Category: General

The lowering of education quality has been noted in the recent past on the PowerBlog (here and here). Last Saturday, Casey Harper noted at educationviews.org that even students are complaining about the declining rigor of American education.

Harper notes that, according to a recent survey,

More than half of eighth-grade history and civics students say their work is “often or always too easy,” according to the report. Twelfth-grade students sang the same tune, with 56 and 55 percent, respectively, saying their civics and history work is “often” or “always” too easy. (more…)

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tackles the topic of religious liberty with his most recent column, “Defining Religious Liberty Down.” In it, Douthat highlights the public nature of the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of the “free exercise of religion”:

It’s a significant choice of words, because it suggests a recognition that religious faith cannot be reduced to a purely private or individual affair. Most religious communities conceive of themselves as peoples or families, and the requirements of most faiths extend well beyond attendance at a sabbath service — encompassing charity and activism, education and missionary efforts, and other “exercises” that any guarantee of religious freedom must protect.

Many would say that the religious liberty squabbles of today–the HHS mandate debate and last week’s Chick-fil-A fracas, for example–reflect a contemporary confusion about what is actually protected by the Bill of Rights’ “free exercise of religion.” Instead, Douthat posits that the conflict is a result of a present tension between religious values and the modern idea of freedom. This, Douthat argues, is really at the heart of the religious liberty debate.

The question is not whether “the free exercise of religion” allows the government to mandate contraception purchase or regulate businesses according to their values. The question is whether certain religious beliefs of today run so contradictory to the public zeitgeist that, like 15th century Aztec sacrifice rituals, they violate the common good and cannot merit public protection. Those who answer the latter question with a “yes” should quit the emaciated definitions of religious liberty and move on with the debate:

It may seem strange that anyone could look around the pornography-saturated, fertility-challenged, family-breakdown-plagued West and see a society menaced by a repressive puritanism. But it’s clear that this perspective is widely and sincerely held.

It would be refreshing, though, if it were expressed honestly, without the “of course we respect religious freedom” facade.

If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.

There, didn’t that feel better? Now we can get on with the fight.

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, July 30, 2012
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Building a Culture of Religious Freedom
Charles J. Chaput, Public Discourse

If we want a culture of religious freedom, we need to begin it here, today, now. We live it by giving ourselves wholeheartedly to God with passion and joy, confidence and courage; and by holding nothing back. God will take care of the rest.

A Different Kind of Aid in Africa
Austin Doctor, Values & Capitalism

Responding to allegations that Africa is submitting to a new era of colonialism, economist and bestselling author Dambisa Moyo describes a different scene. In a recent article in the New York Times, Moyo enthusiastically observes that the African economy is reaching for new horizons—and China is helping it get there.

American Decline and the Virtue of Industriousness
Joseph Sunde, Remnant Culture

Murray sees industriousness as one of America’s “founding virtues,” the others of which include honesty, marriage and religiosity. Yet while these others are important, Murray argues that industriousness was the most defining.

The Parable of the Ox
John Kay, Financial Times

In 1906, the great statistician Francis Galton observed a competition to guess the weight of an ox at a country fair. Eight hundred people entered. Galton, being the kind of man he was, ran statistical tests on the numbers. He discovered that the average guess (1,197lb) was extremely close to the actual weight (1,198lb) of the ox. This story was told by James Surowiecki, in his entertaining book The Wisdom of Crowds. Not many people know the events that followed.

Over on the Library of Law and Liberty’s website, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reviews political philosopher John Tomasi’s new book Free Market Fairness:

Rather than attempting a synthesis of competing schools of liberal thought, Tomasi outlines what he is very careful to specify as a “hybrid” (87) political theory that draws upon classical liberalism and libertarianism on the one hand, and what he calls high or left liberalism on the other. Tomasi does not seek to somehow ground classical liberal institutions on the basis of left liberal moral imperatives, or vice-versa. Instead he argues for what he calls market democracy as a “justificatory hybrid . . . which combines insights from the classical and liberal traditions at the level of moral foundations” (95). Market democracy, as Tomasi describes it, reflects what he describes as his “simultaneous attraction” (xiv) to left-liberal and libertarian ideas. Free Market Fairness, however, also relies upon the insight that classical, libertarian, and left liberals may have more in common than they often realize or are willing to admit. This may explain why much of Tomasi’s book explicates in considerable and revealing detail the present “state-of-play” inside the sandpit of liberal political theory.

Read more . . .

In America, too many of our citizens suffer from material poverty. But an even greater number suffer from spiritual poverty. Leon Kass asks, “How fares the struggle against our spiritual impoverishment? Are we Americans, despite our continuing freedom and prosperity, really losing the quest for meaningful lives?”

It would be easy to argue that life in America is spiritually more impoverished than ever. As evidence, one might cite the rising respectability of public atheism and the falling off of religious observance; the eclipse of the ideal of work as vocation; the emptiness of the popular culture; the weakening of marriage and family ties; the failure of higher education to nurture the hungry souls of our young, and the huge increase in clinical depression among college students; the decline of patriotism and national attachment; and new expressions of doubt about America’s future, fueled by a strident cynicism on the left and a growing despair on the right.

But this picture is at best incomplete. As Charles Murray points out in his recent book Coming Apart, marriage, industriousness, law-abidingness, and religiosity are alive and well among the nation’s elite, even as they are in decline among the lower classes. Many of our social indicators show a partial repair of earlier unravelings. Community service is on the rise; so is private philanthropy. There is once again a proper respect for our armed forces. And despite their superficial cynicisms, America’s young people — and not only among the privileged — continue to harbor deep desires for a life that will prove meaningful: a life of love and work, with service to God and country, in pursuit of truth or goodness or beauty.

Read more . . .

Blog author: dpahman
Thursday, July 26, 2012
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In today’s “On the Square” over at First Things, Leroy Huizenga reflects upon “the technopoly” of our daily lives, where so much of our time is captivated by staring at a computer screen, clicking links, reading posts, checking updates, and so on. Huizenga writes,

I worry about becoming a functional Gnostic, plugged into this new matrix, this new pixelated irreality. My reality easily becomes the screens, and the interactivity of hyperlinks means I can go where I will and create my own personal submatrix thereby. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, July 26, 2012
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Capitalism Or What?
Isaac Morehouse, Values & Capitalism

When analyzing any social or economic system, the three most important words are: “Compared to what?” Capitalism has its shortcomings. It has shortcomings because life has shortcomings in our own subjective evaluations.

Churches, Pacifism, and Gun Control
Mark Tooley, Mark Tooley

There may or may not be good arguments for more gun control in America. But can a pacifist make them?

Income Equality Is the Road to Middle-Class Taxation
Brian Domitrovic, The Imaginative Conservative

The funny thing about “income inequality” is that it uses taxable income as its measuring point. The problem with this, obviously, is that if high taxes reduce the rich’s taxable income, the rich in turn will not be able to carry the burden of paying taxes—their income will be too low. High taxes on the rich will necessitate further taxation of the middle class.

Tchaikovsky on Work Ethic vs. Inspiration
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.

There are some misleading statistics that never die. Take, for example, the claim that “American women who work full-time, year-round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.”

For decades economists and pundits have explained why that figure, even if accurate, doesn’t tell us what we think it does (e.g, that woman are being discriminated against in the workforce). But many people are still confused by such claims, so it’s encouraging to hear Anna Broadway explain what such statistics fail to account for:

(more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, July 23, 2012
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The Conservatives vs. the Intellectuals?
Peter Lawler, Big Think

Arguably, the biggest change since the time of Socrates is the idea of the free person—one introduced into the world by Biblical and Christian thought. When our deterministic scientists deny the real existence of the free person, they, today’s conservatives often object, are asserting more they they really know.

Does teacher merit pay work? A new study says yes.
Dylan Matthews, Wonkblog

There’s very good evidence that teacher quality matters a lot in terms of student performance in school and success later on in life.

(more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, July 20, 2012
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Poor countries are unhealthy countries
Roger Bates, AEI

American leftists might laud the nationalized healthcare provision in Cuba, but cholera outbreaks should remind even these folks that without wealth generation, a healthy nation is rarely attained and never sustained.

The eurozone’s religious faultline
Chris Bowlby, BBC

Discussion among eurozone leaders about the future of their single currency has become an increasingly divisive affair. On the surface, religion has nothing to do with it – but could Protestant and Catholic leaders have deep-seated instincts that lead them to pull the eurozone in different directions, until it breaks?

A Christian Alternative to Health Insurance
Kimberly Leonard, The Atlantic

Exempt from regulation, taxation, and the individual mandate, Christian collectives called health care sharing ministries are paying for the care of their neediest members — if they approve of the morality of their needs.

Thinking About Time with an Eternal Perspective
Carolyn McCulley, True Woman

There’s only one person who will ever complete His “To Do” list and He already did it.