Category: General

Last week I took Friday afternoon off and did the yard work. I’d been listening to radio broadcasts about the vote in Congress on HR 2454 – what some of us call the “cap and tax” climate bill. You know, the one none of the members had read before the vote? Yes, I know, there’s more than one bill that they haven’t read prior to voting.

Yard work is good for my psyche. In two hours I can make a measurable and meaningful contribution to my property’s appearance. Few things in life are so neatly determinate; and the activity allows me to ponder other issues at the same time that I’m tilling and trimming.

My plan was to relax over the weekend in the run up to my birthday; and moving the yard work to Friday seemed appropriate. My modest Saturday agenda included helping to reduce the ironing pile by doing my half. My wife welcomed the help and suggested that I do the ironing first so I could also enjoy a Saturday morning ritual in doors — listening to “The Opera Show” on local FM station KUSC — and not having to use the pocket radio and earphones required when I’m outdoors.

During its season, KUSC hosts The Metropolitan broadcasts from New York, but the presentation last Saturday was a replay of the Los Angeles Opera Company’s April performance of Walter Braunfels’ The Birds, part of a series titled “Recovered Voices.” These are works by Jewish composers and musicians that were banned by the elected German Chancellor Adolph Hitler before and during the WWII era’s Holocaust and have been nearly forgotten.

Aristophanes’ play The Birds is a “comedy” written around 430 B.C. that pokes at the antics of Greek politics, specifically Athens’ leader Cleon, and at what was termed “the noble lie” at the time. The plot — VERY briefly described — follows the trek of two disgruntled humans who are lead by a raven and a crow toward a life among the birds which they are assured will be free from strife. You can imagine that there’s a bit of Plato’s philosopher-king tossed in for good measure. And with characters named “a sycophant” you can imagine how in the Germany of the 1930s a man with Braunfels’ talent might see some sardonic fun in using this plot to frame a libretto for his very solid musical creation.

Only minutes into my ironing the iron gave out: not enough heat and not enough steam. On the drive to the local Target — my wife went along — I continued to listen to Braunfels’ haunting music. Our beeline to the shelf and through the checkout line took only minutes, but on the way my eye caught an item in that area where picture frames are marketed. It was a 24″ x 36″ framed poster of Barack Obama and the text “Yes, We Can…” at the top. There was more text — the entire ‘yes we can’ speech. No, Really!

I asked my wife, “Did Dayton Hudson get TARP money?”

As we walked out to the car a guy with arms and legs full of tattoos was escorting a scantly dressed woman equally decorated and pierced into the store. I made a remark to my wife. She responded, “You don’t get out enough.”

At home I unpacked the new iron and began the process of dismantling the protections made mandatory by the same kind of folks who hadn’t bothered to read HR 2454. First the plastic tie that loops through the holes in the plug tips. You have to cut it away. As I untwisted the wire that bound the cord I noticed and took time to read the attached white label.

Warning: The power cord on this product contains lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.

I learned to iron when I was in sixth grade after my mom went to work to earn the extra money that paid for my brother and I to have orthodontic braces: a gift for which I will be eternally grateful. Her lessons and my vast experience in ironing has paid off in unnamed ways. It was the era when what today we’d call Chinos or Khaki trousers replaced Levi’s for a time. It was also the era before clothes dryers; and one of the devices to make pressing your pants easier were metal stretchers that gave the air dried pants a rough crease to perfect. Ironing can refine one’s eye for detail.

As I listened to Braunfels’ melodies and maneuvered the iron around the yoke of each shirt in a process developed over time but yielding to modification for the short sleeved “polo” shirts on the pile I allowed myself to be drawn to those days in the early 60’s when the Ivy League style predominated and the button at the back of the collar just above that centered pleat prevailed. There was also a buckle on the back of the trousers, above the pockets and just below the belt loops. I also thought about things like why women’s blouses button the opposite way from men’s shirts. I wondered if a “Kingston Trio” CD wouldn’t be more appropriate than Braunfels’ opera on the radio.

It just may be for me that ironing is right in there with yard work. A time for reflection that also allows bona fide, measurable results relatively quickly and without malice toward another. I’m not sure that people reflect so much on things these days. That vote on HR 2454 last week seems to confirm my hunch.

Simple, mundane tasks can direct us. And while I haven’t done any extensive research on the subject I have a sneaking suspicion that something was lost and ordered liberty may have began to unravel with the introduction of the inherent lie of “permanent press.” That wrinkled look of wash and wear may excuse ironing, but what’s replaced that saved time? Certainly not paying more attention to who’s being elected or what Target is hawking in their stores.

Walter Braunfels might have had some advice for us about what posters of a political leader for sale in a store can portend but he died in 1954. But there are clues as in stories like The Birds.

Blog author: ken.larson
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
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For Father’s Day last Sunday, I asked for and was given Mark Levin’s book Liberty and Tyranny. It’s only 205 pages if you don’t count the footnotes, but it’s Wednesday and I’ve only read 47 pages and the Epilogue, and the type is big and pages only 6” x 9”.

I’m not a fast reader. Dennis Prager admits to reading lots of things out loud and I have a tendency to do the same thing, especially if I want to clearly understand what I’m reading. It took me forever to read Brothers Karamazov or as my daughter calls it, “Brothers K”. And I have plenty of things I’m half way through. I do have other stuff on my plate.

So it’s amazing to me that with all the hope and change being discussed and voted on in Congress these days, that the laws being proposed and voted on — laws, some of which we can down load in massive pdf files — have been read and inwardly digested by the elected representatives who will vote on our behalf. I’ve looked at some of them and spent some time trying to figure out all they portend. Energy, Bailouts, Banking Regulation, Healthcare, Union Elections.

I’m not a fast reader. But some of these proposed laws are over a thousand pages long. And some of these lawmakers sound like people who’ve never read a book, even out loud.

So I ask any of you to give me some help on this. The Waxman-Markey bill is over 800 pages. It contemplates jacuzzi settings and prohibits the illumination of art work. Notwithstanding the amount of time it takes to read the proposal, what kind of person would take the time to compose such a dictate? How many jacuzzis are there? More or less than illuminated paintings?

And how did the Founders manage to get a country going with a document we can still read over a cup of coffee — either silently or out loud?

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, June 18, 2009
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Evidently, the Obama campaign’s success has attracted imitators. From the People’s Weekly World:

CHICAGO — The Communist Party USA has established a new Religion Commission to strengthen its work among religious people and organizations. In its leadership are activists representing various religious traditions from around the country. Tim Yeager, a Chicago trade unionist and a member of the Episcopal Church, serves as its chair.

“We want to reach out to religious people and communities, to find ways of improving our coalition work with them, and to welcome people of faith into the party,” Yeager said.

I hesitate to say that “reaching out to religious people” is ever a bad thing, but… if this means a renewed effort to demonstrate some kind of compatibility between Marxism and Christianity, then we’ve seen this movie before. It was called liberation theology and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pretty well settled the question back in 1984 and 1986 (at least as far as Catholics are concerned) in documents promulgated by the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI. The CDF carefully distinguished genuinely Christian forms of ‘liberation theology’ from objectionable versions, but it explained clearly that and why the categories of Marxist analysis and Christian theology are fundamentally incompatible.

The CPUSA recognizes the delicacy of the situation: “Yeager acknowledged that relations between some Marxist parties and religious institutions in other parts of the world have been marked by conflict.” Yes, such as Russia, Hungary, Albania, Lithuania, Cuba, China, Korea, and Vietnam, for starters. Although “marked by conflict” doesn’t seem quite to capture the phenomenon of churches and religious believers systematically targeted for annihilation by totalitarian states informed by an atheist ideology that views faith in Jesus Christ as delusional and a dangerous obstacle to progress.

My essay on the Constitution, judicial activism and the “living document” trope is here at The American Spectator. Here’s one passage:

This brings us to the central irony. The very people most inclined to gush about our “living Constitution” treat it like a Mr. Potato Head:

Ooh, states rights. Let’s pop that off and replace it with a metastasizing Commerce Clause. Oh, and look here in my pocket. A constitutional right to redefine the age-old institution of marriage. Oh and let’s tack this one on, too — a constitutional right to kill a half born baby and throw whatever’s left in the garbage. If anyone complains, we’ll call it “the constitutional right to privacy.”

It’s time to pause and take the living-document metaphor seriously. Living things have an internal logic, have functional constraints. They aren’t endlessly malleable. You can’t replace grandpa’s liver with a second heart just because you think livers are passé — unless you intend to kill grandpa.

From Philip Jenkins at Foreign Policy:

Ironically, after centuries of rebelling against religious authority, the coming of Islam is also reviving political issues most thought extinct in Europe, including debates about the limits of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to proselytize. And in all these areas, controversies that originate in a Muslim context inexorably expand or limit the rights of Christians, too. If Muslim preachers who denounce gays must be silenced, then so must charismatic Christians. At the same time, any laws that limit blasphemous assaults on the image of Mohammed must take account of the sensibilities of those who venerate Jesus.

The result has been a rediscovery of the continent’s Christian roots, even among those who have long disregarded it, and a renewed sense of European cultural Christianity. Jürgen Habermas, a veteran leftist German philosopher stunned his admirers not long ago by proclaiming, “Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.” Europe may be confronting the dilemmas of a truly multifaith society, but with Christianity poised for a comeback, it is hardly on the verge of becoming an Islamic colony.

A few weeks back, I posted a version of the famed Richard John Neuhaus/Rockford Institute break-up incident. The story there was that the break-up happened because Neuhaus overspent the Institute’s budget on conferences after having been ordered to cancel them. That version of the story came from John Howard, who used to run the Rockford Institute a number of years ago. Howard’s version was new to me. I’d mainly heard the rumblings about ideological discontent and jumped at the chance to shed a little light on a longtime mystery.

Joseph Bottum, who now runs First Things, offers more discussion about the incident on page 69 of the June/July issue of the magazine. He reiterates the story of ideological animus, but does provide some reinforcement to the budget/conference planning story I mentioned before. However, according to Bottum there was a conference Neuhaus was ordered to cancel, but he refused because the planning was too far along and he had raised adequate earmarked funds. So, Howard’s story is that Neuhaus went beyond his mandate and the Neuhaus story is that Rockford crawfished on a deal!

I was thrilled to see the discussion continued at FT, but I have one small objection. Dr. Howard is presented in the short piece as bringing Neuhaus in for some “knocks” on the occasion of his death. That part isn’t really fair. In the conversation I had with Howard (who is probably an octogenarian), he was very complimentary of Father Neuhaus and clearly respected his body of work. I asked him to tell me the story and he did. Tone doesn’t come across in the typed word many times. That applies here. Dr. Howard was clearly proud of having been associated with Father Neuhaus and of having hired him.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) web site has a new page devoted to Catholic teaching on the economy. It is essentially a reorganization of existing resources, and it does helpfully provide access to the various bishops’ statements over the course of the last couple decades, as well as Vatican sources such as the Catechism and encyclicals.

Here is not the place to revisit the whole question of the USCCB and its economic proposals and statements. Suffice it to say that, in my view, its approach has been moving in a positive direction since the release of the problematic 1987 document, Economic Justice for All. There is more focus on principles: the Catholic Framework for Economic Life (1996), and the related Ten Principles with Reflection Questions push the conscientious Catholic in the right direction, without specifying policy stands that are contingent and debatable.

Phil Lawler over at Catholic Culture has written a brief and insightful piece that addresses a question frequently asked, “Is Catholic Social Teaching Inherently Liberal?” It is worth a read. Excerpt:

The Church clearly teaches that the moral duty of all believers to help those in need, to exercise the “preferential option for the poor.” But is it self-evident that the effort to fight poverty should be waged through impersonal government programs, supported by mandatory taxation, rather than by the freewill offerings of charitable donors? Is it self-evident that the federal government should supervise these anti-poverty programs, although the principle of subsidiarity would seem to militate in favor of local solutions to local problems and individual approaches to needy individuals? Is there a prima facie case for allowing the Church’s own charitable efforts to be subsumed into the tax-subsidized programs, so that “Catholic Charities” is for all practical purposes a government agency?

These questions are rarely raised when parish “justice and peace” committees meet. The conservative Catholics who make make these arguments are generally not members of those committees; they are already too busy with their work on the pro-life committees! So liberal Catholics eventually come to take it for granted that what seems so obvious to them must be equally obvious to their fellow Catholics. They are genuinely surprised to learn that some faithful Catholics are not enthralled by the promise of an Obama presidency, even apart from issues involving the dignity of life.

richards-book1The belief that the essence of capitalism is greed is perhaps the biggest myth Jay W. Richards tackles in his new book, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and not the Problem. One reason for confronting this challenge is that many free market advocates subscribe to the thought that capitalism produces greed, and for them that’s not necessarily a negative. But for those with a faith perspective, greed and covetousness are of course serious moral flaws.

It’s also the kind of myth that less articulate writers would rather not challenge, especially in this troubling economic climate. Richards does however have a skill for tightly honed logical arguments, and he not only is able to defend free markets but tear lethal holes into many of the economic ramblings of the religious left. He even takes on holy of holies like fair trade and Third World debt relief. Richards argues that the free market is moral, something that may come as a surprise to many people of faith. This book provides a crushing blow to those involved in the ministry of class warfare or those who wish to usher in the Kingdom of God through “nanny state” policies.

The book divides into eight chapters, with each chapter discussing a common held economic myth like the “piety myth” or “nirvana myth.” Richards says the piety myth pertains to “focusing on our good intentions rather than on the unintended consequences of our actions.” The nirvana myth characterizes the act of “contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives.” Richards himself states, “The question isn’t whether capitalism measures up to the kingdom of God. The question is whether there’s a better alternative in this life.”

The influence of libertarian economist Henry Hazlitt and Wealth and Poverty author George Gilder are evident through out this book. But the overarching strength of Richards work is how he places the free market message into the context of Christian discussions and debate. Unfortunately before this response, many of the economic arguments by the Christian left weren’t properly countered in popular mediums. Furthermore, the wanton excess of prosperity gospel advocates only fueled or provided ammunition for the religious left’s rebuke of the free market. (more…)

[Editor's Note: We welcome Ken Larson, a businessman and writer in southern California, to the PowerBlog. A graduate of California State University at Northridge with a major in English, his eclectic career includes editing the first reloading manual for Sierra Bullets and authoring a novel about a family's school choice decisions titled ReEnchantment, which is available on his Web site. For 10 years Ken was the only Protestant on The Consultative School Board for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange near Los Angeles and chaired the inaugural Orange County Business Ethics Conference in support of needy parish schools in the diocese. He enjoys sailing and singing in the choir at the Anglo-Catholic church at which he and his wife worship.]

With Memorial Day and July 4th fast approaching I found myself thinking over the weekend about the recent past.

Several years ago we moved to a tony neighborhood in Orange County, California. At the time it was easily eligible for the term “Reagan Country” but in the last election Obama out polled McCain in our Congressional District. A neighbor had a Hillary fundraiser at her home a few years ago. There’s a lot of soccer on Sunday but our family always opted for church.

Around 1996 I was asked to chair the neighborhood’s July 4th parade. It was one of those tasks that occur in small communities where many folks pitch in to help from time to time and I was flattered at the invitation. But as is the case with lots of things we have the opportunity to participate in, I noticed this parade and the accompanying festivities — a barbecue and day at the beach with food and drinks available — were missing what I knew they needed. They were missing an invocation.

I ran the idea of having a local pastor from the church at the edge of the community where our family worshiped deliver that invocation and the denizen who had tabbed me as chairmen thought it a splendid contribution. Plans went forward with the same old “same old stuff” and I extended an invitation to the cleric. He was available. (more…)