Project VALOUR-IT: Annual Fundraiser

Again this year, I have been asked to participate in the USMC team, Project VALOUR-IT. I always agree to do this even though I have no idea how to go about asking for someone's money; and especially in hard times like this -- the economy is bad, many of you may be out of work or underemployed, and the government is pressing so many new regulations and taxes that it will be hard for any recovery to be possible -- people often simply can't be sure that they can afford to give anything.

Nevertheless, VALOUR-IT deserves your attention because it helps those who have already given to you. As surely all of you know by now, the name stands for Voice Activated Laptops for OUR Injured Troops. The project was started by Chuck Ziegenfuss, based on his own experience of being without the use of his hands following an encounter with an IED in Iraq. He has since returned to service, and is doing very well; but in addition to his continued service to our country, he has devoted himself to helping those soldiers and Marines, sailors and airmen who may follow him through the hard path of recovery.

Honor is sacrifice, and this project honors those who have sacrificed a great deal for us. It is right and proper that we should honor, and sacrifice, for them. Therefore, please consider donating as you are able; and even if it is not much that you can spare, remember the story of the widow's mite.

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"If This Goes On --"

"If This Goes On --"

I've found an entertaining site for speculative fiction fans like myself, called Paleofuture: The Future That Never Was." The host finds old stories and articles speculating about the future, then looks at what was easy to foresee and what snuck up on everyone. This entry caught my eye: it speculated that future governments would turn most issues into instant public referenda by publicizing the dispute and asking everyone to vote on it electronically at once. Somehow nothing like that seems to have happened. It amuses me to read, nevertheless, because the yearning behind the prediction is for something we already have in an important institution: the free market. The whole theory of the free market is that billions of individual decisions get made in real time every day, spread out to the individual consumers in the farthest corners of the nation and world. These decisions control the allocation of our scarce resources that have alternative uses, merely by setting prices that respond to supply and demand. It's inefficient, wasteful, and cold-blooded, and has only the advantage that it produces more widespread prosperity and avoids more misery than any other system ever tried.

Our government reflects the prevailing mindset of Americans, which is to pay lip service to the free market but not really to trust it very thoroughly. I'd be awfully surprised to see the government moving toward frequent plebiscites on any important issues if they could possibly avoid it. Robert Tracinski opines today on RealClearMarkets about how it can have happened that the current administration can have achieved an expense education without learning the first thing about how our economy works:
Consider Obama's background. He grew up among leftists, his childhood mentors were outright communists, and he then went off to academia, where he spent his formative years in an environment where business and profit-making are looked down upon as ugly, dirty, rapacious, immoral. Is it any mystery why he doesn't know about business or economics? Asking him to study the economics of the free market is like asking one of the old New England Puritans to thumb through a manual on sex education. Why immerse oneself in a subject that is so unseemly? Why make a study of how to be immoral?
Meanwhile, what I'm hoping for from the future is a better way to perform a certain exam that people of my age are all too familiar with. Preparation the day before involves drinking a very large quantity of a substance that tastes like melted jello infused with the flavor of old latex gloves, flavored with off-brand diet soda. I hope all your prayers and good thoughts will be with me as I await the results this afternoon.


An Institution:

This is a fascinating account of the development of Trinity College, where many of the most powerful women in America were educated.

Some of you may be put off by the fact that the article is clearly celebrating liberal women leaders, but don't be. This story is a very important one, as it highlights the way that crucial institutions are built. The builders in this case are spirited Catholic nuns.

If our civilization is to be saved, we also must build institutions. Recapturing and repairing broken ones may sometimes be possible, but very often it is easier -- and wiser -- to start anew.

In Catholicism, different religious orders describe themselves as each having a distinct “charism.” The term refers partly to the basic mission of an order, but also to a more intangible set of attitudes—a spiritual temperament that traces back to the group’s founding. The charism of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur involves running schools for women and girls. More than that, though, it entails a spirit of ambitious enterprise and fierce autonomy—a refusal to take no for an answer in the face of institutional authority.
We need some institutions each having a charism fitting our project. Yet I honestly would not know how to begin; I suppose you must begin with money.



Normally, when one has a guest who violates some rule of manners, it is most praiseworthy to avoid drawing attention to it. When that person happens to wish to join your family -- so that they are petitioning not merely to be a guest, but a daughter -- there may be occasions when you have to express your dismay. After all, once married into your family, their bad manners will stand as a charge against you and your entire family!

Needless to say, this is precisely the opposite of the reaction of the journalist covering this story.



Dad29 had an interesting piece on a critic who worried -- in the 1930s -- that "Southern" ideas no longer received a fair hearing.

Can principles enunciated as Southern principles, of whatever cast, get a hearing?” he inquired in The Attack on Leviathan. “ . . . It seems to be a rule that the more special the program and the more remote it is from Southern principles, the greater the likelihood of its being discussed and promulgated. Southerners who wish to engage in public discussion in terms that do not happen to be of common report in the New York newspapers are likely to be met, at the levels where one would least expect it, with the tactics of distortion, abuse, polite tut-tutting, angry discrimination and so on down to the baser devices of journalistic lynching which compose the modern propagandist’s stock in trade. This is an easy and comparatively certain means of discrediting an opponent and of thus denying him a hearing.
As Dad29 points out, the "South" was only the leading edge here: the mechanism is currently being employed against rural Americans regardless of how northerly their point of origin. The relentless 'distortion, abuse, tut-tutting and discrimination' aimed at Sarah Palin during her run for the Vice Presidency is exactly of this type; and Alaska is pretty far north!

We're seeing the same thing aimed at Rep. Michelle Bachmann, and Christopher Hitchens -- whom I've often praised for his several good qualities -- gave the game away:
Where does it come from, this silly and feigned idea that it's good to be able to claim a small-town background? It was once said that rural America moved to the cities as fast as it could, and then from urban to suburban as fast as it could after that. Every census for decades has confirmed this trend. Overall demographic impulses to one side, there is nothing about a bucolic upbringing that breeds the skills necessary to govern a complex society in an age of globalization and violent unease. We need candidates who know about laboratories, drones, trade cycles, and polychrome conurbations both here and overseas. Yet the media make us complicit in the myth—all politics is yokel?—that the fast-vanishing small-town life is the key to ancient virtues. Wasilla, Alaska, is only the most vivid recent demonstration of the severe limitations of this worldview. But still it goes on. Hence one's glee at the resulting helpings of custard.
While I share Hitchen's enthusiasm for the Libyan adventure -- if only it were properly pursued -- I find his disdain for the rural to be remarkably ill-informed. I have lived in small towns and big ones, urban America and rural America and densely-populated China; and of it all, rural America really does have a special set of virtues. I trust the gentleman from England doesn't realize it, perhaps having missed the opportunity -- or, perhaps, he simply lacks the right kind of eye.

Still, there is something to be said for the prejudice. Cities also produce a number of disagreeable qualities, and frankly I hate them. I hate them never more than when I'm forced to be inside one for any extended period. Yet it is good that there are cities, if only so that there are fewer people in the woods. The more people who share the prejudice, the more likely I am to be left in peace.


Wounds and Manhood:

Dr. Kenneth Hodges wrote:

Wounds do not mark failures in the effort to be knightly. Although
each wound might be said to result from a failure to ward a blow properly,
the inevitability of this happening some times even to the best
knights means knights had to deal with the fact that they would be
hurt. Medieval sources testify to the thorough understanding that being
injured was an essential part of knighthood, even for the best knights.
Geoffroi de Charny, when he compares knighthood to religious orders,
emphasizes the injuries that knights regularly suffer. Likewise, Margery
Kempe uses knights as seeming commonplace images of bodily pain and
penance. Malory’s Gawain unwisely makes a similar argument in the
Grail quest: “I may do no penaunce, for we knyghtes adventures many
tymes suffir grete woo and payne.”


Maurice Keen quotes several
men who justified tournaments precisely because they taught men how
to deal with pain. Roger of Hovedon said, “he is not fit for battle who
has never seen his own blood flow, who has not heard his teeth crunch
under the blow of an opponent,” and Henri de Laon agreed, writing,
“to be soaked [in] one’s own sweat and blood, that I call the true bath of
This strikes me as relevant to contemporary social issues as well; but I won't draw the lines too finely.

Beer Goddess

Give Me That Old Time Religion:

It's good enough for me!

The Anchor Steam Brewery, in San Francisco, once cribbed ingredients from a 4,000-year-old hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian beer goddess.
We really need to regard the end of the "beer goddess" as a kind of giant backwards step in civilization.

Walzer Maimonides

Walzer on Maimonides, Charity, and Justice:

Michael Walzer, a leftist thinker who has written one of the most important modern works on Just War Theory, has a new piece on questions of charity and justice. He is interested in the Jewish model -- because it was stateless -- which strikes him as useful because, in the (hopefully continual) absence of a global state, he believes that all of us are stateless. This leads to some interesting lines.

With little or no coercive power, the Jewish communities in the Diaspora had to rely heavily on the charitable contributions of their members. The contributions were indeed necessary, for without them there would be no way, for example, to ransom Jewish captives (a major concern of the Diaspora communities throughout the Middle Ages), help the poor and the sick, provide for orphans, or fund synagogues and schools. And so the medieval philosopher Maimonides argued, following Talmudic precedents, that insofar as Jewish communities in the Diaspora had coercive power, they could legitimately force their members to give tzedakah.


Pledge cards were distributed, filled out at the table, and then put in an envelope and passed to the head of the table. There sat the owner of one of the biggest stores in town -- let's call him Sam Shapiro. Sam knew everybody else's business: who was doing well and who was not, who was paying college tuition for their children, who had a sick mother, who had recently made a loan to a bankrupt brother, who had money to spare. He opened each envelope, looked at the pledge, and if he thought that it was not enough, he tore the card in half and passed it back down the table... What moral or philosophical principle was Sam enforcing? He probably could not have answered that question, but the answer seems obvious: "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." That line is from Karl Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program. Sam was not a Marxist, not by a long shot, but he adjusted the demands he made on each of us to his knowledge of our ability to pay. And we all believed that the UJA would distribute the money to those most in need.
A strongly left-leaning thinker will find these principles easier to endorse than a right-leaning one; but Walzer is worth engaging even for those on the right. For example, he has this to say:
What does it mean to address the needs of the poor? This, too, is a question not only of charity but also of justice. Maimonides has a famous discussion of the eight levels of tzedakah, but only two need concern us here. The highest form of charitable giving, he wrote, is to set up a poor man in business or in work of some sort, to make him independent.
All of this talk of charity is directed toward a final assessment of humanitarian invasions. Walzer has an interesting history here, having strongly favored them before the Iraq war... and then, for reasons that strike me as being out of line with the principles he argued so well in Just and Unjust Wars, finding ways to oppose the invasion of Iraq. See what you think.



Performed by Les haulz et les bas.



I would just like to take a moment to point out that our friend Elise has been blogging again, including quite a bit of commentary on David Mamet's new book (which I haven't read, and am fairly certain not to read).

Her latest post is one that was written as a criticism of the Left, but that deserves a serious and thoughtful response from the Right -- and, indeed, from my part of the Right broadly considered.

A woman’s femaleness—and thus her sexual potential—is, in a patriarchy, always uppermost. A man can be a doctor, but a woman is a lady doctor. A man can be a lawyer, but a woman is a lady lawyer.
My sense is that it is true, even in the least patriarchal of societies, that sex has a fundamental place: in other words, that a man who is a lawyer is a man who is a lawyer even once we no longer deploy terms like lady lawyer.

This is because sex is part of one's first nature, as Aristotle puts it: the part of ourselves that we obtain from nature. 'Being a lawyer' is part of our second nature, which refines and (hopefully) improves upon our first nature; but it cannot supplant it. We should not expect it to do so, either for ourselves or for others.

Nor, indeed, should we wish to be able to blind ourselves to these basic differences. Over the last eight months, I've been reading a great deal of Hannah Arendt's work; and while I think I am ready to identify and explain just what it is about her approach that bothers me, I have also found in it a great deal to admire. She has a particularly convincing and persuasive argument that plurality should be recognized as the basic condition of the universe.

The fact that even our solitary consciousness divides itself when we are alone and in thought -- so that we can have a conversation with ourselves, and run the risk of falling into disharmony with ourselves -- is evidence that consciousness cannot operate properly without a plurality. There is a fundamental benefit, in other words, to having another consciousness with whom to compare notes; so fundamental that we are forced to replicate the experience even when we are alone.

Indeed, I think the argument is stronger than she makes it out to be, as she is trying to dissolve metaphysics and yet seems to have demonstrated a genuine metaphysical principle. This is an argument that approaches the mystery of creation; it explains why a unity (such as God is supposed to be by Augustine, Avicenna, and many others) would produce a plurality. The neoplatonic model usually asserts (as did Augustine) that it is simply 'abundant goodness' -- that the essential nature of the One is existence (which Augustine, Avicenna and Aquinas identify with the good), and that it 'has so much' existence that existence simply spills over.

God creates, that is, because He cannot do otherwise; it is His nature. Here is another way of approaching the point: a conscious mind, perhaps even a divine one, will instantly create a plurality when it is alone. Creation follows naturally from consciousness, not merely existence or goodness.

In any case, these are very high metaphysical arguments for taking differences seriously, and seriously valuing them. This is true even for our enemies, whom we are rightly told we should love. How fine it is to have a worthy enemy, who will push you to strive for your own best! How fine it is to have a wicked enemy, who gives as a free gift the opportunity to strike a blow for what is right and just! Life offers nothing finer. We rightly love the ones who give us that adventure.

We who are men should likewise love women, precisely because they are different from ourselves. The opportunity to learn from women is a great gift to men, precisely because it offers another and different view on the world (or, if you wish to continue framing this in the rather stronger and more useful theological terms, this divinely-blessed creation). They can see in places where we are blind; and vice versa.

This does not escape the perils of having a first nature that can be improved but not discarded. Rather, it accepts those first natures as part of the order of the world: and it accepts them in large part because it begins to see the benefit that goes with the hazard.

When Elise's favorite Lefist blogger writes, "As a feminist, I want women to be able to walk through the world as something more than just....", I understand and wish to accord with her. She should certainly have the right to be 'more than just...' her first nature, and should have the liberty to develop her second nature to its highest degree. I am glad to defend her rights in this regard.

I am furthermore glad to defend a space for those who share her first nature to walk through the world without being preyed upon by those who haven't properly tamed their own first natures. Valuable those these things are, they nevertheless are meant to be refined and trained by reason and discipline; though, those who will not are still valuable as enemies of the wicked type. Compartmentalizing sexuality isn't the same as denying first nature; it's an exercise of the virtue of moderation, which is surely the hardest and most excellent of the virtues.

This places me, I think, in the position of asserting that women have something uniquely valuable to offer humanity as women -- and that as a sort of metaphysical consolation prize for being unable to satisfy the desire for an escape from what her first author calls a 'ghetto.' Women can and should be free to walk the world 'not just' as women, but nevertheless as women. It is your charge and your honor to do it well or badly. I cannot and do not wish to offer men any greater freedom, for whatever that is worth.