Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Doping and Sport, Especially Cycling

        The wise or educated person knows what things are for, not simply how they work.  The wise athlete, therefore, knows what high purpose sport serves, not simply how to hit a curve ball or how to ride in a paceline.  At the highest level, the proper understanding of what sports really are, what sports do, why sports exist, and how they ought to be pursued, is a philosophical and theological quest, not simply an athletic one.  You find the answer in your head, not on a bike; you find it best by thinking, not simply by pedaling.
         If ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates are right, then the proper end of sport, indeed the proper end of all human endeavor, is the beautification of the soul.  The pursuit of things good, true and beautiful -- which cycling can be -- has a positive and even therapeutic effect on your inner life -- but only if you pursue it properly and well.  Cheating is not the way.
         Wise athletes measure themselves against themselves.  They are not tyrannized by public opinion because they know better than the public just what they themselves could and should have accomplished, but did not, even though they won.  Wise athletes know the secret moments when their own fear and self-doubt led to hesitation and to soft-pedaling.  They know how many times the mere thought of pain (and not actual pain itself) convinced them to slow down, to hold back, to play it safe, and to save face.  Wise athletes know first-hand just how often cowardice flatters itself by posing as prudence.  They know about performing poorly and finishing first, as well as about performing heroically and finishing third.  If such athletes have not yet buried their soul or their conscience, they know enough never to settle for a cowardly first when a heroic third can be gotten.  They know how much it costs inwardly to cheat.  They know that a clear conscience is a greater, more beautiful, and more satisfying trophy than any they ever got atop any podium anywhere.
         The wise athlete understands what Michael Novak meant when he observed that “to win” is an ambiguous concept.  “To win” is not synonymous with the most points, the highest average, or the fastest finish.  Losers sometimes finish first.  What makes them losers is not their place in the finish order, but their place in the hierarchy of moral virtue and self-respect.  Wise athletes know that there is no difference between a cheater and a quitter.  Both have stopped playing the game.
         In short, sport is a vale of soul-making, one where you are how you compete.  Conduct is identity.  Cheaters know who and what they really are. 
         To turn from the ancient philosophers to the ancient theologians, the measure of all things is divine, not human.  In that light, the justification for sport is its capacity to glorify God.  When the human body and human spirit accomplish remarkable things, it glorifies the God who made them.  Beating the odds, however steep they might be -- that’s how we should live.  Heroic achievement in the face of great obstacles and fearsome enemies, the days when we are David slaying Goliath -- that’s what God meant for us.  Victories of that sort, and God’s intense desire for us to accomplish them, are a window into the fiery and majestic heart of the God who made us, and in whose image we are. 
         But beating all odds is not the same as cheating all odds:  When you lose, you lose; and when you cheat, you lose.  Cheaters are not only quitters, they are losers too, even when they finish first.  Cheating means that the accomplishment was not really an accomplishment at all, but a fraud, a mirage, and  a fake.  Those who perpetrate these misdeeds are athletic quacks and charlatans.  By those athletic crooks and their chicanery, the God of truth and virtue is not glorified.  By their pathetic endeavors at immortality, they succeed merely in belittling and demeaning themselves and the sport in which they pretend to compete.
         To wise athletes, therefore, the greatest satisfaction comes from meeting the risks and challenges of fair play and surviving to win nevertheless.  That enormous satisfaction withers when you transgress the rules by which all others compete.  Who could not win a bike race in which all other riders carried an extra 20 lb. burden, or were forced to ride on softened tires?  Beating them is not really sport, not really cycling, not really victory.
         In long-distance cycling events like The Race Across America, or even in races whose parameters are not so daunting, we know that the perfect policing of all participants is not possible.  To some large degree, therefore, we are left in the unenviable and unavoidable position of falling back on human nature to police itself, something it has an exceedingly difficult time doing well.  That confluence of unhappy facts means that we can’t stop all the cheaters.  Indeed we can stop only one -- the one inside our own jersey. 
         The ones we can’t stop must be dealt with another way.  The ones we can’t stop we can beat.  In those cases, the challenge is not simply to police the rider on your own bike, or even on someone else’s, but to get so impressively good at what you do on that bike that even the cheaters can’t beat you.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils

          I often hear Christians ask why they should vote for the lesser of two evils.  Here’s why:
         “The lesser of two evils” is another way of saying “the better of two alternatives.”  The Bible is not opposed to you making the best choice available between imperfect alternatives.  In an imperfect world, when you choose between persons, your choices are always imperfect.  They always entail the lesser or the least of evils, whether two or more.  Given the depth and extent of human depravity and delusion, it can be no other way.  It never has been and it never will be otherwise.  No king, queen, prince, princess, premier, president, prime minister, senator, representative, governor, mayor, or school board member can possibly be an exception, whether they were born to the job or were elected to it.  Some choices might be better than others, but they always will be imperfect.  You always will be voting for the lesser or the least of two (or more) evils.  No other choice can ever present itself.
         Not only are the choices imperfect, but so also is the chooser.  No voter escapes imperfection.  No voter escapes personal or intellectual evil.  But one never hears -- or at least I never hear -- those who complain about “the lesser of two evils” apply that complaint to themselves and to other voters, only to candidates.  They complain about voting for the lesser of two evils, but not about letting “the lesser of two evils” vote.  If one is a purist and says we ought to vote only for someone who is better than the lesser of two evils then, by their principles, only those who are better than the lesser of two evils should vote.  The purists apply higher standards to candidates than they do to themselves and to other voters.
         An aside:  If you decline to vote for the lesser of two evils and vote instead for someone who has no reasonable chance of victory, or if you exclude yourself from voting altogether, you make at least two errors.
         (1) You prevent yourself from voting for one of the only two candidates who can win, leaving the choice of winner entirely to others, thus robbing yourself of any meaningful exercise of your franchise in this regard.  If the government prevented you from voting for the winner, you would call it tyranny.  But if you prevent yourself from voting, you call it principle.  You are wrong.  Of the two choices available to you -- voting for an imperfect winner or not -- you have chosen the worst of two evils, namely self-imposed disenfranchisement.
         (2) You have clearly misidentified who is and who is not the best available candidate.  If candidate X is doomed to failure, while candidates A and B are not, and you vote for X anyway, then you do not know either the better or the best.  “Doomed to failure” means that your candidate is not even the lesser of two evils, but is actually politically worse than the greater of two evils. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Statesmanship vs. Fallacy and Myth

        Statesmanship is an exercise in prudence, not ideological purity.  It is more a wisdom than a political philosophy.  Statesmanship is fact-based and historically informed (which are the same).  In order to identify prudent public policies, authentic statesmanship insists on objective historical indicators, not mere philosophical consistency.  The statesman knows that the logic of history and of corrupt human nature are not the same as the logic of ideology.
         The statesman understands, and therefore seeks to avoid, the two most common errors of governance:  (1) the fallacy of misplaced malleability, and (2) the myth of solution.
         (1) The fallacy of misplaced malleability seeks to impose the vision or the ideal inside one’s head upon the external world, trying to force reality into the shape of one’s thought rather than conforming one’s thoughts to the parameters of reality.   The enterprise is perfectly futile because it presumes that human institutions can be changed at will to fit patterns inside our heads.  They cannot.  Human institutions arise from human action; human action arises from human nature; and human nature is notoriously unfixable.  No matter how badly we might think it needs fixing, government is not sufficient for the task.  Only the grace of God can alter human nature.  To assign that supernatural task to government is the rankest idolatry.  Trying to do what can never be done, and continuing to try for ages upon ages to make the impossible possible, is a fool’s errand.  No society and no citizenry can be well served by a government that wastes its precious and limited resources trying to do what cannot be done. 
         (2) The myth of solution is the arrogant notion that if we apply ourselves hard enough or acutely enough then we can solve the world’s problems, or, if not the worlds, then at least our own.
         But statesmen know better.  They know that none of the problems that plague us have any political solution and that turning to government to solve them is a desperate waste of time, of which we all have too little.  Sin, death, ignorance, disease, prejudice, oppression, and poverty cannot be fixed.  Indeed, concerning the last named problem, we have the Lord’s own words on it:  “The poor you will always have with you,” He said (Matt. 26: 11).  That statement does not mean we are to accept poverty, whether for ourselves or for others.  It means that though we resist poverty and try hard to ameliorate its diabolical effects, we can never finally put it behind us.  That is not a counsel of despair but of prudence:  We cannot do what we cannot do.  Better to do what actually can be done than to waste resources and to raise false hopes in the pursuit of economic folly and political impossibilities.  Do what you can; be prudent and humble in your assessments; and aim for the possible, not the perfect.  Political perfection is not to be had, not in this universe.
         Politicians fall into the fallacy of misplaced malleability and the myth of solution because they are political rationalists, not political realists, much less statesmen or political virtuosos.  They forget that political moves that are possible, even easy, intra-mentally might be utterly impossible extra-mentally, that is, historically.  Political rationalists habitually underestimate the difficulty of moving from where we are to where they think we ought to be.  By theorizing for a world that is not, that never was, and that never will be, they make themselves irrelevant to the world we have -- the world into which Providence has placed us.  That’s at best.  At worst, they are downright disastrous.
         When it comes to tracking the maze of postmodern confusion, the political rationalists are failures.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gandhi's Errors Regarding Christ

Mohandas Gandhi is reputed to have said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” . . . If it weren’t for Christians, I’d be a Christian.”
         By so arguing, Gandhi was wrong three ways.
         (1) Christianity is about Christ, not about the Christians.  It’s about Him, not them.  Even if it were about them, the Christians are like the adherents of all religions, including Gandhi’s.  They are noticeably imperfect.  On that count the Christians are like the adherents of all religions and all non-religions -- they are defective, and sometimes radically so.  Shortcomings of this sort are not a specifically Christian problem.  They are human problem.  We all have it.  It undermines all we do and all we say, no matter what religion, if any, we believe, and no matter if we are atheists and believe no religion at all.  To reject a religion, or a non-religion, because those hold it are clearly defective is a principle that leads to rejecting any and every notion whatever because those who hold it all fall short and are inconsistent.
         To reject Christianity because of the Christians is just Gandhi’s version of the old ad hominem fallacy, that of rejecting an idea because of its proponent and not because of the idea itself.  An arguer might be radically defective on many counts and yet the argument itself still be perfectly cogent and true.  By arguing as he does, Gandhi is simply being irrational and inconsistent -- irrational because the ad hominem argument is fallacious, and inconsistent because he does not apply his own rule to his own religion and therefore reject it because those who adhere to it are deeply and truly defective.  This is as lame a reason for rejecting Christ as one can imagine.
         (2) Relatedly, please notice that while Gandhi criticizes the conduct of others, he fails in this analysis to criticize himself, as if he were not a radically sinful human being, as if, somehow, he had escaped the evil that debilitates and the sin that beclouds all others; as if he himself were not the living refutation of his own religion and beliefs.  He argues as if, while the Christians are hypocrites, he is not.  To think, like Gandhi, that you have escaped the moral failings that engulf all other human beings is proof that you lack any serious self-knowledge, and that you are at least as bad, and perhaps more evil, than those you criticize.  Were Gandhi to use Gandhi’s rule on Gandhi, it would require him to reject himself and his own religion.  But, you'll notice, he does not.
         (3) While the followers of other religions are not demonstrably better than the Christians, the Founder of Christianity is demonstrably better than any and every founder of other religions.  For one thing, they all are dead.  He alone is alive.  The tomb is empty; the stone is rolled away; and the living Savior has conquered death.  Not only is the tomb empty, but indeed several hundred persons saw Him alive after death, and they sealed their witness with their blood.  From the first day onward, the Christians preached about the living Christ and His empty tomb.  He is risen; He has defeated death; He can defeat it for us too, as He did for his friend Lazarus and others.   From the beginning, the earliest Christians preached about the things they had seen with their own eyes, handled with their own hands, and heard with their own ears (1 John 1: 1-3), namely that He who was dead was now alive.
         Not so Moses; not so Mohammed; not so Buddha, not so any other founder of any religion.  If you pray, if you call upon your founder to save you, and if you have not Christ, you are in a hopeless condition.  The dead cannot deliver you from death or from the sin that gives rise to it.  To sin and death all of them but Christ have succumbed.  They themselves require deliverance.  They cannot provide for you what they could not provide even for themselves.
         But all this is lost on Gandhi and his fallacious, self-congratulatory, and inconsistent nonsense.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Pro-Abortion Contradictions: They Endorse What They Oppose; They Oppose What They Endorse

         Pro-abortion arguments are fraught with contradictions.  For example:  (1) Abortion defenders often say that it’s wrong to force morality on others.  (2) They also say that abortion is a woman’s issue and that men have no proper say in it.  Men ought to stay away.
         If so, then the pro-abortion folks need to oppose Roe v. Wade because it transgresses the very principles the abortion lobby says it upholds.
         (1) Before Roe V. Wade was decided in 1973, abortion was illegal in 45 states and was severely restricted in two others.  Opposition to it was formal, legal, and almost universal.  Yet, despite the near universal rejection of the practice, the Supreme Court imposed its morality on the entire nation.  If imposing morality on others is wrong in principle, as the pro-abortion lobby insists, then the Supreme Court decision was wrong because it imposed its morality upon an entire nation.  But that imposition of morality is never opposed by the pro-choicers, which tells you that they are either cheaters or liars.  They say they oppose imposing morality in principle, but they don’t, not if their morality is being imposed.  They only reject imposing morality when someone else’s morality is in view.
         (2) If, as a matter of principle, men have no proper say in abortion, as the pro-abortionists insist, then they ought to oppose Roe v. Wade because it was decided entirely by men, a mere nine men who imposed their morality upon the whole nation.  If men have no proper say in the issue, as the pro-choice defenders insist, then the Supreme Court decision doubly transgresses pro-abortion principles:  It imposes morality and it was decided by men.  But that double transgression of principle means nothing at all to those who endorse abortion.  As long as men impose the same morality the pro-abortion faction holds, men can say, do, or impose whatever they wish.  It’s only when men argue against abortion that they must be excluded.
         In other words, it’s not really about imposing morality on others, and it’s not really about excluding men from the issue.  It’s not really about the pro-choice lobby’s alleged principles.  It’s really about vacuous self-contradiction.  It’s about cognitive dissonance on the grandest scale.
         But then whoever accused the pro-abortion cadre of logical consistency?  Certainly not I. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Natural Law, Unnatural Law, and Unnatural Lawyers

         Before you start pontificating about natural law and its alleged lessons, you’d better consider all the ways that nature is now unnatural.  You’d better know the difference between nature as created and nature as cursed.  You must understand the difference between what nature is now and what nature ought to be, once was, and will be again.
         All any natural law advocate has ever seen is unnatural or sub-natural nature.  Further, the natural lawyers need to understand that they themselves are unnatural, that they universally are fallen, wicked, sinful, and rebellious.  They are unnatural and wicked creatures reasoning on the basis of unnatural nature in order to tell us about real natural law, as if, despite all their incapacities and habitual immoralities, natural lawyers were objective, disinterested, and reliable on the point.
         I’m not convinced.
         The natural law crowd does not know and therefore cannot articulate the difference between natural nature and unnatural nature, whether in themselves or in the world at large.  Those differences are perhaps unimaginable.  Those differences are something akin to the difference between ancient Eden and the Arabian desert.  Such differences are depicted in the eschatological image of the lion lying down with the lamb.   Shockingly, and to us quite unnaturally, the lamb will not be inside the lion when it happens.  That future version of nature and our contemporary version of it seem to operate quite differently.   The details of that difference we do not know.  Natural lawyers have never seen nature not under a curse, nature unburdened.  They have never seen themselves not under that debilitating and burdensome curse.  Apart from God telling them, they cannot know and do not know what real lessons real nature might teach, if any, and how those lessons differ from those supposedly taught now by a cursed nature and by the unnatural lawyers who fancy themselves able to speak for it.
         When unnatural lawyers explain the “laws” of unnatural nature, they do so in a tendentious and highly selective manner.  They do not tell you for your instruction and imitation that nature is vicious, that it is “red in tooth and claw,” that its law is normally to kill in order to live.  They do not tell you that nature is doomed, that it is winding down to a cold, motionless, amorphous mass at a low temperature, that in the end all stories reduce to precisely nothing.  That is, they do not tell you that natural law is murderous and nihilistic.  Rather, they want to use nature to teach the things that they want it to teach, not what it actually does teach, if it teaches anything all.
         In nature as it is, the law is either to kill or be killed, even though the natural lawyers will not teach you to live in that brutal fashion, and would be appalled if you seriously undertook to do so.
         Indeed, even if living things in nature escape being killed, they still die.  In other words, selfish predation and both individual and cosmic nihilism are the order of the day, even if the unnatural lawyers don’t recommend that you live accordingly.  Unnatural lawyers publicly trumpet natural law while ignoring or rejecting much of it.  They often alter it to fit their own agenda.  With regard to the real laws of contemporary nature, they are what they despise others being with regard to positive law:  They are legal and judicial activists.  They push their own truncated agenda onto the law and subjugate the agenda of nature’s current constitution to it.  The so-called natural law advocates are unnatural, indeed anti-natural, if by “natural” we mean “nature as it ought to be and used to be,” and not “nature as it is.”
         If unnatural nature as it now is “teaches” anything, it “teaches” serial marriage and abandonment, not simply monogamy.  It “teaches” us to devour our young, not just to nurture them.
         If you want to know real right and real wrong -- and you should -- then you need to go to God’s Word, not to the current workings of a cursed and therefore unnatural natural order or to the self-aggrandizing and twisted mental gymnastics of unnatural lawyers.    

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Deep Sin, Deeper Grace

         I’m so selfish and sinful that even when I tell God I love Him it normally means little more than I’m happy with the circumstances of my life.  As long as things keep going smoothly, as long as He does what I wish, as long as He does things my way, I call it love.  But when the road gets rocky, or the way gets too steep for my comfort, I rebel.  My affection wanes.
         But not really.
         If that’s what my heart means by love for God, then it wasn’t affection for God in the first place, and it couldn’t really wane.  It wasn’t love for God; it was love for me.  It was self-love all along.  It just masqueraded as piety.  Real piety, real affection for God, isn’t a masquerade.   If my expression of love for God were born of real piety, it would be rooted in His character, the shattering and bracing character found in Christ, Who upends the idols of my mind and of my impiety, and Who drives them from the temple of my heart with a whip, if that’s what it takes.    If I am really to love God, I must love the One revealed in Christ, and not in the conformity of His gifts to my desires.  My desires, after all, might sometimes be the worst thing for me.  If so, God’s goodness and love would set them aside in order to give me what I need, not what I want.
         I find it so humiliating.  Even in my moments of spontaneous outbursts of alleged affection for God, it’s sometimes nothing more than my pleasure at having reduced God to my Cosmic Errand Boy.  Even after years of faith, my best moments are still just echoes of the first sin, displacing God and putting myself in His place.
         Selfishness goes so deeply down into our hearts that we can never cut it out, never fully set it aside, not in this life.  None of us has plumbed the depth of our own evil.  We cannot.  We cannot because evil isn’t simply what we do; it’s what we are.  I’d have to shed myself before I could shed my sin.  Under every layer of my sin lies another layer deeper down.  If I could peel the onion down to its last layer, I’d still find sin, and when I’d discarded that last remaining layer, my sin would be gone, and so would I.
         I need a new me.  We all do.  That’s what God provides, and that why He provides it.  Regeneration means a new you. Regeneration means you are born again and that new life is given you.  In that new condition, you finally can alter your fundamental orientation.  By God’s grace, and only so, can you look at God’s character rather than at your own circumstances in order to see Him as He really is.  You do it by looking to Christ, by spending time with Him, by listening to Him talk, by watching Him work, and thereby learning in Him what God is really like.  You learn that God is not the magic genie who grants your wishes.  God is the One revealed in Jesus.  To know Jesus is to know God.  To see Jesus is to see God (John 14: 9).  To love God properly and well is to relate to Him in the way the Son relates to the Father.  There is no better way.  There is no other way (John 14: 6).

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Rich, the Poor, and Justice

         Sometimes we ought to begin by defining our terms.  This is one of those times.  We need to distinguish between justice and equality.
         Justice is getting what you deserve.  It’s getting what is rightly yours.  It is getting what is yours by work, by investment, by inheritance, by purchase, by right, even by luck.  Because it is based on deserving, no moral objection can be raised to justice.  Equality, by comparison, is not getting what you deserve, but getting what everyone else gets, regardless of contribution or deserving.  Because of its distance and difference from deserving, from justice, a moral objection can (and sometimes should) be raised against equality.  Equality is justice only in cases and circumstances that really are equal.  Given the enormous and immeasurable differences in deserving, in effort, in morality, in natural ability, in contribution, and in circumstance among human beings, a species wherein no two members are exactly alike, the instances of equality being justice are rare, perhaps exceedingly rare.
         Yet some folks complain continually about the lack of equality, especially financial equality.  They complain, for example, if a particular policy benefits the rich more than it does the poor.  But you cannot raise an effective moral objection against a policy for no more morally profound or intellectually responsible a reason than that it favors the rich, or expands the gap between the rich and the poor.
         For instance, if I were to cut income taxes by 20% across the board, thus relieving the financial burden on all taxpayers, that policy would favor the rich more than the poor because you can’t cut taxes for those who pay none.  You can’t aid non-taxpayers with tax cuts because their tax break is already maximized.  Tax cuts favor the rich more than the poor because the rich are the ones who pay the most taxes:  The more taxes you pay, the more you benefit.  The less taxes you pay, the less you benefit.  And if, like nearly half of all Americans, you don’t pay income tax at all, you still benefit because those who do pay taxes still end up paying them to you.  They pay them to you by means of the elaborate, punitive, discriminatory, government redistribution scheme now in force in America.
         By the same token, if somehow, by my generosity, I were able instantly to double the money of every man, woman, and child in America, I’d think I’d done a rather good thing.  But those who oppose policies or actions favoring the rich would complain vociferously because by instantly doubling everyone’s money, my personal largesse had given more to the rich than to the poor, thus increasing the gap between them, as if by being generous I were being unjust.  And were I to increase everyone’s wealth tenfold -- an ostensibly good and generous action -- the same sort of consequences would obtain and the same silly criticisms would follow, even though everyone now had 1000% more money.
         Something isn’t bad just because it benefits the rich.  And it isn’t bad because it benefits the rich more than the poor.  It’s bad if it’s unjust, not if it’s unequal.
         Or, if you remain incurably addicted to the equality meme, then you ought to oppose our tax laws, which are the very embodiment of inequality, and which single out some citizens for financial punishment and others for financial reward in defiance of our Constitutional obligation to provide equal protection for all.  That is discrimination; that is inequality; that is injustice.  Yet those who trumpet equality and oppose discrimination press for it full tilt.  Against all reason and consistency, they oppose equal percentage tax breaks and they endorse tax code discrimination.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Note to My Libertarian Friends

         I do not say that the libertarian commitment to preserve liberty is wrong, far from it.  Human freedom is a rare and valuable condition, one that deserves protection.  But I do say that American libertarianism lacks electoral prudence, and therefore is grotesquely self-destructive.  By its false notion of ideological purity, and by its political ineptitude, American libertarianism repeatedly and predictably marginalizes itself and prevents the success of its own important ideas.
         I want to tell my libertarian friends that they and their agenda are doomed until they learn how to win at party politics.  If you don’t know how to make your agenda prevail even in the major political party closest to your own ideals, then you won’t win elections.  If you don’t win elections, your ideas, however good they might be, will not obtain.  Someone else’s will.  If you don’t win elections, you will never get your hands on the levers of power, by which you can better establish an atmosphere more conducive to, and protective of, human freedom.
         I often have heard my libertarian friends eschew getting their hands on power.   To them, wielding power is tantamount to tyranny.  But it is not.  To have freedom, you must first have order.  To have order, you must first have power.  If you have power, you can establish policies, procedures, and institutions that foster human freedom.  If you refuse to learn how to get power and how to wield it, you doom yourself to failure.  If you wish to turn back tyranny, you must learn how get power and to exercise it so that the tyrants are kept at bay.  To suppress tyrants is not a compromise of freedom, but the very means of its preservation and a necessity of the first rank.  No power, no order; no order, no freedom.
         To my assertion above, my libertarian friends invariably assert the notion of spontaneous order.
         Yes, I know about spontaneous order.  It sometimes happens.  It sometimes works.  But I also know about not-so-spontaneous disorder, which, given human appetite, human combativeness, human greed, human apathy, and human ignorance, is a far more likely and predictable outcome than its alternative, especially on a national and international scale.  For various reasons, some people, some movements, and some nations crave disorder and chaos, and they will bring it about by whatever means come to hand, mass violence included.  In the face of the determined powers of disruption, subversion, and dislocation, libertarians need to be reminded that it takes a power to check a power.
         But libertarians don’t know how to get power.  Indeed, when it comes to getting power, they are shockingly, even jaw-droppingly inept.  They are so inept that they have never won even a single national election, not one.
         In fact, I have overstated their achievement.  It seems not to have occurred to them that even though I have never run for public office, and likely never will, I single-handedly have equaled the entire electoral vote count of Ron Paul, about whom libertarians swoon as if he were a rock star.  I have equaled him easily and without any expense at all.  Ron Paul and his supporters have invested years and millions upon millions of dollars in order to end up with me in an ignominious electoral tie: 0-0.  Clearly, if that’s what they have to show for their efforts, their time, and their money, they are doing something tremendously wrong headed.  They engage in electoral malpractice on the most spectacular national level I have ever witnessed in America.
         That failure results from following the wrong principles.  Too many libertarians prefer preserving ideological purity to practicing political prudence.  That is, they prefer to suffer defeat rather than to make smaller, incremental, steps toward their ultimate goal, steps that require what to them is compromise.  But it’s not compromise at all.  It looks compromise to them only because they seek to follow purely and resolutely the wrong methods and goal.  They need to junk their so-called ideological purity and in its place decide to make whatever incremental steps they can toward their final objective.  They ought to aim at accomplishing whatever progress is possible at the moment, however large or small it might be, thereby clawing and inching, if need be, to their intended destination.  They want to throw a touchdown pass when the best play available at this point in the game is three yards straight up the middle.
         Rather than achieving what actually can be achieved in the real world, libertarians too often banish themselves to the margins of political life by convincing themselves that they ought to sit out elections wherein the choice is between the lesser of two evils, as if a non-evil choice were ever actually possible.  There are no perfect political candidates, period.  There never have been and there never will be.  Every candidate and every platform will entail inevitable tradeoffs:  To get A, you’ll have to consent to B.  All political choices in a fallen world have been, and will continue to be, tradeoffs.  Libertarians despise tradeoffs, and seem to think that tradeoffs sully them and their movement.   But no; these tradeoffs make progress toward their ultimate libertarian goal possible.  Eschewing tradeoffs means only that you are now no closer to victory than you were when you first began.
         Victory for freedom is a tortoise and hare affair. It is faster to go slow.  It is faster to deal than not to deal.  You cannot get from here to an acceptable and preservable freedom in one ideologically pure leap, or even in six.   
         That is my first encouragement to the libertarians:  Learn how to play the game.  Learn how to win.  Learn how to get the power necessary to establish and protect freedom.
         Here is my second:  Learn that your political quest, as normally articulated, is conceptually ambiguous, perhaps even vacuous.  Learn that freedom is an incomplete concept.  You can’t be for freedom in the abstract.  You must be for, or against, specific freedoms.  When someone tells me that he or she is for freedom, I want to ask, “Freedom -- to do what?”  I must ask that question because some alleged freedoms are colossally vile, like the alleged freedom to slaughter one’s children before birth.
         I am for freedom in some cases and against it in others, just like I am for force in some cases and against it in others.  It’s simply foolish and presumptuous to be for either freedom or force in the abstract.  Real life isn’t about abstractions, but about realities.  It’s about the specifics, the details.  God, we must remind ourselves, is in the details, and so is prudent and precise political thinking.
         Don’t simply be for freedom, libertarians.   Be for this freedom or that.  To be simply for freedom is no more helpful or insightful than when liberals tell us they are for hope and change.  They need to tell us quite specifically, what they are hoping for, and what exact changes they propose.  Anything less specific is lazy and stems from a desire to spare oneself the great labor of precise conception, precise articulation, precise analysis, precise application, and precise defense.  In place of those multiple precisions is a mere ideologically based general judgment that allows lazy thinkers to take a position on insufficiently analyzed problems, or so they think.
         The lazy and the imprecise will not inherit the earth. They’ll inherit only the leftovers.    

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Praying for the Dead

         In light of what I’ve read in C. S. Lewis and other writers, I see two ways of praying for the dead.
         (1) Because God’s character is so deeply wonderful and inexhaustible, a human creature might spend forever getting to know God better and never exhaust the Subject.  No matter how far you pursue that quest, you will never run out of more God to know, to love, to reflect, to contemplate, or to serve.   The more you pursue it and reflect it, the better you yourself will become.
         If Heaven is dynamic, not static, and if knowing God better is a path that goes on forever, then growth in Heaven is both possible and desirable.  And if growth in heaven is possible, then pray for your departed friends the same way you prayed for them while they were here:  Pray for their growth and sanctification, the very means by which their joy might be full.  Your, and their, capacity for joy is commensurate with your, and their, capacity for holiness, for Christlikeness.  The more you are like Him, the holier you are.  The holier you are, the more joy you can absorb and experience.
         In short, even if your friends or family members live there rather than here, they still live, and there is no good reason not to pray for the living.  While their salvation might be settled, and the sin that beset them be put away, that does not mean they are incapable of growing in God.  It means that now nothing hinders their progress, and that your prayers might have even greater effect now than ever they did.
         So pray.
         (2) Everyone knows what happened on September 11, 2001 in New York.  Two jetliners, hijacked by terrorists, slammed into the World Trade Center, bringing down the twin towers and killing thousands of those inside.  We all know it.
         We do not know the eternal destiny of the souls who died that day.  We do not know if, as their fate that morning slowly dawned on them in the minutes between when the first plane hit and the second tower fell, they sought God and his forgiveness and thereby found rest for their souls.  We do not know if, in the final moments of earthly life, they did the right thing and found peace with God, turning to Him for their soul’s deliverance.  Because we do not know, we can today, years after the fact, pray ardently to God for their salvation, and God, Who can hear then the prayers we pray now, might grant that ardent prayer even before it is prayed.  God is not bound like we are to the temporal sequence.  He can hear and grant our prayers before they are made, even before we are made.  Indeed, our prayers are heard and granted even before the foundations of the world itself are laid.
         But we cannot pray against knowledge, against the truth.  We cannot, for example, pray that the planes are not hijacked or that they do not hit the towers.  We cannot pray that the persons trapped inside do not die.  We already know the answer:  They were and they did.  We already know the truth about such things, and the Spirit of Truth Himself, Who teaches us what we ought to pray, will not lead us to pray against the truth.  Such a prayer might be well intentioned, but it does not come from God.  Because we do not know the spiritual condition of those involved, we can interceded for them and, in light of that intercession, God might hear our prayer beforehand and grant our request years in advance of it being asked. 
         So pray.
         Pray for those who live here; pray for those who used to live here, but now live elsewhere.  Praying for the dead is really praying for the living, and praying for the living makes perfectly good sense.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why I Don't Believe the Goverment's Unemployment Numbers

         In order to estimate current national unemployment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does two surveys, the household survey and the establishment survey (explained below).  Of the two, the household survey is traditionally the more volatile and unpredictable.  Because of the many ways its questions can be asked and the selection of those to whom those questions are directed, this survey is more susceptible to manipulation.  Right now, BLS asks those questions, by telephone, of 60,000 households.  From those telephone answers, it begins to extrapolate an unemployment percentage for the entire nation of more than 300 million persons.  As but a moment’s reflection makes clear, the data thus gleaned, extrapolated, and estimated are highly susceptible to manipulation before, during, and after their acquisition.  Not surprisingly, the great change in joblessness numbers comes from this survey, not the other
         This time through, without any precursors of an impending enormous change over the previous months, even years, we hear from that survey that 800,000 folks somehow suddenly found new jobs in September.  How September produced a roughly 600% rise in new jobs virtually overnight compared to previous months and years is not explained.  What specific policy change prompted this towering improvement?   Or if no new or even recent policy change was enacted, then why and how did old policies produce such a tremendous effect now and not at some other time?
         If the current establishment survey, which focuses on businesses rather than households, showed the same kind of unexpected growth, then I might be far less suspicious.  But it does not.  In the establishment survey, we find that only about 114,000 jobs were created, which, not surprisingly, is on par with previous months.  We also see that the manufacturing sector actually lost 16,000 jobs last month, also not surprising.
         Because of the wide discrepancies in these two reports, Steve Moore, of the Wall Street Journal, said, "This is the weirdest report I've seen in 20 years."  Charles Payne, of, said this is "extraordinarily fishy."
         Normally to see unemployment numbers like the ones just released would require an economic growth rate of around 4% per year, maybe more.  But last month our growth rate was just a shade above 1%.  That's another way of saying that I'm not buying it.
         Apparently others folks are having the same difficulty.  Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journalpolled 25 leading economists.  Their aggregate estimate for the upcoming report was 113,000 new jobs, which prediction was almost spot on.  On that basis, they also estimated 8.14% joblessness.  But instead, this report says joblessness fell to 7.8%, even though new unemployment claims actually rose to more than 340,000 for the week.  The difference between those two percentages is enormous.  What real-world explanation makes sense of it all?
         Here’s my guess:
         In the last two months, government hiring has increased by a little more than 600,000 jobs.  That massive increase happened not because the government just inherited lots of extra money and has lots of new shovel ready jobs to fill.  No; not even close.   To me, the recent enormous government hiring increase over the two months just before the election was meant to alter the outcome.   Its timing, just before the election and just after a crushing debate defeat, seems to me more than a little suspicious.  That suspicion gives rise to another:  Did the BLS change the way it asked its questions or changed the way it selected the folks of whom they asked them?  Did it alter the way it makes its estimates?  If so, BLS needs to tell us.  That second suspicion raises a third:  Is it no more than a mere coincidence that two of the most prominent BLS economic tabulators are Obama supporters and donors?
         I don’t know.  These are theories, just theories.
         But I do know this:  If you counted all those who are unemployed in America but don't want to be, the actual number is almost 15%.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Geopolitical Debate

         Thanks for your thoughtful and well-articulated response, which I appreciate.  I value your contribution even if, as perhaps you’d suspect, I dissent.

         Yes, other administrations have had border agent injuries and fatalities.  That does not mean the Obama administration is not responsible for its own, especially in light of the bizarrely conceived and executed “Fast and Furious” program, and the way the administration so aggressively opposes at law the states trying to protect themselves against the hordes of illegals that now cross our borders, the total number of whom now reaches more than 13 million.
         Among those illegals are plenty of folks from the more than 30 nations we deem terrorist supporters or terrorist regimes.  We know this because of the documents they leave behind, things like bomb-making manuals, copies of the Koran, and maps of possible terrorism targets.  Yet the Obama administration seeks frequently to hinder those who want to protect us from illegal aliens and from their armed and dangerous protectors, which results in dead and injured agents and which has turned Tucson into the kidnapping capital of North America.

         Empires are attacked because of their oppression and injustice.  They are attacked in spite of  their strength, not because of it.  Whether justly or unjustly, their strength delays or prevents attack.  When I say that peace comes through strength I have in mind nations like Switzerland, which stayed at peace and remained unattacked even while two world wars raged around them on all sides.  The Swiss made the price of entry simply too high for anyone to pay.  No one wanted a piece of that snarling badger, so they left Switzerland alone.  They had peace through strength. 

         Not only do we have deadly enemies, they have killed us by the thousands.  They will kill us by the thousands more if they get the chance.  They look for that chance every day.  They have killed Israelis by the thousands too.  Indeed, they seek ways to wipe Israel off the map and are working toward that end every day, whether in the past it was Saddam Hussein lobbing SCUD missiles into Israel or paying $22,000 to the surviving families of Palestinian terrorists who died while killing Israelis, or in the present it is the Iranians who, against the will of the civilized world, seek the nuclear weapons it needs to annihilate Israel.  So great is the threat to Israel that Henry Kissinger said last week that he didn’t think Israel would exist as a nation for even 10 more years.
         And you cannot appease those who, for religious reasons, seek your death.  That is not how religious extremists think or operate.  Militant Islam has been at war with the West for centuries upon centuries.  Nothing has stopped them, whether appeasement, defeat, or something in between.  Nothing but the end of time will stop them.  As long as this world lasts, Islamic hatred for the West will continue.  We must make our policies on that basis.

         Putin is an ex-KGBer.  The “ex” is only institutional, not by personal conviction.  In his mind and methods, he is what he always was.  He is at the head of resurgent communism in Russia, which hasn’t changed its goals, just modified some of its methods.  The Chinese communists are the same in that regard.  They still mean to be what they always meant to be -- first the Asian and then the global hegemon.  They adjust their methods to their changing circumstances, but their end game is not thereby altered, only the way they get to it.
         North Korea is no threat to us, you are quite right.  They do their best to ally with some of our enemies, but they exist only at China’s will.  The Chinese could end that pathetic little regime at any moment, and no one would stop them.  The North Koreans do what they do by China’s passive, sometimes active, will and permission.  In that light, the only reason that you can go to class every day in peace, or even at all, is because of American power.  You have peace through American strength, of which China is more than well aware.  That’s what keeps them out of Taiwan, out of the disputed Senkaku islands, and out of South Korea.

         Again, Jonathan, many thanks.