29 July 2008

A Curious Prefix

A recent article in the MIT Technology Review was titled “An un-American feel aids expanding US Web firms.” This caught my eye, because it would be a surprising admission. The title seems to say that web-savvy American companies deliberately promote un-American content to help them make inroads with international customers.

However, it turns out that that is not at all what the article is about. Far from making an important statement about anti-Americanism, the piece simply makes a point that is trivially obvious: American companies would do well to recognize that customers in other countries like to see things that are familiar to them, as opposed to things that would be more familiar to Americans. To me, it’s pretty dull stuff.

So, why the provocative title? It is clear from the content that the title should have read “non-American” instead of “un-American.” It’s a curious misuse of the prefix. (I admit that I would not have bothered to read the article if it had used the much less interesting “non-American” adjective.)

Now, aware of the irony of having just declared the Technology Review article to be “dull stuff,” let me proceed to nitpick on the usage of these prefixes. My American Heritage Dictionary describes the subtle but important distinction between non- and un- as follows:

When used with adjectives, un- often has a sense distinct from that of non-. Non- picks out the set of things that are not in the category denoted by the stem to which it is attached, whereas un- picks out properties unlike those of the typical examples of the category.

In other words, if a stem adjective subsumes a set of properties – let us call it set A – then the non- prefix attached to the stem causes the word to refer to things that are outside of set A. The un- prefix attached to the stem causes the word to refer to things that are inside of set A, but unlike (or contrary to) those properties.

Thus, for example, John Ridpath, who is a passionate defender of the America ideals of individual rights and capitalism, is non-American because he happens to be a Canadian citizen. Michael Moore, an American citizen, is un-American because of his antagonism to American values. The Technology Review article highlighted certain preferences of citizens in China, South Korea, and Australia, but these preferences were simply different from those of typical Americans. They were non-American, not un-American.


1. Technology Review, “An un-American feel aids expanding US Web firms,” (http://www.technologyreview.com/Wire/21138/?nlid=1238&a=f)

I added a diagram to enhance clarity. (Thanks LB!)

Leonard Peikoff Podcast 23

Here is the new podcast posted by Leonard Peikoff yesterday.

Of course, the complete set is available at his web site.

25 July 2008

LTE to Design News Magazine

In the latest issue of Design News magazine, a trade journal that I read, there is a an editorial called “Everything is ‘At Stake’.”  The first line of the piece reads, “Engineers as a whole are an altruistic lot...”[emphasis mine]

Obviously, I wasn’t going to let that one go by without a comment.  The author, editor-in-chief John Dodge, goes on to appeal to engineers to join him in his mission to solve the world’s problems, such as the hunger and disease represented by the dreadful photograph that accompanied the editorial.  (The photo is not in the link above, but you can see it here.  In the foreground, a tiny Sudanese child is bent forward with his head on the ground, possibly unable to move due to starvation, while a vulture looks on a few feet away, patiently waiting for its opportunity.)

I wrote and submitted the following letter to the editor:

In the article “Everything Is ‘At Stake’,” editor John Dodge rightly praises examples of engineering ingenuity, such as the products of Dean Kamen.  With the problems we face today and our headlong rush to enlist the government to prescribe or proscribe our every action, everything is indeed “at stake.”  

So, let us not badly misidentify the principles and mistake the poison for the cure.

It is not an embrace of altruism that we need today, but its opposite: a rediscovery of the respect for the individual, and the accompanying virtues of independence, honesty, and integrity.  Third world nations do not suffer because there aren’t enough philanthropists; they suffer because they have bad governments.  It is no mere coincidence that in the last century, the governments most dedicated to altruism - the communist nations - slaughtered and starved their citizens.  The wealth and comforts that we enjoy today are due entirely to the institutionalization of Enlightenment principles: reason and a respect for individual rights.

The historical record itself, as well as thinkers from Adam Smith to Ayn Rand, have shown that when men are left free to pursue their own interests, they flourish peaceably and justly, to the benefit of all.  Productivity and entrepreneurship does not (and should not) grow from appeals to altruism and sacrifice.

22 July 2008

Liberty and the Designated Hitter Rule

A letter-to-the-editor on the Opinion page of today’s Wall Street Journal made such a good general point about the designated hitter rule in American League, I reproduce it here in its entirety.  Major League Baseball is not a perfect model of capitalism, but the author correctly identified the key economic principle that is at play here.  

[To the editor:]

You correctly identify the designated-hitter rule as the trigger event that has, over time, led to the dominance of the American League. However, I would have expected you to explain the dominance by invoking a key principle of economics: Increasing specialization leads to an overall higher level of performance. In an economy where every family unit has to grow their own food and make their own shelter and clothing, a certain standard of living can be achieved. However, as participants in the economy become more specialized, and these specialists focus on the production of one item alone and cooperatively trade their output for the other items they need, an overall higher level of economic performance and standard of living is achieved.

The DH rule increases specialization in the AL. All the AL pitchers can concentrate entirely on pitching, ignoring the few interleague games. The DHs obviously concentrate solely on hitting. Furthermore, because AL pitchers have to face nine strong hitters each time through the lineup, including a power-hitting DH instead of a weak-hitting pitcher, the pitchers face a higher level of competition, which forces them to become stronger. Overall, the level of competition is higher in the AL, which gives AL teams the advantage when they play the NL. The only way out of this dilemma for the NL is to adopt the DH rule.

Chris Shaver
Naperville, Ill. (Note 1.)

The slight rule change might have seemed fairly minor in 1973 when the American League adopted it, but notice the nature of that rule.  It constitutes a relative freedom that teams of the National League (which chose not to adopt the rule) do not have.  The American League teams are not compelled to use a designated hitter, and there are interesting occasions when it has been advantageous not to do so.  The important point is that they are at liberty to fill the pitcher’s spot in the lineup with a hitting specialist, and that liberty has been exploited marvelously.  As far as I can think of, this single rule is the only difference between the leagues, and the results have been dramatic.

In certain respects, Major League Baseball is a microcosm of a large, complex economy.  Efficiency and performance is critical, and statistics play a huge role; there are so many games, the “law of large numbers” applies.  Across a 162-game season, it makes a huge difference if one out of the nine lineup positions produces a batting average of .290 with 80 RBI instead of .215 with 6 RBI.  Just as companies seek opportunities and funds to expand, American League teams try to fill the designated hitter position with the best hitters they can afford.  Good but aging sluggers whose fielding play begins to decline “go to die” in the American League, which is to say, extend their careers by concentrating on hitting alone – and flourishing because of it.  This makes the AL teams stronger offensively, which in turn builds the demand for good pitchers, pitchers who do not also have to be good hitters.  Thus, the AL builds champions, and just as profitable enterprises attract investment money, the American League teams attract still better hitters and pitchers, continuing the cycle.

Naturally, in a sport there must be rules that set the bounds for purposes of entertainment and recreation, and those rules that are somewhat arbitrary – or perhaps “contrived” is a better word.  This is where the analogy of Major League Baseball with capitalism breaks down.  The “rules” of capitalism – namely, a respect for and lawful preservation of individual rights applied to polico-economic matters – are not arbitrary or contrived, but rest upon man’s nature as a volitional being.  Its purpose is not mere recreation but life itself.  Nevertheless, the designated hitter rule still serves as a concrete demonstration of the benefits that come when men are free to act.


1.  Designated Hitters Make American League Stronger, Wall Street Journal, 22 Jul 2008, p.A18.

21 July 2008

Kant in ‘08

Thanks to a post on the private Harry Binswanger List, I found these two funny political ads that attack Immanuel Kant.  Unfortunately, it is hard to generate much enthusiasm for the candidates offered as alternatives - Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard.  (Bad vs. Badder.  Sound familiar?)

A big part of the joke, of course, is that the ads are absurdly technical philosophically, which contrasts sharply with the generally low level of political advertisement that we are accustomed to.  So, on the surface, it seems that the ad is funny precisely because nobody would vote according to such abstract philosophical matters.  Yet, on a deeper level, it is precisely philosophy that underpins not only elections but all cultural trends.

Leonard Peikoff Podcast 22

I haven't even listened to Leonard Peikoff's latest podcast yet, but I wanted to post it anyway before I forget.  (I've been meaning to post these reminders every time Dr. Peikoff releases a new one.)

Of course, all his podcasts may be found at http://www.peikoff.com/.   Just to catch up, here are the last few:

20 July 2008

The Parasitic Nature of Primitivism

The World Watch section of Friday’s Wall Street Journal featured a brief description of the pope’s “pilgrimage” to Australia last week.  The headline says it all: Pope Benedict Assails ‘Insatiable Consumption.’

Quoth the pope:

“Reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth, erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption.”(Note 1.)

photo from The New York Times, credit to Paul Miller/European Pressphoto Agency (Note 2.)

There’s nothing new or remarkable about this stale complaint, though the “reluctantly” is particularly brazen considering his eagerness to embrace a cause that could salvage good old Catholic guilt from the clutches of earthly materialism.  We are daily bombarded with intellectual hostility toward the western desire to live happily in full-bellied, disease-free comfort.  We are rebuked for our addiction to oil, our petty consumerism, our wanton destruction of the world’s resources.  

No, it is not the pope’s comment that is interesting.  The thing that caught my eye is the photograph that accompanied the article.  Unfortunately, the picture does not appear to be available online for non-subscribers, so a description must suffice.  

In the photo, Pope Benedict XVI is standing in the hot Australian sun, his virgin-white cassock draped humbly over his stout frame.  He has somewhat turned his back on us, but not quite fully, so we can see his left side and his general aspect.  He holds his hands clasped together in front of him, just below the buttons (which we cannot see) of his blood red mozzetta; this has the effect of making him look like an old woman pulling closed her shawl to ward off a chill.  His head is domed with the traditional white zucchetto, or skull cap, perhaps similar to the one perched atop the head of Barberini, in his role as Pope Urban VIII, as he bravely (if but temporarily) saved humanity from the heliocentrism that stewed in the bowed head of his old friend Galileo.  Because of the angle, it is hard to tell if Pope Benedict chose to wear his impressive gold-embroidered stole for the occasion, or any of the jeweled ornaments that sometimes accompany his costume.  Perhaps he left off these accessories in anticipation of raising an eyebrow or two among the adulating masses as he spoke of “squandering natural resources.”  Besides, additional ornament is unnecessary, as the daintily embroidered cassock bespeaks his advanced rank.

Before the pope, not too far away - say about four or five paces, or roughly the length of a heretic’s body after having been hung for days by his wrists with weights tied to his ankles - dance a half dozen male aborigines.  These are the indigenous natives of Australia.  I assume they are dancing because the caption calls them “aboriginal dancers,” though if the caption had claimed that they were a group of natives frantically trying to remove the soles of their bare feet from scalding pavement, I would have been satisfied with this explanation.   Each dancer is adorned with bright stripes of red and white paint that draws a coarse “” (pi) across his naked chest, a symbol that in this instance is not likely to represent the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, nor anything else that would require counting beyond the number three.  These stripes continue downward past a disconcertingly brief loincloth onto the bare legs, where they terminate in a sort of spotted field of white on the shins.  The dancers hold small tree branches in each hand, which they appear to be shaking like maracas or feather dusters.  Some aboriginal women stand behind the group, moving their arms in somewhat less animated accompaniment to the men.  Barely distinguishable in the photo is a crowd of modern onlookers, waving flags (American and German, among others), and apparently enjoying the show.

The pope is smiling.  

A remarkable feature of the photograph is the contrast provided by the background.  In the distance, past the pope and the aborigines, rises a portion of the Sydney skyline.  It is not even a particularly impressive view, considering how dazzling the city is (see photo below), yet it is enough to emphasize the sharp disconnect between the foreground and the background; which is to say, between the subject of the photograph and its context; which is to say, between primitivism and civilization.  Four or five modern apartment buildings ascend, pillars of concrete and glass, an absurd backdrop to a primitive tribal dance and to the pope’s archaic vestments.

photo of Sydney, Australia from Partnerfotographie (Note 3.)

I am beginning to think that just about any picture of the pope distresses me.  After all, the theme of this essay is similar that of the post I wrote in April when Pope Benedict performed a Catholic ritual at Yankee Stadium.  These scenes are always troubling for the same reason: they demonstrate a jarring and inappropriate juxtaposition of the modern with the medieval.  If the pope and the Australian aborigines were simply dressed up for a costume party or historical reenactment, the scene would elicit a smile.  They are not pretending: thus, the smile gives way to a shiver.

But more than demonstrating a mere contrast between the primitive and the civilized, the photograph reveals a broader point to anyone who cares to mark it: that the modern celebration of the primitive is inherently parasitical.  Specifically, the orchestration of this bizarre demonstration relies upon the very civilization that it denigrates, a civilization revealed by the buildings in the background.  One does not need an advanced civilization to be primitive, of course, but one does need an advanced civilization to be a primitivist.  That is, to actually advocate a retreat to pre-history implicitly requires the intellectual and material framework that the modern world provides.  It is possible to celebrate the squalor, labor, and disease of primitive life only from the comfort of one’s home.

Of course, this observation is not new; it is a point made crystal clear in the novels and essays of Ayn Rand.

Consider the “scars” that the unfortunate earth had to sustain in order to place the pope in Australia to admire simple savages and to lecture westerners about their thoughtless consumerism and squandering of natural resources.  Presumably, Pope Benedict did not travel from Rome to Sydney in a dugout canoe that he painstakingly fashioned from a felled tree by scraping stones across its length for weeks or months.  More likely, he flew in an airplane, a craft that consumes some five gallons of fuel per mile, fuel that must be extracted from the earth and processed via scientific principles so that it may be burned by an ingeniously-designed engine, which provides thrust for the body of the aircraft that in turn provides lift because of the cleverly devised wing-shape and control surfaces.  All of this - and quite a bit more - was necessary to propel Pope Benedict 38,000 feet above his noble savages (the nobility of which he contemplates with a sigh), in a craft made of advanced materials and sophisticated electronics and traveling near the speed of sound, so that he could sit comfortably in a plush reclining seat perusing his itinerary (that had, just a moment before, emerged from an ink-jet printer on a sheet of high-quality paper that costs less than a penny), nibbling roasted peanuts from a sealed foil bag that had been brought to him by a lovely and polite flight attendant wearing sheer nylon stockings over perfectly toned legs that she manages to maintain with the thrice-weekly assistance of her personal trainer.  Upon the airplane’s landing gear touching down precisely on the tarmac within a few feet of the ideal GPS target coordinates, the pope is ushered into an idling vehicle and spirited (along with a police escort) through the network of magnificently paved and bustling highways, moving in and out of shadows cast by skyscrapers, to the scheduled exhibition of indigenous folk.  And here we finally arrive at the scene of our photograph: the aborigines dancing on a concrete platform cordoned off by fences made of steel posts and bright orange plastic sheets and guarded by armed Swiss guards with walkie-talkies.  

This technology, along with the political freedom achieved with incalculable effort across centuries by Britain and its colonies, leaves Pope Benedict free to laud savages and criticize civilization. 


1.  Pope Benedict Assails ‘Insatiable Consumption,’ Wall Street Journal, Friday, 18 Jul 2008, p. A6.

2.  photo from The New York Times, credit to Paul Miller/European Pressphoto Agency.

3.  photo of Sydney, Australia from Partnerfotographie.

14 July 2008

“I’m a private dick on a case...”

My friend and I were talking about some old Bogart and Bacall movies today, and I recalled this scene, one of my favorites in The Big Sleep and maybe one of my favorites in any movie.

While pursuing clues, Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) steps into a bookstore to ask some questions of the proprietress (played by Dorothy Malone). The scene lasts only about three minutes and it almost stands apart from the rest of the film; we never see the proprietress again. But there is something about this scene that I love: Bogie tough and charming as usual, in the manner only he can pull off; the lovely and scholarly Malone, obviously of above average intelligence, and possibly devoting her intelligence in that moment toward calculating a pretext to rub her loins against Bogart without seeming too forward. The store empties out and the rain comes and it is as if the two have been thrust together, alone on the earth, on a desert island - no, better: in a bomb shelter. The passion boils beneath the surface, intense precisely because of its reserve. What is not said or shown makes the scene. (Of course, the innuendo is unmistakable.) They just don’t write movies like that anymore.

UPDATE: If you have trouble with the volume on this YouTube video, adjust the little pop-up slider in the bottom right corner.

13 July 2008

The Rescue of Ingrid Betancourt

It’s old news by now, but I’ve been meaning to post on the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt from the clutches of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Marxist group that has been terrorizing Colombia for four decades or so.  She, along with fourteen other hostages, including three Americans, were spirited away by agents of the Colombian government in an operation that required not a shot to be fired. 

The rescue was a terrific blow to the terrorist organization, which had already been reeling lately.  FARC still holds as many as two thousands hostages, but Ms. Betancourt, who is a Colombian senator who ran for president in 2002, along with the Americans were the most prominent of them.

The plan required months of meticulous planning, and the reports read more like an adventure movie or novel than the typical dry daily news.  Colombian agents, wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and posing as members of an unnamed NGO, duped the FARC guerrillas into corralling the hostages into two helicopters.  The terrorists complied, thinking that the hostages were being transported under orders from high up in the FARC command.  Once the helicopters were in the air, the agents revealed to the hostages that they were now free.  The rush of emotions - the elation that the hostages must have felt after years of being bound, tortured, humiliated, and assailed by diminishing hopes - must have been surreal.

Shortly after, Ms. Betancourt was reunited with her two children, Mélanie and Lorenzo, whom she had not seen for six years.

photo from NYTimes - 

Ingrid Betancourt was kissed by her daughter, Mélanie, as her son, Lorenzo, looked on at the airport in Bogota, Colombia, on Wednesday.

It goes without saying that I am thrilled with the outcome, and I can only imagine the joy that Mélanie Delloye-Betancourt must feel to see and touch her mother again.  Nevertheless, I must call attention to a comment of Miss Delloye’s that I heard on NPR shortly after the rescue.  She said (through a translator), “we were afraid the military operations would be deadly, and we never wanted to put my mommy’s life in danger, or that of the other hostages that were with her.  But this was not a military operation; it was an intelligence operation.  It was done perfectly.”  [Emphasis mine.] 

With all respect to Miss Delloye, and with utter sympathy for her and the ordeal she has endured, I must disagree with this distinction between military and intelligence operations.  Insofar as intelligence contributed to this case - as it obviously did - it was intelligence of a military nature.  Miss Delloye’s statement seems to suggest that something other than military action - something non-violent - prevailed in this case.  That is simply not so.

It is important to call attention to this because I think many people would like to believe that there are non-violent ways to deal with ruthless killers.  Many would like to believe that terrorists may be dealt with through diplomacy or negotiation.  Of course, Mélanie Delloye certainly did not say that it was diplomacy that worked here, but by explicitly denying that military force was used, she left the hint in the air that a “peaceful” resolution was attained.  If it was not her intent to imply this, I cannot understand why she would have put it quite that way. (Note 2.) 

It’s quite true that no shots were fired in the operation, and that is fortunate because I believe the good guys (the Colombian agents) were completely unarmed.  But that does not mean the rescue was “peaceful” or non-violent.  One can hardly imagine a more perilous situation than that of the disguised Colombian agents or the ones that infiltrated FARC in the prior months in order to obtain the valuable intelligence needed for the operation.  With chillingly dry understatement, a Colombian official (unfortunately I did not catch his name in the NPR broadcast) concisely noted that if anything had gone wrong, “all of our assets would have been killed.”  The Colombian agents marched unarmed into an unforgivingly hostile den.  The risk was enormous, and obviously the peril faced by the agents was that of a soldier, not that of a diplomat.  

That the Colombian government chose trickery over raw firepower is a matter of strategy and calculation, not of choosing “peaceful” means over military means.  Extracting prisoners safely from the grip of armed thugs operating in their own territory seems to a layman like me to be an almost unsolvable puzzle, so I am always amazed when even partial success is achieved. (Note 3.)  What must be understood, however, is that if harm comes to the hostages from rescue attempts, the responsibility falls entirely on the terrorists, not the rescuers.  This may provide little solace to the friends and family of hostages that are killed, but it is nonetheless true.  Thus, even in botched rescue operations like the horrible Beslan school siege in 2004 or the Nord-Ost theatre siege of 2002, both of which were heavy-handed Russian attempts to rescue civilians from Chechen terrorists and which resulted in hundreds of dead hostages, I place the blame firmly on the terrorists.

I admit that I know very little about whether or not FARC has been met with strict resistance or appeasement during the last forty years - and further, I claim that I don’t need to know the details to know the answer.  The simple fact that FARC exists and makes a living on extracting ransom money (to supplement their drug-dealing income) indicates that appeasement has been the rule, not the exception.  As I indicated in Note 2, I hold blameless the friends and relatives of hostages that pay the ransom, but it is undeniable that such Danegelt has literally created a market for further hostage-taking.  In an interview, Mélanie Delloye mentioned that 80% of the world’s hostages are in Colombia!  If this is even close to an accurate figure, it is a testament to the fact that capitulating to terrorists is a formula for failure.


1.  Photo from NY Times, Bold Colombian Rescue Built on Rebel Groups Disarray(http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/04/world/americas/04rescue.html), 4 Jul 2008. 

2.  This view would be consistent with a 2005 interview in which Mélanie Delloye definitely favored a “humanitarian agreement” to end the hostage crisis.  This involved a sort of diplomacy: discussions and “mediation” between the United Nations and FARC.  However, I must stress that I am not directing my criticism toward Miss Delloye herself; I would not expect a distraught nineteen year old girl to advocate sending in commandos with guns blazing to rescue her mother.  I am criticizing the idea that negotiation and appeasement with killers is effective.

3.  Even in successful rescues there are often at least some casualties.  Interestingly, the Betancourt rescue on 3 Jul 2008 marked the 32nd anniversary of the Entebbe Raid of 3 Jul 1976, in which the Israeli Defense Forces rescued some hundred or so hijacked travelers from a Ugandan airfield.  In this operation, the IDF performed brilliantly and rescued the hostages, though the leader of the assault Yonatan Netanyahu, the older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, was killed in action and three hostages were killed in the crossfire. 


I fixed some spelling errors.

04 July 2008

Independence Day 2008

Since LB and I are ruefully commemorating our sixteenth annual missing of OCON (we are determined to go next year in Boston - then again, we say that every year), I thought I would link to an old video of John Ridpath defending capitalism.  During the one and only time I attended OCON, in 1992, Professor Ridpath made perhaps the most moving speech I’ve ever heard, on the topic of the Founding Fathers and the principles of America.

I wish there were a YouTube video of this particular speech, but the one below aptly demonstrates John Ridpath’s amazingly sonorous voice, eloquence, and the workings of his great mind.

Below is a recent release of the Ayn Rand Institute.  In it, Michael Berliner makes a wonderfully cogent statement for Independence Day.  We should recognize and celebrate the fact that reason and individual rights are the founding principles of this nation.

03 July 2008

Cool Digital Pens

I know that pen-and-tablet input devices for computers have been around for a long time.  I even had one maybe about ten years ago that I never really used a lot.   But here's a cool product that I've never seen before - a digital pen.  Actually, there are two of them: the Mobile Digital Scribe and the ZPen.

the Mobile Digital Scribe by IOGEAR 

Basically there are two parts to the system: the pen itself and a receiver that you clip to the top of the sheet you are writing on.  You don't need any special paper or tablet.  As you write, the receiver captures your handwriting and stores it.  (The exact mechanism for the capture is not made clear by the product web sites.  Something optical, maybe?)  When you are done, you simply plug the receiver into the USB port of your computer and you can dump the memory into a file.  


For an amusing review of these digital pens, check out David Pogue's short film on the New York Times video site.

02 July 2008

The End Times

In the Wall Street Journal article I referred to in my post on faith-based initiatives, there was an interesting though slightly off-topic paragraph that aptly demonstrates how far our culture has drifted away from reason and into mysticism. Referring to how some religious American voters regard Senator Obama with suspicion, the Journal writes:

On a recent night in a small chapel 10 miles outside Chillicothe, Glenda Kinzer,
41 years old, led a discussion group with a half-dozen young adults. The
topic: the End Times – and whether Sen. Obama’s candidacy might be a fulfillment
of the biblical prophecy leading up to the end of the world and the second
coming of Christ. Mrs. Kinzel says that “a lot of people are talking about
how [Sen. Obama] fits the description” of the Antichrist, a reference to
biblical prophecies about a person who will oppose Christ. The office
manager says she plans to vote for Sen McCain.(Note 1.)


Naturally, I don’t think for a minute that this is necessarily a mainstream point of view… yet. (At least, I hope it is not.) However, the fact that an ordinary, middle-aged office manager in a 21st-century industrialized nation will sit around with a group of her friends and treat the second coming of Christ as a serious possibility - and a significant factor in determining whom to vote for - is extremely disturbing. It is hard enough to convince essentially rational people to reject the altruist premises that have been foisted upon them; it will be far more difficult if basic rationality is not even a starting point.

Interestingly, if one strips away the superstitious, prophetic aspect of the notion, the “End of Times” may indeed be an all-too-appropriate label for this chapter of American history. I don’t recall ever being quite so pessimistic about an election or about the general discourse over issues. I cannot point to a single characteristic of either candidate that sheds a glimmer of hope. Furthermore, I have not seen any significant issue emerge as pitting
good versus evil. Every issue is evil versus evil, each side differing only in degree, not in kind. We have one form of sacrifice versus another; one form of welfare statism versus another; one form of environmentalism versus another; one form of pragmatism versus another.

Having said this, I don’t want to carry the “End of Times” idea too far; it sounds too much like the execrable views of Pat Buchanan. Still, though, I have the sinking feeling that the American spirit – the world’s last best (to borrow Lincoln’s phrase) beacon of liberty – is not merely being choked off to a few burning embers but is being snuffed out completely, extinguished. Overall, I retain optimism that reason will prevail – and I’m committed to that fight – but in the short term I think things will get worse before they get better. It may no longer be a matter of fanning a dying flame to revive it; the torch may need to be lit again. (And this time, let us identify in
explicit terms the fuel that keeps the flame burning.)

1. Wall Street Journal,
Obama Courts Religious Vote in Appalachian Ohio, 2 Jul 2008, p. A-5.

Faith-Based Initiatives

As yet another example of the convergence of the Republican and Democratic platforms, we now see Barack Obama proclaiming his support of “faith-based initiatives.”

While the Republican candidate John McCain enthusiastically draws from the Democratic playbook – for instance, offering $300 million of other people’s money as a prize to develop a “better car battery” – the Democratic candidate Barack Obama is jumping on the Republican’s evangelical bandwagon, offering $500 million per year (again, of other people’s money) to fund “faith-based service programs across the country and help send one million disadvantaged children to summer sessions run by religious groups.”(
Note 1.)

That’s right. The
Democratic candidate is advancing the very policy that President Bush introduced almost the instant he became President, the centerpiece of his “compassionate conservatism.”

The name of Mr. Obama’s plan is the “Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships,” a title that nicely draws together the religious (“faith-based”) and the tribal/collectivist (“neighborhood”) premises that underpin the policy. There’s even a hint of the notion – one that I would call “friendly fascism” to play off of Mr. Bush's “compassionate conservatism” – that a proper society represents a “partnership” between the government and private groups. “I know there are some who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square,” said Mr. Obama, “but the fact is, leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups.”(Note 2, emphasis mine.)

Too true. Both parties have indeed plunged headlong into breaking down the barriers between the church and the state.

1. Wall Street Journal,
Obama Courts Religious Vote in Appalachian Ohio, 2 Jul 2008, p. A-5.
2. New York Times,
Obama Wants to Expand Role of Religious Groups, 2 Jul 2008.