In the works

I have several things going right now that are either time-consuming or interesting.

I’m reading David Bentley Hart’s book “Atheist Delusions,” which is, it seems to me, not just a deserved mocking of the inadequacies of the famous “New Atheist” authors, but a robust defense of the legacy of Christianity which, Hart would wager, none of the New Atheists would care to give up. It seems that Nietzche is just about the only atheist Hart takes seriously, because Nietzche alone dared savage Christianity for what it really is, while today’s pantywaists set up straw men, betraying either their dishonesty or their ignorance.

Not unrelated, but not by design either, I’m planning to re-listen to, and to outline, two Ancient Faith Radio “Illumined Heart” podcasts on “Living in the ruins of Christendom” that I essentially overlooked last fall when they came out. The blog post on them is begun, but not ready for prime time.

Interlochen Center for the Arts

I need to think on good, kind, pure and “of good report” things after my last rant. An incident this evening makes that easy.

A few hours ago, the phone rang. My wife, upstairs, answered and directly called my name down the stairs that it was for me.

I knew it was going to be a charity or a “would you hold for an important recorded message  Grand Poobah Sen. Slicksy from Southern North Dakota?” political pitch. Indiana’s no-call law has reduced to naught the commercial cold-calls, but charities and politicians are bidding to fill the gap. Read More »

NYT Opinions on Goldman Sachs (and why I won’t boycott Arizona)

David Brooks, the New York Times’ genial sorta-conservative columnist, views the financial reform debate roughly as I do, which makes me tentatively pleased that the GOP turned the lemmings back from the cliff yesterday:

The premise of the current financial regulatory reform is that the establishment missed the last bubble and, therefore, more power should be vested in the establishment to foresee and prevent the next one.

If you take this as your premise, the Democratic bill is fine and reasonable. It would force derivative trading out into the open. It would create a structure so the government could break down failing firms in an orderly manner. But the bill doesn’t solve the basic epistemic problem, which is that members of the establishment herd are always the last to know when something unexpected happens.

Kudos to Brooks for nicely stating what is obvious to me. Cries and lamentations that it is unknown to most of Congress, whose centralizing impulse continues because it so nicely fits a good guy/bad guy mythology. As Brooks says:

If this were a Hollywood movie, the prescient outsiders would be good-looking, just and true, and we could all root for them as they outfoxed the smug establishment. But this is real life, so things are more complicated …

In this drama … the establishment was pleasant, respectable and stupid, while the contrarians were smart but hard to love, and sometimes sleazy.

However, Congress is mostly ignoring the outsiders, vying for the white hat role itself.

Elsewhere on the Grey Lady’s editorial page, Linda Greenhouse, who usually functions as a Supreme Court reporter with supposed neutrality, gives free rein to her fury at Arizona for its new immigration bill:

I’m glad I’ve already seen the Grand Canyon.

Because I’m not going back to Arizona as long as it remains a police state, which is what the appalling anti-immigrant bill that Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law last week has turned it into.

[T]he phrase “lawful contact” makes it appear as if the police are authorized to act only if they observe an undocumented-looking person actually committing a crime, [but] another section strips the statute of even that fig leaf of reassurance. “A person is guilty of trespassing,” the law provides, by being “present on any public or private land in this state” while lacking authorization to be in the United States — a new crime of breathing while undocumented.

I don’t think the “police state” label is a good fit, even if the new law is ugly. Most Arizonans are walking around without fear of police hassles, after all, while everyone cowers in a police state.

I’ll not make it a point of principle to follow Greehouse’s lead (and in fairness, she’s not explicitly calling for a boycott), if only because I want to return to St. Anthony in the Desert Monastery. But if you want to get an eerie police state feeling, drive down to the Monastery from Phoenix to the north. You’ll pass through Florence, whose dominant industry is prisons. Several of them. Public and private prisons (e.g., Corrections Corporation of America), large and forbidding, lining both sides of the road on the drive through town. It’s like stumbling onto something that was deliberately moved out of the way because of its brutal ugliness. One almost wants to divert one’s eyes, the better to say, if challenged for straying onto a scene the public wasn’t meant to see, “I didn’t see nuthin’, and I won’t tell nobody! Please, Officer, let me go!”

It oddly makes the Monastery seem particularly apart from the (seedy) world, coming and going from a day visit or pilgrimage.

“A very efficient way of producing human happiness.”

There’s an excellent little essay by Mark Mitchell at Front Porch Republic today that distills a lot of what that site/blog/movement is about. I especially liked this paragraph:

Wilhelm Röpke recounts a conversation he had with a prominent economist in the aftermath of WWII. As they strolled along the streets of a German town, Röpke pointed, with satisfaction, to the many small vegetable gardens kept by the residents of city. The economist shook his head disapprovingly and grumbled. “A very inefficient way of producing foodstuffs.” Whereupon Röpke responded, “But perhaps a very efficient way of producing human happiness.” This rejoinder takes us to the heart of the matter. Happiness is the proper end of life. By happiness I do not mean the glib and transitory pleasure that so often is confused with happiness today. Happiness, as described by classical and Christian thinkers, is a life of excellence in accordance with goods and standards (both natural and supernatural) that are suited to human beings. This sort of happiness is not achievable in isolation, for humans are creatures fit for community.

Efficiency and specialization are tools, to be set aside when they fail to promote human happiness. Too often, they are among the things that “are in the saddle and ride mankind.”

Goldman Sachs – “the other side” told persuasively

“Goldman Sachs” is not a term of endearment at my favorite websites, such as Front Porch Republic. And I have reflected my own ill-ease with such too big to fail concerns in recent weeks, as well as passing along some counter-arguments.

Wall Street Journal columnist Gordon Crovitz today defends Goldman Sachs in his own way: short selling a derivative signals the market that a sector may be ready to collapse. I certainly agree with that – just as short selling a stock signals that a particular stock may be ready to tank.

The most telling point for me in Crovitz’s column – apropos of why the SEC may lose its case against Goldman Sachs rather than why derivatives are good – is simply that once you accept the premises that (1) shorting a derivative is beneficial because it signals the market of a possible sector collapse, and (2) long buyers in these specially created securities knew someone else was selling short, it seems to follow that “it would be hard to prove that it mattered who [the short seller] was.” That John Paulson was selling short and that Goldman Sachs bundled the derivative for him seems to be what SEC thinks GS should have disclosed.

All this, of course, ignores John Médaille’s, invocation of Aristotle and Aquina to distinguish natural from unnatural market exchanges, but Distributist economics are, for the time being at least, so far out of the mainstream as to be easily ignored. Considering the repeated failures of mainstream economics, that may be ripe for change.

The Democrats have a bright if peurile idea: “Hey, guys! I’ve got a great idea! Regulation utterly failed to prevent the economic collapse, and voters are mad at Wall Street, so lets grab this chance to make Washington bigger with even more regulation! Whaddya think, guys?!” (I’m not sure the Republicans have a counter-plan. They’re just in denial that a market could fail.)

Pretending to regulate something as complex as derivatives is destined again to fail, so I would be remiss were I to pass up, before Congress passes “the most sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system since the aftermath of the Great Depression,” not to sing another rousing chorus of “if they’re too big to fail, bust ’em up!”

Honk if you love irony

I started a month and a half ago to try to write a very trenchant post taking this music video as its point of departure.

Maybe someday I’ll get around to it, but to say what I wrote wasn’t ready for prime time would be a great understatement.

So just enjoy the video, chuckle at human folly, and then say a few “Lord have mercies” for us all.

Franklin Graham

There is a kerfuffle about Franklin Graham being excluded from some upcoming government-sponsored events because of his criticism of Islam as “evil” (not my scare quotes; I unequivocally believe in evil). For instance, testosterone-crazed Doug Giles rails here against the political correctness of it all.

I doubt not that Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse is a reputable enough charity, but the younger generation Graham, like the younger generation Frank Schaeffer, far surpasses his father in delusions that he has been given a prophet’s mantle, rather than the more modest platform of an evangelist. His mouth too frequently shoots off about matters of which he is ignorant.

He has, for instance, gently calumniated Orthodox Christianity, as in his 2007 Ukraine crusade, with charges of which it is entirely innocent. The gist was that the Orthodox Church, despite its antiquity and grandeur, doesn’t teach a personal relationship with Christ. (I believe, but cannot track down, that he has said much worse of Orthodoxy in the past.)

His comments about Islam are certainly undiplomatic. I’ll leave it to others to debate whether Islam is evil – the kinds of people who get suckered into other debates where the key terms are too equivocal to invite anything more than a shouting match. But on Orthodoxy, Graham is deeply wrong.  As is so often the case, Father Stephen Freeman says it better than I:

The salvation into which we are Baptized is a new life – no longer defined by the mere existence of myself as an individual – but rather by the radical freedom of love within the Body of Christ. To accept Christ as our “personal” savior, thus can be translated into its traditional Orthodox form: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” And this question is more fully expounded when we understand that the Christ to whom we unite ourself is a many-membered body.

Read the whole article.

Singing in the Flame

The Orthodox Church regularly remembers important Biblical people and events that other traditions may overlook. This goes beyond following a prescribed cycle of scripture readings in the liturgy and other services of the Church. It’s even built into the prescribed hymn texts. And in some cases, Protestant Bibles omit whole, wholesome passages.

One example is the Myrrhbearing Women, who figure much more prominently in Orthodoxy than even in “high Church” Protestantism.

Another is the three holy youths in the furnace. At the Vigil of Great and Holy Saturday, we read the account of their praying and singing from the “fiery furnace.”

This passage is sadly omitted from Protestant 66-book Bibles. It is included, if at all, only in the disparagingly-misnamed “Apocrypha,” which in fact are part of Christian Scripture, recognized by Rome and Orthodoxy alike. So until I became Orthodox, I was completely unfamiliar with this treasure. Read More »