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Society and culture

From the Great Society to the Big House

The U.S. Justice Department recently released a report highlighting the horrifically high American incarceration rate. According to the report, at the end of last year there were 2.2 million Americans behind bars, with an additional 4.8 million on probation or parole. That compares with 1.5 million incarcerated in China and 870,000 in Russia, the countries in second and third place.

Comments from various experts and spin doctors attributed the figures variously to high U.S. crime rates, too few social welfare programs, and the War on Drugs, even though crime rates in Europe are now higher than in America, the postwar welfare state has quite generally featured radical increases in crime, and the article itself mentions that drug convictions—even if all of them are utterly unjustified—account for only a moderate part (2/7) of the disproportionately high American figures.


The Fall of France, ch. xxxvii

In France, criticism of a private fund-raising effort now seems to constitute a violation of the separation of Church and state: Catholic Clergy Attack French Telethon Over Stem Cell Aid.

The country’s Muscular Dystrophy Association runs an annual telethon to raise money for medical research, part of which is spent on research on embryonic stem cells. Some clerics said the telethon shouldn’t be supported for that reason. It seems that the most extreme statement was made by a member of the commission for bioethics and human life in one diocese, who posted a statement on the diocesan web site that said “It is no longer possible to participate in the telethon … Christians cannot cooperate with evil.” The statement has been removed, and the consensus among bishops is that the effort should still be supported,


Why act like the Jews run Hollywood?

I find this article bothersome: Can Hollywood ignore a film praised by critics? The film, of course, is Apocalypto, and “Hollywood” refers to those offended by Mel Gibson’s drunken abuse of a Jewish cop. Drunken driving is a very serious matter. Those who do it repeatedly, as Mel Gibson reportedly does, obviously have some issues, and when they get stopped and arrested they often become abusive. If the arresting officer is fat and bald he gets abused as fat and bald. The cops who stopped Gibson were a woman and a Jew, and he said offensive things about them as such.


Well, duh!

The bizarre argument that getting rid of the specificity and implicit function of marriage would strengthen it has been refuted by experience: How Holland Destroyed Marriage. The piece (by Charles Colson) cites a series of pieces by Stanley Kurtz showing how the move toward “gay marriage” in northern Europe has gone with abandonment of marriage by couples with children.


Yan and Ying

On the face of it, the expected decision of the New York City Board of Health to let people decide what sex they are and to have the decision reflected on their birth certificates seems a reductio ad absurdum of the “gender perspective,” in effect the view that sexual distinctions should be treated as pure social constructions to the extent physically possible.

The absurdity applies at many levels. Man is an animal, among other things, and sex, which has been around a billion years, probably has some importance in human life. If that’s so, it’s hard to see how it can be divorced from “gender” any more than say “nourishment” can be divorced from “food.” You can’t reasonably decide for yourself what food is. Similarly, it would seem, you can’t decide what gender you are, even though social views may play some part in specific understandings of what it all means.


Mainstream Christianity today

I remember the beauty of Anglican worship when I first encountered it, and I used to attend an Episcopalian church, so like others I’ve been watching with horrified fascination the continuing devolution of the Episcopal Church. So here are some comments on Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori’s investiture sermon as presiding bishop of what is now TEC (“The Episcopal Church”):

  • From the sermon and other statements it appears that putting aside poetic language Dr. Schori’s religion is a matter of working together to eliminate social divisions and gross material evils like poverty and disease. Today, it seems, that means signing on to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. So far as I can tell there’s nothing else there. Creeds and so on from her standpoint are just distractions in comparison with “mission”, which means development goals.

Some deaths are more deathless than others

Or that seems the lesson to be drawn from the fact that Mary Stachowicz gets 1350 Google hits and Matthew Shepard gets 563,000.


Decoding Da Vinci

What does it mean that something as idiotic as the Da Vinci Code has had a strong effect on how people answer pollsters’ questions about Christianity and Catholicism? (No, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, and yes, I feel entitled to dismiss them as idiotic anyway.)

Some possibilities:


A celebration of the life of the mind, A.D. 2006

Last weekend I attended commencement exercises at a very prestigious Northeastern liberal arts college distinguished by its selectiveness, its commitment to social progress, and its extraordinarily beautiful and lavishly funded campus. I was struck by the unity of view of all the speakers. Here’s the gist of what I heard:

  • The “scriptural reading” opening the commencement ceremony: a quotation from Learned Hand to the effect that the spirit of liberty is necessary for liberty, and the spirit of liberty is the spirit that is never too sure it is right.
  • The student speaker at commencement, a religion studies major and amateur improv comedian: he gave a riff on the college experience as Exodus—the escape from oppression (home and local community), getting over your head in a lot of water and confusion as you cross the sea of learning, and then glorious emergence at graduation followed by attacks on all the walled cities (gated communities?) so all the walls can be destroyed.

What does it mean?

Here’s an image that appeared on a piece of junk mail I received from the U.S. Postal Service pushing their “premium forwarding service,” which lets your mail follow you when you go on vacation. Whatever happened to feminism?


Draft rant about how Lao-tze was right

The more organized knowledge becomes the less people know. Formal studies are good for some things. Even football coaches have chalk talks, which are a kind of formal instruction. There are limits though. You don’t become a good cook from food science or a good teacher by studying teaching.


News flash: Roman art not crude

No big surprise: when they finally found a classical bust that still had its paint on, they noticed something:

It had … been assumed that classical statues were painted brightly. In fact, the colouring on the head is a delicate shade of orange-red, which, although faded, indicates that classical colouring was subtle and sophisticated.


Where are we

In France, an MP is fined and denounced vehemently for criticizing homosexuality, and the Culture Minister wants him kicked out of the party. In this country we mostly don’t fine people for saying the wrong thing, we just re-educate them or put them in therapy.


A slice of the future

A neat dramatization of digital privacy concerns: The Google Robot FAQ (Last update: November 1st, 2030).


Discriminations and our common life

There’s a recent piece at View from the Right pointing out that while the call of Harvard academic Noel Ignatieff to “abolish the white race” sounds radical, it is really no different than the usual liberal and even mainstream conservative position that we should all work toward a state of affairs in which race doesn’t matter, and so has been done away with as part of our understanding of man and society.

The point can be expanded. People have no feeling at all for how radical the antidiscrimination principle is that is now universally accepted as basic to ordinary moral decency. In understanding the situation I think it’s a mistake to emphasize “race” and “whiteness,” which today have a purely biological meaning that may matter in some respects but in most ways doesn’t point anywhere in particular. What’s more important is the general teaching of the antidiscrimination principle: not only race as a biological category, but any ethnic, cultural or national heritage, any attachment to the inherited historical community one grows up with, is supposed to disappear as something relevant to anything significant someone might ever legitimately want to do. The same goes for sex and religious affiliation. None of those things is supposed to affect anything significant in our life together. If they did, that would be discrimination and inequity, and it would be everyone’s obligation to use all possible means to root it out. That’s what “diversity” and “inclusiveness” mean, and no mainstream conservative is willing to take a principled stand against diversity and inclusiveness.


Sidelight on Islam (or something)

Little-known fact (to me anyway): the Iranian fertility rate is now 1.82 children/woman, well below replacement. According to the BBC, it’s plummeting in the 3rd world generally, except for sub-Saharan Africa.


A further note on Islam

Another way to make the point touched on in my last entry is that Islam is found mostly in multiethnic and multicultural societies, which in their most characteristic form become ruled by transnational bureaucracies like the Mamluks with the aid of of radically denationalized professional armies like the Janissaries or for that matter (in a variation on the theme) the Knights Templar or Knights of Malta. Such societies are unable consistently to defend themselves against foreign invasion, and so eventually succumb to Islamic conquerors. Once they are conquered the Muslim Ummah and Shariah become a sort of palliative for their radical divisiveness and the absence of any basis for political cooperation, while that same divisiveness drives the conquerors to devise a ruling institution without ties of loyalty outside the institution itself and thus composed of slaves or kidnapped non-Muslims.


History, geography, society and Islam

The various complaints about Islam and Muslim society at View from the Right and elsewhere (aggressiveness, deviousness, honor killings, polygamy, female genital mutilation, political irrationality, organized punitive rape, etc., etc., etc.), to the extent they reflect realities, suggest a common explanation related to the circumstance that Islam appeared where it did and spread mostly by force of arms.

As a religion of conquest, Islam has been most successful in parts of the world that have been unable consistently to defend themselves because of political and social incoherence due to a very long history of political, social and even demographic instability. Geography has always made the Middle East, Central Asia and Northern India radically contested areas repeatedly plagued by conquerors, movements of peoples, and fluctuating despotic empires run by foreigners. As a result, in that part of the world it has been every man—or rather every small group—for itself. A radically divided form of society developed that featured intense local loyalties and enmities and lacked any civic feeling or public life. It is in that kind of society (or rather asocial state) that Islam began and has mostly existed.


"Amerika, du hast es besser ..."

Or so said Goethe. It turns out that a major advantage we have today here in America is that feminist English, bad though it is, isn’t as bad as feminist German. The Teutonic gift for heavy-handed seriousness and linguistic clunk has lost none of its vigor. Some examples from an interview with a Viennese theologian, said to be Catholic, who uses them in all seriousness: instead of “pastors of souls” it’s “Seelsorgerinnen und Seelsorger” (“soulcareresses and soulcarers”).


Assimilation to what?

A finding of interest to Catholics and others who believe that open borders are good because immigrants are mostly Hispanic Catholics and “family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande”: increased English use by immigrants leads to teen sexual activity. The numbers are impressive. Among Hispanic teenagers in Arizona, 13.6% of Spanish speakers, 24.4% of bilinguals, and 30.7% of English speakers have engaged in sexual intercourse. (The rate for whites is the same as the rate for bilingual Hispanics.)

Given the nature of discussions in the social sciences it’s not surprising that all this is treated as a big mystery, part of the general “healthy immigrant paradox” that Hispanics coming to the United States are healthier than second- and third-generation U.S. residents from the same countries. One researcher, apparently determined to stay on message, did find it in herself to say that the problem is that “[a]s a culture, we have problems with openly discussing the whens and ifs of sex with our children … This is one of the outcomes of that.” I don’t think anybody has to believe her even though she’s a researcher. She’s just one voice, after all, and there must be some limit to what we’re required to swallow.



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