Why, when I realize that journalists misrepresent topics that I know something about — such as religious liberty — do I trust them to accurately cover issues that I don’t know much about?
In an age where words like “courage” and “bravery” are often tossed about casually, a new book captures the immense heroism and resolve of 11 American POWs during the war in Vietnam. Alvin Townley closes his new book Defiant with these words, “Together, they overcame more intense hardship over more years than any other group of servicemen and families in American history. We should not forget.” Townley easily makes that case by telling their stories and expanding on previous accounts by including the battle many of their wives waged to draw attention to their plight back home.
Defiant focuses on the Alcatraz 11, captured servicemen who were isolated by the communist North Vietnamese in a prison they nicknamed “Alcatraz.” Like many early POWs, these men were tortured. But they faced unimaginable cruelty with steely resistance. Before they were moved to Alcatraz, they were all pivotal leaders at Hoa Lo Prison, reinforcing the Code of Conduct and communicating through the tap code. At a staged propaganda news conference in 1966, Naval pilot Jeremiah Denton was able to blink out in Morse Code the letters T-O-R-T-U-R-E, allowing the American government to know for the first time the horrific conditions inside the prison. The aviators were beaten with fan belts, kept in stocks and leg irons, tortured with medieval rope devices, and locked away in isolation for years. In his book, When Hell Was in Session, Denton proclaimed, “We can add our testimony to that of great heroes like Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, who have vividly related what Communism is really about.”
Townley’s book does a masterful job of weaving the stories of these men together to portray how their courage and resistance exemplified, to the highest degree, the principles of freedom. James B. Stockdale, the senior officer of the 11, like other tortured prisoners, was permanently crippled by his captors. His defiance continually inspired those imprisoned with him. Stockdale quoted Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim about the men under his command, “A certain readiness to perish is not so very rare, but it is seldom that you meet men whose souls, steeled in the impenetrable armour of resolution, are ready to fight a losing battle to the last.” (more…)
The Nordic philosopher and priest Anders Chydenius (1729-1803) — the “Adam Smith of the North” — once asked:
Would the Great Master, who adorns the valley with flowers and covers the cliff itself with grass and mosses, exhibit such a great mistake in man, his masterpiece, that man should not be able to enrich the globe with as many inhabitants as it can support? That would be a mean thought even in a Pagan, but blasphemy in a Christian, when reading the Almighty’s precept: ‘Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.’
Unfortunately, this mean and blasphemous thought was soon popularized as an obvious and incontrovertible fact by Chydenius’ contemporary, the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. In An Essay on the Principle of Population Malthus argued that excesses in population are held within resource limits by two types of checks: positive checks (hunger, disease, war) raised the death rate while preventative checks (abortion, birth control, postponement of marriage) lowered the birth rate.
At the beginning of 2013, I compiled a list that included 1,034 predictions for the coming year. I later went through and narrowed it down to the top 500 that I was absolutely certain would happen. Even after cutting the list down, though, I only managed to achieve a 67% accuracy rate. (Unfortunately, I forgot to post that list in public so it is difficult to verify. You’ll just have to take my word for it.)
This year, in an attempt to get 100% correct, I’ve cut my list of predictions to the ones that I’m absolutely sure will come true. Here are 14 can’t-miss predictions for 2014:
• Agricultural subsidies will come under increased scrutiny after the discovery that soylent green, one of the America’s most heavily subsidized crops, is people.
• The mainstream media’s fascination with Pope Francis will end after they discover that the Pope is indeed still Catholic.
• An existential crisis brought on by constant criticism will cause the fact-checking organization Polifact to change it’s name to Pilatefact and it’s slogan to “What is truth?”
• A rogue architect will use dynamite to blow up the Cortlandt Homes housing project.
• The United Nations will be the subject of another scandal after it’s discovered that no-bid contracts were offered to Halliburton for the purchase of the UN’s fleet of Black Helicopters.
• Congress fails to pass an immigration reform bill. Hungry, job-less workers, with no discernible skills or ability to speak our language will continue to pour in from Canada.
• Buoyed by the successful launch of HealthCare.gov, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announces the launch of the Affordable Email Act (aka Obamamail). Americans will be forced to choose their email provider based on “metal plans” (Bronze – AOL, Silver – Hotmail, Gold – Compuserve).
• Iraq will officially change the country’s name back to ‘Babylon’ in a successful attempt to freak out pre-millennial dispensational Evangelicals.
• A bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans agree to filibuster a proposed bill only to discover that the Tea Party caucus was not introducing new legislation but merely reading the text of the U.S. Constitution.
• After selecting “Twerking” as their Word of the Year, the Oxford English Dictionary pronounces the official death of the English language
• Peter Jackson will announce he’s begun filming a 12-hour version of The Silmarillion in order to complete his lifelong ambition of ruining every book written by J. R. R. Tolkien.
• Acton research fellow Jordan Ballor will win the 2014 Wolfgang Musculus Award for being the only person alive who has heard of Wolfgang Musculus.
• After a close mid-term race, President Obama will narrowly win re-election.
• For the 61st year in a row, political activists will once again attempt to immanentize the eschaton.
Shannon Love reminds us that what great-great-grandparents would consider utopia is what we consider modern life:
Star Trek is often used as a starting point for musing about this or that utopia because everything in Star Trek seems so wonderful. Star Trek is Gene Roddenberry‘s vision of New Frontier democratic socialism evolved to a utopia so perfect that individuals have to head out into the wilds of deep space just to find some adventure. Watching Star Trek, one naturally begins to wonder what it would be like to live in a world so advanced that all of the problems we deal with today have been resolved or minimized to insignificance.
Well, we don’t actually have to imagine what it would be like to live in a Star Trek-like, radically egalitarian, technologically advanced, “post-scarcity” society because we live in a Star Trek-like utopia right now, right here, in contemporary America.
How can I say that? Simple, Star Trek the Next Generation takes place 353 years in the future from 2364 to 2370. If we were to think of ourselves as living in a futuristic science-fiction society we would likewise look back 353 years in the past to 1658.
Image what modern America would look like to the people of any of the world’s major cultures back in 1658! Any novel, movie, TV or comic book set in day-to-day middle-class America would read like astounding science fiction to anyone from 1658. Our society looks even more utopian in comparison to 1658 than Star Trek world 2370 looks to us today.
I’m not just talking about all the amazing and frightening technology like nuclear power/weapons, spacecraft, cars, cell phones, computers, the Internet, etc. I’m also talking about issues of want, individual dignity and social/political equality.
A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
“How cold!” Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!
The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general’s action wish’d “Go!”
He saw his ragged continentals row.
Ah, he stands – sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens – winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.
George can’t lose war with’s hands in;
He’s astern – so go alight, crew, and win!
-David Shulman, “Washington Crossing the Delaware”
Some 237 years ago today, the Continental Army was stationed along the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border preparing for a secret attack upon British and Hessian troops. Beleaguered and under-supplied, the brave men under General George Washington’s command knew they needed a miracle. The plan was to send three raiding parties across the Delaware River at different points to surprise the enemy at Trenton.
Weather and the elements had other ideas.
The crossing of the River using the Durham boats, ferry boats and other craft took longer than expected as a nor’easter effected the area causing sleet and freezing rain to pelt the weary troops. Large ice flows and flood-like conditions hindered the nighttime maneuvers.
From an archived column by National Review‘s Rich Lowry:
Arriving at Trenton at 8 a.m. the following morning, his spirited troops seemed “to vie with the other in pressing forward,” he wrote afterward. They surprised the Hessians, not because they were sleeping off a Christmas bender. Harried in hostile New Jersey, the Hessians had exhausted themselves on constant alert. They didn’t expect an attack in such weather, though. The battle ended quickly — 22 Hessians killed, 83 seriously wounded, and 900 captured, to two American combat deaths.
“It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world,” British historian George Trevelyan wrote.
Washington followed up soon enough with another victory at Princeton. In the space of a few weeks, the Americans killed or captured as many as 3,000 of the enemy and irreversibly changed the dynamic of the war.
David Hackett Fischer (author of Washington’s Crossing) sees in that resurgence after our fortunes were at their lowest a reassuring aspect of our national character in this season of discontent: We respond when pressed. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a great supporter of the American cause, wrote: “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity. We require adversity and appear to possess most of the republican spirit when most depressed.”
May it still be so.
A great reminder of an important story from our nation’s unique past. The freedoms we enjoy were won with a price. Violence on this holiday was the result of something a tad more important than the newest Air Jordan sneakers.
As the most widely observed cultural holiday in the world, Christmas is a time of produces many things — joy, happiness, gratitude, reverence. And numbers. Lots of peculiar, often large, numbers. Here are a few to contemplate this season:
$34.87 – Average amount U.S. consumers spent on real Christmas trees.
33,000,000 – Number of real Christmas trees sold in the U.S. each year.
7 – Average growing time in years for a Christmas tree.
$70.55 – Average amount U.S. consumers spent on fake Christmas trees in 2011.
9,500,000 – Number of fake Christmas trees sold each year.
$27.21 — The energy costs of lighting a six-foot Christmas tree, lit 12 hours a day for 40 days, decorated with various light types.
$1,000,000,000 – Estimated value of U.S. imports of Christmas tree ornaments from China between January and September 2013.
$3,000,000,000,000 – Amount generated by the U.S. retail industry during the holidays in 2012. These holiday sales reflected about 19.3 percent of the retail industries total sales that year.
$720,000 – Number of new employees hired to compensate for the holiday rush in 2012.
37.5% — Estimated percentage of charitable giving that occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
$712 – Average amount people in the U.S. spent in on Christmas presents in 2010. In Italy average expenditure amounted to around 325 euros ($445). The Dutch came out as the most thrifty. Spending on Christmas presents in the Netherlands in 2010 averaged at 206 euros ($282).
108,000,000 — Average number of homes Santa Claus has to visit on December 25 (assuming there is at least one “nice” child in each).
The phrase “Separation of Church and State” is not in the language of the First Amendment, and the concept was not favored by any influential framer at the time the Bill of Rights was drafted. So how did it become part of the jurisprudence surrounding the First Amendment?
As Jim Lindgren, a law professor at Northwestern, explains, the Ku Klux Klan had something to do with it . . .
7. The first mainstream figures to favor separation after the first amendment was adopted were Jefferson supporters in the 1800 election, who were trying to silence Northern clergy critical of the immoral Jeffersonian slaveholders in the South.
8. After the Civil War, liberal Republicans proposed a constitutional amendment to add separation of church and state to the US Constitution by amendment, since it was not already there. After that effort failed, influential people began arguing that it was (magically) in the first amendment.
9. In the last part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, nativists (including the KKK) popularized separation as an American constitutional principle, eventually leading to a near consensus supporting some form of separation.
10. Separation was a crucial part of the KKK’s jurisprudential agenda. It was included in the Klansman’s Creed (or was it the Klansman’s Kreed?). Before he joined the Court, Justice Black was head of new members for the largest Klan cell in the South. New members of the KKK had to pledge their allegiance to the “eternal separation of Church and State.” In 1947, Black was the author of Everson, the first Supreme Court case to hold that the first amendment’s establishment clause requires separation of church & state. The suit in Everson was brought by an organization that at various times had ties to the KKK.
11. Until this term, the justices were moving away from the separation metaphor, often failing to mention it except in the titles of cited law review articles, but in the last term of the Court they fell back to using it again.
Yesterday I began a series of posts which attempts to explain why the working poor tend to make terrible financial decisions and how they think about money differently than other economic classes. In my initial post I wrote,
Imagine that instead of having to deal with consumption smoothing decisions, at most, several times a year, you had to deal with them several times a month, or even several times a week. Now also imagine there is no workable solution that will actually smooth the short-term consumption problem and the best that you can hoped for is a temporary fix that delays having to deal with the issue.
That is what it’s like to be the working poor.
Several people have asked me to explain more what I meant, so before moving on I wanted to provide a more in depth example.
Let’s again begin by looking at the decision-making process of the middle-class. Imagine that you want to buy a home. Your household income is $51,404 a year (the median household income in the U.S.) and the house you’re interested in is on the market for $152,000 (the avg. home price in the U.S.). At what point do you buy the house?
There are several ways the average American may answer, but the one response you will almost never hear is, “You should buy the house only after you’ve saved the $152,000 needed to pay for it.”
While most people would agree that it would be prudent to apply a down payment, the idea that you’d pay the entire amount at once – even if you had $152,000 in cash – would strike most people as peculiar if not absurd. Instead, we borrow money for a mortgage that will allow us to pay a set amount each month for 15 to 30 years. Because we are willing to spread our payments out into the future we will pay a lot more than the $152,000 (at 5% for 30 years, the total would be $293,748.79). But we consider that a reasonable accommodation for getting what we want right now.
That is an example of how most of us take the concept of consumption smoothing for granted.