Saturday, 11/8/14

  1. Polls: The Reverse Lie Detector
  2. Progressive clobber passages
  3. Malum prohibitum, Malum in se
  4. Defining and Discovering
  5. Follow the bouncing Zeitgeist


From the Assimilated Provinces of Megalomerica, a dispatch excerpt:

The polls work in this way. Political scientists and puppeteers devise means to test the jitters of the body politic. They jigger it with electrodes, spurs, hypodermic needles, matches, itching powder, nails, and dry ice, and test its reactions upon being asked a Political Question. They have one girl, stripped to the waist, cozy up to the Body Politic from behind, wreathing her vague arms round his chest and whispering, You really want a tax – tax – cut, don’t you, licking his earlobe, while another girl, stripped below the waist, settles upon his lap and giggles, whispering, Let’s go get those rich cheaters, big boy! And the mechanism records the results.

It’s a reverse Lie Detector. Instead of detecting lies by measuring involuntary systemic changes – sweat, heart rate, blood pressure, trouser tightness – it instills falsehood by instigating those systemic changes. It then records the results, which then become News, which is another name for the electrodes, spurs, hypodermic needles, matches, itching powder, nails, and dry ice. This is what is known as the Election Cycle. (If your Election lasts for more than four years, you’re in for it.)

(Anthony Esolen)


A Facebook friend of liberal bent (and, notably, an apostate from the Christian faith) posted one of those poster-thingies. The speaker was Newark Mayor Cory Booker. The sentiment, which many greeted as oracular, was familiar enough:

Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me how much you love al His children; Before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.

This is a swell sentiment, and legitimate – even biblical – enough:

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

But it’s only part of the story.

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

(Matthew 6:1-4) Hmmm. How can I connive so that Cory Booker “accidentally” sees what I’m not supposed to be doing for him to see? Oh, dear!

I’m about 90% sure that these sentiments are half of the progressive “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” hatred of traditional Christianity. I can tie myself in knots trying to convince them that I’m loving – volunteering at an unsubsidized Soup Kitchen, Food Pantry or Homeless Shelter, maybe –but it won’t count, I fear, because if I really loved the poor, I’d support their policies for government to mediate not just my own, but everybody‘s “love” to people – through employer mandates if not old-fashioned tax-based transfer payments.

And God forbid that I should lovingly but firmly insist that certain erotic behaviors tend to alienate the actors from God rather than unite them! They get to decide what true love of neighbor looks like, and one cannot dissent from liberal groin pieties so circumspectly (and with whatever desire to promote true human thriving of those who experience forbidden lusts) as to avoid the charges of phobia and hate.

I don’t know much about Cory Booker. He may be a fine (if superficial) man.

At present, though, with his echoes of some biblical values, he is my stand-in for all the progressive Christian and non-Christian fans of their own perverse “clobber passages.” I refuse to be cowed.


The Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared ready to throw federal prosecutors overboard for applying the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance law to a commercial-fisherman accused of destroying evidence that he harvested undersized fish.

“He could have gotten 20 years!” Justice Antonin Scalia said of the maximum jail term the fisherman faced for tossing undersized red grouper off his boat. “What kind of a sensible prosecution is that?”

“Perhaps Congress should have called this the Sarbanes-Oxley Grouper Act,” Justice Anthony Kennedy quipped during an hourlong oral argument.

Lawmakers passed Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002 in response to accounting scandals at publicly traded companies, including Enron Corp. Amid concerns about document destruction in the Enron matter, Congress made it a crime to knowingly destroy or cover up “any record, document or tangible object” with the intent to obstruct an investigation.

Eight years later, the Justice Department cited the Sarbanes-Oxley provision in criminal charges against Florida fisherman John Yates …

If the corporate-fraud law’s prohibition on evidence destruction is as broad as the Justice Department believes, then it could be used to target a camper on federal land who hides an illegal campfire “or picks a flower, knowing you’re supposed to let wildflowers blossom,” said Justice Stephen Breyer ….

(Wall Street Journal)

Did you really think that we want those laws observed? . . . We want them broken . . . . There’s no way to rule innocent men.  The only power any government has is to crack down on criminals.  Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them.  One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking laws.  Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens?  What’s there in that for anyone?  But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted — and you create a nation of lawbreakers — and then you cash in on guilt.

(Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged)

One of the legal concepts currently suffering theoretical desuetude (though humans cannot really live by the barren alternative) is that of acts malum in se, things that are legally forbidden because they are wrong in and of themselves. Such, for instance, might be things like, oh, murder and theft. The alternative is things malum prohibitum, wrong because they’re forbidden, such as driving left of the centerline on a two-way street in North America, to the right in England.

I imagine the guy who destroyed his fishy evidence in the current SCOTUS case knew he was doing something malum in se in doing so, malum prohibitum by catching and keeping smallish fish in the first place. Modern legal theorists tend to suggest that all is malum prohibitum,  and the eventuality of that may be prosecutors with untroubled consiences making a federal case out of a trifle if they can make the statutory words fit.


In one of the classes I teach at Baylor University, we cover, among other topics, the issue of marriage. I begin by asking my students, “Is there a difference between these two questions: ‘How do you define marriage?’ and ‘What is marriage?’” Most of them say “no,” which implies that they believe that defining and discovering are pretty much the same sort of activity.

I then ask, “Is there a difference between these two questions: ‘How do you define a human person?,’ and ‘What is a human person?’?” Initially, most say “no,” but their confidence wanes once I press them: “So, suppose that Mr. X, a slave owner, defines a human person as ‘a human being of the Caucasian race.’ Is he correct in his definition?” The students quickly respond with an emphatic “no,” to which I reply, “But doesn’t that mean that defining and discovering are not the same activity? After all, your rejection of Mr. X’s definition implies that a definition can be wrong if it is inconsistent with the nature of the thing the definition was meant to describe.” We then move on to discuss the differences between nominal and real definitions, essential and accidental properties, and whether the law—in the case of marriage—should or should not recognize only those unions that are real marriages (whatever those may turn out to be).

Unsurprisingly, they all wind up agreeing in principle that the state should only recognize “real marriages ….”

(Francis Beckwith) If you’re interested in where that introduction is headed, follow the link.

Meanwhile, as other courts define marriage, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal discovers it.


Lots of people liked Mark Driscoll, and they liked the idea of him even after his flaws began to show. But when he proved to be all too human, his church couldn’t survive without him. Driscoll apparently once told staff, “I am the brand,” and he turned out to be right.

As Anthony Bradley, a theology professor at the King’s College, tweeted:

To translate from Christian shorthand: Churches who belong to established denominations have established institutional methods for excising troubled leaders, and for surviving once they are gone. “Nondenominational” organizations like Mars Hill, built on faith and charisma alone, will always be vulnerable to the fate of losing the popularity contest.

(Ruth Graham – not the one who’s Billy’s daughter – in the Atlantic)

The writer’s right, and I’ve made similar points in the past. But the mainstream denominations are dying off from other causes, including most notably a failure to be the one holy catholic and apostolic church of the Creed, and thus to bear the fulness of the Christian faith. They no less than the non-denominational megachurches are mostly following the Zeitgeist.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.