WFB and ‘Final Truths’

February 27, 2010

This is the second anniversary of the death of William F. Buckley. Though he is most widely known as one of the founders of modern Conservatism, and perhaps its most eloquent spokesman, he was many other things as well – an accomplished author and master of the English language in both its written and spoken form, a great debater, an accomplished sailor, a faithful husband and father.

But often overlooked is the fact that he was a devout Christian, and perhaps one of its most accomplished defenders. I know as a young Christian who previously had been Marxist in my politics and a materialist in my metaphysics, Buckley filled my hungry intellect as I sought to understand how my new beliefs as a Christian contrasted with my previous beliefs. I would often sit for hours reading National Review and Buckley’s essays, absorbing the ideas he presented.

A fine example of Buckley’s view of truth and it’s application to our lives was demonstrated in 1962. Buckley was responding to some high school students who had read his book Up from Liberalism and wanted him to elaborate on what he meant by “final truths” – what follows is part of his response, and I think one of the more profound statements about the proper perspective Christians should have regarding the beliefs that inform their earthly activities, and the final truths which must inform their eternal destinies:

All our techniques of social welfare, all our science, all our comfort, all our liberty, all our democracy and foreign aid and grandiloquent orations—all that means nothing to me and nothing to you in the moment when we go. At that moment we must put our souls in order, and the way to do that was lighted for us by Jesus, and since then we have had need of no other light. That is what is finally important; it has not changed; and it will not change. It is truth, which shall ever abide in the future. And if it is “reactionary” to hold a truth that will be valid for all future time, then words have lost their meaning, and men their reason.

There are of course no ‘final truths’ in materialism or atheism – no confidence at the end, no comfort in knowing what is to come. It is good to know that William F. Buckley, and all those who believe, will experience such final truth.

The Healthcare Pseudo-Summit

February 26, 2010

Bowing to pressure to actually at least pretend to fulfill some of his campaign processes to be more bi-partisan and televise the healthcare debate (after a year of breaking those same promises, among others), the President made a half-hearted effort to change the tone of the discussion. I while most of it was his usual bluster and lecturing, he did make a few revealing points, one about government regulation in particular, where he compares our current drug regulation system to our food regulation system:

Now, let me respond to your question. We could set up a system where food was probably cheaper than it is right now if we just eliminated meat inspectors and we eliminated any regulations in terms of how food is distributed and how it’s stored. I’ll bet in terms of drug prices, we would definitely reduce prescription drug prices if we didn’t have a drug administration that makes sure that we test the drugs so that they don’t kill us.

But we don’t do that. We make some decisions to protect consumers in every aspect of our lives. And we have bipartisan support for doing it, because what we don’t want is a situation in which suddenly people think they’re getting one thing and they’re getting something else — they’re harmed by a product. What Secretary Sebelius just referred to — which is not a Washington thing; in fact, state insurance standards in many states are higher than anything that’s done in Washington — is as a consequence of seeing consistent abuses by the insurance companies and people finding themselves helpless to deal with.

Inadvertently, in making this point the President highlights the entire problem with our current healthcare industry to begin with by comparing it to food production and distribution. One can see this by imagining for a moment what would happen if we attempted to do with food what has been done with healthcare and the way it is produced and paid for.

Imagine that our government attempted to feed everyone over 65 for free, as well those who were too poor to buy food, by collecting monies from all of us over the course of our life. That employers provided a ‘food stipend’, partly paid for by employees, and that this stipend was managed by food money managers, who attempted to control how much grocers and food producers charged for food. That certain employers gave more money than others to their employers for food and how much one paid for a food stipend might depend on where one worked. If one’s employer didn’t offer a stipend, or if one wasn’t employed, one must find independent food stipend providers, who charged a premium to provide such a stipend; and they would charge according to how much food one ate or whether one wanted specialized foods beyond ordinary those that were absolutely necessary.

This system also required that food distribution would differ from state to state. Some states required the stipend managers to pay for beef, others did not. Some states didn’t allow certain foods to be sold at all because they didn’t think they meant certain health requirements. So the food one might be able to purchase with ones stipend might differ depending on where one lived.

Imagine further that because the food system was so widely subsidized, regulated, and required so many more participants to function, that food costs began to sky-rocket. Even basic foods began to cost exorbitant prices, and those without food stipends had a very hard time getting food at all. Great inequities developed in the food distribution system, with those who could afford expensive food stipends eating freely, while others had to settle for minimum calories. Others had to actually cross into Canada and Mexico to find food they could afford, and the government budgets for public subsidies for food stipends were blowing up.

Into that morass steps a figure like our President. He would say that food was critical to the health of our citizens – and he would be right. He would share anecdotes about those who lacked food, and it would evoke compassion which is appropriate in such cases, and he would suggest that the system needs to be fixed – and be universally applauded for realizing this. But if instead of ending such a failed system the President recommended fixing this imaginary system by having the government take over the food distribution, extending the power of the government over the running of the food industry so that is could equitably distribute food to everyone, required everyone to purchase their food from the government, and then taxed us all accordingly to pay for this bloated bureaucratic system thus exponentially expanding and entrenching the whole idea of ‘food stipends’, there would be universal outrage and rebellion against such an idea.

We know this now because we currently have one of the most successful food production and distribution systems in the world which exist largely apart from such programs and subsidies by employers and the government, and applying to food production the same policies the current administration is recommending for healthcare would destroy our food production. And yet, we continue to entertain these very same ideas for healthcare, when instead we should be moving toward a system of distribution that is less tied to the system of regulation, subsidized insurance and entitlement programs, and freer markets that allow consumers to directly access the services they desire, and pay for them what they are worth.

It’s not an easy direction to go, because we are already up to our necks in the mud of this system, but dumping more mud on our heads won’t help, it will only suffocate us. It’s too bad our President and his congress can’t follow their own comparisons to their logical conclusions.

It’s the economy stupid redux

February 23, 2010

Sorry for the break in posting; unlike most Americans, my work (which isn’t blogging, by the way) has been keeping me extremely busy.

A quick post about the economy since it seems to be the issue that is currently destroying the confidence of the American people.

Our current President was elected in part because of supposed superior knowledge about law, international matters, and science. While there is now good reason to question his knowledge in those areas, where he seems to be lacking in intellectual prowess is the area that is currently the most critical – mathematics.

Shortly after taking office the President pushed through an 800 billion dollar stimulus package, with the warning that if we didn’t pass a budget busting bill, unemployment would go to 8%. The stimulus we were told would create jobs and end the economic slide. And so with a solid majority in congress, Obama easily passed the package.

Over a year later, unemployment hovers around 10%, over 4 million jobs have been lost, and the slide continues at a steady pace. The stimulus is by every measure a complete failure and only served to greatly increase our national debt, in a generation spanning fashion.

Now the Senate is about to spend another 15 billion to create new ‘jobs’. Potentially the bill could balloon to 155 billion – this all before the previous failed stimulus bill has been fully spent. There is not a single shred of evidence to suggest such a bill will help – and there are in fact 800 billion reasons to believe it is a bad idea and will do nothing but sink us even faster into disastrous nation destroying debt. The confidence hit mentioned earlier tells us that the vast majority of Americans know this intuitively; the President and Democrats are apparently too smart to do the basic math.

One hopes that the November elections will stem the bleed-out – prayerfully it won’t be too late for some sort of recovery.

The Vegetative State and Humility

February 7, 2010

Russell Kirk, who many consider to be the father of modern conservatism, offered as one tenet of his six canons of conservatism the idea that we should have, “Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence.” Such a statement is as much an admission of epistemological humility as  it is a basis for political action. It is the realization that human life and worth is not reducible to simplistic scientific notions, or that all our problems can be alleviated by a new policy or assigning a new set of rights.

Such a notion is reflected in God’s reply to Moses who had attempted to argue against his own worth, based on his view of his own inadequacies:

“Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

Such a statement provides a foundation for human dignity and worth, one that is rooted in the notion that all human life has an inherent value and purpose and thus should be protected. It provides such a foundation in a way that mere biology or materialistic measure cannot.

Into this understanding comes a recent finding, chronicled in the Los Angelos Times, about that class of people who live in a persistently vegetative state. Such people live at the juncture between life and death – they function biologically and yet there is no perceivable conscious activity. Until now:

In a study certain to rekindle debate over life-sustaining care for those with grievous brain injuries, researchers report that five patients thought to be in a persistent vegetative state showed brain activity indicating awareness, intent and, in at least one case, a wish to communicate.

Of 54 unresponsive patients whose brains were scanned at medical centers in England and Belgium, those five appeared able, when prompted by researchers, to imagine themselves playing tennis, and four of them demonstrated the ability to imagine themselves walking through the rooms of their homes.

One of those patients — a 22-year-old man who had been unresponsive for five years after an automobile crash — went on to respond to a series of simple questions with brain activity that clearly indicated yes or no answers, researchers said.

Their work is the first to give physicians and families the prospect of a biological test to determine whether a patient who shows no response to his or her surroundings is conscious and aware of them.

Such a finding confounds those who would like to reduce human life down to simple policy proscriptions that allow us to make quick, consistent decisions about who should live and die; human life resists simple reductions to the measurement of machines and charts. It gives lie to the notion that the only parties that should matter in such cases are doctors and the patients guardians – it may be the case that the patient themselves are aware and interested in their own fates.

As bioethicist Arthur Caplan sums up:

“The more these measures of consciousness get complex and fine-tuned, the harder it is to write a recipe about them”

One would hope that such a ‘recipe’ would include a bit of humility about what we actually know about human consciousness, and from where human life derives it’s worth to begin with.

Remember when MTv played music?

February 5, 2010

It was somewhere in the late ’80s I believe. The 1780s.

It’s a little known fact of history: in addition to being political philosophers, writers, scientists, war strategists, and generally men of great faith, the Founding Fathers also produced some very fine music videos. Highlighted here is one of  their earliest works, from ’76, the perennial favorite, Too Late to Apologize:

Global Warming, the Comedy

February 3, 2010

Based in the number of times climate change scientists have been caught with their pants down lately, it is tempting to think they were the inspiration for the ephemeral ditty “Pants on the ground”. A brief listing of their recent high jinks:

Hid Data flaws

Exaggerated the retreat of Himalayan glaciers

Conspired to silence dissenting views

Top it all off with a climate change leader who apparently spends his spare time writing racy, semi-autobiographical fiction, and you have all the makings of the script of a Cohen brother film. What you don’t have is the kind of solid research necessary to warrant sweeping authoritarian legislation and the development of international governing bodies to regulate and oversee the American economy.

Personally I never had a qualm with the idea that the climate is changing, or that humans might play a role in that change. But I was (and still am) skeptical that this reality demanded the solutions suggested by global warming advocates. Now I’m not only deeply skeptical of the proposed solutions, but I question whether there is any reason to believe the problem exists at all.

Over the course of the last several years those who questioned the research were berated as ‘deniers’ and the claim was made that the science was no longer debatable. One lesson we need to learn going forward is that if it is truly a matter of science, then the findings should always be debatable – and those unwilling to debate the issue aren’t practicing science at all.

Fleeing Oppression

February 2, 2010

The US has a fine history, starting from its very inception, of being a refuge for those fleeing political and religious oppression. Typically in this day and age, when we consider those seeking asylum here we think of people fleeing places like China, Iran, or North Korea; totalitarian governments whose overarching political philosophies broach no opposition. Sadly one of the latest cases comes to us from a modern democracy and American ally – Germany. From the article in Time:

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike are not like other asylum seekers, people fleeing war or torture in places like Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia. They’re music teachers from a village in southern Germany. And yet, in what appears to be the first case of its kind, the couple and their five children were granted asylum in the U.S. last week by an immigration judge who ruled that they had a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home country for engaging in what has become a popular albeit somewhat controversial American practice — homeschooling their children.

The Romeikes, who are Evangelical Christians, took their three eldest children out of school in the town of Bissingen in 2006 because they were concerned about the impact the government-approved curriculum and the public-school environment would have on their social development. “Over the past 10 to 20 years, the curriculum in public schools in Germany has been more and more against Christian values, and my eldest children were having problems with violence, bullying and peer pressure. It’s important for parents to have the freedom to choose the way their children can be taught,” Uwe Romeike said in a statement provided by the couple’s attorney, Michael Donnelly of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).

But here’s the problem: in Germany it’s compulsory for children to attend school, and the Romeikes soon found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Local authorities slapped the couple with a $10,000 fine, and police even took their children to school when the Romeikes refused to send them. Fearing that they could lose custody of their kids or even be put in jail, the Romeikes fled to the U.S. in 2008, looking for a community where they could educate their kids as they saw fit.

As someone who has homeschooled my own children when I felt it was necessary, and as someone who is old enough to remember when homeschoolers were openly persecuted in our own country, I applaud this ruling by the immigration judge. I hope it becomes a trend; I can think of no better way to shame Germany and other like-minded governments to rescind these draconian and repressive laws.