21

Is The Time Coming for Rubio to Drop Out and Endorse Cruz?

With Super Tuesday upon us, it’s time for those who don’t want to see Trump as the GOP nominee (which contrary to buzz is still the majority of Republicans) to start making choices. There have been plenty of pieces calling for Kasich and Carson to drop out of the race so that Rubio can get the critical mass necessary to defeat Trump. It’s not going to happen, and it’s not going to be enough.

Carson won’t drop out because his run has never been about probabilities, and he still has some books to sell. Kasich won’t drop out because he continues to have at least a chance of winning Ohio, a big winner-take-all state, which he hopes will finally ignite his campaign as the viable Trump alternative. This run is also Kasich’s swan song as a politician. He has every reason to give it his all.

Sure, it would be great if these men would both take one for the party, but honestly, it may not be enough at this point. According to the current RCP averages Rubio would need to pick up 100% of Carson and Kasich supporters just to tie Trump, and although Rubio does well as a second choice, he certainly would’t get all of them.

A possible near tie with Trump is not enough of a critical mass. We’re fast approaching a very dangerous point in the primary process. Even in this most anti-establishment of years, we GOP voters have a tendency deep in our political DNA to start convincing ourselves to get behind the winner at a certain point, and right now the closest thing we have to a winner is Trump. If we’re to have any chance at all of avoiding a Trump victory or a brokered convention, we need either Cruz or Rubio to pull far ahead and do so quickly, allowing the math to let him rack up the needed 1237 delegates. The way to get there is for Rubio to drop out and endorse Cruz.

Why Rubio? He beat out Cruz for second place in South Carolina and Nevada, and prediction markets currently put Rubio’s chances for the nomination at roughly twice Cruz’s.

Honestly, Rubio is my preferred candidate. While for many in the GOP his “Gang of 8” immigration compromise was a betrayal, I support his stance on that issue and even in the GOP primary I’ve been glad to see him take a slightly more moderate position on immigration than Cruz. I think Rubio’s tax plan is more realistic than Cruz’s flat tax. I’ve given money to the Rubio campaign, the first candidate I’ve sent money to since as a talk-radio-following high school student I sent $20 of saved allowances to the Steve Forbes campaign.

However Rubio is young enough that he could run for president in four, eight or even twenty years (and still be younger than Trump or Hillary is now.) This isn’t his only chance, and while in a normal year he might have swept to victory as a fresh conservative voice, this year he’s been tarred as the “establishment candidate” and may have trouble capturing Cruz or Carson voters, much less pealing away Trump voters. And although Rubio has posted some strong second place finishes, he has yet to beat Trump in any state, and if polls are any indicator he may not win any state on Super Tuesday either, while Cruz is expected to win at least Texas. If Cruz wins one or more states today, and Rubio has still not won a state, it’s hard to see why Cruz would choose to drop out, and with no clear wins in the coming weeks, it may be time for Rubio to consider doing so. Unlike Paul Zummo, I don’t think that Rubio would be an election day disaster, I think he might actually be a more successful general election candidate than Cruz, who will have to deal with the fact that he can be abrasive and he is even further to the right of the average voter than Rubio. But it doesn’t matter how electable Rubio would be in the general election if Trump captures the nomination.

Cruz’s rough edges have ruffled a lot of feathers in the party, but he is someone with a deep knowledge of the Supreme Court, who has both clerked for Chief Justice Rehnquist and argued successfully before the Supreme Court as a lawyer, in an election during which the replacement for one of the leading conservative justices of the last fifty years hangs in the balance. He is a tough and effective debater who will take it to Clinton on stage, and now that he knows Trump is his greatest threat, he’s at last shown himself willing to go after The Donald effectively in the primary. With the current mood of the GOP there’s a risk that Cruz dropping out would leave disaffected anti-establishment Cruz supporters susceptible to falling behind Trump, but even though some establishment Republicans are currently, and self indulgently, threatening to support Trump over Cruz, it seems unlikely that many of those who make their livings from the party and the movement would really go with Trump over a Cruz able to command 40-50% of the party’s support. Cruz has also run the sort of smart, data-driven campaign which will be needed against a post-Obama Democratic Party, even under the shaky command of Clinton.

While Cruz would not have been my first choice, he is a strong and principled conservative. In his closing statement at the last debate, Rubio said, “We have an incredible decision to make, not just about the direction of America but the identity of our party and the conservative movement.” If our party is to remain conservative, Rubio may need to make a very difficult decision himself, to put the good of the party and the movement before his own immediate advancement. With Rubio behind Cruz, perhaps we can finally take back our party and defeat Trump. Making this decision for the greater good of the party and America would only serve to underscore Rubio’s stature, making him more likely to someday sit in the Oval Office than if he’s one of several contenders whose squabbling over the conservative vote leave control of the party to Donald Trump in a year that should have been ours to win.

36

How the Steamroller Will Hit the Church

Homosexual Flag

There have been a lot of suggestions going around that in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage nationally, the Catholic Church in the US should announce that priests will no longer perform civil marriages.In order to be treated as married under the law in the United States, you need to file a witnessed marriage license in your state. The way it worked for us in California was: you go down to your city hall or other government building to pick the license up. The city clerk fills it out but then leaves the final signatures blank. You take the form with you and give it to the priest who is performing your marriage. After the ceremony, the priest signs the form, asserting that he has performed a marriage ceremony for you. It’s then signed by husband, wife, and two witnesses and filed with the state. At that point, the man and woman are considered married in the eyes of the law. Obviously, it’s not just priests that can process a marriage license for the state. Any kind of religious minister (Christian or non) can, as can “non denominational” ministers of their own religion. You can also have a strictly civil ceremony performed by a city official.

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9

The People and the Police

Part I: Why People Are Inclined To Support The Police

There have been a number of stories in the news lately in which prosecutors have considered and then failed to deliver indictments against policemen in cases where they have killed people. There’s been a fair amount of outrage about this, some of it justified, some of it not. One of the things that has generated so much outrage is that, through it all, most people have supported not indicting these officers. I think it’s worth considering why.

Police are in a difficult position. We, as a polity, pay them to insert themselves into situations that we do not feel ourselves well able to deal with, whether that means domestic disputes, fights between gangs, the mentally unstable, or runaway cows. In return, they get the generic “gratitude towards those in uniform” which our society includes among its civic pieties, but not necessarily huge amounts of comprehension of what they deal with which day (which, of course, varies a huge amount from city to city. What a small town policeman deals with is going to be a lot different from what an LAPD officer in Watts deals with.)

A basic understanding of this is, I think, why in general people are willing to give the police the benefit of the doubt (and then some) most of the time. The police are out there dealing with stuff so that we don’t have to, and there’s an implicit understanding that it would be rather churlish to turn around and prosecute them criminally if they make a misjudgement in doing their job. It’s one thing to go after the obvious “corrupt cop” cases which involve drug dealing, extortion, etc. People see this as a clear abuse of power. However, when the killing can be framed up in terms of “the officer thought he had to do this in order to protect himself/do his duty” people are unwilling to send him to jail.
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3

Wages and Hamburgers, A Pricing History

In the world of social media, articles can have a curiously restless afterlife, suddenly being passed around again for no apparent reason well after their original publication. In one of these, people starting passing around a chart on Twitter as “one of the most important charts you’ll see about the minimum wage” which proved to be from a Mother Jones post from December, 2013 claiming to explain why fast food workers are striking for a higher minimum wage.

This caught my eye because of the fast food association. I have an intellectual interest in the politics and economics of the minimum wage, but fast food I actually know a bit about as I ran pricing analytics for one of the big three hamburger chains for two years. So this allegedly so important chart got me thinking: How has the price of the hamburgers that fast food workers prepare changed over the last 40-50 years compared to the minimum wage? (Note: Contrary to popular belief, a lot of fast food workers make more than minimum wage. Around here, the advertised starting wage at major fast food chains tends to be $0.50 to $1.00 more than the minimum wage. However, the minimum is easy to track so it’s what tends to come up in these conversations.)
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17

An Ill Considered Call to Settle for Porn

Prof Mark Regnerus had a piece in First Things last week arguing… Well, I guess that part of the problem is that it’s not exactly clear what Regnerus is arguing. He starts out with some basic survey data on porn usage:

Forty-three percent of American men (and 9 percent of women) now report using pornography within the past week. It’s not an adolescent thing, either, as data from the new Relationships in America survey reveals. For men, porn use peaks in their twenties and thirties before beginning to diminish slowly. Indeed, sixty-year-old men are only slightly less likely to have viewed pornography within the past week than men in their twenties and thirties.

Among women, there is a more linear downward trend in pornography use with age. While 19 percent of women under age thirty report porn use in the week prior to the survey, only 3 percent of women in their fifties say the same. The challenge invades congregations as well: 26 percent of weekly church-attending men reported porn use within the past week.

Contrary to what is sometimes asserted, women have the right to be annoyed or upset by porn. It’s not a good thing. It’s spiritually draining. But we often overlook another casualty of pornography (and the human reaction to it): relationships that fail to launch. Breaking off a relationship because of pornography use can be a rational, justifiable, and moral reaction to a problem—the predilection for peering at nudity online—but such actions contribute in ways not often noted to our broad retreat from marriage.

He then follows up with several anecdotes about women saying that they consider porn use a deal-breaker when it comes to picking a man to have a relationship with. Regnerus worries that this will mean that lots of people will avoid getting married at all: Continue Reading

15

Innocence Project Appears to Have Framed Innocent Man

Alstory Simon was recently released from an Illinois prison after serving 15 out of 37 years for murder. The Cook County attorney’s office vacated the charges against him after concluding that he was likely innocent of the murder he had pleaded guilty to back in 1999.

As is the case in several other cases of overturned murder charges, the Innocence Project (an anti-death penalty advocacy group which focuses on trying to clear convicted murderers who are awaiting the death penalty) is mixed up in this story. However, unlike many other such cases, the reason why Simon was in prison in the first place is that Innocence Project volunteers are reported to have framed Alstory Simon for murder, in order to get another man originally convicted of the crime (Anthony Porter, who likely was in fact guilty) out of prison and off death row. Jim Stingl of the Journal-Sentinel tells the story:

Last week, Simon walked out of prison a free man after Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that her office, after a yearlong investigation, was vacating the charges against him and ending his 37-year sentence.

The investigation by the Medill Innocence Project, she said, “involved a series of alarming tactics that were not only coercive and absolutely unacceptable by law enforcement standards, they were potentially in violation of Mr. Simon’s constitutionally protected rights.”

Protess and two of his journalism students came to Simon’s home in the 200 block of E. Wright St. in Milwaukee and told him they were working on a book about unsolved murders. According to Simon, Protess told him, “We know you did it.”

Then Simon received a visit from Ciolino and another man. They had guns and badges and claimed to be Chicago police officers. They said they knew he had killed Green and Hillard, so he better confess if he hoped to avoid the death penalty.
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5

A Novel of the Great War

I’ve been largely absent from these pages over the last year, in part because of work and family commitments, but also because a writing project has been eating up a great deal of my time which might otherwise be spent blogging. That project is now in the open, so I’m hoping to contribute here a little more often. I also thought that the project itself might be of interest to some here, since one of the things that TAC is generally strong on is military history.

Cover Square

Some years ago, I asked my co-blogger here Donald McClarey to recommend a good history of the Spanish Civil War. He recommended several, but he said that to his mind the best book to read was a novel, The Cypresses Believe in God by Jose Maria Gironella. I read it, as well as some actual history books on the period, and he was right. Yes, the history books gave me more in terms of dates and numbers and places. But Gironella’s massive novel gave a real sense of why people on both sides fought the war and how it changed them. Reading it helped me understand what the war meant in human terms. The novel was not just set during the Spanish Civil War, telling about some specific characters’ experiences during it. It took on the war itself as a character and sought to bring the reader to an understanding of it.

The genesis for this project goes back far enough that I’m unable to put a precise date on it. I first became fascinated with World War One in high school, when I read the poems of Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, and although my interest waxed and waned over the years it’s always had a draw for me. It’s hardly a unique insight to say that the 20th Century was forged in the furnace of the Great War, but I don’t think it’s any less true for being commonplace. The idea of a big novel, or a series of novels, that dealt with the war, with characters on all sides, started to grow on me, and as I read more books on the topic I started putting in post-its and taking down notes for what turned out to be this project.
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17

Manufacturing Data: School Shootings

Someone I slightly know wrote on Facebook the other day with the comment, “Every day my husband has to go teach high school, I worry all day. Teaching is becoming the most dangerous job in America.”

This comment was inspired by a map that’s been making it around social media which purports to show “the 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook”. The map is based on a running list compiled from news reports by Everytown for Gun Saftey, a Michael Bloomberg affiliated “grassroots” advocacy group for gun control.

The interesting thing about these kinds of data manufacturing efforts by advocacy groups is that at times when there is no other “data” available about some topic which catches the public imagination, such informal efforts at statistics can catch on with media venues and become received wisdom. And yet, the criteria for putting together such a list is often highly influenced by the fact it’s an advocacy organization doing the compilation work. In the case of the “74 school shootings” list, the criteria listed are:

Incidents were classified as school shootings when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds, as documented in publicly reported news accounts. This includes assaults, homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings…. Incidents were identified through media reports, so this is likely an undercount of the true total.

Part of what makes this kind of advocacy work is that people have an idea of a “school shooting” is: Some disaffected student decides to go out in a blaze of media glory and blazing guns, or else some insane adult decides to go to a school and slaughter as many innocents as possible before turning his gun on himself. There are a few famous incidents (Columbine, Sandy Hook) which fit this model very nicely, and the “74 school shootings” claim gives the idea that there are many other similar incidents which just haven’t received as much news coverage.

However, when someone goes through the list of school shootings and starts to look up the news stories, a much wider range of events starts to emerge.

For instance, #10 on the Everytown list is a shooting at Hillside Elementary in San Leandro, CA. The actual news report says:

Investigators in the East Bay say they have leads, but no suspects, yet in the murder of a 19-year-old Laney College student. Travion Foster was shot and killed just before 9 p.m. Wednesday in the field behind Hillside Elementary School…. Foster was shot and killed Wednesday night in the field behind San Leandro’s Hillside School. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department say it appears Foster was involved in a game of dice with several others, when gunfire erupted.

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13

Hobby Lobby, Hypocrisy, Ethical Investing

Grant Gallicho of Commonweal believes that he’s caught Hobby Lobby being inconsistent in their commitment to not supporting abortion. Citing a Mother Jones expose he notes that Hobby Lobby has a 401(k) retirement plan for its employees and that it provides matching contributions to that 401(k) (meaning that when employees contribute up to a certain percent of their incomes to the 401(k) savings plan, the company will provide additional contributions to the retirement plan, beyond that employee’s normal earnings, to “match” the employee contribution.) This is actually pretty impressive for a retailer, and I would think that people who care about living wages and such would applaud such a step, but instead it has turned into a “gotcha”. You see, Hobby Lobby’s 401(k), like most others including the one I have at my employer, offers a short list of basic mutual funds between which employees can allocate their retirement funds. Research with the managers of these funds has revealed that some of these funds in turn invest in pharmaceutical companies which produce abortion drugs and implements.

These companies include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which makes Plan B and ParaGard, a copper IUD, and Actavis, which makes a generic version of Plan B and distributes Ella. Other stock holdings in the mutual funds selected by Hobby Lobby include Pfizer, the maker of Cytotec and Prostin E2, which are used to induce abortions; Bayer, which manufactures the hormonal IUDs Skyla and Mirena; AstraZeneca, which has an Indian subsidiary that manufactures Prostodin, Cerviprime, and Partocin, three drugs commonly used in abortions; and Forest Laboratories, which makes Cervidil, a drug used to induce abortions. Several funds in the Hobby Lobby retirement plan also invested in Aetna and Humana, two health insurance companies that cover surgical abortions, abortion drugs, and emergency contraception in many of the health care policies they sell. [source]

Gallicho seems to think this is some sort of damning proof that Hobby Lobby isn’t being true to their claimed principles:

The problem for Hobby Lobby’s argument is that investing in companies that manufacture drugs and devices that enable contraception and abortion is quite different from paying for insurance that enables an employee’s choice to use services the Greens object to. Hobby Lobby selects the funds it invests in. As Redden points out, if the Greens wanted to, they could have chosen funds that screen out so-called sin stocks (they tend to perform as well as other funds). But they didn’t. (Hobby Lobby’s legal counsel, the Becket Fund, did not immediately reply to my request for comment.)
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33

Intolerance

The techie world has been rocked by a witch hunt in the name of tolerance over the last week, as gay rights activists have demanded that Mozilla (the non-profit organization which produces the FireFox web browser) fire its newly named CEO Brendan Eich, because six years ago he made a $1,000 personal donation to the political campaign for Proposition 8, the successful California ballot initiative to amend the California constitution to define marriage as only possible between one man and one woman. There have been previous cases of activists digging through the rolls of who provided donations to the Prop 8 campaign, and targeting people for their support of traditional marriage. Eich’s donation apparently became known within the company and caused some controversy among employees about a year ago, and this then escalated to a wider campaign last week when he was named the new CEO. This campaign claimed its scalp yesterday as Eich resigned from both the CEO position and Mozilla’s board.

Mozilla put up a blog post announcing the resignation and stating that employing Eich (who was a founder of the company and one of the original developers of JavaScript) was not in keeping with their values:

Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it. We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.

We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.
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58

Gatekeeping Baptism

Duly vested, Don Camillo approached the font.’What do you wish to name this child?’ he asked Peppone’s wife.

‘Lenin Libero Antonio,’ she replied.

‘Then go and get him baptized in Russia,’ said Camillo calmly, replacing the cover on the font.

The priest’s hands were as large as shovels and the three left the church without protest. But as Don Camillo was attempting to slip into the sacristy he was arrested by the voice of the Lord.

‘Don Camillo, you have done a very wicked thing. Go at once and bring those people back and baptize their child.’

‘But Lord,’ protested Don Camillo, ‘You really must bear in mind that baptism is not a jest. Baptism is a sacred matter. Baptism is…’

‘Don Camillo, the Lord interrupted him, ‘Are attempting to teach me the nature of baptism? Did I not invent it? I tell you that you have been guilty of gross presumption, because, suppose that child were to die at this moment, it would be your fault if it failed to attain Paradise !’

‘Lord, do not let us be melodramatic,’ retorted Don Camillo. ‘Why in the name of Heaven should it die? It’s as pink and white as a rose !’

‘Which means exactly nothing!’ the Lord admonished him. ‘What if a tile should fall on its head or it should suddenly have convulsions? It was your duty to baptize it.’

Don Camillo raised protesting arms: ‘But Lord, just think it over. If it were certain that the child would go to Hell, we might stretch a point; but seeing that despite being the son of that nasty piece of work he might very easily manage to slip into Paradise, how can You ask me to risk anyone going there with such a name as Lenin? I’m thinking of the reputation of Paradise.’

‘The reputation of Paradise is my business,’ the Lord shouted angrily. ‘What matters to me is that a man should be a decent fellow and I care less than nothing whether his name be Lenin or Button. At the very most, you should have pointed out to those people that saddling children with fantastic names may involve them in annoyances when they grow up.’

‘Very well,’ replied Don Camillo. ‘I am always in the wrong. I must see what I can do about it.’
from “The Baptism”, The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi

I was a bit surprised to read Dr. Ed Peters’ posts on the set of baptisms at which Pope Francis recently officiated, in which one of the babies baptized was the child of two parents who are not married in the Church. Peters is cautious about the precedent being set. In his first post on the topic he wrote: Continue Reading

10

Marking the Centuries

David Brin, who apparently is now described not only as a science fiction author but a “futurist”, has a piece from New Years Eve in which he speculates as to what it would mean for the new century to start in 2014. He’s not suggesting an adjustment to how we number years, but rather talking about the ways in which people have sought to define when a century or decade begins and ends by its signal events, not its dates.

For instance, some historians talk about the “long nineteenth century” which is defined as running from the French Revolution in 1789 through the start of World War One in 1914, a 125 year “century”.

Brin, however, has his own breakdown:

The last two centuries (and possibly more) didn’t “start” at their official point, the turning of a calendar from 00 to 01. That wasn’t when they began in essence, nor when they first bent the arc of history.

No. Each century effectively began in its 14th year. Continue Reading

14

Paul Ryan and the Poor

There’s an interesting Buzzfeed article going around about Paul Ryan’s increasing focus on policies to help the poor, one apparently inspired by experiencing during the last election and fueled by his admiration for Pope Francis. A few parts of the article betray a bit of an editorial sneer towards conservatives, but in general it’s well written and fair.

Ryan was there for a meeting that the Romney campaign brain trust had seemed, for months, intent on stopping. Since joining the presidential ticket in August, the Wisconsin congressman had been lobbying to spend more time campaigning in diverse, low-income neighborhoods. Ryan, a protégé of the late, big-tent GOP visionary Jack Kemp, argued the visits would show the country that Republicans cared about the poor. The number-crunchers in Boston countered that every hour spent on inner-city photo ops was a lost opportunity to rally middle-class suburbanites who might actually vote for them. Eventually, they reached a compromise: Ryan could give one big speech about poverty in Ohio and hold an off-the-record roundtable with community leaders who work with the poor — but the campaign would have to vet them all.

And then, as Ryan prepared to leave to deliver his speech, a tattooed minister who had arrived at the meeting via motorcycle asked the congressman if he could lay hands on him to pray.

Ryan looked momentarily panicked, according to some who were in the room, but then he shrugged and smiled. “I’m Catholic, but I’m cool with that,” he responded. Continue Reading

8

What Oppression Does To People

This piece from Harpers about living thirty days as a Cuban is fascinating. The author went to Cuba determined to see if it was possible to live on a Cuban wage. According to the state pay scale, as a journalist his monthly pay should be $15, so that’s what he attempts to live on in Havana. Needless to say, the resulting experience makes the “food stamp diet” look like a walk in the park.

There wasn’t much of me left either. In mid-February I walked one last time to the Riviera, weighing myself in the gym. I was down eleven and a half pounds since my arrival. More than eleven pounds gone in thirty days. I’d missed about 40,000 calories. At this rate I would be as lean as a Cuban by spring. And dead by autumn.

I finished out with a few tiny meals—the last of the ugly rice, a last sweet potato, and the quarter of a cabbage. On the day before my departure I broke into my emergency stash, eat- ing the sesame sticks from the airplane (60 calories), and opening the can of fruit punch I’d smuggled in from the Bahamas (180). The taste of this red liquid was a shock: bitter with ascorbic acid, and flooded with sugar, to imitate the flavors of real juice. It was like drinking plastic.

My total expenditures on food were $15.08 for the month. By the end I’d read nine books, two of them about a thousand pages long, and written much of this article. I’d been living on the wages of a Cuban intellectual, and, indeed, I always write better, or at least faster, when I’m broke.

My final morning: no breakfast, on top of no dinner. I used the prostitute’s coin to catch a bus out toward the airport. I had to walk the last 45 minutes to my terminal, almost fainting on the way. There was a tragicomic moment when I was pulled out of line at the metal detectors by men in uniform because an immigration officer thought I had overstayed my thirty-day visa. It took three people, repeatedly counting it out on their fingers, to prove that I was still on day thirty.

One of the things that struck me most in reading it, however, was not just the hunger and desperation but the moral corrosion of living in an oppressive society. Continue Reading

36

Can You Talk About “True Islam”?

There is a section of Evangelii Gaudium that I’m not clear I agree with, but it’s not the economic sections. Near the end, Pope Francis has some pointed things to say both about toleration for immigrating from Muslim countries and about the necessity that Muslim countries protect the safety and religious freedom of their Christian residents. However, he wraps up by saying:

Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.

One hears this sort of thing every so often, but I’m not clear what it means to talk about “authentic Islam” or a “proper reading of the Koran”.

It could mean, “To the extent that Islam is true, it rejects violence as a means of spreading its beliefs,” and if so, I can certainly agree with that.

But what people seem to mean when talking about true Islam being a religion of peace is that somehow those Muslims who believe that their faith endorses the use of force at times to spread the faith of punish unbelievers are incorrectly interpreting Islam and that if they were better Muslims, they would reject violence.

However, it’s problematic to say what is “true Islam” and what is “false Islam” — especially given that I don’t think Islam is actually true, except to the extent it happens to hold things which are also held by Catholicism (such as, say, the existence of God.)

There are some things one can say definitely are, at least, held by Muslims. For instance “there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet” would seem to be something held by Muslims, and I think that even an outsider could be confident in saying that if someone believes in no God or many gods, or if he doesn’t believe that Mohammad was God’s prophet, then that person is not a “good Muslim” or a “true Muslim”.

When it comes to a point which is disputed among Muslims themselves, however, I’m not clear how to distinguish right from wrong interpretations. There is no central authority in Islam similar to the pope in the Catholicism, and even with Catholicism, if you’re an outsider and don’t believe that the Church is Christ’s true Church on Earth, who is to say that the magisterium is actually “true Catholicism” and not some distortion of it. At most, it seems like one could talk about “what Catholics believe” in some sociological sense.

This isn’t a problem unique to Islam. For instance, do “true Protestants” believe in predestination? I’m not clear one can answer that claim. Some Protestants believe in predestination and others don’t. Who is to say who the “true Protestants” are? Unless you are Protestant and you’re committed to believing a specific set of beliefs within the range of what various Protestants believe, I’m not clear how you can rule on that question.

Certainly, I think that Muslims should not endorse religious violence, and I support those who believe their religion rejects it. However, I’m not clear how we can claim one way or the other what “true Islam” says on the matter.

16

Vatican: Church Teaching On Divorce Not Changing

Among Catholics who hope (or fear) that Pope Francis’s new style indicates that Church doctrine and practice are up for grabs, the announcement of a synod to be held next year to discuss marriage and the family, and particularly the pastoral care of divorced and remarried Catholics, caused some stir. However, a document put out by the head of the CDF makes is clear that the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage (and the inability of those living with someone they are not sacramentally married to to receive communion) will not be changed and indeed cannot be changed. If clarity is what you like in Church documents, Abp. Muller brings it in spades:

After the announcement of the extraordinary synod that will take place in October of 2014 on the pastoral care of families, some questions have been raised regarding the question of divorced and remarried members of the faithful and their relationship to the sacraments. In order to deepen understanding on this pressing subject so that clergy may accompany their flock more perfectly and instruct them in a manner consistent with the truth of Catholic Doctrine, we are publishing an extensive contribution from the Archbishop Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The problem concerning members of the faithful who have entered into a new civil union after a divorce is not new. The Church has always taken this question very seriously and with a view to helping the people who find themselves in this situation. Marriage is a sacrament that affects people particularly deeply in their personal, social and historical circumstances. Given the increasing number of persons affected in countries of ancient Christian tradition, this pastoral problem has taken on significant dimensions. Today even firm believers are seriously wondering: can the Church not admit the divorced and remarried to the sacraments under certain conditions? Are her hands permanently tied on this matter? Have theologians really explored all the implications and consequences?
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25

Tolstoy and The Battle of the Will

On audiobook, I’ve been wrapping up re-reading War & Peace, while in print I’ve been reading David Herrmann’s The Arming of Europe and the Making of the First World War, which is about the developments in military technology, army organization, tactics and the arms race in Europe during 1904-1914 and to what extent these led to the outbreak of World War One.

One of the things for which World War One is well known is that, at the opening, generals on both sides were deeply convinced that the essential means of winning a battle was the spirited attack. Making spirited attacks in the face of machine guns and rapid firing artillery could have deeply horrific results, and the resulting learning process has led, in retrospect, to the view of the Great War as being typified by useless slaughter.

French officer machine gunned down in a counterattack at Verdun – 1916
Bilderdienst Süddeutscher Verlag, Munich
Stepan, Photos that Changed the World, p. 31

The common wisdom is that in 1914 military leaders did not realize how much these new weapons had changed the modern battlefield. Continue Reading

16

Should We Boycott People We Disagree With?

This piece over at The American Conservative about the fuss surrounding Guido Barilla’s statements about homosexuality and the traditional got me thinking about to what extent we should allow the opinions of company owners or management to influence our purchasing decisions. For those who didn’t catch the flap:

Guido Barilla’s … asserted that his company, now the largest supplier of pasta in both the United States and Italy, would continue to use only “traditional” families in its advertising and would “never” portray a “gay” family in its ads. His remarks led to worldwide efforts to boycott his company’s products to voice displeasure at the Barilla’s supposed bigotry.

We’ve seen this sort of drama play out before. Homosexual activists have repeatedly called for boycotts of Chick-fil-A because of the views and charitable contributions of its owners. On the flip side, a number of Christians called for people to refuse to own Starbucks stock or not buy coffee due to Starbucks’ continued support for gay marriage initiatives.
The AC article goes on to quote John Stuart Mill, making the argument that social sanctions (such as not buying someone’s product) because one does not like that person’s opinions is actually a more effective mode of repression that the kind of judicial repression we would more often think of when hearing the word: Continue Reading

9

Being Christian and Being Pro-life Look The Same

There’s been a certain amount of solemn nonsense going around about what it means to truly live a Christian live and evangelize. Are hot button issues talked about too much or not enough? Do we emphasize the message that Jesus came to save us, or is proselytizing not meeting people where they are? Is what we really need to do as Christians just serve those I need and let our actions speak for themselves, or is that turning the Church into an NGO rather than the conduit of Christ’s gospel?

Myself, I don’t think our new pope’s messages have been that hard to follow if one reads them in context, but certainly there has been both a lot of worry and a lot of people attempting to rub other Catholics noses in things they image they won’t like.

Francis is a concrete thinker, it seems to me, and perhaps it works best to point to a concrete example. I read this piece by Abby Johnson the other day and it seemed to me that it summed up how evangelizing, pro-life activity and serving those most in need are not competing interests, but one “seamless” package of what it means to live out the Christian message:

One night over dinner, a friend of mine told me that he had seen a very pregnant homeless woman on the corner of a busy Austin intersection. I knew the intersection he was referring to…there is a huge non-denominational church on the corner. I felt confident that she had probably received some assistance from them. Maybe they were in the process of trying to help her find resources.
Continue Reading

73

Did Jefferson Try to Abolish Slavery in the Declaration of Independence?

Sometimes an article includes such a jarring historical claim that I find myself immediately questioning everything in the piece. That was precisely my reaction when I read a Commonweal piece today which claimed that Thomas Jefferson had originally included language in the Declaration of Independence abolishing slavery:

Jefferson realized that it made no sense to base a new nation on the principle of “liberty and equality for all” as long as some its people were enslaved by others, so the first draft of the Declaration also renounced slavery. Jefferson accused King George of waging a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.” Southern delegates representing the interests of slave-holders aligned with northern delegates representing the interests of slave-trading merchants, and together they succeeded in excluding Jefferson’s original language from the Declaration. Their motivation was obvious: eliminating slavery would diminish their wealth. They held up the vote for independence until they got their way.

But the phrase “all men are created equal” remained, and debate about its meaning has dominated American politics ever since.

The rest of the article is a piece of political hackery in which economics professor Charles Clark of St. John’s University goes on to lay out an interpretive framework for American history and the current political situation in which there is always a group of powerful elites which successfully dupes a portion of the ordinary people into supporting the elites’ interests above their own.

The claim that Jefferson (himself a slave holder who never freed his slaves) sought to “renounce” slavery in the Declaration of Independence struck me as wholly implausible, so I researched the question further. The phrase Prof. Clark quotes was indeed in Jefferson’s draft, but he leaves out the crucial second half of the quote: Continue Reading

42

Basically Good People: The Great Modern Heresy

There’s an odd backwards moral reasoning to which our modern age seems particularly susceptible. Surely you’ve heard it:

Y does X. Y is a basically good person. Therefore, X must be okay.

You hear it from all sides of the cultural divide.

“Joe and Fred are married. They’re good people. How can you say that that kind of relationship is wrong?”

“Cindy does that. She’s a good person. So how can that be racist?”

Think back a bit, and you’ll see that a huge number of the casually-made moral arguments one hears these days boil down to this.

There are a couple big problems.

For starters, what exactly is a “good person”? Continue Reading

6

Pope Francis and the Catholic God

Pope Francis’s interview with atheist journalist Eugenio Scalfari may not have grabbed secular headlines in the US the way that this interview with Jesuit publications did, but it has caused some stir in Catholics circles. I can certainly understand a certain amount of this. We’ve had two very intellectual popes who have lead the church for the last thirty years, taking it from a time in which even orthodox Catholics felt unsure and adrift into a new dynamism and evangelism. In addition to being towering intellects, John Paul II and Benedict XVI (Benedict even more so) were popes hailing from central/northern Europe. Encountering a Latin pope for the first time in my life (Francis is, after all, not just from Argentina but also the son of Italian immigrants, so he’s at the confluence of two southern European cultures) and one who is not a theologian, I’m realizing how much the emotive and more casual aspects of southern Europe and South America (primarily colonized by southern Europe) are not mine. Culturally and intellectually, John Paul II and Benedict XVI are simply much more my style.

That said, I don’t necessarily follow how it is that certain statements become points of controversy. One of these is from this “second interview” and it comes after Francis asks Scalfari what he believes in. Scalfari responds, “I believe in Being, that is in the tissue from which forms, bodies arise.” And Francis says:

And I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being. Do you think we are very far apart?

(Scalfari says they are, and in the next interchange Francis pushes him to explain, if he believe in “Being” but doesn’t believe in God, what does he mean.)

Now, apparently this has caused some unease in Catholic circles because of the phrase “not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God”. Does this suggest some kind of indifferentism in which the Catholic understanding of God is no better than any other? A generic God without qualities that everyone has some insight into? Continue Reading

9

Pope Francis on St. Francis

Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and Pope Francis was in Assisi to celebrate his namesake’s feast day. His homily is out on the Vatican website and is both short and worth reading.

This central section struck me in particular:

What does Saint Francis’s witness tell us today? What does he have to say to us, not merely with words – that is easy enough – but by his life?

1. The first thing he tells us is this: that being a Christian means having a living relationship with the person of Jesus; it means putting on Christ, being conformed to him.

Where did Francis’s journey to Christ begin? It began with the gaze of the crucified Jesus. With letting Jesus look at us at the very moment that he gives his life for us and draws us to himself. Francis experienced this in a special way in the Church of San Damiano, as he prayed before the cross which I too will have an opportunity to venerate. Continue Reading

8

You Have a Duty To “Ban” Books

This weekend marks the conclusion of Banned Books Week, a festival of moral preening in which students, librarians, teachers and others congratulate themselves for bravely demanding that various books not be removed from library (typically school library) shelves.

The event ties in to basic modern tropes of progress and freedom. After all, says the common wisdom, who burned books? Nazis. And crazy people in the middle ages who were afraid of progress. We don’t want to be like them, do we?

Of course, choosing not to have a book in your collection is not really “banning” it (as in making it forbidden to own) nor is it “censoring” it (removing parts). So to start with much of the furor over the “banning” of books is overwrought. Continue Reading

3

Pope Francis Excommunicates and Laicizes Dissident Australian Priest

Mr. (formerly Fr.) Greg Reynolds of Melbourne, Australia expressed “shock” at being the first priest to be excommunicated by Pope Francis for advocacy of women’s ordination, homosexual marriage, and other offenses.

The letter, a copy of which NCR obtained and translated, accuses Reynolds of heresy (Canon 751) and determined he incurred latae sententiae excommunication for throwing away the consecrated host or retaining it “for a sacrilegious purpose” (Canon 1367). It also referenced Canon 1369 (speaking publicly against church teaching) in its review of the case.

“Pope Francis, Supreme Pontiff having heard the presentation of this Congregation concerning the grave reason for action … of [Fr. Greg Reynolds] of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, all the preceding actions to be taken having been followed, with a final and unappealable decision and subject to no recourse, has decreed dismissal from the clerical state is to be imposed on said priest for the good of the Church,” read the document, signed by Archbishop Gerhard Muller, prefect for the congregation, and his secretary, Jesuit Archbishop Luis Ladaria.

Excommunication refers to the severest measure of censure for Catholics and forbids an individual from participation in any eucharistic celebration or other worship ceremonies; the reception or celebration of sacraments; and holding any ecclesiastical or governing role in the church.

The document, dated May 31 — coincidentally Reynolds’ 60th birthday — provided no reason for the excommunication. However, a separate letter sent Friday from Hart to his archdiocesan priests indicated Reynolds’ support of women’s ordination was a primary reason.

“The decision by Pope Francis to dismiss Fr Reynolds from the clerical state and to declare his automatic excommunication has been made because of his public teaching on the ordination of women contrary to the teaching of the Church and his public celebration of the Eucharist when he did not hold faculties to act publicly as a priest,” [Melbourne Archbishop Denis] Hart wrote.

But Reynolds said he believes the excommunication also resulted from his support of the gay community. He told NCR that in the last two years, he has attended rallies in Melbourne advocating same-sex marriage and has officiated at mass weddings of gay couples on the steps of Parliament — “all unofficial of course.”

Continue Reading

5

Moral Laws vs Moral Fashions

Well-known atheist Richard Dawkins managed to grab himself some less than positive reactions a couple weeks ago when he gave an interview in which he dismissed the “mild pedophilia” which was common in the English school system of his youth as not being such a big deal if one considered the climate of the times. Justifying this attitude Dawkins explained:

I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.

The points most people drew from this are:

– Actually 18th and 19th century racism was pretty bad, many at the time did recognize it, and we should in fact condemn it.

– Identifying “mild pedophilia” as some kind of okay thing is something only a sick person with no morals would do.

I don’t disagree with these points. Nor is this new territory for Dawkins, who has something of a history of trivializing child abuse. He’s the one who argued, “Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is, I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place.”

But I think there’s a more general tendency to be seen in Dawkins’ comments which is worth discussing as well. As a thoroughgoing materialist, Dawkins doesn’t recognize the existence of objectively real moral laws. Rather, what he sees is a sort of moral fashion. In the 18th and 19th centuries, racism was common and socially acceptable. Even “good people” who you’d want to have in your drawing room were often highly racist. (After all, it paid to be racist: slaves were the most valuable capital assets in some whole countries, including the US.) Continue Reading

2

The Martyrdom of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion

Brandon over at Siris has a post upon on a saint story that I had not heard before (which isn’t saying much, there’s a huge number of saints and I don’t claim to be the world’s most well read about them):

It won’t get celebrated in any liturgies today, since it is Sunday, but today is the memorial for the Theban Legion. The Theban Legion, as its name implies, was originally garrisoned in Thebes, Egypt; but, it is said, they were sent by the Emperor Maximian to Gaul to try to keep things in order there. This is very plausible historically, although not all details of the Theban Legion legend are. The commander of the Legion was Mauritius, usually known as St. Maurice, and a lot of the officers, at least, were Christians — here, too, it was not an uncommon thing for soldiers in this period to be members of an eastern religion like Christianity, particularly on the borders of the empire. The Theban Legion, according to legend, was given the order to sacrifice to the emperor, and St. Maurice and his officers refused. Given the close connection between legions and their officers, it is perhaps not surprising that the entire legion followed their lead. In response the legion was decimated — every tenth man killed — as punishment; and when the legion still refused to sacrifice, it was repeatedly decimated until all were dead.

The plausibilities and implausibilities are interesting here — it’s implausible that there was an entire legion that was Christian to a man, but soldiers sticking with their captains is not implausible, and the Gaul campaign is perfectly historical, although our information about it is somewhat sketchy. Our earliest definite reference to the Theban Legion is about a century and a half afterwards, which leaves time for embroidery, and some historians have concluded, on the basis of what other information we have about that campaign (how many soldiers seem to have been involved, etc.), that if it occurred, it was probably a cohort, not an entire legion, that was martyred, or to put it another way, probably several hundred men rather than several thousand. That’s a plausible way in which legends form around historical events.

There are various works of art showing St. Maurice and the martyrdom of the Theban legion.

Apparently some medieval artists assumed that since the legion was from Egypt, St. Maurice must have been black (this wouldn’t necessarily be the case, obviously), as shown in this statue from the Cathedral of Magdeburg:

57

Do You Really Believe Pope Francis Said The Church Needs To Stop Talking About Abortion and Gay Marriage?

Pope Francis has given an extended interview which was published simultaneously today by several Jesuit magazines around the world, with America providing the English version.

The interview is good and very much worth reading, and of course the noise machine (ranging from the New York Times to left wing, dissenting Catholics) has kicked into full gear, radically distorting the pope’s message to claim:

Pope Francis sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church on Thursday with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics.

Perhaps because the interview itself is long and wide ranging, a disturbing number of people, even ones who should know better, have taken the reporting of the NY Times and other biased sources at face value, and this is too bad because not only is the message these sources are giving untrue, but it obscures a very, very important point about the faith that Pope Francis actually is making.

The interviewer asks the pope, “What does the church need most at this historic moment? Do we need reforms? What are your wishes for the church in the coming years? What kind of church do you dream of?” He replies:

I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.
Continue Reading

8

Does Anyone Really Reject God?

Kyle has written another post on hell, this one dealing with what he says, with at least some degree of accuracy, is the historically common belief among Catholics that many people will go to hell while few will be saved. (Personally, I have no opinion on the question of what ratio of people will go to heaven and hell, and other than warning people away from the one and towards the other, I can’t really think why one would have much of a position on the matter.)

It seems to me that there are two main points which Kyle martials to his cause. His first is that if many are damned, then God’s will has been frustrated, and unless we are prepared to think God a failure, we can’t think that many are damned:

If you say, as much of Christianity does, that God created the universe and specifically human beings–creatures made in his image and likeness–for the purpose of participation in the love life that is God, and you also say that most people will refuse this destiny, then logically you’re led to say that, overall, creation won’t achieve its purpose. Overall, it is a failure. Overall, the purpose for which God created goes unrealized. Overall, God’s desire and will are not done. This would seem to make God, as Creator, something of a failure, even if you can, through some dexterous theodicy, get God off the hook for the damning decisions of his hellbound creatures.

This is, as I recall, a complaint that many of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation (or Revolt, if you prefer) were big on. Continue Reading

18

99 Years Ago: The Week The World Caught Fire

Certain historical events are remembered in terms of a single event which, in the course of minutes or hours, ushered in a new era. People who lived through Pearl Harbor could remember exactly where they were when they heard about the Japanese attack, a point when the course of US history (and world history) changed in the course of a couple hours.

Ninety-nine years ago, as the world plunged into the First World War, the experience was different. Rather than a single sharp event which plunged the world into cataclysm, there was a long series of events, at first not much noted, which in late July and early August of 1914 plunged all the major European powers into war over the course of a week.

There’s a certain tendency to look, with historical hindsight, at the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 as an incident very likely to lead to world war. There were hints of such a possibility. German Chancellor Otto von Bismark famously observed in the late 19th century that the next great European war would start with “some damn fool thing in the Balkans”. When Archduke Ferdinant was assassinated, some people immediately worried that this would lead to a general war. (H. G. Wells was among those with the dubious honor of predicting a general war was coming after hearing news of the assassination on June 28th.) However, there had just been two full fledged wars in the Balkans during the last ten years, and neither had led to general war. Indeed, the great powers, for all their diplomatic entanglements, had been able to negotiate satisfactory (at least to themselves) peaces to both prior Balkan wars. Continue Reading

47

He’d Rather Reign In Hell Than Serve In Heaven

The more “friendly” modern formulation of hell is that hell consists of eternal separation from God and that no one goes to hell except through his own choice: choosing to remain separate from God rather than embracing Him fully in the union of the beatific vision.

The objection I normally hear to this is: In that case, then obviously hell is empty, because no one would choose an eternity of isolation rather than union with God.

This always strikes me as showing a profound lack of understanding of human character. Within our temporal lives, we often choose unhappiness in order to get our own way, and it’s hard to see how this sort of pride would fail to play a part in people’s eternal decisions. Perhaps part of the problem is that people often think of the afterlife in cartoon terms: Would you rather spend eternity boiling in a lake of fire or reclining in a cloud with a harp?

But if heaven is full and complete union with God, then I think it’s pretty clear that for the person who would much rather define God for himself than mold himself to God’s will, heaven would seem like something worth rejecting. C. S. Lewis, I think, does a very good job of showing this in The Great Divorce.

‘You think that, because hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched.’

‘Well, really, you know, I am not aware of a thirst for some ready-made truth which puts an end to intellectual activity in the way you seem to be describing. Will it leav me the free play of Mind, Dick? I must insist on that, you know.’ (from The Great Divorce, ch. 5)

In religious circles, this pride seems often played out in the desire to make a God after our own image. From the same chapter of The Great Divorce:

‘But you’ve never asked me about what my paper is about! I’m taking the text about growing up to the measure of Christ and working out an idea which I feel sure you’ll be interested in. I’m going to point out how people always forget that Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when he died. he would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he’d lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to ask my audience to consider what his mature views would have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic waste… so much promise cut short. (from The Great Divorce, ch. 5)

A almost shockingly clear example of this made headlines last week, as Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu made headlines by saying that he’d rather go to hell than be in heaven with a God who considered gay sex to be sinful.

South Africa’s iconic retired archbishop, Desmond Tutu, said on Friday that if he had his pick, he’d go to hell before heading to a heaven that condemned homosexuality as sin.

“I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this,” he said, by way of denouncing religions that discriminate against gays, in Agence France-Presse..

He added, AFP reported: “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.”

Or as Milton’s Lucifer put it: Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.

If we must regret that Jesus died too young, before his views had had the chance to “evolve” enough to fit modern sensibilities, we may at least be happy that Desmond Tutu has lived long enough to provide us with a more enlightened savior.

8

Fake Pope Francis Quote Takes Internet By Storm

If you move in Catholic circles on Facebook, you’ve probably seen the following quote, allegedly spoken by Pope Francis at World Youth Day this week, being passed around:

“We need saints without cassocks, without veils – we need saints with jeans and tennis shoes. We need saints that go to the movies that listen to music, that hang out with their friends. We need saints that place God in first place ahead of succeeding in any career. We need saints that look for time to pray every day and who know how to be in love with purity, chastity and all good things. We need saints – saints for the 21st century with a spirituality appropriate to our new time. We need saints that have a commitment to helping the poor and to make the needed social change.

We need saints to live in the world, to sanctify the world and to not be afraid of living in the world by their presence in it. We need saints that drink Coca-Cola, that eat hot dogs, that surf the internet and that listen to their iPods. We need saints that love the Eucharist, that are not afraid or embarrassed to eat a pizza or drink a beer with their friends. We need saints who love the movies, dance, sports, theater. We need saints that are open sociable normal happy companions. we need saints who are in this world and who know how to enjoy the best in this world without being callous or mundane. We need saints.”

– Pope Francis (World Youth Day 2013)

The thing is, it’s a totally fake quote. There’s no evidence that Pope Francis ever said it.

Google around a bit, and you’ll find versions (some written as verse, many with slight variations) dating back to 2010. Some are attributed to Pope John Paul II, some to Pope Benedict XVI, some say that it is Pope Francis quoting John Paul II or Benedict XVI. One thing you will absolutely not find, however, is any quote of the text on the Vatican website or a reputable Catholic news source, because none of these popes ever said this.

If one gives it an extra moment’s thought, it seems particularly unlikely that Pope Francis would choose World Youth Day to give a shout out to global brands such as Coca-Cola and Apple, in saying that we need saints who use their products.

Of course, one of the problems with a faux Francis getting so much attention is that it draws things away from the things that Pope Francis really has been saying at World Youth Day this week, such as:

“It is true that nowadays, to some extent, everyone, including our young people, feels attracted by the many idols which take the place of God and appear to offer hope: money, success, power, pleasure. Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols. Dear brothers and sisters, let us be lights of hope! Let us maintain a positive outlook on reality.” [source]

and

Jesus has shown us that the face of God is that of a loving Father. Sin and death have been defeated. Christians cannot be pessimists! They do not look like someone in constant mourning. If we are truly in love with Christ and if we sense how much he loves us, our heart will “light up” with a joy that spreads to everyone around us. As Benedict XVI said here, in this Shrine: “the disciple knows that without Christ, there is no light, no hope, no love, no future” [source]

You can access all of Pope Francis’s addresses from World Youth Day on the Vatican website.

30

Maybe World War One Generals Weren’t Idiots

I was interested to read this British opinion piece, making the case that British military leadership during the Great War was not the clutch of bumbling fools which has become the stereotype of the war.

In 1928, following the sudden death of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, more people took to streets to mourn his passing that had ever been seen previously or indeed since. The very public mourning as a result of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 was dwarfed in comparison to those that came out to pay respects to Earl Haig.

It took literature and some key individuals to change history. As one of my university lecturers once said to me, history does not happen, it is written, and that principle could not be applied more strongly to the case of First World War history.

With the publication of Alan Clark’s The Donkeys (1961) and the production of Joan Littlewood’s musical Oh! What a Lovely War (1963), a wave of popular history provided the foundation through which all subsequent knowledge of the First World War is filtered – precisely the problem with which we are now faced. Historians and thespians took the critical words of those men that had a grudge and an agenda to push, namely Lloyd George and Churchill, thus generating the idea that generals were both inept and callous.

But beyond the Blackadder episodes there is a raft of history that is desperate to break into the mainstream. No one doubts that there were a handful of poor officers at various stages of the command structure who made bad decisions that ultimately cost the lives of hundreds of men.
Continue Reading

16

War Novel Recommendations

I’d like to turn to our TAC readership and ask for book suggestions. Specifically, what would you recommend as some of the best historical novels dealing with war?

Some of the best that I’ve read have been:

War and Peace which although some of Tolstoy’s historical/philosophical digressions drove me nuts does certainly give a sweeping sense of Russia during the war with Napoleon.

The Cypresses Believe in God and One Million Dead — Donald recommended these to me, and although they are very long (not quite War & Peace long, but pretty astoundingly long nonetheless) I found them utterly gripping and they similarly give you a sense not just of individual characters but of the whole nation of Spain at war with itself.

Killer Angels is a much more modest book in scope, but is a compelling and clear account of a single battle more detailed than many history books.

Alan Furst’s espionage novels aren’t, perhaps, technically war novels, but they give a very strong sense of what war and rumors of war do to society.

The Sharpe novels and Aubrey/Maturin are also great historical novels dealing with the Napoleonic era.

What other novels would you recommend and why?

14

Hell: Oppression or Justice?

An argument about the existence of hell broke out, and I couldn’t help inserting myself into it.

Something interesting, however, struck me about how arguments were phrased. Formulations (from theists) of the belief that hell either does not exist or does not contain anyone seemed to be based on a need to avoid thinking of God as on oppressor:

“I refuse to believe that a just and loving God would condemn anyone to eternal suffering.”

Defenses of the existence of hell and the idea that at least some people are in it tended to emphasize the ability of people to do wrong:

“People choose hell by utterly and irrevocably rejecting God. Given the willingness of people to choose evil in this life, even when it makes them unhappy, I don’t see why it’s hard to believe that some people would reject God permanently.”

The more I thought about these two formulations, the more it struck me that these tied in the with Kling’s “three axis model of politics” which I mentioned a while back. The three axes are:

[P]rogressives, conservatives, and libertarians view politics along three different axes. For progressives, the main axis has oppressors at one end and the oppressed at the other. For conservatives, the main axis has civilization at one end and barbarism at the other. For libertarians, the main axis has coercion at one end and free choice at the other.

Here we have those who deny hell (which is, indeed, generally thought of as a “liberal” theological belief) doing so based on the argument that allowing some people to experience eternal misery turns God into an oppressor. Since they don’t want to see God as an oppressor, they reject the possibility of anyone being condemned to hell. Also implicit in this is a belief that everyone is, at root, good. No one will really, really, really choose hell over the beatific vision, so obviously the only explanation for anyone being in hell is that God is a big oppressive meany who put them there.

Those who believe in hell (a belief we might term “conservative” theologically) see hell as a matter of justice and free will: Some people will reject God, and if they choose to do so, then justice and free will demand that God allow them their condemnation. Thus, the “conservative” belief is based, like many other conservative beliefs, on a conviction that we can be pretty sure that some people will do evil, and that the application of justice will necessitate those people being punished.

Kling’s model is one of those things which I am a little annoyed to find working as well as it does, since it seems so utterly simplistic. Yet I have to admit, in its basic sort of way, it provides a bit of insights into a startling number of arguments.

22

99 Years Ago Today: The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and His Wife

On June 28th, 1914, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, fifty-year old Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a 19-year-old Bosnian-Serb nationalist. The assassination began an at first slow-moving diplomatic crisis which would result a month later, July 28th, in Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia.

The assassination plot itself was so badly botched that its success is one of the surprising events of history. A group of Bosnian-Serb nationalists (half of them teenagers) — who wanted Bosnia-Herzegovina to be independent from Austria-Hungary and integrated into a pan-Slavic state — had received bombs, pistols and cyanide pills from officers in the Serbian army sympathetic to their cause. They planned an assassination attempt against the Archduke and his wife and stationed themselves along the route which their open car would travel through the city. Several of the assassins failed to make any move when the car passed and another threw a bomb at the car, however the bomb bounced off the folded convertible hood, fell behind the car, and exploded, disabling the next car in the motorcade and injuring a number of bystanders. The assassin who had thrown the bomb bit a cyanide capsule and jumped off a bridge, but the cyanide only made him sick and the fall wasn’t far and the river nearly dry, so he was quickly arrest by police (though not before members of the angry crowd beat him.) Continue Reading

29

With Praise Like This…

A piece over at The New Republic asks why it is that more people don’t love Woodrow Wilson. It’s opening seems to answer that question pretty easily:

[W]hy aren’t contemporary liberals bestowing the same praise on Woodrow Wilson as they lavish on Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson? Granted, if he were running today, Woodrow Wilson wouldn’t win a single Democratic primary and would no doubt be heckled out of the race. Raised in the South, he smiled on Jim Crow and did not object when two of his cabinet appointees re-segregated their departments. A crusading Presbyterian, he vowed to “teach the Latin American republics to elect good men” and dispatched troops to Mexico and Haiti when they didn’t follow his advice. During World War I, he enforced new laws that effectively outlawed most dissent from government policy.

Though really, the reasons they list for lauding him seem a little suspect as well:

Yet Wilson, together with his allies on Capitol Hill, also laid the foundation for the 20th century liberal state. He signed bills that created the Federal Reserve and progressive income tax rates, secured humane working conditions for merchant seamen and railroad workers, restricted child labor and curbed the power of large corporations. After the U.S. entered the war in Europe, his administration began operating the railroads, lifting the hopes of leftists who had long advocated public ownership of what was then a rich and vital industry.

In 1916, Wilson accepted renomination with a speech that defined political conflict in terms that remain surprisingly fresh. Our programs, he told his fellow Democrats were “resisted at every step by the interests which the Republican Party … catered to and fostered at the expense of the country, and these same interests are now earnestly praying for a reaction which will save their privileges, for the restoration of their sworn friends to power before it is too late to recover what they have lost.”

How can anyone dislike someone who both nationalized the railroads and was hated by Republicans?

Actually, the rest of the piece is kind of a hoot too, since it then moves on to arguing that liberals should love Wilson more because FDR and LBJ really were pretty flawed too. Overall, I have to wonder if this is the sort of piece that conservatives are destined to enjoy much more than liberals. Which does nothing to answer the question of why TNR ran it.

1

Book Review: Pope Francis in His Own Words

The Darwin family is on one of its road trip vacations, so posting has been rather light. However, there’s no better time than vacation to catch up on reading, and thus on book reviews.

Like a lot of Catholic bibliophiles, I’ve been eager to get to know Pope Francis by reading his writings. This is a little tricky, as at the time of his election not a single one of Bergoglio’s books (and there aren’t many) was available in English. Thus, I jumped at the chance to get a review copy of Pope Francis in His Own Words from New World Library.

Whether this book appeals to you is going to depend a great deal on what sort of book you are looking for. This is not a unified theological work, it’s a collection of quotes (most of them one to three sentences) from articles, homilities, addresses and interviews with Bergoglio over the years and from his earliest papal addresses. Most of them are comparatively recent (1999 to 2013) and they are organized by topic. For example, under “On Poverty” there are two quotes:

“A community that stops kneeling before the rich, before success and prestige, and which is capable, instead, of washing the feet of the humble and those in need, will be more aligned with [God’s] teaching than the winner-at-any-price ethic that we’ve learned — badly — in recent times.”

Annual Message to Educational Communities, Easter 2002

“Is there anything more humiliating than being condemned [to an existence in which] you can’t earn your daily bread?”

Annual Message to Educational Communities, Easter 2002

As you can see, these are not mini essays on various topics as in John Paul II’s Crossing the Theshold of Hope. They are more on the order of short quotes, the sort collection you’d pick up once a day to read a quote or two from, not the sort of book that you’d sit down and read cover to cover.

The quotes are very accessible and often throught provoking. A few strike me as being so short and out of context as to be simply stating the obvious. For instance, under “On Atheists” appears the quote:

“[I] know more agnostics than atheists; the first is more undecided, the second, more convinced.”

Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra, 2010

Well, yes. That’s definitionally true, but not necessarily worth pulling as a quote. However, most of this fairly short book (90 pages of quotes and then a short chronology of Pope Francis’s life, followed by a long attribution section) is not filler of that sort.

This is not the book of Pope Francis’s writing that I’ve been waiting for. However, if you or someone you know enjoys a collection of short, inspirational “thought of the day” pieces, this may be a good acquisition or gift.

5

Because Gendercide Must Be Protected as a Matter of Women’s Rights

American filmmakers made a documentary dealing with the issue of sex selective abortion and infanticide. The amount of this going on in the world is staggering. Estimates suggest that more girls are killed in India and China each year due to families wanting sons instead than are born each year in the US.

You would think that this is the sort of issue that everyone could agree on. Not so, however. Slate columnist Sital Kalantry chastises feminist groups for allowing themselves to be sucked in by a documentary which was apparently (gasp) made by pro-lifers:

It’s a Girl, a documentary about the tragic practice of sex-selection abortions in India and China, is being widely screened by pro-choice groups across America, including the New Jersey Chapter of the National Organization for Women and feminist groups on university campuses. It was an official selection for the Amnesty International Film Festival in 2012 and appeared in Ms. magazine’s feminist movies review. But as organizations and groups evaluate whether to screen this movie, they should be aware that the film’s director worked for Harvest Media Ministry, an organization that makes pro-life and other videos for church groups.

How did this happen? How did a movie linked to a pro-life group become the darling of the pro-choice community? The story involves clever disguises on the part of financing sources that managed to hide their involvement and pass off a movie about the horrors of sex-selection abortions as just a sympathetic movie about the plight of women in India and China. And the pro-life message is subtle enough that they got away with it. Continue Reading

15

Reading the Grand Jury Report on the Gosnell Case

MrsDarwin has done the public service of reading through the entirety of the Grand Jury Report on the Gosnell case. The following is a reprint of her post.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan proposes a thought experiment:

Tell me yourself, I challenge you — answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature — that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance — and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.

I was reminded of that passage this afternoon when I read the entire Grand Jury report on the Kermit Gosnell case:

pg. 101: After the baby was expelled, Cross noticed that he was breathing, though not for long. After about 10 to 20 seconds, while the mother was asleep, “the doctor just slit the neck,” said Cross. Gosnell put the boy’s body in a shoebox. Cross described the baby as so big that his feet and arms hung out over the sides of the container. Cross said that she saw the baby move after his neck was cut, and after the doctor placed it in the shoebox. Gosnell told her, “it’s the baby’s reflexes. It’s not really moving.” 

The neonatologist testified that what Gosnell told his people was absolutely false. If a baby moves, it is alive. Equally troubling, it feels a “tremendous amount of pain” when its spinal cord is severed. So, the fact that Baby Boy A. continued to move after his spinal cord was cut with scissors means that he did not die instantly. Maybe the cord was not completely severed. In any case, his few moments of life were spent in excruciating pain.

Gosnell was an eager butcher, one who was willing to torture babies for women under the desperate illusion that they could attain “peace and rest at last” through this “foundation of the unexpiated blood of a little victim”, as Ivan puts it. He had a psychopathic distain for the external nicetices of the abortion business: the sterile clinic, the efficient staff, the quiet, hidden murder and the quick disposal of the bodies. It was all in the open at 3801 N. Lancaster St., insanely blatant in the sheer horrific scale of murder, murders of babies born alive, infanticide, violations of the Controlled Substances Act, hindering, obstruction, and tampering, perjury, illegal late-term abortions, violations of the Abortion Control Act, violations of the Controlled Substances Act, abuse of corpse, theft by deception, conspiracy, corrupt organization, and corruption of minors.

Think I’m exaggerating? Those are the charges recommended against Gosnell and members of his staff by the appalled Grand Jury (pg. 219). Continue Reading

3

Margaret Thatcher and the Dead Parrot Sketch

Here’s something to brighten your Friday: The then-Prime Minister delivering, absolutely deadpan, the Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch.

The Liberal Democrat logo which she’s referring to is this:

800px-Liberal_Democrats_UK_Logo_svg

Despite the PM’s brilliant delivery, I did miss the line about how, if the parrot weren’t nailed to his perch, he’d be pushing up daisies. Here’s the original for your perusal:

37

Yes I Still Support The Iraq War

This last week marked the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War and so it offered many pundits a chance to write anguished pieces of self examination in which they told why they wish they had opposed the Iraq War. (Then there’s the variant in which those who were opposed all along snear at those who are late to the anti-war party.)

My reactionary tendency revolts against the late breaking attempt to jump on the band wagon, but even setting that aside I can’t find it in myself to see toppling Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship as an unworthy endeavour. If anything, the main injustice I see in the Iraq War was in not having gone all the way to Bagdad in 1991. We left the Iraqi people hanging out to dry in 1991, allowing Hussein to crush the uprising which we encouraged but failed to support. Hussein remained a brutal dictator, but one ruling at our sufferance from 1991 to 2003. I think removing him at any point during that time would have been a just and noble action.

Certainly, there is a great deal that could have been done better in the aftermath of the invasion and toppling of the regime. I wish that it had been done better and that suffering and loss of life, both Iraqi and American, had thus been less. It seems odd, however, to argue that ending Hussein’s dictatorship could only be just if we knew for a certainty ahead of time that all of our actions in the region afterwards would be carried out with competence and success.

There’s a lot that the Bush Administration can be blamed for, and in many ways the Iraq War and its aftermath were ill-managed. But even in its current unpopularity, I still support the basic justice of seeking to finish the job that we started in 1991 and end one of the world’s nastier little dictatorships while it was still easy to do so.

10

There Is Not Just One Way To Be Pope

One of the things that’s been bothering me (as well as several other good bloggers I read) in the days since the election of Pope Francis is the seeming need of many to identify a single cookie-cutter model which every “good” pope most follow. I recall some of this when Benedict succeeded John Paul, but it was perhaps more muted both by a certain gravity stemming from John Paul’s very public death and funeral, and also by the fact that the although we certainly lived in a “new media” age then, it hadn’t gained the dizzying speed which social media has since provided to “reax”.

Thus it seems as if much of the coverage of the new pope boils down to, “Francis isn’t as intellectual and liturgically focused as Benedict, so he’s not as good” or else “Francis is so ‘humble’ and focused on the poor, he’s clearly a much better pope than Benedict”. Then there’s the next level of escallation in which each side tries to steal the virtues of the other: Oh yeah, well if Francis were really humble he wouldn’t insist on simplicity, which is really a subtle exercise in saying “look at me”! You say Francis cares about the poor and about simplicity? Well look how much Benedict cared about the poor and about simplicity!

I think this quickly gets silly, and more to the point it starts to act as if there is only gone right way for the pope to act. The fact is, being the shepherd of God’s flock on earth is a job large enough that there are multiple different ways of doing it that are right. (Which is not to say that every way is right, obviously, we’ve had some pretty bad popes over the centuries.)

It seems to me that John Paul II’s dense intellectualism combined with his oversize and highly charismatic personality was arguably exactly what the Church needed at the time of his pontificate — as we emerged from a time in which it seemed like the roof was coming down and everything was up for grabs. Benedict’s liturgical focus was another thing that the Church desperately needed at the time that he was chosen — and I think that his ability to write deeply yet clearly was also a huge need. If John Paul II’s struggle to incorporate Catholic teaching and a moderl philosophical understanding of the human person were something very much needed in our modern era, I at the same time suspect that Benedict’s books (both his books about the life of Christ and the many books he wrote prior to his pontificate) may actually be read more often by ordinary Catholics in the coming decades than anything that John Paul II wrote.

Similarly, I think that Francis’ intentional simplicity is something that we need to see in our pope at times. This is not to say that Benedict and John Paul were not simple. They were, though in different ways. But while not every saint needs (or should) be simple in the sort of over-the-top way that our pope’s namesake St. Francis of Assisi was, St. Francis nonetheless remains a good saint to have. That it is good that we have St. Francis as an example does not mean that every other saint is the less for not being St. Francis. (I mean, let’s be honest, St. Francis could be kind of nuts.) And similarly, admiration of Pope Francis’s qualities need not, and indeed should not, be turned into a criticism of other popes for not being like him in every way.

26

Bad History: Was the Persecution of Christians a Myth?

Donald McClarey has a well deserved barn-burner of a post up at The American Catholic about a new book entitled The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom out from University of Notre Dame theology professor Candida Moss. I’d seen a couple articles on this book before it came out and more or less passed over them as yet another fluffy work of pop scholarship intent on telling us that “everything we know is wrong” in relation to Christianity. However, the book appears to be getting a certain amount of press and is climbing the Amazon sales ranks, so it’s worth giving it a bit of attention as the politically motivated pop-history that it is.

Dr. Moss talks about her motivations for writing the book in an interview at HuffPo:

I initially became interested in this subject because of a homily I heard that compared the situation facing modern Christians in America to the martyrs of the early church. I was surprised by the comparison because modern Americans aren’t living in fear for their lives and the analogy seemed a little hyperbolic and sensational. After this, I began to notice the language of persecution and victimization being bandied about everywhere from politics, to sermons, to the media, but rarely in regard to situations that involve imprisonment and violence.

She goes on to argue that modern Christians have a view that persecution of the early Church was pervasive when it was in fact not:

[A] lot of weight rests on the idea that Christians were persecuted in the early church because, without the idea of near-continuous persecution, it would be difficult to recast, say, disagreements about the role of prayer in schools as persecution. … But intriguingly, the historical evidence for systematic persecution of Christians by Jews and Romans is actually very slim. There were only a few years before the rise of the emperor Constantine that Christians were sought out by the authorities just for being Christians. The stories about early Christian martyrs have been edited, expanded, and sometimes even invented, giving the impression that Christians were under constant attack. This mistaken impression is important because it fosters a sense of Christian victimhood and that victim mentality continues to rear its head in modern politics and society. It’s difficult to imagine that people could make the same claims about persecution today were it not for the idea that Christians have always been persecuted.

Moss also has a recent piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education summarizing her argument and promoting the book: Continue Reading

18

Understanding “Assault Weapons”

This post is a somewhat condensed version of a three post series that I posted on my personal blog last week.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to hear a lot about “assault weapons”. This term is one that makes those who are informed about guns climb the walls a bit. “Assault weapon” is a legal term which was created by a series of gun control laws in the late ’80s and early ’90s culminating in the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Ban. However, the term was coined to sound like the military technology term “assault rifle” (many even use the terms interchangeably.) Assault rifles were a development in military technology coming out of World War II, and it’s there that I’d like to start this story.

Battle Rifle to Assault Rifle

During World War II the need for a lighter gun suitable for rapid fire became increasingly obvious. The roughly .30 caliber battle rifles that were standard issue for all WW2 armies fired very powerful cartridges and were accurate out to distances over 600 yards.  However, although the rifles were technically accurate at such long distances, few soldiers had the skill to am the well at long range, and the vast majority of battlefield shooting was conducted at distances of 300 yards or less.  Moreover, in WW2’s highly mobile tactics, the ability of infantry soldiers to lay down effective suppressing fire had become important.  For most of the war this was achieved through specialization.  Most infantry soldiers carried full size battle rifles like the American semi-automatic M1 Garand and the German bolt action K98, while a smaller number of soldiers were issued sub machine guns — lighter weapons which could shoot in fully automatic (firing continuously as long as the trigger was held down) or burst mode (firing bursts of 3-5 shots every time the trigger was pulled.)  To make then easy to handle (and allow them to carry more rounds) sub machine guns shot smaller, pistol cartridges rather than a full size rifle cartridge and were thus suitable only for short range.

Tom Hanks holding a Thompson
Sub Machine Gun (chambered for the
.45 APC pistol cartridge) in
Saving Private Ryan

Military technologists were convinced that a cross between a full sized battle rifle and a sub machine gun was needed. Such a gun would shoot a rifle cartridge, but a lighter one which would not have as much recoil as a high power .30 caliber round. It should also be capable of shooting in burst or fully automatic mode as well as semi-automatic mode (one shot for each pull of the trigger.)

Germany produced the first true “assault rifle” near the end of World War II, the Sturmgewehr 44. It shot a shortened .30 caliber bullet with a lighter charge of powder behind it, making the recoil lighter and the ammunition cheaper to produce and lighter to carry, and it could shoot either in semi-auto or full-auto mode. By late 1943, however, the tide was already turning against Germany and its manufacturing capacity was waning. Only half a million were ever produced (compared to over 14 million of their full size K98 Mauser bolt action battle rifle.) However, it provided the inspiration for Mikhail Kalashnikov’s development of the AK-47 in Russia after the war. The AK-47 also used a light .30 caliber cartridge and selective fire (the ability to fire either semi-auto or full-auto.) The design became the standard Russian infantry rifle in 1949 and went on to become perhaps the most widely produced rifle design in history. Continue Reading

44

The Election in Two Images

I’ve been mostly offline the last couple days due to a business trip — leaving early the morning after the election. I may write a bit about the election itself in a few days, but since I’ve spent the last couple days deeply immersed in ways of visualizing data, these two versions of the election map struck me as really interesting in showing what went on Tuesday.

This first image shows the size of the winning candidate’s margin for each county. (click for a larger view) [source]

This second image shows the direction of change in the vote of each county as compared to 2008.

UPDATE: Okay, one more image because with all the discussion of re-alignment and emerging majorities I couldn’t help putting one together:

9

The Clever Economics Behind Romney’s Tax Plan

One of the things which the candidates sparred over repeatedly in the debates was Romney’s tax plan, on which Obama has repeatedly charged “the math doesn’t work”.

Romney’s plan, as it has been presented, is to reduce tax rates by 20%. Thus, for example, the top rate would go down from the current 35% to 28%. Deductions and credits would then be reduced such that while the middle class would experience a net tax decrease, those at the top would continue to pay the same amount in taxes as they do now. Romney suggested how this might be done in the first debate:

[W]hat are the various ways we could bring down deductions, for instance? One way, for instance, would be to have a single number. Make up a number, $25,000, $50,000. Anybody can have deductions up to that amount. And then that number disappears for high-income people. That’s one way one could do it.

The idea here would be that for a family making, say 60k/yr that currently takes a total of $15k in deductions, the deductions would remain untouched while their rate would go down, resulting in lower net taxes. For a family making $400k/yr that currently takes $70k in deductions, their deductions would be capped at $25k but their tax rate would be lower, so they would pay about the same as they do now.
Continue Reading

11

Some Quick Post Debate Thoughts

President Obama’s performance in the first debate was, unarguably, pretty lethargic, and he took a big hit in the polls shortly afterward. The general wisdom drawn from this, especially on the democratic side of the aisle, seemed to be that what was really needed in the debates was, thus, more aggression. Biden delivered this in his own unique way in the Veep debate, to such an extent that one wondered at times whether he would have to be removed from the stage in a straight jacket, still alternating between wild cackling and angry shouting, but at last he ran out of gas and calmed down in the last 20 minutes. Obama has a sense of personal dignity that Biden lacks, and so although he certainly came to the debate in a pugilistic frame of mind, he didn’t make himself silly in the way that Biden did. Nonetheless, despite the fact that the debate was supposed to feature the candidates answering questions directly from voters, it instead was most notable for intense bouts of the candidates rhetorically hammering each other.

The common wisdom is that this kind of thing turns undecided voters off. I saw some anecdotal evidence of this in the reactions of my less partisan friends on Facebook, one of whom posted in indignation:

Dear Gov Romney and Pres Obama,
Every time you keep talking when you are reminded that a normal citizen has a question for you, you reinforce that you think what you have to say is more important than the concerns of the people of your country. You both lost my vote tonight.

This aside, though, I think the focus on rhetorical dominance and aggression has probably been misplaced. Was it really that Obama’s performance in the first debate was so sluggish that cost him so much in the polls? I don’t think most Americans care whether the president is a skilled debater or not. Continue Reading

8

Veep Reax

Alright, I’m in full political crack monkey mode from here on till the election, so I’ll be the one to throw up the instant reactions thread.

My take: This was not the total blowout that the first presidential debate was. Ryan was calm and professional the entire time. Biden brought his Cerberus-style split personality, one head Cheshire Cat, the other head rabid attack dog. He called Ryan a liar in the very first exchange and kept it up all night, at one point even accusing the moderator of lying. Then, during the last fifteen minutes Biden meds ran out and he fell back on the gravely “I’m so concerned” voice for the rest of the debate.

Overall, I’d rate it a draw. I think partisan Democrats are mostly elated, since all they’ve wanted for the last week is to see someone interrupt a Republican and call him a liar, and Biden did indeed do that constantly. Republicans had nothing to cringe about in Ryan’s performance. Ryan remained cool and collected throughout and scored the one audience reaction line of the night in defusing Biden’s attempt to demagogue the 47% quote.

What Independents will have thought I honestly can’t say, though I see a CNN poll of undecided voters called it for Ryan by a 48 to 44 margin. My guess is, this does nothing to help Obama claw back from his collapse with the ordinary voting public, but it does help the Dem campaign by soothing the utter panic which has gripped much of the left over the last week. I’d guess we’ll see basically consistent poll numbers (between a tie and Romney up one) for the next week until the next Presidential debate. Then we’ll see. The big problem for Obama is that the next debate is strictly foreign policy and the one after that is a town hall meeting, so he never gets to imitate Biden’s mad dog routine on domestic policy.