Category: General

Last night I watched the latest episode of The Apprentice: Celebrity Edition. I have been pulled into the series this year largely because of the compelling finishes where The Donald lectures celebrities about their work habits and managerial ineptness. Dennis Rodman has been a draw because of his incredibly bad behavior.

This was Dennis’ week. His teammates chose him to be the project manager because they hoped he would rise to the challenge if he was running things. It worked, for a short while, then he drank enough to go past caring. First, he got angry. Then, he absented himself from the project he was supposed to direct.

The men’s team lost, which gave rise to the beautiful moment. Motorcycle entrepeneur and reality star Jesse James confronted Dennis Rodman with his drinking problem. The others readily agreed with the diagnosis. Rodman got angry and defensive, mostly offering support of his own worthiness by adverting to his NBA career which has been over for some time now. Finally, getting nowhere, Rodman said in frustration, “I . . . I could kick all y’all’s a**es. Everyone one here.”

Now, I’m not sure that is actually true. Jesse James, for example, was a professional bodyguard at one point. But James didn’t respond to Rodman’s provocation with a physical challenge. His actual reply was devastating:

Then why don’t you kick our a**es at being a good person?

Rodman sat silent.

I called this a beautiful moment for the natural law because Jesse James put the idea out there for millions of people whether he or they realized it. We know what a good person is. We expect people to aspire to that AND to achieve it.

At a minimum, we expect people to be honest, to keep their promises, to be reliable, and to moderate their own behavior out of respect for others. These are things Thomas Aquinas would say we can reason to from the premise of the social nature of man. Rodman did none of that. And he was kicked out.

This year’s national meeting of the Philadelphia Society was my first. William Campbell of LSU invited me (a young-ish faculty member of Houston Baptist University) after reading a piece I wrote on libertarians and conservatives for the Acton Institute. I am very thankful for the opportunity and enjoyed the event very much. The list of attendees was really quite impressive and people were generally interested in and open to others.

At each meal I sat with a different group of people and found the conversation rewarding. There was a strong sense of fellowship and collegiality. I felt that individuals who offered divergences of opinion were treated respectfully and well. It was, in the best sense of the word, scholarly.

However, I write to offer a suggestion. To me, the panels shaded too much to the hall of famer/veteran side and not enough (or even at all) to rising, young talent needing an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do or what new things they have to say. A meeting of this kind would represent a great way for the distinguished members to identify talent and then to figure out how to promote the careers of young people who can seek to build on the previous generation’s successes.

For every paper delivered by a long-standing member who is confident in what he has said and is ready to say it again, there are young people who will work their brains out for a chance to present something impressive to people they respect. The leadership needs to figure out how to move national meetings in that direction to a greater degree.

The Philadelphia Society’s New Orleans meeting has concluded. This was my first time to be invited. I have some impressions to report about both the society and the town. For this post, I’ll focus on New Orleans.

If I can judge from the French Quarter and the rush hour traffic, New Orleans is back. The downtown area was absolutely hopping and it wasn’t Mardi Gras time. I’ve never seen an American city other than NYC with so much night life.

However, I have to admit I was taken aback by Bourbon Street. On Saturday morning, I visited Cafe du Monde with a fellow academic who’d been a Bush appointee. After eating our beignets, we walked along the sidewalks and were nearly flooded out by a street washing machine that literally poured soapy water all over the streets and walkways. I wondered how often the city conducted that operation. My guess now is every night. By the end of Saturday, I’d seen the Quarter in operation. You run into an awful lot of questionable liquids on the street and sidewalks. Come morning, the wages of overindulgence (and a lot of horse droppings) need to be washed away.

I was stunned by “out there” nature of the sexually-oriented businesses in evidence. That takes a little doing since I live in Houston which is filled with elaborate strip clubs, but there you spin rapidly by them on elevated freeways. In New Orleans, you walk by women in lingerie standing on sidewalks and in doorways to beckon customers inside. I imagine Times Square was like that P.G. (pre-Giuliani).

Having been to 21st century Times Square and seedy Bourbon Street. I’ll take Times Square. One changed for the better. The other stayed the same. Of course, I take into account the admonition of Thomas Aquinas that you can’t use the law to abolish all vice, lest you create a backlash of total rebellion. Still, Rudy G. seems to have done a better job of locating the golden mean than his counterpart Ray N.

Last night I was reading Thoughts of A Philosophical Fighter Pilot by Jim Stockdale (1923-2005). The book is a collection of Stockdale’s speeches and essays over the years. So much of his well thought out writings are words to live by and definitely worth sharing. Here is a timely quote from an essay titled “On Public Virtue” written in 1988:

Those who study the rise and fall of civilizations learn that no shortcoming has been surely fatal to republics as a dearth of public virtue, the unwillingness of those who govern to place the value of their society above personal interest. Yet today we read outcries from conscientious congressman disenchanted with the proceedings of their legislative body and totally disgusted with the log-jamming effect of their peers’ selfish and artful distancing of themselves from critical spending cutbacks, much needed belt-tightening legislation without which the long-term existence of our republic itself is endangered. p. 74

The quote also echoes a sentiment shared by South Carolina’s Governor Mark Sanford, interviewed in the upcoming issue of Religion & Liberty.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, March 9, 2009
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The World Freedom Atlas, “a geovisualization tool for world statistics,” looks like a very powerful and compelling complement to something like the Gapminder Trendalyzer tool.

Blog author: eschansberg
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
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A staggering piece by Stephen Baskerville in Touchstone…

I’ve written at length that marriage has been damaged much moreso by divorce than by calls for (or movements toward) “same-sex” marriage. Baskerville expands on that and discusses the initial “grand experiment” on marriage– the policies behind the move toward easier divorce.

G. K. Chesterton once observed that the family serves as the principal check on government power, and he suggested that someday the family and the state would confront one another. That day has arrived.

Chesterton was writing about divorce, and despite extensive public attention to almost every other threat to the family, divorce remains the most direct and serious. Michael McManus of Marriage Savers writes that “divorce is a far more grievous blow to marriage than today’s challenge by gays.”

Most Americans would be deeply shocked if they knew what goes on today under the name of divorce. Indeed, many are devastated to discover that they can be forced into divorce by procedures entirely beyond their control. Divorce licenses unprecedented government intrusion into family life, including the power to sunder families, seize children, loot family wealth, and incarcerate parents without trial. Comprised of family courts and vast, federally funded social services bureaucracies that wield what amount to police powers, the divorce machinery has become the most predatory and repressive sector of government ever created in the United States and is today’s greatest threat to constitutional freedom.

Some four decades ago, while few were paying attention, the Western world embarked on the boldest social experiment in its history. With no public discussion of the possible consequences, laws were enacted in virtually every jurisdiction that effectively ended marriage as a legal contract. Today it is not possible to form a binding agreement to create a family. The government can now, at the request of one spouse, simply dissolve a marriage over the objection of the other….

This startling fact has been ignored by politicians, journalists, academics, and even family advocates. “Opposing gay marriage or gays in the military is for Republicans an easy, juicy, risk-free issue,” wrote Gallagher. “The message [is] that at all costs we should keep divorce off the political agenda.” No American politician of national stature has ever challenged involuntary divorce….

For more on this post, click here.

Blog author: hunter.baker
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
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I’ve been reading America’s Secular Challenge by NYU professor and president of the Hudson Institute Herb London. The book is essentially an extended essay about how elite, left-wing secularism undercuts America’s traditional strengths of patriotism and religious faith during a time when the nation can ill afford it. The assault on public religion and love of country comes in a period when America faces enemies who have no such crisis of identity and lack the degree of doubt that leaves us in semi-paralysis.

The best compliment I can pay the book (by a Jewish social critic) is that it reminds me of the outstanding work of John Courtenay Murray (the great Catholic church and state scholar) who wrote:

And if this country is to be overthrown from within or without, I would suggest that it will not be overthrown by Communism. It will be overthrown because it will have made an impossible experiment. It will have undertaken to establish a technological order of most marvelous intricacy, which will have been constructed and will operate without relations to true political ends: and this technological order will hang, as it were, suspended over a moral confusion; and this moral confusion will itself be suspended over a spiritual vacuum.

An awesome piece from Mary Eberstadt in First Things

She starts with a description of the intellectual elite’s thoughts about communism before the fall of the Berlin Wall– despite the evidences. She then cites Jeane Kirkpatrick’s contemporary analysis in her essay of the title echoed by Eberstadt: “The Will to Disbelieve”. From there, Ebestadt draws an analogy to “the sexual revolution”– “the powerful will to disbelieve in the harmful effects of another world-changing social and moral force governed by bad ideas”.

As Eberstadt notes about “the benefits of marriage and monogamy” and the impact of single-parent homes on children:

…the empirical record by now weighs overwhelmingly against the liberationists…an empirical record has been assembled that is beyond refutation and that testifies to the unhappy economic, social, and moral consequences….Yet in both cases, the minority of scholars who have amassed the empirical record and drawn attention to it have been rewarded, for the most part, with a spectrum of reaction ranging from indifference to ridicule to wrath.

…[their] words and formulations like them have been fighting words among sociologists, with the majority lining up, sometimes ferociously…It’s not that they are unaware of the evidence. It’s just that they feel forced to explain it away. Such is the deep desire to disbelieve that shapes—and misshapes—so much of what we read about sex today….

Eberstadt continues by noting a few ironies and making suggestions on language and tactics (creatively borrowing from a provocative source)– before concluding with an appropriately hopeful note.

For more on this, click through to my blog &/or to Eberstadt’s piece.

In case you’re interested, I wrote and just posted a five-part review of Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God.

enjoy! eric

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, January 15, 2009
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It’s usually good to steer clear of apocalyptic predictions of any sort, but as temperatures struggle to break the 10 degrees fahrenheit mark under full sun here in the Great Lakes region, talk of a “demographic winter” feels more compelling than warnings of global warming.

More seriously, the release of a new film by that name is the occasion for Jenny Roback Morse’s reflection on the economics of population. I don’t pretend to be an expert in the field and I am skeptical of any argument simplistically connecting population growth (or decline) with economic growth (or decline). But I am convinced that something as fundamental as demography must play a significant role in economic trends, and it does seem that, in general, economists and policymakers alike have neglected or at least failed to appreciate the importance of the issue. (For a counterexample, see Oskari Juurikkala’s analysis of pending pension crises: Pensions, Population, and Prosperity.)

It is hard to see how strong economic growth can be sustained in the face of a declining population: it’s just asking too much of technological advance and productivity gains.