Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Three Faces of Eve

Before her brave stand for civil rights for women fades into memory, we salute Michelle Obama for her wardrobe during her recent trip to Saudi Arabia.

Washington Post:  Make no mistake: Michelle Obama just made a bold political statement in Saudi Arabia

That is what a feminist looks like.

At least, that’s what some feminists look like, sometimes.   When other feminists, like US Rep. Betty McCollum, go to Middle Eastern countries ruled by brutal patriarchies, they look like this.

And when other feminists, like Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges go to certain neighborhoods in Minneapolis, they look like this.

Lesson learned, you can’t judge a feminist by her covering. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bizarro Economics

A Wall Street Journal editorial premised on a Seinfeld reference? Yeah, that’s way too good not to note.

President Costanza’s Jobs Boom:

In a 1994 “Seinfeld” episode, George realizes that “every decision that I have ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.” Jerry replies: “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

So Costanza approaches a gorgeous woman in the coffee shop and announces, “My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.” To his surprise, she’s interested. He lands a job with the Yankees after insulting George Steinbrenner.

Maybe President Obama ought to take Jerry’s advice too. That’s our reading of a striking new economic study that examines Congress’s decision to zero out extra unemployment benefits last year.

The authors find that this abrupt policy shift created some 1.8 million jobs, or slightly more than three of five net positions filled in 2014. The cuts also pulled a million workers who dropped out of the labor force back into the workplace. This reality happens to be the opposite of what Mr. Obama and other liberal sachems predicted.

The idea of President Obama going the opposite direction from everything he’s done in the past is intriguing however implausible especially in the realm of foreign affairs.

The fact that ending unemployment benefits did actually help get people back to work is, as the editorial notes, pretty much exactly the opposite of what progressives enamored of government spending to stimulate the economy had predicted.

One of my favorites was Nancy Pelosi’s claim that unemployment benefits were the best way to create new jobs:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Throwing Light on the Darkness

The latest course offering from Prager University is now available and it concerns one of the most misunderstood periods of history:

When you hear the term "Dark Ages," what comes to mind? How about: dreary, backward people, plagued by disease and ignorance, oppressed by the Church and the aristocracy. Author and professor Anthony Esolen would disagree. In this week's video course, he shows why the Dark Ages ought to be called the "Brilliant Ages" because they were actually a time of remarkable progress in science, medicine, art, and philosophy.

Mr. Esolen is one of the sharpest of minds when it comes to history and religion. I’ve read a couple of his books and enjoyed his works that have appeared in First Things. I can’t imagine a better teacher for the subject.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Better Together

In today's WSJ, Tim Busch weighs in to explain that despite claims to the contrary Catholicism and capitalism can be compatible:

Lest more controversy swirl, it is important to point out that the principles behind this initiative and the principled entrepreneurship program are consistent with Catholic teaching. Consider the seminal text on Catholicism and economics, Pope Leo XIII ’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, which discusses at length the “rights and duties of capital and labor.”

The encyclical, along with the resulting body of literature from successive popes, lays out the qualities that must be present in a just economic system. Among other things, the list includes the protection of private property and human freedom, a concern for the common good, and, most important, a deep respect for human dignity and a “preferential option” for the poor.

Capitalism meets these criteria better than any other economic system. It is also the single most effective means of alleviating poverty. In the past 20 years alone, it has lifted more than a billion people out of extreme poverty, according to the Economist. It is also single-handedly responsible for creating a global two-billion-person middle class over the past 300 years.

But free markets only work within a moral culture. When business is unmoored from a concern for the common good, capitalism can slide into cronyism and corruption—exactly what Pope Francis has critiqued in recent months. It is such perversions of a free-market economy that do not fit Catholic teaching.

This is why it's important to distinguish between critiques of what you could call perversions of capitalism and free markets and critiques of the principles of capitalism and free markets. Those who really understand and espouse capitalist principles abhor cronyism and corruption as much as the critics who lump it all together under the umbrella of capitalism. Just as those who truly understand and espouse Catholic principles abhor the abuses and corruption of the those who act in the name of the Church.

In this, both Catholicism and capitalism have something in common. To borrow from the great G.K. Chesterton: both have not been tried and found wanting; instead all too often both have been found difficult and not tried.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Nothing to Kill or Die For

George Weigel says that when it comes to the key problem facing France and much of Europe when it comes to battling Islamic extremism is that you can't beat something with nothing:

If all that Europe can say in condemning the despicable murders of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists and editors is “We are all Charlie Hebdo,” then what Europe is saying is, in effect, “We are all nihilists.” And how, pray, is nihilism—nothingness raised to a first principle, skepticism taken to the last extreme—supposed to defeat conviction, however warped that conviction is? If all that Europe can say to murderous jihadism is “Why can’t we all just get along?” its fecklessness will make it an even softer target for the kind of lethal fanaticism that recently turned Paris into a war zone.

There’s another aspect to this tangled and bloody business that’s worth noting, and that is the high price that Europe, and France in particular, is paying for culturally engrained (and sometimes legally enforced) political correctness. Virtually proscribing public discussion of the threat to European civility and order posed by Islamist maniacs has made dealing with that threat far more difficult: for citizens, for the security services, and for the public authorities. In the years since 9/11, the French public square has been dominated by the jihadists and the xenophobes; and in that volatile social environment, something very bad was going to happen. Now that it has, perhaps steps can be taken to bring the adults—and the real issues—back into the discussion.

“Liberty, equality, fraternity” can be a noble slogan, bespeaking noble aspirations. But freedom, justice, and human solidarity cannot be grounded in nihilism. If all Europe is Charlie Hebdo, then Europe is doomed.

I was not particularly outraged when President Obama did not attend the "unity" march in Paris after the recent attacks. While from a purely diplomatic perception perspective it would have been a good idea to have some high ranking US official put in an appearance, what was the point of the march other than an expression of feeling? What was the call to action? How were people in Europe, and throughout the world for that matter, now going to prevent future attacks and, more importantly, eventually defeat the various movements of Islamic extremism?

If the majority of Europeans truly no longer believe in anything (be it Christianity, Western civilization, or liberal democracy) then it is going to be difficult to rally them to fight a foe who does. Nihilists are not going to heed the call to man the barricades.

Monday, January 12, 2015

What the Pope Knows

Before Catholics start freaking out (in fear or joy) over Pope Francis' recent comments on global warming, Robert P. George offers up some important things to keep in mind:

1. The Pope has the right and responsibility to teach and even bind the consciences of the faithful on the truth of proposed moral norms, including those norms pertaining to our obligations concerning the natural environment.

2. Pursuant to the norms set forth in Lumen Gentium and other relevant documents pertaining to the teaching authority of the magisterium (including the papal magisterium), Catholics are bound to give religious assent to the norms formally proposed for such assent by the Holy Father. There is no area of morality in which the papal writ does not run. The Pope can speak authoritatively on questions of our moral responsibility to care for the natural environment, just as he can speak authoritatively on the obligation of truth-telling, the sanctity of human life, questions of marriage and sexual morality, matters of war, religious liberty, criminal punishment, and so forth.

3. The Pope has no special knowledge, insight, or teaching authority pertaining to matters of empirical fact of the sort investigated by, for example, physicists and biologists, nor do popes claim such knowledge, insight, or wisdom. Pope Francis does not know whether, or to what extent, the climate changes (in various directions) of the past several decades are anthropogenic—and God is not going to tell him. Nor does he know what their long term effects will be. If anything he teaches depends on views about these things, all he will have to go on is what everybody else has to go on, namely, the analyses offered by scientific specialists who have studied the matter. He has (just as we have) no guarantee of the soundness of the views of any scientist or group of scientists. A view that he adopts based on what a climate-change scientist or group of scientists—be he or they believers (known to their critics as “alarmists”) or skeptics (known to their critics as “deniers”)—say, could be wrong.

4. Although faithful Catholics are not bound by positions adopted by the Pope on such matters, they are bound by the moral norms he proposes for them to hold definitively. So, for example, let’s imagine that a Pope writing in an encyclical says that pregnant women should not take ibuprofen (as they might do for a headache or toothache) because it will cause the death of the children they are carrying, and there is a basic moral responsibility not to cause the death of a child at any stage of development. The fact that one need not believe that ibuprofen is an abortifacient (since there are very good reasons for believing it is not—and, in fact, it is not) does not affect the validity of the norm against causing the death of unborn children, nor does it alter the authority of the Pope to teach the norm as a norm to be held definitively by the faithful. So to disagree with a pope on the question of empirical fact about whether ibuprofen is an abortifacient is not necessarily to dissent from his teaching that a child has a right not to be killed by abortion—a right corresponding to a duty to refrain from causing embryonic or fetal death. (I’m prescinding here, of course, from the analytically separate question of when performing an act that forseeably results in death as an unintended side-effect of an otherwise morally permissible action is not unjust and may therefore itself be morally permissible.)

It's a bit complicated to digest, but the important distinction is between the positions themselves and the moral norms associated with them.