31 August 2006

Like it or not, Maher, the end of the world is coming

According to Bill Maher, President Bush and Ahmadinejad are equally as dangerous.  Why?  Because, according to Maher, they both believe that the Messiah is coming.   The American and Iranian presidents are equally dangerous because, as Maher puts it, they are both “a little too comfortable with the idea of the world coming to an end.”

Now this sort of garbage from Maher is precisely one of the reasons that I don’t think he’s as smart as he thinks he is.  Well, he may be as smart as he thinks he is, but that only makes what he does worse.  These are times in which we need to be thinking, not scoring laughs with assertions about superficial similarities.  Either way, Maher is hardly to be taken seriously.

First, even assuming that one could characterize the person Ahmadinejad awaits (i.e., The Twelfth Imam) as a messiah, that person is not Jesus Christ.  In case you don’t know, President Bush awaits the return of Jesus Christ.

Second, Ahmadinejad believes he can bring about the coming of the Twelfth Imam by hastening the destruction of the world.  So far as I know, the President doesn’t think he can do something to bring about the return of Jesus Christ, though he knows he can do something to hasten the end of the world.  More than likely, as an orthodox Christian, the President probably believes that Jesus will return when He is darn good and ready.

The world is going to end.  Perhaps not in our lifetime—but it will end.  Maher should get comfortable with that idea.

Besides if the President were as comfortable with the idea of the world coming to an end as Ahmadinejad is  he’d just leave Ahmadinejad alone to develop those nuclear weapons, wouldn’t he?

H/T: Red Sky!

Another Katrina lesson

Recently the InstaPundit (what a cool name for blog) posted a link to his lessons from Katrina post from last year, a good post.

I thought I would do the same.  Also, this post covers the lesson in federalism that Katrina provided.

One thing I’ve been wondering about lately is why no one thinks that Blanco and Nagin refused to act just so that the President could be blamed for the whole thing.  After all, many people find it easy to believe that he allowed 9/11 to happen for politically expedient reasons.  It ought to be just as easy to believe that a couple of Democrats could devise a scheme whereby poor blacks are left to fend for themselves, leaving the blame for it all squarely on the shoulders of the President.
30 August 2006

So. Why the name change?

The short answer is that there is in my view precious little point in a blog’s having a pretentious (if not downright pedantic) sounding Greek name, requiring citations to esoteric texts for purposes of explication.

“Philologous? What’s that all about, man?” someone asks, after, of course, you’ve told them how to pronounce it.

“Well, you see, it’s a Greek word used by the philosopher Zeno to describe students of his whom he characterized as ‘curious to learn things.’ ”

“Do you want people to actually read your blog and tell their friends?”

“Well, that would be nice. Yes.”

“So you give it a name that few of them will be able to pronounce.”

“Uh, yes. That’s it exactly. Rare and memorable, don’t you think?”

“Uh, no. Rare and forgettable. That’s what I think. If anything, they’ll call it ‘Snuffalupagus or something.’ ”

“Do you really think so?”

“Yeah. I really do.”

He was right. One of my loyal readers, does in fact refer to this blog as Snuffalupagus, which has at least one thing going for it: Snuffalupagus was my little girl’s favorite Sesame Street character.

I hit upon “Deviant Scholar” in this way: my little girl, who is twenty-one now, suggested the name. Her reasoning was, well, great—if I do say so myself. It went something like this:

“Well,” she said, “you’re a scholar. But you’re nothing like any of the scholars here. You just deviate from ‘the norm’ in so many ways. These guys don’t listen to your loud heavy metal music. They definitely are not jeans-and-t-shirt guys. They are most certainly not up on culture, especially youth culture. They do not share your interest in communicating the fruits of scholarship with ordinary, everyday people. They only want to communicate with other scholars. You’re a scholarly deviant!”

I might add that I am not yet employed as a scholar, either. For one thing, I do not yet possess the terminal degree. And I have a problem with that whole specialization thing, and with being considered an ‘expert.’ I’m a card-carrying, charter member of Gen-X. Most of us aren’t into experts, except perhaps in the hard sciences, where expertise is objectively demonstrable and where theses and dissertations don’t have titles like “Homo-eroticism in The Beowolf”, “Prophets and Holy Men: The absence of homophobia in Aztlan”, “The Latent Marxism of Jesus of Nazareth.” (Note: those are not real titles. But they're pretty close to titles I have really seen!)

Deviant Scholar. That suits me just fine.

Thanks, kiddo. I knew I could count on you.

UPDATE: I have noticed that a lot of bloggers, if they have something other than their profile, have a posting called “About Me.” I’ve also noticed that in such a post they include such details as what their education is, where they teach, what books they’ve written. You know, like Glenn Reynolds. Well, I haven’t written any books but I have been writing a novel; I’ve also been researching and outlining two books. I drafted a few theological articles which I thought about submitting to Westminster Theological Journal, but haven’t had the guts yet. So, nothing published yet. And I don’t teach anywhere.

But it has occurred to me that I might say more about myself here than perhaps I can fit in my Blogger Profile. In my profile, I say that I studied english, history and philosophy as an undergrad. I once read a book written by a man who was described on the book’s jacket as being a “life long student of the humanities, having studied at” this or that educational institution. One of my friends read the jacket and quipped, “Yeah, I’ve studied at the University Texas. So what?” What my friend meant was that he was briefly a student at UT. So it may look like I’m trying to say more about myself than is warranted by the facts.

The reason I put it that way is to devalue my education a bit, to avoid any hint of a claim to be an expert by virtue of education. This is also the reason I don’t specify much about my graduate level education. If judgments are to be made about me or the content of my postings, then I prefer those judgments to be in response to the quality of my thought, my handling of the facts, my use of logic, my willingness to stand corrected.

Something I think needs clarified is the use of the term “scholar”. Typically these days the word is used to refer to one who is a member of academia, a university professor. That is not me – yet. I am no more a scholar, in that sense of the word, thanEd Morrissey is a ship’s captain. I am graduate level educated but, as I mention above, I am not employed as a scholar. To get to that point, I need either one more master’s level degree, beyond the one I presently possess, or a Ph.D.

See, that’s a problem. The higher one goes in degree programs the more specialized must be one’s area of study. Problem for me: I’m interested in everything. Isaac Asimov in writing of his own problem in this regard likened the problem to an orchard in which one was limited to, say, a particular branch on a single tree. “I want the whole orchard,” he said. Me too.

So I’m on a bit of a hiatus as I contemplate my next graduate attainment. Another master’s before the Ph.D.? Or go straight to the Ph.D. And for both of those questions, Study what, particularly? One or other of the following, I think: History, Philosophy, or Theology.

But you see, I would still be deviant because I would still be wanting to study and write outside of the narrow domains of those fields! And my problem doesn’t really get better if I am able to pick a field, because the idea of a Ph.D. is, for most people, to end up teaching at a university. That doesn’t always sound interesting to me.

At this point it’s all academic, so to speak. The brakes were put on the entire process by an illness in the family a few years ago and the attendant paying off of medical bills. Oh, yeah, and a kid in college. So, I may not be get to work on that terminal degree. Ever. In that case, I’ll still be deviant, because I’ll be reading and studying things with no hope of reading and studying for the purpose of producing anything as a result.

If I were the kind given to Jerry Springer or Oprah Show style public displays of disatisfaction with life (especially disatisfaction with how long it’s taking to get back to school), I might have called this blog “Dejected Scholar” (or maybe “Scholar, Interrupted”). But I don’t do public pychological nudity (H/T:Michael Savage).

I’ll keep you posted.

One more thing. In case you haven’t already noticed, I blog on everything. But I’m especially keen on the intersection of Christian faith and surrounding culture – just about all areas of cultural endeavor, including philosophy, politics, economics, history, science, religion, and the arts.

I am not a microbe!



Someone asks, “Why would you advertise the fact that you’re an ‘insignificant microbe’?”

“What?”

“Yeah. Says so right on your blog. Why would you advertise that?”

I’m not an insignificant microbe in the TTLB ecosystem. I’m actually an Adorable Little Rodent. I don’t know what’s up with the TTLB. I did some checking and for some reason the standing of some other guy's blog is being reported on mine. Poor sap. He probably thinks he's an adorable little rodent. He's going to be disappointed when I get this fixed.


Quiet Time



Quiet Time


In this the waking hour
there is sometimes not a sound to be heard
not even this time thankfully the dull
maddening cacophony of racing thoughts
in an already overcrowded lecture hall
(twelve hundred voices—all of them mine—
in a private auditorium demanding
the man solitary at the podium
attend to them all at once and yesterday dammit).


This time, this time (mark it!)
that dissonant audience is wonderfully absent
displaced thankfully by a gently-babbling
brook of comforting silence. Yes that’s it:
the sound of silence, listened for,
it can be audible and the usual tyranny deposed
and during this interregnum displaced
by some laissez-faire regime of meandering,
no, sauntering mindless thoughts.


Interesting phraseology that: mindless thoughts.
Like a pointless trail? Movement to contact
with no LD/SP, no objective? Yes, a road to nowhere
celebrated by some talking heads, no destination,
no map. Get lost (somehow) along the way and
enjoy the landscape, the view, the ‘points of interest’
where nothing particularly important or interesting
ever happened and even if they did no one cares.


Yes, enjoy it for the crowd will find you
soon enough and resume their demands.


Now and here let me be found
by some burning bush. Speak
for your servant barefoot listens


19 June 2006


Copyright 2006 James Frank Solís



29 August 2006

No, a Christian doesn't have a duty to the poor


Well, not if that duty means what the left say it means.

In concluding this “mini-series” on the minimum wage (here, here, here, and here) I have, I believe, an obligation to explain myself as a Christian, given the concern for the poor that a Christian ought to have.  I have to explain how it is that I, a Christian, find myself coming out against minimum wage legislation despite claims that it will help the poor

Concern for the poor is to be found in both the Law and the Prophets.  The Law contains much instruction for Israelites about how to treat the poor.  (And no welfare system on earth comes close to the standard imposed by that Law.)  I don’t want to quote entire passages here so have a look, if you wish, at Deut. 15.7, 8; and Isaiah 3.14ff for examples of relevant texts.

But the question isn’t merely whether we have a duty to the poor, as if knowing only that would serve as an answer to the question of whether we should support minimum wage legislation.

The question is: Given a responsibility to care for the poor, who precisely has this obligation?  The Israelites, to whom this Law was given and to whom the Prophets spoke, had no central government such as we have.  And such government as existed was not a charitable institution, a means of achieving ‘social justice’.  Each individual Israelite had this duty.  And this duty could not have been fulfilled merely by paying his taxes.

That last point is important because there are those who would say that very few individuals possess the means for caring for the poor; no one person possesses that much wealth.  From this, they believe, it follows that resources must be pooled together and then distribution made.  And to that extent I agree.  But paying taxes in order to have those taxes (really, only a small part of them) distributed to the poor is not the same thing as pooling resources.

I find fault with (Christian) welfare statists because they actually support something that effectively circumvents the Law, rather than being justified by it.  The Law does not require that something be taken; it requires that something be given.  As Christians well know, the Law addresses itself to the human heart, not outward appearances and pragmatic results.  The Law requires generosity in the heart on the part of the ‘haves’ towards the ‘have-nots.’  The welfare state is not a state in which something is given; it is a state in which something is taken.  There is no generosity in the welfare state.  There are no ‘cheerful givers’ (2Cor. 9.7).  And there aren’t any cheerful receivers either.  (We really shouldn’t be surprised.  After all,  one need not be grateful for what one’s government tells him is his legal right.  That, no doubt, is why we rarely see a grateful welfare recipient.)  There are only net tax payers, and net tax receivers.

Clearly, I acknowledge a duty to the poor.  The question is whether this duty to the poor is properly administered by the State via the power to tax.  There are at least two reasons why a Christian should think not.  First, it does not accord with a Biblical view of the relation of the State to other elements if society.  Second, as I’ve already argued, when it comes to minimum wage, it just doesn’t work.

In the Scriptures, when the nation of Israel was founded by God in the desert, a separation of powers was also instituted.  Each tribe of the nation had its own leaders, the elders of the tribes, who also doubled as judges in questions of law.  The elders of one tribe did not interfere in the internal affairs of another tribe.  If there were legal matters too difficult for the ‘lower courts’ those elders submitted the cases to the priests.  And only the priests, specifically the descendants of Aaron, could perform sacerdotal rites in the Temple.  Twice in Israel’s history, a King thought he had the authority to do so; and twice a King found out just how wrong he was.  Priests, and only priests, perform sacerdotal offices; kings, and only kings, do the works of justice and national defense.

The mere fact that some duty exists within a society does not mean that any person or group of persons in that society can perform that duty.  It would be a pragmatic argument to say that God really doesn’t care who does ‘it’ as long as ‘it’ gets done.  But one could then say that God doesn’t care who offers a sacrifice as long as a sacrifice gets offered.  But Saul and Hezekiah found out differently.  Because you see God really does care: when He tells someone they have a duty, they, and no one else, are responsible to Him to perform that duty.  I don’t get out of my duty because you have taken it upon yourself to do it for me; and you’re in trouble for doing my job for me.  Any one who thinks God is a pragmatist isn’t paying attention to Scripture.  Pragmatism is a uniquely American philosophy; it is not Christian ethics.  The State can no more fulfill a man’s obligation to love his neighbor than it can fulfill his obligation to love his wife.  In fact, it’s even worse than that.  I don’t even have to love my neighbor.  All I have to do to fulfill my obligation, according to Christian statists, is pay my taxes and pay my employees a certain wage as specified by my government.

So there is no logical difficulty in my being a Christian and at the same time opposing, among other things, minimum wage legislation.  And I would maintain this even if minimum wage legislation worked.

Too many Christians, it seems to me, find it easier to engage in Christian emoting than in Christian thinking.  They seem to think that any course of action, no matter how silly, will just work because, I suppose, God will make it work.  Or, even if it doesn’t work, their silliness will be credited as a work of righteousness.

Christians have a duty to be not just innocent as doves, but also wise as serpents.  Saying, “But it’s to help the poor”  doesn’t say enough.  To say, “But it’s to help the poor” isn’t the same as saying that it accords with Christian principles of ethics.  Things don’t just work because we are doing them to help the poor.  Actions are not morally correct just because we take them to help the poor.  If not, we could just go round mugging rich people with impunity, since it’s ‘for the poor.’  What we do for the poor has to accord with the entirety of Christian ethics.  What we do for the poor also has to work.  When it is clear that it doesn’t work, or that it doesn’t accord with Christian ethics, we don’t have a license to continue.

Minimum wage legislation just doesn’t work.  For some reason, certain Christians either just don’t believe this or they want to believe that if it isn’t working then someone somewhere (probably some rich Republican cabal) is making it not work.  Too many Christians seem to believe that minimum wage legislation will work, or ought to work, merely because of the good intentions involved.  God will bless our stealing from the rich and giving the money to the poor because He wants us to care for the poor.

Once upon a time, an Isralite King name Saul thought that the mere fact that a sacrifice needed to offered justified his performing the service himself.  He was wrong.
25 August 2006

Whether by "confidence" or by "shame", the result will be the same

Just this morning I found a new milblog (which I will blogroll post-haste).  This whole post is well worth the read, but here’s a passage that really quickened my resting heart rate:

The troops are the war. We are here to win the war. When the media portrays the war as being lost they are portraying the troops as losers. Please don't believe this lie and help your friends see through it as well.

Now, I’m still re-reading some of Plutarch’s Lives.  (I’ve decided to go ahead and just re-read the entirety of his Roman Lives.)  Reading the above-mentioned passage put me in mind of a passage I read just a few mornings ago while reading Plutarch’s Marcellus:

"O strange!" said Hannibal, "what will you do with this man, who can bear neither good nor bad fortune? He is the only man who neither suffers us to rest when he is victor, nor rests himself when he is overcome. We shall have, it seems, perpetually to fight with him; as in good success his confidence, and in ill success his shame, still urges him to some further enterprise" (26, emphasis mine, obviously).

Hannibal said this of Marcellus because, the day after he had handed Marcellus a defeat, Marcellus returned to the field of battle seemingly undaunted.  Marcellus, it seemed to Hannibal, was motivated by confidence when he was victorious and by shame when he was defeated.  Now, really, just how do you fight someone like that?

The mainstream media, as B36, points out, want to portray our military as losers, no doubt in an effort to pull a ‘Cronkite’ and so turn popular opinion that the result will be something like that of the Vietnam conflict.  Fine.  It’s not going to work this time.  It’s going to backfire.  I believe that their ‘conkriting’ will in the end be found to have done more to motivate our military to victory than anything else they could possibly do.  Why?  Because, even assuming that the media are correct and that we are losing, although Marcellus is long, long dead, shame (even just the thought of it) is still a powerful motivator.  Powerful.

Another Vietnam?

Many of those presently in the military have older relatives who served in Vietnam.  They know about the shame those honorable veterans suffered.  So I’m just certain that I can hear them saying, “[Forget] that!”  (No, that’s probably not exactly the way they’d put it, but this is a family-oriented blog.)

One day the media will realize that all they succeeded in doing was shaming our troops on to victory.

Works for me.  Hooah.

It's the revolution, man

Some of the other big news yesterday is the easing of restrictions on the so-called Morning After pill.  And, of course, anti-abortionists (a.k.a. pro-lifers) are angry.  In part, I can understand the anger, since I also am pro-life (since about 1990, two years after I became a Christian).  However, it has always struck me as odd that pro-lifers don’t attach sufficient weight to the fact that what they oppose (i.e., abortion and infanticide) is a consequence of the Sexual Revolution.

The Sexual Revolution has happened.  If people are going to be having sexual intercourse with the intent only of getting the pleasure involved in sexual climax, that is, no—or at least little—interest in having children, then, when contraception fails, abortion and infanticide are inevitable.  Want the consequences of the Sexual Revoltion taken care of?  Do something about the Revolution first.

But (if one is both Christian and anti-abortion) start with the Christian community, whose sexual mores—lets’ be honest—aren’t much better, if at all, than the mores of those outside the community.

Oh, yeah:  Those for whom abortion is just about a sacrament aren’t very happy about the restrictions.  It seems they’re still too restrictive, since minor girls are still required to have a prescription.  I should be nice to them, I suppose.  After all, they’re only trying to reduce by half the number of teen pregnancies in the U. S.

And there’s no point in bringing up the fail-safe method of reducing the number of teen pregnancies, because it won’t work: they’re going to have sex anyway.

Random thought:  If we handled gun violence the same way some want to handle teen pregnancy, rather than creating gun control laws we’d be issuing bullet-proof vests.  Gun violence is going to happen.  Better to just protect ourselves.
23 August 2006

John McCain does some "fabiating" of his own

In a previous post, I mentioned certain similarities between the way Democrats malign the President and the way in which Fabius Maximus maligned Cornelius Scipio for the sake of achieving political advantage.  At the end of that post I suggested that perhaps we should call this strategy of Democrats, ‘fabiating.’

There are of course a few Republicans who will do some ‘fabiating’ of their own.  One of them is John McCain.  Now he comes to tell us that we were mislead about the war in Iraq.  Now, because I happen not to remember not being misled about the war, I believe that McCain is fabiating for the same reason that the Democrats are: to acquire some political advantage.

According to McCain, we were effectually told that the war in Iraq would be something like a walk on the beach.  Now, of course, no one in the administration actually used the phrase ‘walk on the beach,’ so one wonders how McCain thinks that ‘walk on the beach’ could entered anyone’s mind.

One way is for someone to flat ignore what is said, substituting for what is said what he wishes were said, because what he wishes were said is easier to argue against that what actually was said.  Take for example the recent behavior by Chris Matthews (of “Hardball”).  He played a clip of the President saying that no one in the administration ever said Saddam Hussein ordered the 9/11 attacks.  Immediately after playing that clip, Matthews asked his guest (I think it was Senator Santorum) how he reconciled the President’s claim that there was no connection of Saddam Hussein with 9/11 with a recent assertion by the Vice-President that there was a connection.  Did you catch what Matthews did?  The President did not deny a connection; he denied that the nature of the connection was an order by Saddam Hussein.  In other words, Saddam can be connected in some way with the 9/11 attackes without having ordered those attacks.  Matthews, a typical Democrat ‘fabiator’, just arbitrarily defines the terms such that he can have the President denying a connection and the Vice-President asserting a connection.

So when I say that McCain is ‘fabiating’ by asserting that the administration communicated something that it did not in fact communicate, we can see that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that someone would arbitrarily define key terms just to create out of whole cloth some problem for which the adminstration can be criticized.  And one of those things is, supposedly, telling the American people that the invasion and its aftermath would be so easy as to be correctly equated with a ‘walk on the beach.’

What we were actually told, among other things, was that one of the purposes for the invasion was to fight terrorists over there, so that we wouldn’t have to fight them here.  A ‘walk on the beach’?  Fighting terrorists has never been a walk on the beach for other nations, like Israel, who have been fighting terrorsts for decades.  One has to wonder just how the American people, having been told that the invasion of Iraq was an action perusuant to the Global War On Terror (a war we were told could last a long time, perhaps even as long as the Cold War), could ever have gotten the idea that any aspect of the war would be in any manner comparable to a ‘walk on the beach.’  If they got that idea, despite having been told the type of war that the war on terror would be, then they (i.e., the American people) themselves are to blame for telling themselves that it would be a ‘walk on the beach.’  McCain is ‘grieved’ that the administration did not do a better job at telling “the American people how tough and difficult this task would be.”  But really: how could we not have known how tough and difficult it would be.  I, James Frank Solís, never had any doubts.  I can honestly say that nothing—NOTHING—about the Iraqi theater of the Global War On Terrorism has come as any surprise to me.  Anyone who is surprised just wasn’t paying attention.  And, really, whose fault is that?

Of course, McCain’s fabiating knows no bounds.  He even goes back to the whole ‘Mission Accomplished’ garbage.  And what is interesting about that is the way in which the report mentions both the problem and its solution:

Bush stood below a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” on May 1, 2003 after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The war has continued since then, with the death of more than 2,600 members of the U.S. military. Vice President Dick Cheney said last year that the Iraqi insurgency was “in its final throes.”

Supposedly, the declaration, “Mission Accomplished” constitutes some sort of problem because the Iraqi theater of the war continues to be an area of conflict.  But notice what the sentence says: “Bush stood below a banner proclaiming ‘Mission Accomplished’ on May 1, 2003 after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime.”  But the solution to the supposed problem is in the sentence:  collapsing Hussein’s regime was precisely the “Mission” that was “Accomplished.”  

Apparently, most journalists (and liberals generally) haven’t any experience of military service.  For that reason they do not know that “Mission Accomplished” doesn’t mean “The war is over.”  After the invasion of Normandy was successfully completed it could have been declared, “Mission accomplished.”  That hardly meant that the war was over.  It meant only that Operation Overlord, completed 25 August 1944 at the latest, was a success.  The war did not end, in Europe, until 8 May 1945, nine months after “Mission Accomplished” was declared with respect to Operation Overlord.  After Operation Overlord other operations began (like, e.g., Operation Cobra).

If the American people believe they were mislead they have only their own ignorance to blame, ignorance of a great many things it seems.  And ignorance is just the reason that ‘fabiating’ ever succeeds.

And John McCain wants to try to pass himself off as an honest politician.  Some one should tell him: ‘fabiating’ isn’t the pracice of an honest politician.
22 August 2006

This Democrat "same ol', same ol' " business goes further back than I though!

I’ve been re-reading some Plutarch over the last several days.  Last night while reading his Life of Fabius Maximus I was struck by a few things from one of the passages.  But first I need to describe the scene.  It is during the Second Punic War (218 -202 B. C.).  Hannibal, the gifted Carthaginian general, has invaded Italy from Spain via the Alps.  Condensing the story a bit, Fabius Maximus is commissioned to deal with Hannibal.  Fabuis’ strategy is to avoid direct engagement with Hannibal’s forces in an effort to tire him out and limit his movements.  The Roman citizenry have mixed feelings about this strategy.  To some, Fabius is simply a coward, to others a brillian tactician.  After all, crossing the Alps—depending upon which historian you wish to cite—has cost Hannibal several thousands of troops; and having to forage for food and other supplies was not going to do him any favors.  (Of course, conquering various Italian cities did.)  So Fabius’ approach made some sense to his supporters.  Typically, to give his critics their due, Romans preferred to meet the enemy on the field and have it out.  The ‘Fabian strategy’ was tiresome to the masses, who wanted a quick end to the war.  (Sound familiar?)  It is to Fabius’s credit that Hannibal did eventually confide to his closest confidants that he would be unable to take Italy as he had hoped.  At this point, onto the stage steps Cornelius Scipio, recently returned from defeating the Carthaginians in Spain, as Plutarch reports.  What I found interesting about this passag as I read it last night are certain parallels with our own times.  Now, I am not one of those who believes that history repeats itself.  But I do believe in something called human nature.  I believe that humans in various circumstances have a finite, albeit large, set of possible responses to those circumstances.  Some of the stakes involved in the Punic Wars are, I believe, relatively—and relevantly—similar to our own.  In the passage which follows, I have italicized certain phrases and commented upon them in bold face type enclosed in square brackets in order to highlight amusing similarities.

25 But now Cornelius Scipio was sent into Spain, where he not only conquered the Carthaginians in many battles, and drove them out of the country, but also won over a multitude of nations, and took great cities with splendid spoils, so that, on his return to Rome, he enjoyed an incomparable favour and fame, and was made consul. Perceiving that the people demanded and expected a great achievement from him, he regarded the hand to hand struggle with Hannibal there in Italy as very antiquated and senile policy, and purposed to fill Libya at once, and the territory of Carthage itself, with Roman arms and soldiery, and ravage them, and thus to transfer the war from Italy thither [i.e., take the battle to them so we don’t have to fight it here at home]. To this policy he urged the people with all his soul. But just at this point Fabius tried to fill the city with all sorts of fear. They were hurrying, he said, under the guidance of a foolhardy young man [rushing to judgment, rushing to war], into the remotest and greatest peril, and he spared neither word nor deed which he thought might deter the citizens from this course. He brought the senate over to his views; but the people thought that he attacked Scipio through jealousy of his success, and that he was afraid lest, if Scipio performed some great and glorious exploit and either put an end to the war entirely or removed it out of Italy, his own failure to end the war after all these years would be attributed to sloth and cowardice [Well, at least in wouldn’t be attributed to his being busy playing with an intern during his free time.].

Now it is likely that Fabius began this opposition out of his great caution and prudence, in fear of the danger, which was great; but that he grew more violent and went to greater lengths in his opposition out of ambition and rivalry, in an attempt to check the rising influence of Scipio. For he even tried to persuade Crassus, Scipio's colleague in the consulship, not to surrender the command of the army and not to yield the time of Scipio, but to proceed in person against Carthage, if that policy were adopted. He also prevented the granting of moneys for the war. As for moneys, since he was obliged to provide them for himself, Scipio collected them on his private account from the cities of Etruria, which were devotedly attached to him; and as for Crassus, it was partly his nature, which was not contentious, but gentle, that kept him at home, and partly also a religious custom, for he was pontifex maximus, or High Priest.

26 Accordingly, Fabius took another way to oppose Scipio, and tried to hinder and restrain the young men who were eager to serve under him, crying out in sessions of the senate and the assembly that it was not Scipio himself only who was running away from Hannibal, but that he was sailing off from Italy with her reserve forces [i.e., using a back door draft and stretching the reserves thin], playing upon the hopes of her young men, and persuading them to abandon their parents, their wives, and their city [i.e., lying them into a risky, ill-advised war—or, wrong war, wrong time, wrong place], although the enemy still sat at her gates, masterful and undefeated  [i.e., Scipio wants us to take our eye off the ball.   Where’s Hannibal?]. And verily he frightened the Romans with these speeches,  and they decreed that Scipio should employ only the forces which were then in Sicily, and take with him only three hundred of the men who had been with him in Spain,— men who had served him faithfully. In this course, at any rate, Fabius seems to have been influenced by his own cautious temper.

But as soon as Scipio had crossed into Africa, tidings were brought to Rome of wonderful achievements and of exploits transcendent in magnitude and splendour [Too bad, for Hannibal, that the Romans didn’t have our media elites bringing “tidings.”]. These reports were confirmed by abundant spoils which followed them [and today would be written off as stolen oil in a war for oil]; the king of Numidia was taken captive [Fine.  But where’s Hannibal?]; two of the enemy's camps were at once destroyed by fire, and in them a great number of men, arms, and horses; embassies were sent from Carthage to Hannibal urgently calling upon him to give up his fruitless hopes in Italy and come to the aid of his native city; and when every tongue in Rome was dwelling on the theme of Scipio's successes [due, of course, to the fact that the Romans lacked an ‘objective’ media to report on Scipio’s failures], then Fabius demanded that a successor should be sent out to replace him [And Democrats today want Rumsfeld to resign and to impeach the President.]. He gave no other reason, but urged the well remembered maxim that it was dangerous to entrust such vast interests to the fortune of a single man, since it was difficult for the same man to have good fortune always. [Today we want to remember that you don’t go to war without your ‘traditional’ allies.] By this course he gave offence now to many, who thought him a captious and malicious man, or one whose old age had robbed him utterly of courage and confidence, so that he was immoderately in awe of Hannibal. For not even after Hannibal and his army had sailed away from Italy would he suffer the rejoicing and fresh courage of the citizens to be undisturbed and assured, but then even more than ever he insisted that the city was running into the extremest peril and that her affairs were in a dangerous plight [“We’re no safer today than on 9/11!!!”]. For Hannibal, he said, would fall upon them with all the greater effect in Africa at the gates of Carthage, and Scipio would be confronted with an army yet warm with the blood of many imperators, dictators, and consuls. Consequently, the city was once more confounded by these speeches, and although the war had been removed to Africa, they thought its terrors were nearer Rome.

It’s not earth shattering by any stretch of the imagination.  For me, it makes Democrats even more amusing, though no less dangerous.  Perhaps intitially Democrat opposition to the President’s policies—especially the invasion of Iraq—was legitimate, due to what Plutarch calls, referring to Fabius,  “great caution and prudence.”  Perhaps.  One, and only, one of the reasons I see them as being little better than the self-seeking Fabius is how they insist (limiting myself only to the Iraq issue) that the President lied about WMD.  To do this they have had, though they fail to mention it, to redefine what it is to lie.  To lie is not merely to assert a proposition that is, or later turns out to be false.  Sometimes a person is just wrong.  To lie is to assert a falsehood knowing that it is a falsehood.  It’s one thing to say that Saddam Hussein probably has WND and has failed to supply confirmation of the fact that he has not, and to be wrong about it.  It’s another thing to make the claim that Saddam Hussein has WMD, knowing that he has not.  On the definition that the Democrats, for purposes of self-seeking, have now given to the word lie you and I will never want to be wrong about anything.

Heck, come to think of it, the Democrats are also redefining the term Fabian strategy.  It used to mean employing delaying tactics (which is a favorite terrorist stategy, but you can’t expect Democrats to know anything about that).  By the time Democrats have redefined it, employing a “Fabian” statagy will mean doing unto your political rival what Fabius attempted to pull on Scipio. Oh! I've got it! Let's call it 'Fabiating.'
17 August 2006

What is 'Christian fundamentalism'?

During an interview with Der Spiegel, former president Jimmy Carter said, regarding ‘Christian fundamentalists’:

The fundamentalists believe they have a unique relationship with God, and that they and their ideas are God's ideas and God's premises on the particular issue. Therefore, by definition since they are speaking for God anyone who disagrees with them is inherently wrong. And the next step is: Those who disagree with them are inherently inferior, and in extreme cases -- as is the case with some fundamentalists around the world -- it makes your opponents sub-humans, so that their lives are not significant. Another thing is that a fundamentalist can't bring himself or herself to negotiate with people who disagree with them because the negotiating process itself is an indication of implied equality. And so this administration, for instance, has a policy of just refusing to talk to someone who is in strong disagreement with them -- which is also a radical departure from past history. So these are the kinds of things that cause me concern. And, of course, fundamentalists don't believe they can make mistakes, so when we permit the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, it's just impossible for a fundamentalist to admit that a mistake was made.

Very little of what he says about ‘Christian fundamentalists’ is correct.  The reason is that he uses the term ‘fundamentalist’ incorrectly when applied to Christians.

The term ‘fundmentalist’ as it pertains to Christianity is something of a term of art.  Christian ‘fundamentalism’ is a response to the Christian ‘modernism’ of the early 20th century, several tenets of  which, according to ‘fundamentalists,’ are essential to orthodox Christianity.

The ‘fundamentalists’ asserted that there were certain beliefs which were essential—or ‘fundamental’—to Christianity.  The denial of these ‘fundamental’ beliefs was tantamount to a denial of Christianity and made one a non-Christian for all intents and purposes.

Now, what were these strange doctrines believing which makes one so odious to President Carter?  Namely these: the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the  bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the authenticity of his miracles.  According to the ‘fundamentalists’ (and this was not an adjective which they chose for themselves), the ‘modernist’ Christians clearly (when their teachings are examined closely) held to a religion which was different, even if true, from orthodox Christianity.  And the fundamentalists were correct: the upshot of ‘modernist’ Christianity was the ‘Death of God’ theology of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Just to show how far back Christian ‘fundamentalism’ goes allow me to quote in their entirety two ancient summaries of Christian belief.  Included in square brackets are those ‘fundamental’ beliefs.

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary [virgin birth of Christ]: suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried: he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead [bodily resurrection of Christ]: he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty: from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.  I believe in the Holy Ghost: the holy Catholic Church; the communion of Saints: the forgiveness of sins [substitutionary atonement]: the resurrection of the body: and the life everlasting.  Amen.  (The Apostles’ Creed)

In believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible: and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made  [the authenticity of His miracles]: who for us men and for our salvation [substitutionary atonement] came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary [the virgin birth of Christ], and was made man: and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried: and the third day he rose again [the bodily resurrection of Christ] according to the Scriptures: and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father: and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.  And I believe in the  Holy Ghost, the Lord, and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets [inerrancy of the Bible]: and I believe one catholic and apostolic church: I  acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins: and I look for the resurrection of the dead: and the life of the world to come.  Amen.   (The Nicene Creed)

Now, no doubt President Carter might wish to say that it is precisely because they believe in the innerancy of the Bible that his claim is justified that “their ideas are God's ideas and God's premises on the particular issue.”  But so what?  That has virtually no bearing on politics—which seems to be his primary concern here—because while these ‘fundamentalists’ may believe that they have God’s premises on a particular issue, what is missing is a mandate such as one finds in the Quran to bring under submission to Christianity whichever nation on earth Christians may find themselves.  Now some ‘fundamentalists’ may believe that, but it isn’t deducible from Scripture.  And it should be noted that most of those Christians who believe in such a mandate do so because they believe that this mandate is rooted in our nation’s being founded as a ‘Christian nation’—a subject I shant deal with here, if ever.  The point is simply this: what President Carter criticizes about ‘fundamentalists’ is not ‘Christian fundamentalism.’  The ‘fundamentals’ do not comprise a set of propositions on social issues.

I suppose one could say that ‘fundamentalism’ as Carter here uses the term is simply an attitude, a disposition of mind, specifically of not being wrong.  But I would only point out that his generalizations here can be made of virtually anyone.  Nothing about having ‘fundamental’ beliefs makes one the sort of person President Carter describes here.  A lot of liberals exhibits the traits the President describes here; they are by no means ‘fundamentalist’ Christians.

For example, Carter asserts that a fundamentalist believes he is in a unique relationship with God.  Well (follow closely) so does an atheist: his unique relation to God is that he exists while God does not (i.e., the relation of an existent to a non-existent).  Besides, virtually any relation is unique.  If you and I are sitting on the same sofa watching the same television, we each are in a unique relation to the television set: we cannot inhabit the same point in space.  And even if this were not the case we would each still be in a unique relation to the television set if you are interested in the television program and I am not.  One reason why Christians are in a unique relationship with God compared to an atheist is that the Christian believes in God and the atheist does not.  That is hardly the Christian’s fault.

It is interesting to hear Carter criticize ‘Christian fundamentalists’ by asserting of them that they believe “by definition since they are speaking for God anyone who disagrees with them is inherently wrong.”  Upon reflection, one has to wonder how it could be otherwise.  Regardless the premises from which one reasons, once one arrives at a conclusion it is quite logical that if one’s conclusion is true, then denials are false.  When I was an atheist,  I certainly believed that Christians, and all other theists, were wrong.  (I don’t know about ‘inherently’ wrong.  Carter’s use of that adverb here baffles me.  ‘Inherently’ would mean that one is wrong at the outset just by virtue of not being a ‘Christian fundamentalist.’  But that doesn’t follow even from his own premises.  All that does follow is that if one does have God’s perspective on an issue—and assuming that God’s perspective is true—then a denial of that perspective is false, not ‘inherently’ so, merely logically so.)  And I certainly didn’t apologize to anyone, especially Christians, for believing that they were wrong.  It is not a matter of being ‘inherently’ wrong; it’s a matter of simple (one could say elementary) logic.  If—and I do say If—I assert something that I believe to be true then I must hold that denials of the proposition are false.  Even non-fundamentalists do this.  Heck, liberal Democrats do it; and I don’t hear them apologizing for it either.

And so it just is not true, as he claims that “[T]he next step is: Those who disagree with them are inherently inferior, and in extreme cases -- as is the case with some fundamentalists around the world -- it makes your opponents sub-humans, so that their lives are not significant.”  Keep in mind that he is talking about ‘Christian fundamentalists’ here.  How many terrorist acts have ‘Christian fundamentalists’ committed?  At some point one has to move beyond the fact that the same term (i.e., in this case, ‘fundamentalist’) is used with reference to two groups, Christians and Muslims.  It has to be an important fact that while Christians and Muslims can both be ‘fundamentalists’ they are not so with respect to the same things: the ‘Christian fundamentals’ are hardly identical to the ‘Muslim fundamentals’ – whatever those are.

Note also that President Carter makes a subtle shift in his use of the term ‘fundamentalist.’  He was asked by Der Spiegel specifically about ‘Christian fundamentalism.’  By the time he gets to this point in his response he is talking about ‘fundamentalism’ as if it were a term that ‘inherently’ (to use his favorite word) means that anyone who is a ‘fundamentalist’ anything is fairly well the same thing as an ‘Islamic’ fundamentalist; just having ‘fundamental’ beliefs means that you consider others who do not hold those fundamental beliefs to be ‘sub-human.’  And, as I’ve already shown, ‘Christian fundamentalism’ is not the same as ‘Islamic fundamentalism.’  Show me a group with no ‘fundamentals’ and I’ll show you a group with no beliefs.  Even secular humanists have ‘fundamentals.’  Is President Carter making the same assertions about secular humanists?  The issue is not:  Is this or that person a ‘fundamentalist’?  The issue is:  What are his ‘fundamentals’?  Believing in the ‘inherent inferiority’ of those who disagree with you is not a Christian ‘fundamental.’  Bear in mind that in keeping with the so-called Great Commission (see Matthew 28.18-20), the Christian is under obligation to view every human being as potentially a future brother in Christ.  That is a ‘fundamental;’ and it rules out viewing opponents as sub-human.  Now, some ‘fundamentalist’ Christians may take that view, but that doesn’t make the view ‘fundamentalist.’  (All of this fairly disposes of his asinine assertion that, “Another thing is that a fundamentalist can't bring himself or herself to negotiate with people who disagree with them because the negotiating process itself is an indication of implied equality.”

I am old enough to have watched the term ‘fundamentalist’ undergo the shift in meaning that now equates a Christian ‘fundamentalist’ with an Islamic ‘fundamentalist.’  For the most part, it acquired it’s present pejorative use (when applied to Christians) during the 1980s.  Being the teenage son of parents who converted to ‘fundamentalist’ (we prefer the term ‘orthodox’) Christianity in 1980 I was introduced to the term ‘Christian fundamentalist’ over twenty years ago.  And it had the meaning which I explained above.  But during the holding of a number of Americans hostage in Lebanon, some members of the press began referring to the Islamic Hezbollah captors as ‘Islamic fundamentalists,’ and consequently the term has increasingly come to have pejorative connotations of  extremism.  It was later that I observed the term ‘fundamentalist’ used by the press with respect to Christians in much the same way that they had previously used the term with respect to Islamic ‘fundamentalists.’

The term ‘Christian fundamentalist’ now seems primarily to refer to a Christian who is, among other things I’m sure, opposed to gay rights, abortion, women rights (or just freedom in general), the teaching of evolution alone and so forth.  There’s just one problem.  Many Christians who are not opposed to any of those things also just happen to be, in the correct sense of the term, ‘Christian fundamentalists.’  I give you, as just one example, The Metropolitan Community Churches, called pejoratively by some The Gay  Denomination.  While their beliefs regarding the status of homosexual acts is one with which I disagree, their theological beliefs are orthodox, or in other words ‘fundamental.’  Some Christians who hold to the ‘fundamentals’ of the faith (i.e., again, the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the  bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the authenticity of his miracles) also believe in abortion rights.  A person who behaves as President Carter outlines here may be a ‘Christian fundamentalist,’ but he doesn’t behave that way because he’s a ‘Christian fundamentalist.’  He behaves that way because he’s a jerk, something which afflicts a great many humans who are not ‘Christian fundamentalists.’

President Carter is free to hold whatever opinions he wishes, but as far as I’m concerned his description of ‘fundamentalists’ is just as applicable to (‘fundamentalist’) liberal Democrats—like himself—as it is to ‘fundamentalist’ Christians.  Tu quoque, Mr. President.  Tu quoque.
16 August 2006

A few things to recall about Israel

With events of the recent past moving quickly behind us, I want by way of reminder to reprise a portion of a post by Peter Hitchens to his blog on 26 July 2006.  Emphases in bold type are my own.

During the preparations for the massacre [of Jews in Germany], the other nations of the world often refused to accept Jewish refugees. When news of the massacre reached the British Foreign Office during the war, an official dismissed it as the complaint of 'wailing Jews'. And nothing was done.

With that in mind, it would be dishonourable and wrong to go back on our pledges. Nobody has yet thought of a better way of avoiding a repetition of the crimes of the 1940s. In any case, weakness and vacillation lead inevitably to defeat. And if we abandon Israel it will not just be a betrayal of our own honour but also an invitation to the West's many enemies to demand more concessions.

As for the conventional wisdom of the commentators, let me take it piece by piece: "Israel needs to make concessions to the Palestinians if it wants to live in peace. These concessions should take the form of land."

**There is no evidence that territorial concessions will bring peace. Far smaller Jewish states were proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937, and by the UN in 1947, but rejected by the Arabs. Palestinian voters recently voted for Hamas, a party which does not accept that Israel has a right to exist. They knew what they were doing.

" It may be that Israel was once a small country under siege from more populous neighbours, but Israel has now taken on the role of bully and aggressor, oppressing and abusing the Palestinian people."

**Israel remains a tiny country and it continues to face the hostility of the entire Muslim and Arab world, including oil-rich Saudi Arabia, nuclear-armed Pakistan, Iran and - despite a very cold peace treaty - Egypt. Yes, Israel is subsidised and armed by the USA, but so, to very similar levels, is Egypt. The 'Palestinian' cause certainly has some justice. The displaced refugees from 1948 ought long ago to have been resettled and compensated. But there must be a suspicion that the oil-rich Arab world - which could have achieved this easily - prefers to keep them where they are for propaganda purposes.

"Israel will forfeit its right to the support of the West unless it changes this behaviour."

**The West is entitled to criticise Israel when it does wrong things ( though Britain's participation in the Iraq war makes it hard for us to take a moral stand on the killing of civilians). But the facts are that Israel was created on our promise, and that it is by world standards a free, law-governed country which tries to abide by civilised standards. To compare Israel to Nazi Germany, or to cast it as the bully in the region, is plain false.

"The pre-1967 borders of Israel are the correct borders and a withdrawal to those borders would bring about peace. "

**Arab propagandists now say they like the 1967 borders. But they did not like them before 1967. In pre-1967 times they harked back to the 1947 borders, which were even more cramped. Actually, Israel long ago returned most of the land it conquered in 1967, in return for peace with Egypt. But while that peace is very cold and not guaranteed to last, the land is gone for good. Land for peace? That's what they said about the Munich agreement for which Neville Chamberlain is rightly reviled. Land was certainly handed over. But there was no peace.
Israel is responsible for the squalor and misery of the Palestinian refugee camps, a wretchedness which naturally breeds terrorism and hatred.

**See above. Israel is certainly to blame for its cruel expulsions in 1948. But much has happened since. That responsibility is not Israel's alone. The Arab world should constantly be asked why it does so little to help the refugees, who seem to have plenty of access to weapons, but not so much to clean water, electricity and good-quality housing."

Bad as the living conditions are in the camps, these are no excuse for terrorist murder. There is never any excuse for terrorist murder, and we in the West should be careful not to offer one. The idea that bad conditions equal desperation equals terrorist murder is a wicked falsehood, which assumes that poor and oppressed people lack consciences and can therefore be excused if they adopt criminal methods.

This is, in a way, a slander on poor Arabs - who in my experience are hospitable and generous people and who have on many occasions in recent history courageously protected Jewish neighbours from murderous attacks. I am quite sure most Arabs would not dream of using such methods and privately condemn them, though there is little free speech on this subject in the Arab Muslim world. And, as it happens, a large number of those involved in terrorist actions come from prosperous and well-educated families.

There is a 'cycle of violence' in the region which prevents reasonable discussion."

**This is simply a way of saying 'six of one and half a dozen of the other'. But Israel has from the start been willing to compromise over territory. In their speeches to their own supporters, leaders of the Palestinian movement have repeatedly made clear that any settlement would be a stage on the way to final victory, the end of the Jewish state which remains their aim. That aim remains a realistic one, as long as the West offers concessions in return for violence. It will only be abandoned if the West shows unflinching resolve to stand by its promise. And then - as should have been done long ago - the plight of the refugees can at last be addressed.

I wish I had written all that.

Mexico's next government

Now that it is clear—despite the charges of fraud that have become so typical of leftist losers the world over—that the Felipe Calderon will be Mexico’s next president, Michael Barone has a few thoughts on what his government might look like:

Vicente Fox's election in 2000 was greeted as a new era in Mexico, one in which it seemed suddenly possible that all of Mexico's problems hadbeen solved. But many of Fox's admirers have been disappointed by the results. Perhaps unduly disappointed: Mexico's economy is growing at a good rate, its currency seems stable (no devaluation since 1994), there has been progress in strengthening the rule of law. Calderón seems prepared to offer further reforms, which may well be passable in the Congreso. Countries don't change overnight. But Mexican voters' decision, by a very narrow margin, to elect Felipe Calderón seems to put Mexico on a trajectory to further progress to freer markets, more economic growth, stronger democratic institutions, and rule of law.

Being, as I describe myself, a right-of-center Christian-Democrat, I am a fan of PAN, part of the worldwide Christian Democracy movement, I remain hopeful, despite being a bit disappointed with Presidente Fox.  I  spent two years of my childhood in Mexico; and my family vacationed there several times a year after we moved back to the U. S.  So I’m well-disposed toward Mexico.  We’ll see.

H/T: Instapundit
15 August 2006

So, who's to blame here?

As the Israelis pull out of Lebanon it occurs to me to wonder:  Here in the U.S. it is fashionable (and I do mean fashionable) to blame the President for the rise of terrorist acts against us.  I wonder if, as Lebanese pour back into their villages, they will blame Hezbollah for the Israelis’ (counter) attack.  I expect not.  Inasmuch as it is fashionable here for liberals to blame the President for terrorist acts (excepting, apparently, any terrorist acts committed against us during President Clinton’s term in office), it is fashionable among middle easterners to blame the Big and Little Satans.  It’s the new “Salem” witch trials:  Regardless the evidence, it always proves that the defendant is a witch.

Oh, yeah:  Hezbollah still have those two kidnapped Israeli soldiers, don’t they?
14 August 2006

On the minimum wage (4)

A necessary digression

In this post, I am going to take some time to respond to a comment by one “mortalez.”

mortalez:

You concluded your comment with, “Is it any wonder why conservatives are viewed as heartless?” People may very well consider conservatives to be ‘heartless’ but that doesn't make them so. It is very easy for liberals to view conservatives as ‘heartless’: they simply define ‘heartless’ as ‘not agreeing with liberals about what are the solutions to the problems.’ If the argument I make is true, then it is irrlevant that I am ‘heartless.’ Both propositions can be true: (1) that, “Minimum wage legislation is a poor policy for reasons, a, b, c, and d;” and (2) James Frank Solís is ‘heartless.’ My being heartless has absolutely no bearing on any economic problem.

If on the other hand my argument is false, then it is again irrelevant that I am ‘heartless.’ The propositions can both be true: (1) that, “It is false that minimum wage legislation is poor policy for reasons a, b, c, and d”; and (2) James Frank Solís is ‘heartless.’ To respond to an argument by asserting that the arguer is ‘heartless’ is to engage in logically fallacious reasoning. Is it any wonder then that liberals are viewed as irrational and therefore not to be taken seriously? You may very well call conservatives ‘heartless,’ but you do so only by ignoring a distinction between charity and the operation of a labor market. I have written on this elsewhere, and won't recap it here.

But to demonstrate that I can give better than I get, bust da move, homey:

mortalez writes: I find it interesting when most republicans speak against minimum wage they state the obvious, that most americans dont earn minimum wage.

Solís responds: First, what has ‘republican’ to do with anything. For all you know I'm Libertarian. But I digress. That is one--and only one--of the things we state. We don't state the obvious and leave it at that. I am up to three rather lengthy posts on this subject. I have gone way beyond “Most Americans don't earn minimum wage.” I find it interesting that you don't respond to much--if anything--else in my three-part argument. In fact, you don't even get around to scratching the surface of what I've written. It is also interesting that you completely ignore my citation of demographic facts regarding who makes minimum wage, as well as my identification of a certain inconsistency on the part of liberals when it comes to arguments about minimum wage and inheritance tax legislation.

mortalez writes: What you fail to forget is when you raise minimum wage wages across the board go up, it happened last time and it will happen the next time.

Solís responds: I think you meant, “What you forget” (as opposed to “What you fail to forget….”) Not only did I not forget, my friend, I went beyond wages and asserted that over time, in adjusting for the increased labor costs, EVERYTHING goes up, which (in addition to inflation, which I also mentioned) causes a loss in the benefit of that new, increased wage, requiring yet another increase in that wage. In fact, I wrote : “This problem will affect anyone who has minimum wage employees; and as employers increase prices to offset the cost of the hike, the benefit will disappear. And when it does, there will be more demands to increase the minimum wage yet again...and again...and again; and so on. And when the wage is increased yet again employers will be faced with the problem the solution to which "caused" the need for the increase in the first place” (emphases mine). See? I really didn't forget.

mortalez writes: The question I have is what is so wrong with someone who actually works earning enough to live on?

Solís responds: Strawman! Hello? No one is arguing that there is something wrong with people who work making enough to live on. Why don’t you go ahead and try to respond to the arguments I actually made?

For another thing, you don't really want them to earn just “enough to live on.” You want them to earn enought to live well on. People can live on $10,712.00 per year. Of course, they can't get married, have children, two cars, a house, and savings accounts, college education funds for the kids, three TV sets (one of them a wide screen job) and a big fat retirement nest egg. But they can live on $10,712.00. Of course, if they did get married and both worked full time at minimum wage they'd earn $21,424.00. Surely that's enough to live on, right? Oh, but you probably want them to make enough not just to ‘live’ on, but also to make sure that they don't lose a job due to car trouble. You probably also want them to earn enough such that there will be no difficulty involved if there should be a divorce--all at their employer's expense of course. More to the point, however, is exactly one of the things I just wrote, in my third post on this, I believe. (I don't memorize my own stuff.) What I wrote was something like this: The fact that you really, really, really need it, doesn't mean that your employer has it. The vast majority of Americans are not employed by big, fat greedy multi-national corporations; they are employed by small business, another entity hurt by minimum wage legislation. (I suppose you could account for this fact by having a graduated minimum wage: the bigger the company, the higher its minimum wage. But that really won't accomplish your goal of having everyone who actually works earning ‘enough to live on,’ will it?)

mortalez writes: Many conservatives will say that min-wage is just a starting point, that one should use that job to learn skills and move up, but there are 2 flaws to this arguement.

Solís responds: This really isn't an argument that we make; it's a single proposition. And we assert this about the minimum wage because that is what the minimum is supposed to be, a starting point.

mortalez writes: 1. even if one tried this his/her odds are against them, to many things can go wrong, someone is more likely to loose his/her jobbecause of car trouble being unable to save money to move up andbecome a better employee.

Solís responds: This is not a flaw in the non-argument. Neither does it constitute any sort of demonstration of the faslity of the assertion that “Min-wage is just a starting point.” Both propositions can be true: (1) “The minimum wage is just a starting point;” and (2) “The odds are against minimum wage workers.” First, the minimum wage, no matter how high you libs succeed in raising it will (by definition!) still be a starting point, so it's difficult to see how you think it helps anyone beat ‘the odds.’ Second, since you've raised the issue of odds, you must have some statistics to back up your claim, right? Next time you visit, just share those statistics with me. My readers and I are eager to see them. Third, I just don't see how someone has to save money in order to move up in his job. I didn't move up in my jobs by saving any money. Finally, nothing you've said here defeats my argument that, “Just because you need it doesn't mean your employer has it.”

mortalez writes: 2. this way of thinking fails to concider that many people are starting over be it divorce, outsourcing, or just a screwed upeconomy.(like any number of people who live in factory towns in which
their father and grandfather worked in the same factory).

Solís responds: And your way of thinking does not explain how, just because this is true, an employer magically has the money to pay a higher wage just because the employee needs it. I went through the numbers, mortalez, explaining just how minimum wage increases actually put out of work many of the people it is intended to help. What about that? You didn't respond to that. You simply repeated typical liberal platitudes about life's lottery (i.e., “the odds”), social problems such as divorce--the vississitudes of life. You don't explain how those platitudes show that my take on what the numbers show is false. Now, can you do that or not? Tell me you have more than irrelevant (even if true!) platitudes. All you did today was respond to arguments that I didn't even make and thoroughly disregard the arguments that I did make. Tell me that you can do more than throw platitudes at straw men. All those people on minimum wage are counting on you. Their futures are in your hands. Good Sir Knight, I pray you: do more than tilt at windmills on their behalf.

Finally, let me add just this bit more in response to your “heartless” garbage. I am not a rich Republican; neither I am a rich conservative. I have paid the price for, and lived in accordance with, the principles I espouse here, my friend.

I went to college with the idea of going to law school. Due to good financial planning as a young man in the Army ( I did not come from a wealthy family*), I had all the money needed for undergrad education and about 3/4 of the money I needed for law school. While I was still an undergrad I had an opportunity to score some money in a real estate investment. The numbers indicated moderately low risk and a probability of high return, a return which would net me a much, much more than the money I needed for law school. As you pointed out, “things happen.” One of those ‘things’ happened to me. I lost the money I invested.

Due to the unlawful actions of another, the investment went sour. Not only did I lose part of the money for law school in the deal, but what I didn't lose in the deal went to extricate myself--and my family, of course--from certain legal difficulties, difficulties I found myself in due, as I said, to the actions of another. From having 3/4 of the money for law school, I ended up with just enough to finish my bachelor's degree. I didn't even have enough to stick around after college and add a teaching certification to my BA. So my first job out of college was in a furniture repair and refinishing shop, hardly the job for a rich Republican (but I suppose even a ‘heartless’ conservative could pull it off).

My next job after the furniture shop was not exactly a step up. I had to move my family to Colorado. Once in Colorado I needed to get a job right away and, like most people who are just trying to support a family, I took the first job I could get: I worked (gulp, sound of vomiting) as a telemarketer for a whopping $6.25 per hour (in 1994)--not exactly the sort of wage one associates with rich Republicans, is it? During this time, I was just able to rent a cramped apartment in a part of the city I certainly thought I'd never have to live in since my (poor!) childhood, put food on the table and pay the bills. I had no health insurance for my family (i.e., a wife and a nine year old daughter). I had family members who were angry with me for not applying for federal government aid and mocked me for adhering to my ‘[expletive deleted] principles.’ A friend of mine called me a fool for paying taxes and not reaping the benefits thereof, despite my reminding him that I objected to having paid those taxes in the first place.

My next job was a real giant leap up the ladder, let me tell you: restaurant manager. Light years away from law school; and you sure as heck don't need a BA to run a restaurant. But by now the money was a little better, good enough that, with some (non-government) grants and some scholarships, I was able to get a graduate level education. I don't yet have the Ph.D that I'd like; and I still sometimes think that I'd like to go to law school. And there are still times when I think about that so-called friend whose illegal activity has cost me dearly for 14 years now--and created hardship for my family--and think that I wish I could sue him. Unfortunately he's even worse off than I am: I still have my wife; he doesn't have his. And he doesn't have anything to sue for. Still, when I look at how my wife and daughter have fared because of him, if my chest were a cannon I sometimes think I'd fire my heart out upon him (that's from Moby Dick, by the way). At least if I'd still been single, I would have been the only one stung by him. My wife for a long time had to work harder than her health really permitted.)

What I espouse here isn't a matter of convenience for me or my family: I've had to put my money where my keyboard is. This isn't theory for me, fella. It's real life. I know exactly what it's like to live as if you really believe in market principles. I don't espouse these principles because they don’t apply to me or because they make for an easy life. They don't. Life is difficult. But that was never my employers' fault. They were not (and are not) responsible for the fact that ‘things happened’ to me; and I never demanded that they pay me what I needed due to circumstances beyond their control. What I have said previously as a general principle, let me give particular application to: the fact that I needed it, didn't mean they had it; the fact that I needed it didn't create in them an obligation to pay it. I took what I could get, and did the best with it that I could. I have lived out, my friend, exactly what I believe. And as far as I am concerned, I have the moral authority both to have and to assert my economic philosophy. And I acquired this moral authority the old fashioned way: I earned it from Hard Knox U.

Heartless? You don't know who you're taking to, bub.
At base, your thinking seems to be rooted in the idea that government's job is to remove the difficulties from our lives. Life, you seem to think, ought to be free of difficulty. Can you provide any justification for that belief? Or is it an article of faith for you?
___________________
* My maternal great-great-grandparents were poor farmers in Minnesota. My great-great grandfather supplemented his income by serving as the town marshall in Northfield. My great-grandfather spent his whole working life in a condensed milk factory in Nothfield. My maternal grandfather was a secretary for a railroad company. My paternal grandfather was a poor farmer in the Texas valley. Poverty isn’t a set of numbers for me. For a part of my life it has been reality.
11 August 2006

On the minimum wage (3)

But what about the poor?

All of that (i.e., the previous two posts, here and here) being said, I would be remiss if I left unanswered what I believe is an important objection to what I’ve written. The objection I have in mind is formulated inone of two ways: (1) that the present minimum wage is not enough to support a single parent with two children; and (2) that it leaves millions living in poverty.

1

Let me grant that the present minimum wage is not enough to support a single parent with two children. What immediately follows from this proposition? The quick and dirty answer, quite frankly, is that nothing follows from this proposition in the way of a requirement that an employer pay a certain wage.

Assuming that “support” means something like “live above the poverty line,” the most immediate inference is that a single parent making minimum wage and her two children will live in poverty (i.e., “the threshold below which families or individuals are considered to be lacking the resources to meet the basic needs for healthy living; having insufficient income to provide the food, shelter and clothing needed to preserve health.”) After all, this woman is making only $10,712.00 per year. Maybe that was something in 1997 when the minimum wage was raised to $5.15, but in today’s dollars, due to inflation, that would be in the neighborhood of $12.900.00. Clearly, someone who is making $10,712.00 today is not making what $10,712.00 was worth in 1997. I freely admit that.

But again, the proposition that the present minimum wage is not enough to support a single parent with two children does not simply imply that employer’s should pay more. If “Employers should pay more” is the conclusion of an argument in which “The present minimum wage is not enough to support a single parent with two children” is a premise, then there is at least one premise missing. What is it? We are not told. We are simply told that that the present minimum wage is not enough to support a single parent with two children and, therefore, employers should pay more. What we have here, until the missing premise(s) is (or are) provided, is an enthymeme at best. At worst, assuming that there really are no other premises, we have a non sequitur.

Something else this argument overlooks is this: the fact that you need more money doesn’t mean that your employer has more money. Of course, some people think that because a business has made a profit it can just afford pay raises, especially since, on a Marxist view (which seems increasingly to be the popular view of such things) a profit is prima facie evidence of exploitation. And we know who was exploited, don’t we? Yes, the employees, to whom, truth be known, that profit truly belongs. (And don’t start in about ExxonMobile and other big corporations. The vast majority of Americans are not employed by monster corporations; they are employed by small businesses.)

Let’s analyze this a bit. Assume that you hold to the reasoning that if you need to make more than $5.15 per hour your employer is obligated to pay you more than $5.15 per hour. You need it; he’s obligated to pay it. Now, let’s say that you need a car, specifically a brand new car (you just can’t afford, on $7.25 per hour, the up-keep on an older used model). You go down to the car lot and find the car you want. The sticker price on the car is $40,000.00. You tell the salesman that you will give him $450.00 for it. When he balks at this, you tell him that he’s obligated to give you the car at that price simply because you need the car.

Isn’t it the case that, if your employer is obligated to pay you a certain wage simply because you need it, then an auto dealer is obligated to sell you the car of your choice at a price you specify simply because you need it at that price? And shouldn’t this be true at your favorite clothing store (which, under these terms might as well be Sach’s)? And the grocery store? What about that private school you (poor single parent of two) have always wanted to send your children to? Isn’t that school obligated to take your children at whatever price you can afford, simply because you need it? If an employer is obligated to give you something for no other reason than that you need it, then so should everyone else. Isn’t that right?

But that isn’t all. If an employer is obligated to give you something (in this case a wage specified by Congress) simply because you need it, this implies that someone, somewhere is obligated to go into business in the first place. After all, there won’t be any people making the wages that Congress determines they need to be making if there are not those going into business in the first place. What are you waiting for? Get out there and start a business. It’s your duty. Hurry, you selfish pig. People are living in poverty because you won’t start a business and employ them.

(Hint: This is why we center-rightists are inclined to see center-leftists as little more than thinly disguised Marxists. All we are talking about here is a different formulation of the Marxist maxim, “From each according to ability, to each according to need.”)

2

One question raised by the claim that the minimum wage leaves millions in poverty is: Who is making minimum wage? (It is, after all, supposed to be a wage for the young, single and unskilled.)

In 2005 (the last year for which I have good figures), 75.6 million American workers were paid at hourly rates. Of those 75.6 million, 479,000 were reported as earning minimum wage. 1.4 million were reported as earning below minimum wages. Together, these 1,879,000 make up 2.5 percent of all hourly-paid workers (i.e., 75.6 million), or 0.60 percent of the U.S. population. Minimum wage affects less than 1 percent of the population. My source for these figures is a Bureau of Labor Statistics document, styled “Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2005”. Tables 1 – 10 of that same document yield some valuable information about who makes minimum wage in this country.

a. Of those 1,879,000 workers earning $5.15 or less, 939,500.00 were under age 25.

b. 469,750.00 of workers earning $5.15 or less were age 16-19.

c. Among employed teenagers (i.e., 469,750.00) about 9 percent (or 42,278.00) earned $5.15 or less.

d. About 2 percent of workers age 25 and over earned the minimum wage or less. This one requires some work. There were 75.6 million hourly wage workers of which 1,879,000.00 were under 25, leaving 73,721,000.00 hourly workers over age 25. This means that 1,474,420.00 workers over the age of 25 (i.e., 2 percent of 75.6 million) earned minimum wage or less in 2005.

e. Among those age 65 and over, the proportion of those earning minimum wage or less was about 3 percent. Those 65 and over account for 2,261,000.00 of the 75.6 million hourly employees. Of that 2,261,000.00. 67,830.00 are making minimum wage or less.

Now as I said, that is valuable information. But why is it significant?

On 9 June 2006 I critiqued this essay by Sebastian Malleby, an essay which contained this passage:

“People often remark on the perversity of popular support for estate-tax repeal. A majority wants to abolish the tax, even though only the richest 2 percent of households have ever had to pay it” (emphasis added).

Previously, that same day, I critiqued an essay by Molly Ivins which contained this passage:

“The estate tax applies to around 1 percent of Americans…. It affects only very, very, very rich people, of whom you are probably not one. And they don't, actually, need another tax break.”

The reasoning exhibited here is the same; and it is telling. The estate tax doesn’t need to be repealed because it affects only 1 (or is it 2?) percent of the American population. But somehow, despite the fact that the minimum wage affects only around 2 percent of the American population something needs to be done about it.

In a just society, there should not be a different standard for rich and for poor. If 2 percent is nothing to be concerned about, then it’s nothing to be concerned about—whether that 2 percent is rich or poor.

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About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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