Wednesday, June 29, 2005

First Principles

With all the blogging that prattles on about such trivial matters as the future of American jurisprudence, the limits of constitutional government, and the ethics of war and peace, I am thankful for BanTheBan.org. I am only half-kidding - the dismissive treatment given this matter by certain high-minded voices doesn't obscure what honest, steady observation learns from the anti-smoking movement and similar cabals of good nature. It learns that egotism, ambition, and, yes, tyranny choose the disguise of inocuous helpfulness and goodwill before any other. It isn't out of paranoia that I worry that a distracted, complacent public resigning itself to this collectivist mentality (and collectivism is its essence) threatens our society materially.

See for yourself:

http://bantheban.org

Gene Healy of the Cato Institute (where I interned and inherited the lion's share of my political education) is somewhat of a spokesblogger for the anti-ban movement. I'm right behind them.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

'Something Is Coming Together'

I'll make the disclaimer to this one quick. Anti-war leftist activism has nothing to do, per se, with anti-Americanism or any other form of moral idiocy. Per se. But in the wake of Dick Durbin's risible non-apology today for his likening of US detention policy to the killing fields of Pol Pot, it becomes just a tiny, tiny bit easier every day to shirk the distinction. Leave it to The Nation's editor-in-chief and resident bag of hammers to do the aligning for us.

In a profoundly moving blog post today, Katrina "I Willingly Dress like Susan Sontag" van den Heuvel joyfully relates this anecdote concerning a message from a fellow anti-warrior:

'Just ten days earlier he told me that he was more depressed about our politics than at anytime in the last 40 years. "Hello, this is..." he said. "I was in Washington yesterday at the rally and at the Conyers hearings. And since I laid a heavy statement on you last week, I just wanted to make a correction. It's finally over. My despair is over. Something has happened these last ten days that has revived the antiwar issue. It has to do with public opinion polls and casualties and Republicans like Walter Jones and more Democrats standing up. I won't say how optimistic I am. But something is coming together--you can feel it." '

"...[P]ublic opinion polls and casualties and..." The gentleman ought to be thanked not to say how optimistic he is. Chaos, bloodshed, agony, dread, and raw, cosmic evil plunging at the very heart of human dignity and hope and progress. Sweet relief.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Aw, Shove It

I may come to regret posting the following; 20 years from now, I can just see some jerk in some law office or newsroom (depending on where I end up) dredging this up and trying to ruin my career with it. So be it.

I've been a Catholic my entire life. Since that life has only spanned 22 years, it's fair to say that well over half of my experience of religion and faith has been at least partially involuntary - I was put into Catholic grade school and followed everyone I knew into Catholic high school. This had quite a bit more to do with the relative quality of Philadelphia Catholic schools and private schools than with faith, but I have fashioned a religious experience of my own nonetheless. I despise much about the Catholic Church, but beyond that, struggling with the most elemental aspects of Christian faith is an increasing ordeal, as my curiosity about the world and its complexity intensifies. I'm not certain I buy any of it (Christianity) anymore. I'm not certain, to cite one conundrum, that I can much longer accept a moral system which segregates itself into two components: the precepts to which Christian morality binds mere mortals on one hand and the blanket exoneration of the omnipotent divinity from any coherent moral responsibility of any kind on the other. (To put that more simply, doesn't God have any rules to follow?)

So I am an "agnosto-Catholic" - because there are aspects of my life as a Catholic which I not only am unable to abandon but which exert a visceral and even an intellectual power over me I can't explain. That, to me, is the crux of my own faith - the imagining of a space of inexplicability - bringing me directly to my point.

I'll try not to bandy about much rhetoric. In the debate between creationists and atheists, the latter have won. No contest. This article explains why (via Julian Sanchez):

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000D4FEC-7D5B-1D07-8E49809EC588EEDF&pageNumber=5&catID=2

Science is everyday proving huge swaths of religious conviction dead, flat wrong. But here is what I do not see budging on my side of the fray. When at a given point in history, the total aggregate quantity of scientifically-vindicated knowledge X reaches the point X+1, how does this inestimable achievement of human ingenuity and reason prove (scientifically, mind you) that what lies far, far, far beyond this frontier will not eventually defy those very faculties of ingenuity and reason completely? Because that proof is the primary necessary premise of the claim "There is no God." As best as I can reason through it, it cannot supply this proof, it can only augment skepticism. The chasm between the two is huge, particularly if science is the blunt object purportedly bludgeoning Christianity to a pulp. Taken as a theory (as the article defines the non-scientific sense of the word) the narrative of creationism - that God created all that exists in a matter of days and from that point nothing quantifiable about the physical universe has changed - has been obliterated completely. This proves what God didn't do. Science has always proven what God didn't do, and thus what God is not. The Earth wasn't placed at the center of the universe by this omniscient being, or even at the center of this galaxy. And science argues persuasively that Christianity had better think about reformulating its teaching of God's relationship with the human condition if it actually wants to lay claim to a semi-plausible doctrine.

But here is what the methodological precision of science and reason is, in my view, unable to prove. It cannot prove that God is a fictional contrivance. It does not prove that the causal links that explain science naturally are not themselves causally linked to something unaccountable to human intelligence. It does not prove that this divine entity wishes to cover his tracks, never to be 'found out' by the intelligence of humanity - an undeveloped supposition of atheism, it seems. (To put it differently, couldn't the very spontaneity of the Big Bang, punctuated evolution, etc. be this divine creator's precise intention?) It does not prove that whatever body of verifiable facts the human race can freely deploy as truth are not the result of God's design. As much philosophical argument as I have read disputing these conclusions (the breadth of such writing has dwindled in recent years), I am having a hard time being convinced. And I am looking to be convinced. If anything, my faith is the result of gravitation toward, not away from, skepticism. I am deeply skeptical of the faith that invests itself in the assumption that there is no realm of existence beyond what is provable, definable, quantifiable. Reasonable believers are not looking for science to validate our beliefs. We are just looking for them not to mock us in public. This mockery, for the reasons I've stated, seems a little on the presumptuous side.

For the record (and not to be conciliatory), I admire much about atheism and find great wisdom in it, much to contend with in its ethical/ontological/teleological collisions with theism. Christopher Hitchens is far and away my favorite journalist working today. And this is only one simple component of how I conceive of the entire question of God and faith - I am completely adrift in this regard. I am far more settled and confident in the thoughts and intuitions that persuade me against religious faith than in those that draw me back in. I am in full acknowledgement of the fact that my faith is predicated on a pervading sense of confusion and limitation. But that's the single most personally attractive thing about believing in the supernatural.

But then, my favorite song is Kansas' "Carry On, My Wayward Son". So an anti-ontological defense of belief might be biting off more than I can chew. Weekly reports on my sanity to follow.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Free Bernie

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is long overdue for a Republican clobbering, and in light of the March conviction of former milkman and Worldcom CEO Bernie Ebbers, fiscal conservatives ought to start making animal sacrifices to the gods in hope of this. I'm not at all optimistic in this regard. I become more mystified every day as to what exactly the congressional Republicans (and the Bush Administration) intend to do with their 2004 mandate, aside from feigning moral clarity at the mention of stem-cell research, bankrupting the federal government with aid to African countries (i.e. oligarchs), and pretending half-convincingly to know what's going on in North Korea before the next poor saps have to whip up an actual policy. But returning to 'corporate reform' - this AEI article by former Reagan counsel Peter Wallison says more than needs saying about the crass silliness that went into, and came out of, this frantic legislation:

http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.22648,filter.all/pub_detail.asp

Wallison makes eminent sense in dispelling the fog of regulatory incoherence that has long controlled federal economic policy: "The strongest case for regulation can be made in cases of market failure, where competition or other market activity will not provide an optimal outcome, particularly in terms of product quality, price, and overall efficiency of production. Natural monopoly markets are the classic case for the efficacy of regulation, since in such instances regulation acts as a kind of substitute for competition. Regulation, as in local zoning laws, can also be appropriate when used to obtain socially useful ends that cannot be achieved by market activity alone...

In some circumstances, regulation can also be an effective substitute for the tort system--especially in cases where horrific losses can fall on some who cannot be adequately compensated by legal action after they have suffered a loss. The FDA’s pre-testing and licensing of drugs is an example of this. Its costs, paid by all companies and ultimately included in the cost of pharmaceuticals, are appropriate because neither financial compensation nor prosecution of wrongdoers can adequately place victims back where they would have been absent the loss or can effectively deter subsequent, equally costly, errors by manufacturers. Pre-emptive regulation of this kind, however, is (or should be) exceptional, because it is highly inefficient; it imposes regulatory costs on everyone to prevent a few cases of loss...

Sarbanes-Oxley does not fall into any of these categories. There is no indication--except in the fevered imaginings of the far left--that fraud and financial manipulation are endemic to corporate America. The losses in Enron, WorldCom, and other well-known cases were caused by fraud and other forms of deception by managements. These losses could be and are being compensated by civil actions under the securities or tort laws--many of which are currently underway--and it is highly likely that similar wrongdoing by others will be deterred in the future by civil and criminal actions against the wrongdoers, Bernard Ebbers being the most recent prominent example. The punishments have been severe. The managements involved are now unemployed, indicted, or convicted--and in some cases all three. The companies have suffered major stock market losses, collapsed, or merged. There is little reason to believe that other managements in the future, having seen these results, will have much incentive to follow the same path."

Sarbanes-Oxley is almost certainly the most intrusive and hyperactive piece of corporate legislation in this country's history: it's interesting to note that the grand-daddy of corporate law, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act (1890), prescribed a maximum penalty of $5000, OR 1 year in prison. Yes, I agree that Ebbers' actions are weightier than the net moral implications of most anti-trust cases. But Bernie Ebbers will spend the rest of his life in prison and his family is broke. Fair? Maybe. But the explosion of criminalization that will surely be among the most prominent legacies of the Bush Administration isn't. Amid all the president's posturing on corporate responsibility, and for all the bipartisan muscle-flexing that attended this much-ballyhooed crackdown, some conservatives have become irritable in urging a sign of political responsibility from their party. I wouldn't be expecting much, if I were Peter Wallison.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Bucks County: Worse than CANADA

Came across this article over at the Volokh Conspiracy:

http://www.mcall.com/news/local/all-a1_2bombjun04,0,6959490.story

One wonders what has happened to the good old-fashioned tantrum. Secondly, is Bucks County so awful that it can bore Canadian teenager to the point of violent fantasies? I won't answer.