But "we" shall play by the public square's rules. That's only fair. We religionists, and I hope that will someday include Muslims after they pick up the lingo, will (and must) continue to speak to the minds, hearts, and spirits of our fellow men because we believe that in the beginning was The Word, and that minds, hearts and spirits were created for the simple purpose of hearing It.

An estimable thinker once noted that not only must theology be open to the challenges of philosophy, but vice-versa too. In our pluralistic age, we must all be bilingual. I do believe that's why we, me, & thee are all still here, regardless of what baggage we arrived with at the doors. Yes?

Richard Niebuhr on Christ and Culture

I'm reproducing a several lines from Richard Niebuhr's classic Christ and Culture. This excerpt does a fantastic job of explaining the constant complaint of the nation-state against the Christian faith:

The Christ who will not worship Satan to gain the world's kingdoms is followed by Christians who will worship only Christ in unity with the Lord whom he serves. And this is intolerable to all defenders of society who are content that many gods should be worshipped if only Democracy or America or Germany or the Empire receives its due, religious homage. The antagonism of modern, tolerant culture to Christ is of course often disguised because it does not call its religious practices religious, reserving that term for certain specified rites connected with officially recognized sacred institutions; and also because it regards what it calls religion as one of many interests which can be placed alongside economics, art, science, politics, and techniques. Hence, the objection it voices to Christian monotheism appears in such injunctions only as that religion should be kept out of politics and business, or that Christian faith must learn to get along with other religions. What is often meant is that not only the claims of religious groups but all consideration of the claims of Christ and God should be banished from the spheres where other gods, called values, reign. The implied charge against Christian faith is like the ancient one: it imperils society by its attack on its religious life; it deprives social institutions of their cultic, sacred character; by its refusal to condone the pious superstitions of tolerant polytheism it threatens social unity. The charge lies not only against Christian organizations which use coercive means against what they define as false religions, but against the faith itself.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Human Event

When, in the course of Human Events, it becomes necessary for me to publish my first piece in that magazine, a decent respect to the opinions of Reform Clubbers require that I drop them a preview.

Here's a glimmer:

Our Republican friends seem to have forgotten this advice. Perhaps they’re afraid to take the Dale Carnegie course because Carnegie was a rich industrialist who doesn’t poll well with Reagan Democrats. One thing is for certain. They’re sour and dour for all to see. Staggering around looking like halfway between dyspepsia and catalepsy. It’s their party and they’ll cry if they want to. The last Republican to crack a smile was Tom DeLay, and that was on his mug shot.

Wherefore this ennui? What welts have caused this schmerz? The answer is: fear itself. Nothing bad has actually happened yet. It’s just that they’re apprehensive about this year’s congressional elections. Now, everyone is a little chicken before an election, but this is more like Chicken Little mode. I never worried as much about finals as these guys are fretting over midterms.

Rockin' in the Free World

An amusing and catchy homebrew music video by The Right Brothers (hat tip: Jonah Goldberg):

OK, musically they're not U2. Rhetorically, they're not Russell Kirk. But Jonah's right: the subversiveness quotient of this clip is exponentially greater than the Dixie Chicks, the Stones, and Dave Matthews rolled into one.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Falwell and Sharpton

I see that the ineffable Paul Krugman today slams John McCain for smoking the peace pipe with Jerry Falwell; politicians who endorse Falwell must accept responsibility for his views, sayeth the Great Krugman from above. OK, Paul: Please refer me to you past op-ed in which you said the same about Gore and Kerry and Hillary and all the rest who planted wet kisses on Al Sharpton's backside. What a hypocrite.

Market Forces and the Chinese Economic Transition

Market forces always work to whatever extent that governments let them, and they always tend to work toward long-term good. Case in point: China, where labor shortages are working to slow growth in the nation's economy. An article in today's New York Times notes,

Persistent labor shortages at hundreds of Chinese factories have led experts to conclude that the economy is undergoing a profound change that will ripple through the global market for manufactured goods.

The Well Brain International factory in Shenzhen, China, an appliance maker, has improved salaries and benefits to try to hire more workers.

The shortage of workers is pushing up wages and swelling the ranks of the country's middle class, and it could make Chinese-made products less of a bargain worldwide. International manufacturers are already talking about moving factories to lower-cost countries like Vietnam.

At the Well Brain factory here in one of China's special economic zones, the changes are clear. Over the last year, Well Brain, a midsize producer of small electric appliances like hair rollers, coffee makers and hot plates, has raised salaries, improved benefits and even dispatched a team of recruiters to find workers in the countryside.

That kind of behavior was unheard of as recently as three years ago, when millions of young people were still flooding into booming Shenzhen searching for any type of work.

A few years ago, "people would just show up at the door," said Liang Jian, the human resources manager at Well Brain. "Now we put up an ad looking for five people, and maybe one person shows up."

The Times article points out a potential negative consequence, higher prices for consumer goods in the United States. Here again, however, market forces solve the problem without government interference, as the article notes: lower-labor-cost nations such as Vietnam and India will step up their production, and the Chinese economy will shift to higher-end products, allowing costs for those items to drop in the United States.

Sopranos Exposed

If Sunday's episode of The Sopranos, with its meandering pop metaphysics about the pricelessness of every moment and us being interconnected atoms and all that stuff seemed overly familiar, it should. Like the vague pleasing vapors of Eastern mysticism put in a blender with the timeless wisdom of the Eskimos, mebbe. If you said it sure felt like an episode of Northern Exposure or something, you'd be right.

This season, Sopranos creator David Chase has brought in his fellow alumni of Northern Exposure, Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, as producers and writers, and I do hope that last night's installment isn't what we have to look forward to for the rest of the run. Those eloquent vacuousnesses were kind of cute set in Alaska, where there isn't anything better to do than muse about rocks and birds and stuff, but this is New Jersey, with marks to be extorted and wiseguys to be whacked.

I could also have lived without the sideways snarks at the consciences of pharmacists re dispensing abortifacients, the cold efficiencies of the health insurance industry, and Evangelicals as creepy Old Earth creationists who look like Christian Slater off his meds.

Entertainment without moral passion is television, said Rita Mae Brown, and I've admired Frolov & Schneider for their career accomplishments in elevating the form. But Brown also noted that moral passion without entertainment is propaganda, and that's what we got on Sunday. The ideological product placements did nothing to advance the plot or characters, and their baldness took me out of the dramatic moment as the authors parked their own post-Enlightenment sensibilities in brutal mobster Tony Soprano's mouth. Next he'll be on about the inherent morality of tax increases.

I go to The Sopranos for the Iliad, not for The Chris Isaak Show, which Frolov & Schneider helmed, too. I want epic, not Oprah, y'know? Achilles didn't give a fig about carbon dating.