The Root of Freedom

The Foundation of Liberty:

In a book review on a new work treating the problems of immigration and Islam in Europe, a remarkable quote:

The author notes that even the prominent German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who is an atheist, has acknowledged that "Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."
Discussion question: What does it mean if an atheist says this? Presumably he doesn't believe the positive claims of Christianity any more, but he believes in the positive results of Christianity in bringing about a moral world.

A second question: Isn't it true that at least most of these things are strongly rooted in Christian teaching? I would call democracy the exception, given its pre-Christian, Greek rootsm and the fact that the Catholic Church for two thousand years preferred other forms; though the current Pope has strongly endorsed the American model.

As for Liberty: We've all read about the similarity between the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320, composed at a monastery, addressed to the Pope.
The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson, imprisoning prelates, burning down monasteries, robbing and killing monks and nuns, and yet other outrages without number which he committed against our people, sparing neither age nor sex, religion nor rank, no one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eyes.

But from these countless evils we have been set free, by the help of Him Who though He afflicts yet heals and restores, by our most tireless Prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert. He, that his people and his heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua and bore them cheerfully. Him, too, divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King. To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand. Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
Our conscience and our ideas of human rights are chiefly the product of Christian inquiry in the Medieval period, and reactions to that in the Renaissance. Our human rights organizations, when they chide America or other Western powers for violations of the laws of war, are pointing to a field of study that arose in the Peace of God and Truce of God movements of the Middle Ages, the protection of noncombatants being their chief intent. The Geneva Conventions are rooted in nothing so much as the laws of war that Thomas Aquinas and others developed, perhaps most especially the Doctrine of Double Effect.

In a sense, I suppose, that's the same question. One of the principles that Christianity has created is the idea of religious liberty: out of the Thirty Years War and its echoes, we decided that it was proper for men to sort out for themselves what to believe. So here we have an atheist who has decided that he believes both that Christianity is untrue, and that it is of irreplaceable value. That ought to mean something profound; but saying just what that something is may be hard.


What Interns are For

A Shopping Trip:

The Aristotelian mean between the Clinton and Obama administrations on how to use your interns continues to prove elusive. The Clintons wanted them to do, ah, too much; and as for the Obamas...

Let's say you're preparing dinner and you realize with dismay that you don't have any certified organic Tuscan kale. What to do?

Here's how Michelle Obama handled this very predicament Thursday afternoon:
The Secret Service and the D.C. police brought in three dozen vehicles and shut down H Street, Vermont Avenue, two lanes of I Street and an entrance to the McPherson Square Metro station. They swept the area, in front of the Department of Veterans Affairs, with bomb-sniffing dogs and installed magnetometers in the middle of the street, put up barricades to keep pedestrians out, and took positions with binoculars atop trucks. Though the produce stand was only a block or so from the White House, the first lady hopped into her armored limousine and pulled into the market amid the wail of sirens.

Then, and only then, could Obama purchase her leafy greens. "Now it's time to buy some food," she told several hundred people who came to watch. "Let's shop!"

Health Care: Homestretch

Health Care: Homestretch

Going into the final push, things look good:

Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters nationwide now oppose the health care reform proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. That’s the highest level of opposition yet measured and includes 44% who are Strongly Opposed.

Just 43% now favor the proposal, including 24% who Strongly Favor it.
So: total support is underwater even compared only to those Strongly Opposed. A clear majority is opposed.

That's before people have time to factor in this:
The Washington Times reports that Barack Obama has finally concluded that Joe Wilson was right, and that ObamaCare presents a big problem in handling illegal immigrants. Fortunately, the White House has found a solution to the problem. No, they’re not going to beef up enforcement or require identification before receiving subsidies and services. They’re just going to offer amnesty so that no one’s illegal anymore....
The Rass poll shows that there has been a fair bit of stability in the polling numbers. One normally wouldn't expect them to change much, then, if they haven't changed much through the August protests, etc.

Still, this is the kind of extraordinary statement that might nudge the numbers. Of the 44% of Americans who at least kind-of support health care, a strong part are union members. Announcing that the plan is linked to a major amnesty effort is one of the few things you could do to undercut rank-and-file union members' support for the plan. It won't make any difference to the organizations themselves, who look at the unionized healthcare workforce as too great a good to pass up. For the average union member, though, the picture is a little different.

Trade It For A Dog

"We Could Trade It For A Dog":

Doc Russia considers the business of raising a daughter:

The best part about it is that from this day on, I can always whip that reference out. when Domestic-6 complains about how tiring taking care of a baby is, I can just say "Hey, *I* wanted to trade her for a dog." When our lovely daughter does something to upset me, I can turn to her and say "you see... *this* is why I wanted to trade you for a dog." Of course, she will run to mommy and whine that Daddy said that he wanted to trade her for a dog, and she'll ask my lovely wife if that was true, and there will be just enough of a pause as Domestic-6 ponders how to answer that question for her to wonder for a moment if it's true.

Now, while this may seem cruel and heartless (two of my specialties), the sad fact is thhat I do not think that I can raise my daughter as anything besides a tomboy, and that means giving her a thick skin. You see, the boys I see growing up maturing in her cohort today are not being raised (for the most part) as men. No, they are something else entirely. So, I must raise a daughter under the presumption that there will be few men (classical men, I should say) available to her. This means no helpless little girl. No delicate little flower. Don't get me wrong; I do want her to be feminine, well-groomed and beautiful. It's just that she is going to have to be the kind of woman who has to make sure that she doesn't mix up her Chanel No. 5 and her Hoppe's No. 9.
While I did once think up a name for a daughter, in the days before it was clear we were meant to have a son, I don't know that I gave much thought to how I'd raise one. I have to admit that I don't think I'd do it very differently. Any daughter of mine would come up knowing how to fence and fight, sing and ride horses, shoot and tell the truth.

It'd be an interesting exercise, to be sure. Perhaps the Good Lord might find it amusing, in which case I might yet have the chance to try it out. Give Doc your best, anyway, because he's very busy with his new job, house-hunting, and the baby-plans to boot.

And hey, Doc, cheer up: you can always marry her off to mine. (This is how those arranged marriages in other cultures happen so early, in case any of you ever wondered about that.)

Sucks to be ya'll.

Sucks To Be Ya'll:

So today the President announced that we would not be building anti-missile defenses in Eastern Europe. There were two reasons we had thought we would be: as a hedge against Russia, whose invasion of Georgia last year shows that it is ready to use military force against even US allies; and because such defenses would allow us to protect Western Europe against Iranian nuclear missiles, should they be developed.

Two other items of interest for today:

It is the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Eastern Europe.

The IAEA says Iran is definitely developing nuclear weapons.

Sleep well, Poland.

So, if they take our guns away, can we use swords instead?

They appear to work:

Hours earlier, someone had broken into John Pontolillo's house and taken two
laptops and a video-game console. Now it was past midnight, and he heard noises
coming from the garage out back.

The Johns Hopkins University undergraduate didn't run. He didn't call the police. He
grabbed his samurai sword.

With the 3- to 5-foot-long, razor-sharp weapon in hand, police say, Pontolillo crept toward the noise. He noticed a side door in the garage had been pried open. When a man inside lunged at him, police say, the confrontation was fatal.

Bad Idea

You'd Think Someone Would Grasp...

...that this is not the right time for this particular idea.

This week the House is scheduled to approve H.R. 3221, an education lending bill that CBO reports will increase the deficit by $50 billion. The bill includes a little-known provision to give the Secretary of Education $500 million - to be provided to to any entity he deems “appropriate” - to develop and disseminate free and “freely available” online courses....

Federal curriculum is contrary to longstanding government policy - and it’s unnecessary. For decades, Federal law has prohibited the U.S. Department of Education from exercising control over the “curriculum, program of instruction . . . or over the selection or content of library resources, text books, or other educational materials by any educational institution or school system.
The school speech went over so well, I can't imagine why anyone would object to the Feds appropriating money to write curricula for students. By all means, full speed ahead with this new Federal action! Come on, folks, work with us.

I was over at one of our local primary schools for a martial arts event, and I saw what they did with the Obama speech. One of the teachers assigned a creative writing project that, I gather from the results, was something like:

'Imagine that President Obama announces that he has repealed the Bill of Rights. Write a letter telling him why he should keep it instead. Please explain which amendment is most important to you, and why.'

I noticed that the clear victor among 'most important amendment' for these Georgia children was the 2nd Amendment; the runner-up was the 1st Amendment, for its protection of religion.

I suppose I'll have to do my part as a good citizen and schedule a meeting with the principal, though, to express some concerns.

I don't really object to the idea of asking children to imagine the government violating the Constitution, and to think about what their duty as citizens entails if it does. That's good civics; it's something we should all think about, whoever is currently in charge in Washington.

However, it's very bad civics to fail to convey that the President has no power to repeal the Bill of Rights. The President is not involved in Constitutional amendments of any sort. They are formulated in Congress and ratified by the states; or they are formulated by a Constitutional Convention, once a supermajority of states has called for one. In the event that a President declared that he was suspending the Bill of Rights, then, a rather stronger response than a polite letter would be called for from the citizenry.

In the unlikely event that some President should make such a declaration down the road, I'd hate for today's children to come away thinking, "Oh, dear. Teacher said this might happen. I guess I'd better write a letter."

Meanwhile, if it's not the right time for the Feds to be trying to write curricula, it's probably also not the right time for asking the students to imagine that President Obama is about to suspend the Constitution. Tensions are a bit high right now, as some of you may have noticed. I like the concept of having people think about their duty as citizens to restrain government abuses, but it might have been better to formulate the exercise in a slightly more theoretical way. ("Imagine some future president...", etc.)

China History

History & Tourism in China:

When we were in Hang Zhou, we used to encounter Chinese tour groups occasionally. Hang Zhou was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty, and the site of a scenic lake called Xi Hu ("West Lake"), once home to poets and philosophers as well as the lords of the realm. It's certainly worth going to see if you happen to be in the area. It's about eighty-five miles southwest of Shanghai, linked by rail, so you could do it in three days or so.

(The photos at the link are carefully cropped so as not to show much of Hang Zhou itself, which -- excepting a narrow corridor along the lake and around the university -- is a classicly Communist city. I noticed right before we left that I had done the same thing, so I went back and took photos of all the trash, open sewers, and falling-down International Style buildings... someday, I should dig out those photographs and scan them, both the beautiful ones and the ugly ones.)

The Chinese Tour Group is characterized not just by the megabuses, but by a uniform. The tourist is issued a cap and t-shirt in a matching color -- usually bright red, but possibly bright yellow, in Hang Zhou. They are marched in formation around the city by a tour guide dressed in the same uniform, but distinguished by her megaphone. Important facts are shouted through the megaphone during the march around the city. It's really something to see.

One thing that struck me toward the end of the video was the remarks about China being the 'land for big dreams.' In a sense, that's really true, and it's the one part of China that makes me wonder if some of the China-boosterism has something to it. I don't expect China to overtake America in power, or equal American power, anytime soon; but it is certainly true that it's easier to try a "big idea" in China than here. That used to be America's strength, but it is gone now.

There are two reasons for this: America is expensive, so big ideas are harder to fund; and America is heavily, heavily regulated. Everything you might want to do is surrounded by laws and regulations, and the threat of lawsuits. None of that dogs the big dreamer in China; and his money goes about eight times as far.

Bill Clinton = Racist

OK, I Got It:

I wasn't that put off by Ms. Dowd's column, because... well, because it was Ms. Dowd. The NYT's rival, however, has this analysis of her piece today:

"For two centuries, the South has feared a takeover by blacks or the feds. In Obama, they have both."

Well, not the entire South. Bill Clinton is a southerner. Then again, he supported a white candidate against Obama, didn't he?
Good point. What could possibly explain that? Racism, obviously.

A Better World Through Piracy

A Better World Through Piracy:

What happened to that good old king-beheading sentiment after the English Civil War?

This pirate, too, began pistol-whipping Snelgrave, until some of Snelgrave’s crew cried out, “For God’s sake don’t kill our Captain, for we never were with a better Man.” At this, the pirate left Snelgrave alone, and the one who had tried to shoot him took his hand and promised that “my Life was safe provided none of my People complained against me.” ....

What if [pirates] added up to a picture of working-class heroes? In 1980, the Marxist historian Christopher Hill, wondering what became of the king-beheading spirit of the English Civil War, noted that when the monarchy was restored, in 1660, many radicals emigrated to the Caribbean. Their revolutionary idealism may have fallen like a lit match into the islands’ population of paupers, heretics, and transported felons. Elaborating Hill’s suggestion, the historian Marcus Rediker spent the following decades researching pirate life and came to believe that pirate society “built a better world”—one with vigorous democracy, economic fairness, considerable racial tolerance, and even health care—in many ways more praiseworthy than, say, the one that Snelgrave supported by slave trading. True, pirates were thieves and torturers, but there was something promising about their alternative to capitalism. Other scholars claimed pirates as precursors of gay liberation and feminism. But, as pirate scholarship flourished, so did dissent. In 1996, David Cordingly dismissed the idea of black equality aboard pirate ships, pointing out that a number of pirates owned black slaves, and warned against glamorizing criminals renowned among their contemporaries for “their casual brutality.”
Howard Pyle wrote, in his Book of Pirates, "[W]ould not every boy, for instance -- that is, every boy of any account -- rather be a pirate captain than a Member of Parliament?" Apparently, it's more fun for academics, too.

My favorite lines, though:
A brisk, clever new book, “The Invisible Hook” (Princeton; $24.95), by Peter T. Leeson, an economist who claims to have owned a pirate skull ring as a child and to have had supply-and-demand curves tattooed on his right biceps when he was seventeen, offers a different approach. Rather than directly challenging pirates’ leftist credentials, Leeson says that their apparent espousal of liberty, equality, and fraternity derived not from idealism but from a desire for profit. “Ignoble pirate motives generated ‘enlightened’ outcomes,” Leeson writes. Whether this should comfort politicians on the left or on the right turns out to be a subtle question.
A subtle point, indeed.

A Poem of Tournament

A Poem of Adventure:

From Sir Thomas Malory:

In this country, said Sir Marhaus, came never knight since it was christened but he found strange adventures; and so they rode, and came into a deep valley full of stones, and thereby they saw a fair stream of water; above thereby was the head of the stream a fair fountain, and three damosels sitting thereby.

And then they rode to them, and either saluted other, and the eldest had a garland of gold about her head, and she was three score winter of age or more, and her hair was white under the garland.

The second damosel was of thirty winter of age, with a circlet of gold about her head.

The third damosel was but fifteen year of age, and a garland of flowers about her head.

When these knights had so beheld them, they asked them the cause why they sat at that fountain? We be here, said the damosels, for this cause: if we may see any errant knights, to teach them unto strange adventures; and ye be three knights that seek adventures, and we be three damosels, and therefore each one of you must choose one of us; and when ye have done so we will lead you unto three highways, and there each of you shall choose a way and his damosel with him. And this day twelvemonth ye must meet here again, and God send you your lives, and thereto ye must plight your troth. This is well said, said Sir Marhaus.

NOW shall everych of us choose a damosel. I shall tell you, said Sir Uwaine, I am the youngest and most weakest of you both, therefore I will have the eldest damosel, for she hath seen much, and can best help me when I have need, for I have most need of help of you both.
And so did a young knight choose a lady of sixty years age; nor, when Sir Thomas Malory recounted it to his audience of bold knights and bold ladies, did that seem so odd a thing.