Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Oh come on!

What? Queen rock! Freddy Mercury had one of the best (if not the best) voices in rock in roll. Brian May is a fantastic guitar player. They played great as a band and wrote great songs.

They rocked with élan—playing at times very refined and fancy music. But they still rocked.

[Update: After reading Sandefur’s reasons for disliking Queen, I don’t think I would recommend to him Rick Wakeman’s The Myths & Legends of King Arthur & The Knights of the Round Table ( 1975). I liked this CD—I think it has its really neat moments (interesting musicial passages, etc). But, even I probably couldn’t have handled when Wakeman took this piece of music and put it on ice.]

Monday, August 30, 2004


To a new place in Yardley, PA. Almost done. That's why blogging has been light of late. This semester I am teaching 21 credits (that's 7 different sections, although 5 of them are online courses) at three different colleges AND doing some corporate training. I plan to post regularly. But if posting seems a little or a lot lighter than it was in the summer, you'll know why!

Friday, August 27, 2004

Bailey on Fukuyama:

Great article at Reason by Ronald Bailey on Francis Fukuyama’s most recent book, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. Fukuyama is another one of those Straussians, in fact, a former student of Allan Bloom’s. Like most of the Straussians, he is a learned and intense thinker, and I think he has written much worth reading, and, even though he is decidedly not a libertarian, some of his ideas deserve praise.

(For instance, his book The End of History and the Last Man, —the book that put him on the map as a thinker—is, or at least, could be interpreted as a defense of democratic capitalism from the point of view of Hegelian historicism [I say “could be interpreted as” because some critics of his, notably Shadia Drury, argue that Fukuyama, like Strauss himself and his East Coast followers, are not real defenders of liberal democracy. And in this book, Fukuyama also writes about the downside of History ending at liberal democracy as well]. That is, the founding principles of modern politics take it as a priori true—because such rights derive from “the laws of nature and nature’s God”—that liberal democracy/democratic capitalism is the only legitimate form of government. But what if one doesn’t believe that rights are objectively grounded in nature? Fukuyama argues that History—that is Truth as it is historically, not objectively, determined [because Truth cannot be objectively determined]—will not evolve beyond liberal democracy, that all forms of government either have arrived at this destination or are moving towards it and eventually will get there. So Fukuyama offers another basis, besides natural right, for justifying democratic capitalism. That is something that I think we libertarians can appreciate).

But for whatever his virtues, this book in particular and his stance on biotech in general is not something that deserves praise. Fukuyama is a social conservative—although his social conservatism is quite moderate and reasonable on some issues, but rather reactionary on others. And his view on biotech is reactionary. The bottom line is that Fukuyama and like minded folks are against technological progress on this issue. And if there is one thing that makes the West so great is the way that we have been able to progress scientifically. Think of how much better life is now that it was just one hundred years ago. Bailey perfectly sums up this sentiment in this passage:

Our ancestors had no wings; now we fly. Our ancient forebears could not hear one another over 1,000 miles; now we phone. And our Stone Age progenitors averaged 25 years of life; now we live 75. Thanks to our knack for technological innovation, humanity has by far the largest extended phenotype of all creatures on planet Earth. Nothing could be more natural to human beings than striving to liberate ourselves from biological constraints.

Fukuyama’s mindset would have kept us in the stone age.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

What a confused bunch of loons:

The Constitution Party is inaptly named, as their platform misunderstands and misrepresents the US Constitution and our founding principles. The following is my dissection of their preamble:

The Constitution Party gratefully acknowledges the blessing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as Creator, Preserver and Ruler of the Universe and of these United States. We hereby appeal to Him for mercy, aid, comfort, guidance and the protection of His Providence as we work to restore and preserve these United States.

The first part of their preamble explicitly does what the neither the US Constitution, nor the Declaration of Independence do: Invoke explicitly Christian language. The Declaration does invoke God, but eschews Christian language and instead appeals to a generic “nature’s God,” who most certainly is not readily identifiable as the God of the Bible. The Constitution leaves God out all together. If our founding documents did use this language that the Constitution Party uses (which many of the state governments at the time used), then their next claim might be accurate.

This great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Boy does that language sound familiar. It’s taken verbatim from David Barton’s made up quote attributed to Patrick Henry, who never said it. But if it were true, by reading the plain text of the Constitution and the Declaration, which mention nothing of the sort, you could have fooled me.

For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been and are afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.

Nope: There is nothing in the text of the Bible or the first 1700 or so years of the historical practice of orthodox Christianity that demands, giving “peoples of other faiths…asylum, prosperity, and freedom to worship.” Arguably, this represents the antithesis of Christianity up until a particular point in Western history when Protestant dissidents began calling for tolerance. People of other faiths have the freedom to worship in American because “nature’s God” grants men the inalienable right to worship no God or twenty Gods (in Jefferson’s words).

If America were founded on Biblical Christianity and if “nature’s God” were the God of Biblical fundamentalism, then please tell me how to square God granting men the inalienable right to worship false gods (something that the Bible does not say God does and something that a jealous God probably would not do), with the First Commandment of the Bible. Good luck.

The goal of the Constitution Party is to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.

Jurisprudence and Biblical foundations? Constitutional boundaries? Given that the Constitution says nothing about God and the Bible, I find it hard to believe that these Biblical foundations exist in the American jurisprudence of Constitutional law.

Perhaps they were talking about the common law. So let me note a few things about the common law. First, it’s true that some judges, back in the day, held Christianity to be part of the common law. This doesn’t mean they were right. Just as present day social conservatives might argue that Roe v. Wade or Lawrence v. Texas got it wrong, so too did many believe that those judges who held Christianity or the 10 Commandments to be part of the common law got it wrong. Most notably, Jefferson believed this. In fact, he called holding the 10 Commandments as part of the common law to be a “judicial usurpation.”

Second, the common law is old—it goes back hundreds of years prior to even the formation or “discovery” of the modern principles of political and natural rights that found our nation. This nation was founded on such principles articulated by the Declaration and then secured by the Constitution (and the various state constitutions and laws as well). But it’s entirely possible -- and in fact this often occurred -- that certain decisions of the common law were just plain incompatible with the political principles that found this nation.

And there is no question which law would trump: Not all law was created equally. Natural law has the highest authority, then Constitutional law (if you are a positivist, then you would argue that Constitutional law is the highest authority). All the way at the bottom of the totem poll is the common law. The common law can be modified (or, as is often the case codified—and modified when it is codified) by a simple state statute!

Walter Berns, in Making Patriots, has written an instructive passage on Christianity as part of the common law and how this fits together with our founding principles:

Liberty of conscience was widely accepted at the time of the Founding, but this did not prevent some jurists and legislatures from insisting, at least for a while (and given our principles it could be only for a while), that Christianity was part of the law, meaning the common law. So it had been in England, and so, it was assumed by some (but not Jefferson), it would continue to be in America. But there was no disagreement about the place of the common law [my italics]. Indeed one of the first things done by the states after independence was to declare (here in the words of the New Jersey constitution of 1776) that “the common law of England, as well as so much of the statute law, as have been heretofore practiced in this Colony, shall remain in force, until they shall be altered by a future law of the Legislature; such parts only excepted, as are repugnant to the rights and privileges contained in this Charter [or constitution].”

But if the “rights and privileges” contained in the various state charters or constitutions included the right of liberty of conscience, and if, in turn, this right required, in Madison’s words, “a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters,” what did it mean to say that Christianity was part of the common law? Very little, as it turned out; and it turned out as it had to turn out. Consider, for example, the case of blasphemy in America…. pp. 32-33.

Berns then notes how blasphemy laws remained on the books, but in post-Founding America, the judges, in maintaining their consistency with the rights of conscience, had to “redefine the offense” to include utterances against any religion that would tend to cause a breach of the peace. In other words, the policy behind the offense was now to protect the peace, not the Christian or any religion. These state courts had effectively “stripped blasphemy of its religious character.” Leading Berns to ask, rhetorically, “who can quarrel over a blasphemy law that protects one and all [religions] alike”?

But the bottom line of all this is that our founding principles presuppose religious neutrality. And to the extent that old common law decisions contradict this, the common law gets trumped.

Back to the Constitution Party’s platform:

The Constitution of the United States provides that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." The Constitution Party supports the original intent of this language. Therefore, the Constitution Party calls on all those who love liberty and value their inherent rights to join with us in the pursuit of these goals and in the restoration of these founding principles.

Huh—I’m glad they recognize Article VI. But it seems to me that most of everything else they stand for (what I have examined above), directly contradicts this. And some of what they write below contradicts Art. VI as well. For instance this:

The U.S. Constitution established a Republic rooted in Biblical law, administered by representatives who are constitutionally elected by the citizens. In such a Republic all Life, Liberty and Property are protected because law rules.

What “no religious tests” has to do with “a Republic rooted in Biblical law” is beyond me. Please someone inform me.

We affirm the principles of inherent individual rights upon which these United States of America were founded:

That each individual is endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are the rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness;

Good, now if only they would recognize that these are Enlightenment platitudes that have nothing to do with orthodox Christianity.

That the freedom to own, use, exchange, control, protect, and freely dispose of property is a natural, necessary and inseparable extension of the individual's unalienable rights;


That the legitimate function of government is to secure these rights through the preservation of domestic tranquility, the maintenance of a strong national defense, and the promotion of equal justice for all;


That history makes clear that left unchecked, it is the nature of government to usurp the liberty of its citizens and eventually become a major violator of the people's rights; and


That, therefore, it is essential to bind government with the chains of the Constitution and carefully divide and jealously limit government powers to those assigned by the consent of the governed.

Ditto: I might add that such a government binds religious fundamentalists like those in the Constitution Party from using the state to enforce their particular version of “virtue.” Howard Phillips, their last candidate, is a Christian Reconstructionist, who believes that the state must enforce Biblical law, even going so far as to execute adulterers and homosexuals (last time I saw him on CSPAN, Phillips used “incest” as the classic case of a capital offense). However, they are wrong. Statecraft is not soulcraft. Our Founders understood this. They don’t.
Blair’s Childrearing Methods:

This story caught my eye.

Lisa Whelchel, who played Blair on the popular 1980s TV series Facts of Life, is an advocate and practitioner of "hot saucing." Whelchel, the author of Creative Correction: Extraordinary Ideas for Everyday Discipline, says the practice worked for her children when other disciplinary actions did not.

"It does sting and the memory stays with them so that the next time they may actually have some self-control and stop before they lie or bite or something like that," Whelchel said on ABC News' Good Morning America.

By the by, I am currently reading Blair’s book; although I am about halfway through, I haven’t yet gotten to the part where she lets us know whether it’s okay to beat your children.

I wonder what Mrs. Garrett would say about this. She was such a paragon of wisdom. "Giiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirls!"

Remember the episode where the girls smoked pot & bought bongs from a record shop. And Tootie & Natalie were told that bongs are for holding jelly beans. That was a classic.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Missionary Mushrooms:

Here is a story about one of those “ex-gays.” He is even used as an anecdote by prominent ex-gay activists. The interesting thing here is that this fellow‘s “born-again” experience, which in turn lead to his “change” away from homosexuality, was facilitated or even wholly caused by a trip on magic mushrooms:

Then it happened. I had a spiritual revelation of the reality that God does exist. It happened while I was using a hallucinogenic drug known as 'mushrooms' or 'shrooms'. While on this drug, I had a vision where Christ appeared before me wearing a shining blue robe. He spoke to me, showed me the reality of His being and told me that I must forgive my father for the wrong he had done against me and against my family. This experience led me to reignite my faith in Jesus Christ. The seed had been planted at 16 and again at 24 I was experiencing spiritual renewal. I began seeking God body, mind and spirit. I stopped using all drugs (including alcohol) and bought a bible. I began attending church regularly and started a practice of daily prayer. During one of these prayer times I asked God if He intended for me to be gay. You see, just because I had reinstated a dialogue with God I did not automatically assume He wanted me to be straight or that being gay was morally wrong. Instead, I asked and said, "The ball is in your court God--- if you don't tell me otherwise, I will assume this is okay with You." God did not remain silent. In fact, the three days following my having said that prayer I heard direction and received wisdom from God. In His answer God revealed to me that I was in fact comparing myself to other men as though I myself was not a man, in my own right. He showed me my own masculinity, hidden underneath shame. I received this truth and soon realized that I could not be attracted to other men now that I knew myself as a man. I looked at my lover naked and felt no attraction. I looked at other men naked and could not elicit the physical response of sexual excitement.

And where would this fellow be without “magic mushrooms”? Will conservatives now start to encourage dropping acid as a catalyst for “finding Jesus”? Will they demand the legalization of all hallucinogenic drugs? Will they at the very least give mushrooms the credit that they deserve for their decisive role in leading this man to Christ?

Friday, August 20, 2004

Off to Atlantic City:

To see Yes and Dream Theater at the Borgata.

Update: One word to describe the show: Phenomenal. Although I like many different styles of music, one thing I really dig about progressive rock is the respect that the musicians have for musicianship, i.e., playing music that is technically demanding (as is normal for jazz & classical music). A lot of rock bands out there are decent players and good songwriters, but their reliance on their raw creative talents and studio production in “perfecting” their sound often leads to lackluster live performances (Smashing Pumkins comes to mind as an example of this—they sucked live).

These two bands played their music—music that is highly technical (but that is still good, "heart & soul" music)—practically flawlessly. I was so impressed by how the guys in Yes—who are pushing 60—sounded every bit as good as they did 30 years ago. Jon Anderson has got to be the happiest man on Earth (he just exudes positive vibes). And his voice in particular sounds just like it did 30 years ago (this is important—many rock singers have no formal voice training and thus don’t know how to “take care of” their voices. Years and years of screaming on-stage takes a toll. And many prominent middle-aged rockers, for instance, Robert Plant, Greg Lake, Steven Stills, and even my favorite progressive rock signer, Steve Walsh [of Kansas] don’t sound like they did in their prime. Even some of the jazz greats—like Frank Sinatra—start to gradually lose the quality of their voices as they get on in years).

Dream Theater are of the next generation. But even they have been around for some 15 years or so. And the guys are starting to get into their mid to late 30s. Their music is arguably even more demanding than Yes’s and from what I’ve heard, Dream Theater mandates a “clean” lifestyle (no drugs or alcohol) while on tour and the members work out vigorously. You could tell that they keep their bodies in really good shape.
This is ashame:

THOR L. HALVORSSEN, although he no longer works for them, has done Yeoman’s work at the FIRE fighting for freedom on college campuses (he is now at something called The Commonwealth Foundation). Now he has to face this: He and his family are natives of Venezuela and oppose the Chavez thugocracy. And something horrible has happened there hits him close to home:

Within one hour of the gathering, just over 100 of Lt. Col. Chávez's supporters, many of them brandishing his trademark army parachutist beret, began moving down the main avenue towards the crowd in the square. Encouraged by their leader's victory, this bully-boy group had been marching through opposition neighborhoods all day….

A 61-year-old grandmother was shot in the back as she ran for cover. The bullet ripped through her aorta, kidney and stomach. She later bled to death in the emergency room. An opposition congressman was shot in the shoulder and remains in critical care. Eight others suffered severe gunshot wounds. Hilda Mendoza Denham, a British subject visiting Caracas for her mother's 80th birthday, was shot at close range with hollow-point bullets from a high-caliber pistol. She now lies sedated in a hospital bed after a long and complicated operation. She is my mother.

I don’t know what to say. If you are religious, please pray for Mr. Halvorssen and his family. If not, just keep him in your thoughts and let's hope for the best.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Alan Keyes: Allan Bloom’s “Gentleman”:

Most people who know of Alan Keyes know that he is a devout Catholic and his extremist views on social issues are informed by a very dogmatic belief in Catholic doctrine (but then again, one wonders why Keyes has only two children).

Even though I find him a bit nutty & extreme, anyone hearing him speak knows that he is smart (as many nutty & extreme folks are); what is less well known is that he is the product of a very refined education. He has studied at both Cornell and Harvard and has his Ph’d from Harvard. Folks might not also know is that Keyes has a Straussian connection. He studied with Harvey Mansfield, under whom Keyes completed his doctoral work. And before coming to Harvard, Keyes studied with Allan Bloom at Cornell. Not only did he study under Bloom, but Keyes considers Bloom to be his most important intellectual influence.

Keyes chided George Bush when the prospective Republican candidates were asked something like, “who is your favorite or most influential philosopher?” and Bush answered Jesus. Jesus, according to Keyes, is the Truth, whereas a philosopher is someone who searches for the Truth. While Keyes noted that the Founding Fathers were his favorite philosophers, he answered that Allan Bloom was the most important single philosophical influence over him.

From a CSPAN interview:

Q: Along the way, greatest influences among your teachers?

A: I think that, without any doubt, the greatest influence among my teachers was Allan Bloom, who was a professor at Cornell when I started there, went to the University of Toronto. I think ended his life and career at the University of Chicago, was well known as the author of a book called The Closing of the American Mind, which enjoyed some popularity a few years ago. Without doubt, Allan Bloom was, in terms of my academic and intellectual formation, the most important teacher I had.

Q: Can you explain why?

A: I think because, in a way that ended up, really, capturing my both interest and serious thought, he understood the moral foundations of politics--at least the importance of those moral foundations. And instead of approaching a political life and the questions that we are involved with in politics and morality, as is often popular these days, as if it is all somehow a consequence of material relationships, he took seriously what had been the view of societies and eras before our own, which saw a self-subsistent basis for moral things, and therefore for political life, and which took that seriously, going all the way back to ancient times with Plato and Aristotle and others. And I just felt, and still deeply believe, that there is more truth in that than in those approaches that try to reduce human things to some kind of sum of the material forces that operate upon us as material beings.

Keyes was such a big fan of Bloom’s that he followed him from school to school. They both sort of left Cornell together. And what many don’t know is that Keyes & Bloom were involved in a series of “incidents” that led them both to leave Cornell (no, it’s not what you are thinking).

It was the 60s and these were tumultuous times at Cornell. Student demonstrations had shut down campus operations, and the militant black students in particular had come in literally with guns a blazing.

Here is Bloom from Closing:

I became fully aware of this when I went to Cornell’s then provost…concerning a black student whose life had been threatened by a black faculty member when the student refused to participate in a demonstration. The provost was a former natural scientist, and he greeted me with a mournful countenance. He, of course, fully sympathized with the young man’s plight. However, things were bad, and there was nothing he could do to stop such behavior in the black student association. He, personally, hoped there would soon be better communication with the radical black students (this was a few weeks before the guns emerged and permitted much clearer communication). But for the time being the administration had to wait to hear what the blacks wanted, in the expectation that tensions could be reduced. He added that no university in the country could expel radical black students, or dismiss the faculty members who incited them, presumably because the students at large would not permit it.

I saw that this had been a useless undertaking on my part. The provost had a mixture of cowardice and moralism not uncommon at the time. He did not want trouble…The case of this particular black student clearly bothered him. But he was more frightened of the violence-threatening extremist and also more admiring of them. Obvious questions were no longer obvious: Why could not a black student be expelled as a white student would be if he failed his courses or disobeyed the rules that make university community possible? Why could the president not call the police if the order was threatened? Any man of weight would have fired the professor who threatened the life of the student. The issue was not complicated. Only the casuistry of weakness and ideology made it so. Ordinary decency dictated the proper response. pp. 316-7.

The black student was, of course, Alan Keyes. This incident prompted Keyes to drop out of Cornell, finish up his BA at and go onto get his Ph’d from Harvard. And this incident in particular, and the general way in which Cornell had handled itself amiss the campus turmoil, prompted Bloom to resign in protest.

Bloom went onto to become a visiting professor in Paris France, and then at Harvard. And Keyes followed Bloom to both places. Bloom went onto the University of Toronto and then Chicago while Keyes stayed at Harvard to finish up his Ph’d.

Okay. Now to the irony: During all of this time, Bloom was a practicing homosexual. And his students knew this. Paul Wolfowitz described Bloom’s relationship with his students as sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But as a gay man with no wife and children, Bloom could, and in fact did take a more active role in mentoring and nurturing his students.

Bloom’s homosexuality may have been “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but at some point in his life, Bloom partnered with a live in lover—Michael Wu. And from reading Ravelstein, when Bloom invited his students over to his apartment, Wu was right there helping to prepare the food for the “get-togethers.” When Bloom died, Wu was his chief mourner and in fact, his heir.

Now consider some of the cruel rhetoric that Keyes has used against homosexuals:

Gay marriage, Keyes warns, will cause "the destruction of civilizations," and he has equated the "homosexual agenda" as "totalitarianism." In fact, Keyes claims, "Hitler and his supporters were Satanists and homosexuals." To Keyes, "The notion that is involved in homosexuality, the unbridled sort of satisfaction of human passions," leads to totalitarianism, Nazism, and communism.

Says Keyes, "Since marriage is about procreation, and they can't procreate, it is a logical requirement that they can't get married." Never mind that heterosexual couples incapable of or unwilling to have children can get married, or that many gay couples have children. Keyes seems oblivious to this reality: "Homosexuals are not haunted by the prospect or possibility of procreation – because they're simply not capable of it. I think this is pretty obvious, isn't it?"

One other thing worries Keyes about homosexuality: lesbian couples having children by means of artificial insemination. Why? Well, because the children of lesbians who don't know their fathers might meet and be unknowingly related: "That means that an incestuous situation could easily arise in our society; it's more than likely to arise – not to mention every other kind of incestuous complication."

At a May 14 rally in Boston against gay marriage, Keyes even declared that gay and lesbian couples don't have sex: "It's not entirely clear to me you can call them sexual, because in point of fact, sex is no part of what they do. Real sexuality is about the distinction between male and female, as expressed in the body and its differences."

I wonder if Keyes attended Bloom’s funeral (based on his high regard for Bloom, I'm sure he did). I wonder how he consoled Bloom’s chief mourner—his partner.

Something else that’s a little odd: (Again, according to Ravelstein) One thing Bloom liked to do in Paris was cruise male prostitutes. I’m sure they spent much personal time together when in Paris; I wonder what Keyes would be doing while Bloom was off cruising guys over there.

Still, from reading Closing, Bloom supported folks like Keyes. That is, even though he was an atheist nihilist who lived an “unconventional” life, just like the other East Coast Straussians, Bloom wholly supported the religious conservatives and fundamentalists and their public policy positions. The Closing of the American Mind was, at heart, a support for Dan Quayle’s “Family Values” agenda and a rejection of the 60s. For all of the extravagances of his “esoteric” life, Bloom, in his politics (or at least in the politics of Closing—I haven’t read his work Love & Friendship, and I understand that his views there come off as more unconventional) was a 1950s style social conservative.

I termed Keyes a “gentleman” because, according to Straussians like Bloom, “philosophers” must make alliances with “gentlemen.” Philosophers are inherently nihilistic; they know there is no God; they are capable of gazing into the abyss without flinching; but they ought to keep philosophy secret. They should publicly support the “gentlemen,” those who believe in “noble lies” like orthodox Christianity. The public needs religion and it needs eloquent spokesman on behalf of religion, hence Alan Keyes. Bloom may have helped to create this “gentleman” Keyes. But in reading Keyes’s above mentioned screed against homosexuals, one wonders if Bloom helped to create, not a gentleman, but just a crank.
The Right Savages Keyes:

Alan Keyes’s senate campaign is off to a disastrous start. His endorsement of reparations is far likelier to alienate his right-wing supporters than it is to attract votes from the constituency that supports reparations. Moreover, as other bloggers have noted, it makes him look like a waffler.

This is from a piece from Frontpagemag savaging Keyes:

Mark your calendars: this is the earliest point at which Keyes has resorted to racial demagoguery, a staple of Keyes’ media appearances for nearly 20 years. When Keyes left the State Department in the late 1980s, he blamed his stalled career on a biased superior. Keyes referred to his inability to attract media attention during the 1996 presidential primaries as “a blackout, which means you keep the black out.” (Keyes last cited his racially charged dictionary in 1992, when he told Republicans they had gone colorblind, which “means that when a colored person walks in, you suddenly go blind.”) In 2000, the single-digit candidate accused the New Hampshire press corps of racism for not covering his presidential campaign to his satisfaction.

Beyond stirring ethnic animosities, Keyes also has a habit of engaging in genuinely neurotic behavior. Keyes chained himself to an Atlanta TV station in 1996, then went on a hunger strike to protest his exclusion from a televised debate. He deliberately provided fodder for Michael Moore’s camera during the 2000 primaries, body surfing the crowd at an alternative rock concert in return for Moore’s promised endorsement. (Moore predictably reneged.) Will this man convince Illinois voters that he’s the steady hand they want at the nation’s helm during a time of war?

Still, for some reason, I am greatly looking forward to the debates! (As nutty as he is, Keyes is fun to watch speak.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Don’t get this bass-ackwords:

I must agree with Volokh and this article from TCS about poverty and crime. No doubt there is a correlation between the two, but the commonly proffered story about poverty causing crime gets things backwards. It is in fact a more plausible explanation that crime causes poverty, not the other way around. Here is Volokh:

Poverty, people say, causes crime; but what many people miss is that crime causes poverty. Crime disproportionately victimizes the poor, and it keeps them poor, partly by diminishing their assets (or making them invest their scarce money in anti-crime measures) but chiefly by keeping their neighborhoods poor. If you want to help the poor, work to reduce crime -- which in large part (though not entirely) means arrest, prosecute, incapacitate, and thus deter criminals.

My own feeling however, is that, while crime certainly exacerbates the problem of urban poverty, the high urban crime/urban poverty that we see occurring together are both caused by something else, something greater.

And when it comes to being in poverty, very few adults (and in that definition I include underaged young adults having children) are “poor through no fault of their own.” That is, the means of being in poverty and escaping it are within their control. And what they do that causes their poverty results from cultural forces that also lead to high crime as well. William Galston, a Democrat, and a moderate lefty (and as I understand, a Straussian to boot), lays out the case for escaping poverty (citing James Q. Wilson summarizing Galston):

[Y]ou need only do three things in this country to avoid poverty—finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8 percent of the families who do this are poor; 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor.

My opinion: The same cultural forces that lead individuals to decide not to do what Wilson & Galston admonish, result in higher levels of both poverty and crime.
Alan Keyes comes out for reparations?

Wow this is bizarre. Is this a political ploy for Keyes to attempt to get more black votes? Or is it because he himself has been having problems with the taxman?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Dungeons & Windbags & Wingnuts:

Instapundit links to an interview by Dungeons & Dragons’ creator Gary Gygax to score some points against Walter Cronkite, whom I, like Glenn, regard as a pompous windbag. I played D&D when I was younger, but gave it up around 13 when I got into comic books (my comic book store hosts D&D and other game tournaments; you’d be surprised at how old some of the players are. Or maybe you wouldn’t). I actually owned this version of the Dungeons Masters Guide. The interview is interesting. They talk about the smear of the D&D in the media. 60 Minutes did a horrific hatchet job on it.

Here is Gygax:

In many ways I still resent the wretched yellow journalism that was clearly evident in (the media's) treatment of the game -- 60 Minutes in particular. I've never watched that show after Ed Bradley's interview with me because they rearranged my answers. When I sent some copies of letters from mothers of those two children who had committed suicide who said the game had nothing to do with it, they refused to do a retraction or even mention it on air. What bothered me is that I was getting death threats, telephone calls, and letters. I was a little nervous. I had a bodyguard for a while.

Of course, D&D—with its Witchcraft & Demons—is a favorite whipping boy of the Christian Right. About a decade ago, I actually debated Bob Larson (as a caller to his show), who, back when he had his talk show, epitomized the "religious nut” (among other things, he liked to perform on-air exorcisms—today he takes his traveling exorcism show from city to city. Whoops…I just checked his website—he’s back on the radio. Check out this list of topics.).

I explained to Larson that I played D&D and I was fine; it didn’t adversely affect me at all (he told me that I really didn’t know if I were fine). And that many of these characters are “good” and actually fight evil demons like Asmodeus and Demagorgon. Larson told me that only “Jesus” had power over demons and thus, the game would only be legitimate if the characters invoked his name to defeat the demons. He asked me if that’s how I played the game to defeat Asmodeus (this demon, Bob had just featured in his new fiction book; but he was also featured in D&D’s first Monster Manual). I said, no, I preferred to use a vorpal blade to chop his head off. He replied that the only thing that got “chopped off” was my soul. Then I’d play the tapes of my phone calls to my friends in the dorm and we’d all have a laugh. Ah, the good old days.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Wow, that many?

Sometimes when reading Clayton Cramer’s blog, I get the impression that only gay men are interested in having sex with the underaged. But in reading it today, we learn, via this article, that, apparently, heterosexual men have got this problem quite bad.

It is difficult to know how widespread the crime of statutory rape is across the country, particularly among girls who willingly engage in sex with older men. Franklin said Virginia hospital records from 2001 show that in 70 percent of births to girls age 14 and 15, the father of the baby was at least three years older than the mother. That is a felony under Virginia law.

After a trial run of the program in Norfolk last year, officials conducted informal polling of men and found that 69 percent said they knew of someone having sex with a minor.

Grace Sparks, president of Planned Parenthood-Virginia, said studies show that the younger girls start having sex, the older their partners tend to be.

"If she starts at 11 or 12, her partner is more likely to be a decade or older," Sparks said. "It's pretty shocking."

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Update on George Washington as a Freemason:

I have only recently taken an interest in George Washington’s status as a Freemason (his and other framers’ involvement with that group, coupled with the Mason's general influence on the times, [just look at the back of the dollar bill], and considering that fundamentalist Christians consider Freemasonry to be occultic and evil, helps to demonstrate that we weren’t founded by a bunch of Pat Robertsons & Jerry Falwells).

There is no doubt that Washington had more than a nominal relationship with the Freemasons. Yet, Washington’s involvement, and the tendency of some crackpots to see a Masonic conspiracy around every door, has lead to some myth and exaggeration.

Here is an interesting site that seeks to set things straight about the Masons. Earlier I had cited Gary North who held that Washington became a Grand Master Mason.

This site says:

Myth: Washington was Grand Master in Virginia.

Fact: Washington never was a Grand Master. At the instigation of American Union Lodge he was suggested for the office of Grand Master of a National Grand Lodge -- a non-existent body. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and some others agreed, but too many others disagreed with the concept of a National Grand Lodge. Washington was appointed Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22 in Virginia by Grand Master Edmund Randolph when that Pennsylvania Lodge requested a charter from the Grand Lodge of Virginia. The following year he was elected Master, but there is no record of his installation into this office, nor is there any record of him presiding over this Lodge. To keep the record straight, there is much evidence of his respect, and perhaps even love for Freemasonry. Proof? He was buried with Masonic rites!

Myth: George Washington was Grand Master of Masons in Virginia.

Fact: Washington never was a Grand Master. American Union Lodge, on December 15, 1779, proposed Washington become General Grand Master of the United States! This proposal speaks volumes for the character of the Commander-in-Chief. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania agreed five days later! Too many others were frightened by the concept of a National Grand Lodge. It is highly doubtful that Washington would have accepted such an office.

Washington was appointed Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22 in Virginia by Grand Master Edmund Randolph when that Pennsylvania Lodge (No. 39) requested a charter from the Grand Lodge of Virginia. The new charter was dated April 28, 1788. In December of the same year he was elected Master, but there is no record of his installation into this office, nor is there any record of him actually presiding over this or any Lodge.

So Washington was a Master (at least he was elected), not a Grand Master. Yet, some other sites on the Internet claim that Washington was a Grand Master. But the site, in its balance, also goes after those who would downplay Washington’s involvement in the Freemasons:

Myth. George Washington never was interested in Freemasonry. He rarely, if ever, attended Lodge meetings.

Fact. To keep the record straight, there is much evidence of his respect and even love for Freemasonry. True, he seldom attended Masonic meetings. This is understandable when it is realized that from the day he was made a Master Mason until shortly before his death he worked for his country. Did he love and respect the Craft. The ultimate proof -- he was buried with Masonic rites! And this even before the Congress knew of his death. (For further study of George Washington and a complete account of his Masonic activities see George Washington: Master Mason, Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Richmond, VA.)

Myth. George Washington renounced Freemasonry.

Fact. On the contrary he remained a member of the Craft from the moment he was Initiated into the Lodge at Fredericksburg, Virginia (No. 4) until the day he died. Even then his wife, Martha, asked the Freemason of Alexandria, Virginia, to hold and conduct his funeral (see above).

In 1837, at state expense, Joseph Ritner, Governor of Pennsylvania, endeavored to "save" the reputation of the first President. He had published a tract "proving" Washington had never participated in Masonic events. Earlier the Blanchards, father and son and heads of a so-called "Christian" anti-Masonic organization, were among the first "Christians" to "prove" Washington wasn't a Freemason. Much of the anti-Masonic diatribe they promulgated has been carried to the present day by crusading "saints" against "secret" societies.

So I guess in 1837, the then version of the religious right tried to “rehabilitate” Washington’s “Christian” reputation with some lies. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Here are some other interesting sites that I came across in my research. In particular, the following is one of their takes on Washington’s “Master” status:

Some highlights…. In 1778 he was deemed worthy to serve as the first Grand Master of the new Grand Lodge of Virginia -- but was not available. On April 29, 1788, he was appointed the Worshipful Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22 (which is today named Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22), and was serving (at least nominally) in that office when he was inaugurated President of the United States.

Friday, August 13, 2004

A worthy cause:

Check it out. And if you regularly give to charities, seriously consider giving to this one.
Brief Thoughts on McGreevey:

This story hits home in more ways than one. Right now I am living in Lumberton, NJ about a half hour outside of the capital of Trenton. I grew up in Yardley, PA (My folks still live there; I basically consider Yardley to be my permanent address). And I am leaving Lumberton and moving back to Yardley exclusively as of September. Yardley is right across the Delaware River from Trenton (literally 5 minutes away). And I teach at the county community college where Trenton is located; in fact I have taught in the inner city Trenton campus.

I had no idea. I guess it just goes to show that even though homosexuals have an equal right to marry members of the opposite sex—doing so is not necessary the best of ideas. Plenty of prominent homosexually oriented men have gotten married and sired children—Leonard Bernstein, Anthony Perkins, Bob Bauman, Cole Porter, Michael Huffington, just to name a few. And these marriages all have one thing in common: These gay husbands never give up the object of what they are primarily attracted to: Men.

On talk radio last night one host suggested that it’s perfectly understandable for a gay man to get married to a woman once—you know, trying to change, doing what society tells all men to do—but perhaps getting married a second time was morally wrong. Still, McGreevey, although he obviously has “issues” with Catholic doctrine, was raised as a devout Catholic. And we can never discount what the Church’s teachings might have done to his mind. I know firsthand that denial can do very odd things to one’s mind.

Obviously, my biggest problem is with what he did in appointing the man in question to an important post in NJ’s government in which this man obviously wasn’t qualified for. As someone working in NJ and struggling to eak out a living as a full time but adjunct college professor at three different colleges, I’d love to be making over $100,000 working for the state of NJ!

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Why Sexual Orientation ought to be on the “Civil Rights List”:

First off, let me thank Signifying Nothing for the link. The topic was a few posts by Eugene Volokh where he discusses some of the analogies regarding “sexual orientation” as a civil rights category, particularly the analogy between “sexual orientation” and “race.”

The following is an email that I sent to Volokh regarding these posts:

I don’t think that gay rights activists uniformly make the analogy to race discrimination, or if they do, then I think it’s a mistake to do so for a few reasons. What activists should do (what I do) is say that “sexual orientation” ought to be recognized as a “civil rights category.” That’s far different than arguing sexual orientation is a near perfect analogy to race. Why? Well just look what’s already recognized as civil rights categories at the federal level: Race, color, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, pregnancy. (Am I missing any?) The relevant question becomes, given what’s on the list, and given that the preexisting list is a fair one (it would be a far different story if the list included race and only race), [and given that the list should apply to private markets, which, I don't think it should] is there any logical reason for keeping sexual orientation off of the list? I say no.

As far as analogies are concerned, I’d say gender and religion (I liked the one you blogged about with the Hindu example [note: see also Sandefur’s post on this topic here]) are better ones than race. I realize that gender has more exceptions than race, i.e., [for Constitutional cases] “intermediate” as opposed to “strict” scrutiny and [for Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act] the BFOQ exception for disparate treatment cases, whereas race is never a BFOQ. Yet, if sexual orientation could get that (gender’s) level of protection, which is significant, but less than race’s, I’d say that would be a major victory for gay rights.

What’s also interesting—something I did not mention in my email—is that Volokh mentions some other criteria that are not protected categories, for instance height discrimination. Personally I can think of many categories that are every bit as unchosen and immutable as race and in which discrimination based on these factors would be every bit as arbitrary and irrational: Not only height, but also eye color (natural), hair-color (natural), handedness, astrological sign, etc. (as well as some chosen things that would still be arbitary to discriminate against, i.e., male facial hair or female breast implants). So, if discriminating on the basis of these factors would be no fairer than discriminating on the basis of race, why don’t we add these to the civil rights list?

Bruce Bawer offers the answer:

History, indeed teaches us that it is not the [small d] democrats but the bigots who, time and time again, place special emphasis on lines that separate people into groups. The aim of every truly democratic society should thus be to lessen the importance of these boundaries—to recognize that it is unfair to be prejudiced either for or against individuals simply because they happen to belong to a certain group.

A Place at the Table, p. 87.

Now I’ve heard it argued that race is a social construct. That is, race, in and of itself, is no more intrinsically meaningful than eye-color or hair-color. But why do people separate themselves into “racial” groups, but not into “handedness” groups? The answer is because society has already drawn those lines (this also explains why women aren’t a separate social group; nature pretty much has prevented that from occurring).

So we might get the question, why should we give civil rights status to “sexual orientation” but not something like height, which is every bit as unchosen, and doesn’t even involve anything behavioral? It’s the same answer as to why we grant civil rights status to “race” but not “height.” Because society has “drawn lines” on the boundaries of “race” and “sexual orientation” but never—or not really—around things like eye-color, height, handedness.

I’ve talked to or otherwise know of some social conservatives who are sympathetic to gays getting fired simply because they are gay, and would like to see gays granted some sort of protection, especially in the public sphere [Note: not all social conservatives; some don’t want gays protected at all and in fact want the government to actively persecute gays or at least offer no protection whatsoever for them. But if you want a prominent example of one who fits my description: Ralph Reed]. That is, they accept the traditional economic theory that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or any factor that has no relatedness to the job in question is irrational economic behavior, and that although the private market has “corrective forces” that would help to tackle such problem without the need for anti-discrimination codes, the public sector, with its monopoly power, can simply pass off the cost of such irrational discrimination to the taxpayer. And those tax dollars come from gay Americans as well, making it even more unfair (we’ll discriminate against you and then pass off the cost of such irrational discrimination to you as well).

But the same social conservatives are usually hesitant at supporting any kind of public code that officially protects the category of “sexual orientation” in the public sector. That is, they want homosexuals to receive protection, but not under any kind of code recognizing “sexual orientation,” but rather under a generic code that would incidentally protect gays, without recognizing the "sexual orientation" category. For instance, a code that says something along the lines of “any and all job decisions shall be made strictly on the grounds of merit” and “any behavior that is not illegal shall not serve as grounds for adverse job decisions.” Arguably gays—like smokers, pork-eaters, short people, red-heads, flat-chested women or those with breast implants, guys that are too skinny or who have a beard—would all be protected against adverse decisions under such a policy, even as they receive no special protection on the official “civil rights list” that includes race, gender, religion, age, etc.

So why shouldn’t we protect sexual orientation with such a generic policy? For the same reason why “race” and “religion” have made the “civil rights list” but “eye-color” and “handedness” have not: Society has drawn the line—with its sodomy laws, its bans from public sector jobs, its sending to mental institutions, its reputation ruining, persecution and hatred—against homosexuals in a way that it never has against southpaws or redheads. That’s why “sexual orientation” ought to be on the list.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

A Christian Fundamentalist “Deconstruction” of our Founding Fathers (or lying through one's wooden teeth):

At over 400 pages, I doubt I will get through Gary North’s Ebook, Conspiracy in Philadelphia, anytime soon. For those interested, it’s certainly amusing and the scholarship is quite thorough and, I suppose, respectable. North accurately cites an array of leading authorities—historians and political scientists such as Gordon Wood, Gary Wills, Forrest McDonald, Thomas Pangle, Edwin Gaustad, Jack Rakove, Bernard Bailyn, just to name a few—in making his case.

And, from what I have read so far, I’ve been taken aback by how North’s book anticipates much of what I have written on this site over the past half-year on religion and the political philosophy of our Founding. I could literally go paragraph through paragraph of his book and compare it to blog post after post of mine for the similarities between us. Maybe this is because North’s book is incredibly thorough in its analysis; he practically leaves no stone unturned in attempting to demonstrate that our framers—on the whole—were the furthest thing from Christian fundamentalists, and that they founded a secular government that would eventually put an end to the theocracy that North desires (what many of the states at the time had).

However, despite its merits, I ultimately give the book a thumbs down, because—leaving aside the whole technical issue as to whether our Constitution was “legally ratified” or not (I’ll defer to Ed Brayton’s analysis of this), North’s thesis ultimately goes off the deep end into crackpot paranoia that sees the United States as one big occultist/ alchemist/ Newtonian/ Enlightenment/ Freemason/ pagan conspiracy (I’ve skimmed through about ½ of the book—I haven’t yet seen if North mentions the Illuminati).

Still the book deserves praise for accurately challenging the notion put forth by today’s religious right that our government was built on a “wholly Biblical foundation.”

The book is quite simply a “deconstruction” or a “debunking” of the Framers from the view of the Christian fundamentalist right. Deconstruction of the framers is common these days; but what’s obviously novel about North’s book is that, previously, the Left has had a monopoly on debunking our framers (as a racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, bunch of Neanderthals).

The dedication sets the stage for the entire book: “This book is dedicated to the members, living and dead, of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (Covenanters), who for over two hundred years have smelled a rat in Philadelphia.”

North starts off the book noting how (small u) unitarianism (what I have called deistic-unitarianism)—a philosophy that is not orthodox Christian—was dominant among our most influential framers.

In this book, I argue that the United States Constitution is the product of eighteenth-century unitarianism, though not Unitarianism, which was a nineteenth century movement. The supposed Founding Fathers (Framers) of repute were trinitarians in much the same way that Sir Isaac Newton had been: members of publicly confessing churches, but not personally believing in the confession. [This is notable because some scholars, after M.E. Bradford, argue that only a few of the framers—for instance, Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine—were avowed deists, the rest professed some type of orthodox Christianity. The problem with this assertion is that many of these “Christian” framers, like Jefferson, Washington, and Adams, were Christians in a nominal sense]. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were self-conscious about their rejection of trinitarianism, as their later correspondence reveals. George Washington was less identifiably unitarian, but he refused as an adult to take the Lord’s Supper, and he avoided the use of the word “Christ” as systematically as Abraham Lincoln did, four score and seven years later. Benjamin Franklin’s religion was a religion of practical gentility, devoid of the disturbing concept of hell. Madison, to the extent that he wrote about religion, was self-conscious in his attempt to reduce the impact of confessions of faith and theology on politics, which he regarded as religiously neutral.

[All of this is accurate. Tweak a few words and that paragraph reads like it could have been written by me.]

Like the Straussians (and relying on the work of Thomas Pangle), North argues that by following Newton, Hobbes, & Locke, America represented the vanguard of modernity, founding itself on man’s reason (thus secular humanism), as opposed to Christianity. But wait? Weren’t Newton & Locke Christians? They might have professed Christianity, but they put their faith in, and wanted to found political orders on, science & reason. More importantly—and this is one thing North wants to beat into the skull of the “Christian Nation” apologists—belonging to a Church and professing Christianity—as Newton might have done—does not a true Christian make.

Indeed, many Christian Nation apologists make a big deal out of Sir Isaac Newton’s faith. North regards Newton’s influence as pure evil. Newton in fact, is the father of the deistic-unitarian philosophy that founds this nation! Indeed, North argues, that for a deist like Newton to “profess Christianity” makes him all the more dangerous; real Christians won’t listen to a man outrightly professing heresy. What made Newton and our framers so dangerous is that they belonged to Christian churches, but posited deistic-unitarian doctrines nonetheless.

Here is North from his Chapter entitled, “Isaac Newton: The Trojan Horse”:

The central figure in Enlightenment thought was Isaac Newton….There is little question that Newton was a touchstone for philosophy in the United States in the eighteenth century….

Isaac Newton was a secret unitarian [which North describes as a worldview "in which the doctrine of the trinity is superfluous scientifically"]. Had he admitted this fact in public, he would have lost his job at Cambridge University, as his friend and associate William Whiston did, just as Newton had warned him, advising that he continue to deceive the public [Let me note that, unlike North, I don’t fault Newton for his secrecy; as North notes, Newton would have been ruined, perhaps executed, if he wore his unitarianism on his sleeve. Thus it was necessity, not duplicity, that spurred Newton’s concealment]. Newton was the dominant intellectual influence in the eighteenth century, and he remained so until the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859). His mechanical model of a not-quite autonomous cosmos was stripped of its few traces of deity by his successors. His ideal, so stripped, was unitarian: a world that can be understood by its effects in terms of reason rather than traditional theological confessions. It is in this sense that I discuss the world of the Framers as Newtonian. [Note compare this with what I have quoted from Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers].

Next North quotes Russell Kirk on the deistic-unitiarian philosophy (which Kirk refers to as simply “deism”). Although I have never read Kirk’s view, I came to the same conclusion in this post. As you will read, Kirk’s quote refutes two objections offered to the notion that our framers were “deists”: One, that only a few framers publicly confessed Deism; and two, what Dennis Teti (and others) have argued—that deism posits a strict non-interventionists God, but some of our most deistic framers, for instance Thomas Jefferson, alluded to a God that intervenes:

"Deism was neither a Christian schism nor a systematic philosophy, but rather a way of looking at the human condition; the men called Deists differed among themselves on many points….Deism was an outgrowth of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scientific speculation. The Deist professed belief in a single Supreme Being, but rejected a large part of Christian doctrine. Follow Nature, said the Deists (as the Stoics had said before them), not Revelation: all things must be tested by private rational judgment….”

The Declaration of Independence:

North calls the Declaration of Independence a “deistic document”:

Three of the five-man committee that was responsible for writing it were theological unitarians: Jefferson, Franklin, and John Adams. Three were Masons: Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Franklin. As David Hawke writes of Adams: “He verged on deism in religion and found it no easier than Jefferson to admit his waywardness publicly. He respected the findings of natural philosophy and was inclined to extend those findings into the social and political world. He believed that natural law resembled the axioms of mathematics—‘Self-evident principles, that every man must assent to as soon as proposed.’”

In their old age, Adams and Jefferson renewed their friendship in a long correspondence, and their letters reveal that they were almost totally agreed on religion. They hated Christianity, especially Calvinism. In Jefferson’s April 11, 1823, letter to Adams, he announced that if anyone ever worshipped a false God, Calvin did. Calvin’s religion, he said, was “Daemonianism,” meaning blasphemy. He knows that Adams was already in basic agreement with him in these opinions. After surveying their letters, Cushing Strout concludes: “Whatever their political differences, Jefferson and Adams were virtually at one in their religion.” Strout identifies the creed of this religion: unitarianism. Jefferson was systematic in his hatred of Trinitarian Christianity. In his old age, he sent a letter to James Smith, which he stressed was confidential, in which he expressed confidence that “the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United States.” In a letter to Benjamin Watterhouse that same year, he wrote: “I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.” The Bible is just another history book, he wrote to Peter Carr: “Read the Bible, then, as you would read Livy or Tacitus.” As for Adams, he was buried in a crypt at the United First Parish Church (Unitarian) in Quincy, Massachusetts.

[Note: I have blogged about this here and here and Alan Dershowitz writes about this in his study of Jefferson: America Declares Independence.]


North accurately describes Freemasonry’s influence on our framers and that Freemasonry is incompatible with orthodox Christianity. But this is also where North goes off the conspiratorial deep end. Here is North quoting Harold O.J. Brown on the founders’ Freemasonry “problem”:

“America’s symbolism is not really theism at all, even of an Old Testament variety. The Seeing Eye is sometimes found in Christian art, but on the Great Seal of the United States it, like the pyramid, reflects the vague ‘Great Architect’ deism of American Freemasonry rather than faith in the personal God of Christianity.”

That Brown should appeal to the reverse of the Great Seal, the all-seeing eye and the pyramid, is significant, though even Brown is unaware of just how significant. The Congress on July 4 appointed a committee to recommend designs for a seal of the United States. The committee was made up of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. The obverse (front) of the Great Seal is the eagle. The reverse of the Great Seal is the all-seeing eye above a pyramid, a familiar Masonic symbol.

George Washington’s religion and his involvement in Freemasonry:

North notes that, although Washington was a member of the Anglican Church, he never took communion in Church. Here is North analysis of Washington’s Trinitarianism [very similar to mine here]:

There is very little evidence in Washington’s public communication that he accepted the doctrine of the Trinity. [Author Paul F.] Boller insists that not once in his voluminous letters does he actually mention the name of Jesus Christ, although announcing universal negatives is always risky. Washington refused to commit to public pronouncements any statement of his personal faith besides a commitment to divine Providence. Except during wartime, he attended Church once a month. Thus concludes, Boller [Note: I have cited this exact quote previously], “if to believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ and his atonement for the sins of man and to participate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper are requisites for the Christian faith, then Washington, on the evidence of which we have examined, can hardly be considered a Christian except in the most nominal sense.”

North cites a book entitled The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, where we find a “1794 painting of Washington in the regalia of Grand Master of a Masonic lodge. It was an official painting; his lodge at Alexandria paid $50 to the painted.” Washington was first initiated into the Masons on November 4, 1752. “Washington had served as Grant Master of the Alexandria lodge in 1788 and 1789. When he was inaugurated as President of the U.S., he was therefore a Grand Master, the only Mason ever to be inaugurated President while serving as a Grand Master.”

North delves hard into Masonic conspiracy with Washington:

You will not read in the textbooks that 33 of Washington’s generals were Masons. You will also not read that LaFayette was not given command over any troops until after he agreed to be initiated into Union Lodge No. 1, at which ceremony Washington officiated as Master Mason. But such was the case. Washington presided over a procession in Philadelphia on December 27, 1778, after evacuation of the British. Dressed in full Masonic attire, he marched through the city with three hundred other Masons, and then held a Masonic service at Christ Church, which became his congregation of preference during his Presidency.

In addition, North cites some letters by Washington to his fellow Masons:

In a letter written to King David’s Lodge No. 1 of Newport Rhode Island, written on Sunday, August 22, 1790, Washington wrote: “Being persuaded that a just application of the principles, on which the Masonic Fraternity is founded, must be promotive of private virtue and public prosperity, I shall always be happy to advance the interests of the Society, and to be considered by them as a deserving brother.” In several letters, he referred to God as the Supreme Architect. A representative example is his letter to Pennsylvania Masons (Dec. 27, 1791): “…I request you will be assured of my best wishes and earnest prayers for your happiness while you remain in this terrestrial Mansion, and that we may thereafter meet as brethren in the Eternal Temple of the Supreme Architect.”

Now, previously, I was told by Elizabeth (Mrs. Joe) Farah, that Washington was only nominally involved with the Masons. North informs me of the source of this contention: Washington’s letter to G.W. Snyder in 1798, where he claimed to have not been in a Masonic lodge “more than once or twice in the last thirty years.” North claims that Washington “outright lied” in this letter. “One does not become a Grand Master of a lodge by attending services once or twice over thirty years, but one can certainly fool two centuries of Christian critics by lying through one’s wooden teeth about it.” LOL. I think I’ll end there. If that last line of North’s doesn’t make you laugh out loud, I don’t know what will.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Burying and Praising Gary North:

I’ve written before about theocrat “Christian Reconstructionist,” who duplicitously calls himself a libertarian, Gary North. He has written an interesting article and what looks to be an interesting book as well and North deserves to be buried and praised for what he has written.

Buried: The thesis of North’s book is that “the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was in fact an illegal coup d’état.” I don’t think I need to say more. But what’s interesting is why North is desperate to prove this proposition.

Praised: North recognizes, contra the claims of fundamentalist revisionists, David Barton et al., that the Constitution is the furthest thing from a “Biblical” document. That’s not to say that it’s hostile to Christianity—but it and the Declaration of Independence are indeed hostile to theocracy or any kind of understanding of orthodox Christianity (such as North’s) that seeks to use the state to impose the norms of Christianity or to preference Christianity in any way. The natural rights doctrines that undergird both of these documents presuppose religious neutrality.

North recognizes that while the Constitution is “neutral” on the matter of religion, the states at that time most certainly weren’t:

In 1787, the states, with one exception (Rhode Island), were explicitly based on faith in God. In most cases, elected state representatives were required to swear their belief in the Trinity. The new Constitution made all such oaths illegal for Federal office (Article VI, Clause III). By means of the 14th Amendment (1868), the U.S. Supreme Court has applied this prohibition to state governments, completing the transformation in the case of Torcasso v. Watkins (1961).

I told this story 15 years ago. In response, the silence has been deafening. The "Christian America" promoters have steadfastly avoided any reference to my 1989 book. So, I decided to create a stand-alone volume, add more documentation, put a title on it that might break through this wall of silence, and give it away.

In other words, the states had little theocracies or “Christian commonwealths,”—but the Constitution explicitly broke with this model. Thus, even though the Constitution initially preserved the ability of the states to enact theocracies, (just as the Constitution initially preserved the legality of slavery), it did nothing to advance the notion of “theocracy” (ditto with slavery), and, in founding the federal government, rejected the theocratic model. The federal constitution was revolutionary in its religious neutrality and in the fact that it explicitly left God out (a fact that did not go unnoticed). If this nation were truly founded on Biblical Christianity, the federal Constitution would have contained provisions that looked very similar to what the states had at that time.

The federal Constitution could have invoked Christ or the Trinity, could have required allegiances to such, or could have demanded “no religious tests” among the Christian sects only. But it didn’t do any of these things. And in instituting a “no religious tests” clause that didn’t distinguish between Christianity and non-Christianity, many observers at the time realized that, God forbid, “Jews, Turks, and Infidels,” now could hold public office in the United States.

A couple other notes: North notes Rhode Island as not having any kind of religious test. Rhode Island is significant in that it was founded by the great Roger Williams, who was as much of an orthodox Christian as anyone else, but broke with the common understanding among orthodox Protestants at the time who didn’t see a difference between the Commonwealth and the Church. For offering a novel but compelling case as to why the two should be separated and why “no civil state or country can be truly called Christian although Christians be in it,” Williams was banished from Massachusetts to found Rhode Island.

Also, although VA had in 1787, provisions in its laws invoking Christianity, those were rendered meaningless by Jefferson’s VA Statute on Religious Freedom, passed in 1786 (with the help of Madison). So it was Rhode Island and VA who, at the time of the founding, had established secular governments that separated Church & State. And each represented a separate tradition of secularism. Rhode Island represented the religious—the Protestant dissident rationale for secular government. VA represented the rationalist—the Enlightenment rationale for secular government. The US Constitution followed these states in establishing a secular, indeed a “Godless,” Constitution. Kudos to Gary North for recognizing that such secularism is hostile to theocracy. And hopefully he will convince his fellow theocrats—the David Bartons of the world—that if we want to implement theocracy in this nation, we will have to overthrow the Constitution.
Oh our precious bodily fluids!!!!

Is this what the John Birch Society, and Stanley Kubrick, in his parody of them in Dr. Strangelove, were referring to when they warned of messing with the water supply? Just substitute "Prozac" for "Fluoride."

Sunday, August 08, 2004


Thanks to Exgaywatch for the permalink!

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Walter Berns and the Fourteenth Amendment:

I’m finishing up Walter Berns’s Taking the Constitution Seriously and will return it to the library in a few days. Before I do, let me note something on Berns’s jurisprudence. Berns posits a view of strict judicial restraint similar to that of Robert Bork’s/Lino Graglia’s. Like them, Berns argues that Marbury v. Madison was wrongly decided. As such, I obviously strongly disagree with his approach. But he makes his case in a more even handed and fair manner than either of those two, and demonstrates far more respect for the “original liberalism” of the likes of Jefferson and Madison that he often finds himself arguing against. (For instance, Berns recognizes that there was much support for both judicial review and applying the religion clauses of the Constitution to the states—both of which Madison supported—but argues that Madison’s views simply weren’t dominant at the time of the framing.)

Berns is one of those “East Coast Straussians” who recognizes that this nation was founded on the “modern political principles” contained in the Declaration of Independence, yet that we are bound, not by the Declaration’s organic law, but by, as Thomas West puts it, “fidelity to the Constitution, to the institutions and mores created by the Constitution, and a willingness to turn away from the principles of the Declaration, so that they can be kept in check.”

This view accepts that the Constitution was written to secure the natural rights of the Declaration, but by following the Constitution only, without regard to the ideals of the Declaration, we are left with a “shell” of natural rights, which is better than the whole shebang because those “compromises” that the Constitution makes with the “ideals” of the Declaration temper “the extremes of liberty and the pursuit of happiness that court personal license and social disorder” (as Robert Bork puts it—Berns probably wouldn’t put it so harshly, but it’s clear that he shares the sentiment).

As should be expected, Berns sees the Court's Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence as the source of most present day Constitutional law evils. As much as I may disagree with his overall opinion of the Amendment, he correctly explains the proper function that each of the Amendment’s clauses ought to have and contrasts that with how the Court’s jurisprudence (improperly) understands each clause to function. Where I disagree with Berns is whether the Court has the right to enforce substantive “privileges or immunities,” that Congress hasn’t enumerated.

According to Berns, the “Due Process,” “Equal Protection,” and “Privileges or Immunities” clauses each were directed at different branches of state governments. Berns argues that neither the Due Process Clause NOR the Equal Protection clause were intended to grant any kind of substantive rights; that both of the clauses are procedural. Substantive rights, particularly of “liberty” and “equality,” are to be found in the “privileges or immunities” clause, not the “liberty” phrase of the Due Process clause or in the “equal protection” clause.

Here is how Berns describes the proper function of each clause, and as you will see his analysis that gives the greatest weight to the “privilege or immunities clause” is not too far off from Randy Barnett’s or Akhil Amar’s (I think, based on what I understand Amar’s position to be—I have not yet read Amar’s work, although I plan to soon).

Equal Protection restrains state executives:

[T]he equal protection clause…when read literally, says nothing to the state legislatures, but it says something of real importance to the state executives. They are now forbidden to “deny to [i.e., withhold from] any person within [their] jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Governors and sheriffs and the rest were now, for the first time, under a national constitutional obligation to provide the protection of the laws to any person within the jurisdiction of their states or counties, whether resident or visitor, citizen or alien, black or white, adult or child, male or female. p. 212.

In other words, this is “procedural” not substantive equality. The clause has nothing to do with whether a particular law that draws distinctions between classes of citizens is constitutional or not, but rather demands that law enforcement give the full protection of generic laws to all citizens. For instance, if a law forbids murder, theft, or assault, then law enforcement must protect blacks fully under those laws as they would whites (and this wasn’t being done in the Jim Crow South—if a white assaulted a black [or a white for that matter who violated the “color line” by doing business with blacks], local yahoos would subject these folks to violence and local law enforcement would ignore, or otherwise not adequately handle, the matter. Indeed, often the local law enforcement and the criminal yahoos were the same people!).

Due Process of law was directed at the judicial system, demanding a fair and impartial process:

Berns believes substantive due process to be an oxymoron.

Read literally, the due process clause…imposes restrictions not on state legislatures or on the kind of laws they may enact but on state courts.[] It forbids those courts “to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”; which is to say, when imposing punishments or penalties on any person, the state courts are now under a national constitutional obligation to follow the accepted processes of law. Ibid.

Here he is on some of the earliest substantive due process cases:

Louisiana had enacted a statute forbidding the purchase of insurance from out-of-state companies and had sought to recover a sum of $3,000 from a New Orleans cotton merchant who had insured a shipment with a New York company. Whatever might be said against the purpose or substance of the statute, Louisiana had not violated legal process by adopting or enforcing it. The Supreme Court nevertheless declared it to be a violation of due process. It said the liberty protected by the clause included the liberty to enter into contracts and then proceeded to say, in effect, that the states were forbidden to deprive any person of this liberty no matter what process, due or undue, it followed. Again, to refer to two later cases, there is nothing in the language of the clause enabling judges to distinguish between miners and bakers, or, more precisely, between a law limiting the hours of employment of miners and a law limiting the hours of employment of bakers. The Supreme Court, nevertheless, upheld the miners law and struck down the bakers law, and it did so for reasons having nothing whatever to do with the process of law. p. 213.

Again, during the worst of Jim Crow, the court processes involving blacks were anything but “fair and impartial.”

Privileges or Immunities Clause—finally we get to our “substantive rights” (that would prevent state legislatures [or constitutions] from having laws that conflict with such rights):

Now here is where Berns, to his credit, distinguishes himself from Bork, et al., who holds the “privileges or immunities clause” to be an “inkblot,” thus a “meaningless” provision of the Constitution. Berns believes that this clause was one of the most important and meaningful provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. Moreover, he calls the Slaughterhouse decision that nullified the clause, “ridiculous.”

According to Berns, this clause clearly was intended to be the source of substantive “equality” and other rights. But here’s Berns’s rub: The Supreme Court, by itself, was not granted the power to “find” or “define” those rights—that’s Congress’s job. And Congress clearly didn’t do its job: “Nor did Congress make a serious effort to exercise the other major power granted it by the Fourteenth Amendment, that of enumerating the privileges or immunities belonging to national citizenship.” p. 210.

So as it turns out Brown v. Board of Education did indeed involve an issue that the federal government could properly have jurisdiction over (the federal government did indeed have the power to outlaw such segregation, as Berns thinks ought to have been done). However, in the absence of specific Congressional action, the Court had no power to stop segregation:

Specifically, if New York may, by law or constitutional provision, declare that one of the privileges of New York citizenship is to sue in its courts, would it not seem an appropriate exercise of the power granted in section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment for Congress, by law and in the course of time, to declare that one of the privileges of national citizenship is to attend a nonsegregated public school? (A privilege that may not be abridged by “any law” of any state?) p. 211.

But the right to “equality,” both substantive and procedural, is part of the organic law that founds this nation. That “all men are created equal” necessarily implies that government doesn’t have the right to treat blacks in a subservient manner to whites. Berns’s position on Brown is a clear example of how paying fidelity to the procedures of Constitutionalism not only does not fully secure our natural rights, but often acts as a “check” against them. A constitutional technicality means that blacks don’t get their “equal” right to attend a public school secured. Likewise, if Congress did nothing to state that an individual has a “privilege” to marry someone outside of his race, Berns would certainly hold that a state may forbid this.

Except for the notion that the Court, on its own, has no right to enforce our “privileges or immunities,” I find Berns’s analysis sound, far sounder than Bork’s, et al.

I also find it interesting that our Supreme Court found substantive rights to “equality” under the equal protection clause, and “liberty” under the Due process clause. The significance is this: In a liberal state, “liberty” and “equality” (and I’d argue “property” as well) are vitally important concerns; in fact, it is what our nation is founded on. The Declaration of Independence’s organic law implies not only procedural rights to liberty and equality, but substantive rights to them as well. The court has rightly found those substantive rights to exist, but arguably implemented liberty and equality through the wrong clauses.

But what is significant about the clauses that the Court did use? The “equal protection clause” is the only part of the Fourteenth Amendment that uses the textual term “equal” and the word “liberty” in the Due Process clause is the only part of that Amendment that uses the term “liberty.” I guess it sort of makes sense that, if we aren’t going to use the “privileges or immunities clause” (which doesn’t on its face reference the terms “liberty” and “equality”), that the court would channel “liberty” through the one clause that explicitly mentions the term “liberty” and “equality” through clause that explicitly uses the term “equal.”

Finally, as I have written before, in addition to “liberty” and “equality,” this nation was also founded on “property.” And immediately after the term “liberty” in the Due Process clause we find the term “property.” No doubt property is one of those “privileges or immunities” referenced by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Roy Moore’s Confusion:

Moore was on C-Span this morning. I find his confusion fascinating because there is a long tradition (in some circles) of such confusion relating to God and rights and this misunderstanding was in fact helpful—perhaps decisive—in getting orthodox Christians, during the founding, to agree to our "modern" founding political principles. "Modern politics," of course, solved the political/theological problem by separating Church & State.

So let me explain this confusion: On the one hand Moore argues that the Ten Commandments are binding organic law (indeed, they represent “God’s law” which is the highest law), that our public laws are based on these Commands. (Moore isn’t the first to make this error. Since long before our founding, some Christian judges held the Ten Commandments to be part of the common law. Jefferson termed these holdings as “fraudulent” and “judicial usurpations.”) Moore also would probably argue that, since they occupy such a high place, no public law should ever contradict the Ten Commandments.

On the other hand, Moore claims that the Declaration of Independence is also organic law. And he recognizes that non-Christian religions have some sort of right to worship in the United States (but he also seems to hint that the Christian religion should get some sort of preferential treatment—but he did say that “God gives Muslims the right to worship the way they choose”). And this is because, as the Declaration states, God grants us inalienable rights and the rights of conscience are part of those rights.

So what’s the problem? Well, let’s look at the first of those Ten Commandments: “Thou shall have no other Gods before me.” Elsewhere in (I do believe) Leviticus, God commands His followers to stone to death those who would encourage them to worship “false gods.” How this equates to the right of Muslims or Hindus to worship as they please is beyond me (the Hindus unquestionably worship false gods. Muslims might argue that they worship the same God. But many orthodox Christians tell me that Allah is not the God of the Bible, rather a Pagan Moon God, making him a false god as well). Yet, Jefferson’s nature’s God seems to be the very opposite of this “jealous” God of the Bible. Nature’s God grants us the right to worship twenty Gods or no God, in Jefferson’s words.

Thus we’ve stumbled upon a problem: Nature’s God arguably is not the God of the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible does it speak of “unalienable rights” or the “liberty to worship or not” as one chooses. And in fact, as long as Christians were in power—up until a particular point in Western history—the powers that be did not historically understand their faith as demanding those outside of it be granted the right to worship as they pleased. I am referring to the pre-Enlightenment period when there was no distinction between Church and State and when the Ten Commandments truly were part and parcel of the public laws of each “Christian state.”

So at what point in history did it all begin to change? Dissident Protestants first began to speak of toleration because they bore the brunt of such persecution. They began itching for a theoretical solution that Hobbes, Locke and other Enlightenment philosophers gave and that our founders -- Madison, Jefferson, et al. -- implemented. And this was the notion of “rights” in general and the rights of conscience in particular. It’s true that Locke tied the notion of rights to God. But he did this, not because the Bible demanded it, but because he “discovered” using the tool of reason unaided by Biblical revelation, that God did indeed grant us inalienable rights (a cynic who believes “natural rights" to be of human construction would argue that Locke tied rights to God because he needed the ultimate “trump.” After all, he was arguing against another doctrine—Divine rule of Kings—that was similarly grounded in this highest of all authorities).

So nature’s God may not be the God of the Bible. But to most Christians—during the founding as well as during the present time—familiar with the Declaration of Independence, “nature’s God” and the God of the Bible are one and the same. And indeed, if the “rights” philosophers could get a Christian populace to believe that their God grants each sect as well as other religions the right to worship as they pleased…“political/theological problem solved.”

So could nature’s God be the God of the Bible? Perhaps. But in order for this to be so, Christians seeking to reconcile the two concepts, must “properly understand” their faith as being compatible with such Enlightenment doctrines. But we’ve already seen how granting the inalienable right to non-Christians to worship as they please seems to conflict with certain very important Biblical texts. One solution would be to read those Biblical texts as presently reflecting private law—the law of individual conscience—not of any kind of public duty. That’s fine. But it also belies the notion that the Ten Commandments, taken as a whole, are, in any way, part of our public laws.

The Ten Commandments were indeed historically public laws—they certainly were the public laws of the “Ancient Jewish Tribe.” But since our founding, they have not been part of our public laws, because to hold that they are would conflict with the true organic law that founds our nation—the Declaration of Independence.

It’s interesting that if you look at the public display of the Ten Commandments at the Supreme Court, we see Moses and his Ten Commandments standing right next to figures such as Confucius, Hammurabi, and Mohammed.

The following is a desription:

Courtroom friezes portray Moses as one of 18 historic lawgivers. He is given equal prominence with lawgivers from a variety of religious backgrounds, including Islam, Confucianism, sun worship, and both Egyptian and Greco-Roman paganism. While Moses is shown holding the tables of the Ten Commandments, Muhammad is shown holding the Quran, the primary source of Islamic law, and the first pharaoh, Menes, is shown holding the ankh, an Egyptian mythological symbol representing eternal life. Other figures are shown holding secular legal documents. England’s 12th-century King John is shown holding the Magna Carta, which he signed, while the Dutch legal scholar and statesman Hugo Grotius is shown holding his 1625 book, Concerning the Law of War and Peace, one of the first books on international law.

The frieze also includes Greco-Roman-style allegorical figures, including Equity, Philosophy, Right of Man, Liberty and Peace. To see an actual image of this frieze, visit this page on the Supreme Court’s Web site.

The intent was clearly to show some historically prominent law givers throughout Western and other cultures. But the Ten Commandments are no more part of our public laws as are the laws of Confucianism and sun worship or any of these other historical displays.