I have noticed lately that my liberal-progressive friends have begun casually adopting the tools of gender and race studies in their daily lives, scrutinizing not just American society as a whole, but their own personal relationships through the lens of feminism and other critical disciplines. It is more and more common for me to see discussions where an argument is not answered with a counter-argument, but with an accusation of blindness based on the arguer’s “unchecked privilege.” (I do not deny that I find many of these accusations to be high comedy. This spring’s anti-microaggression campaign at St. Olaf College – already a bastion of political correctness – was perhaps the silliest thing that has ever happened, ever.)
There’s much truth to be gleaned in all this talk of privilege. In general, I think it’s easier to be white than black in today’s America. In general, I think it is easier to be a man in the workplace, and it’s certainly easier to be a male gamer or a male citizen of the Web, given the intense, irrational, and openly evil retaliation against many females who try to occupy those spaces. Now, I don’t think much of the responses the intersectional Left offers to these problems. Nevertheless, these unearned blessings for some are unearned difficulties for others, well worth pointing out and, where possible, leveling out as well.
Fact-checking is a decadent industry. Mainstream fact-checkers at the Washington Post and PolitiFact rate politicians’ claims on multi-point scales ranging from “Pants On Fire” to “The Geppetto Checkmark.” To manage these multi-point scales, fact-checkers must resort to subjective measurements of “relevant information” and “context” in order to determine whether a statement is “true” or merely “mostly true” or somewhere south of true. Unfortunately, these are fundamentally subjective judgments, and the fact-checkers’ fact-checks more often reveal their own biases than they reveal the truth. Indeed, all too often, the fact-checkers end up clouding the truth. Sometimes, they deliberately evade it.
I’d like to try an alternative approach, and so we at the James J Heaney Institute are rolling out a new fact-checking apparatus, which we are dubbing Just the Facts, Ma’am. From time to time, we’ll grab a quote that is making the rounds. Then we will tell you whether the quote is true, false, or neither true nor false, aka “debatable“. (Things which might fall into that last category are opinions, non-assertions, vague claims, predictions, semantic arguments, and unclear assertions.) No tricks, no context, no mercy.
I have been raising the alarm loud and long on my Facebook page over the NSA’s decision to take up the mantle of the surveillance state that the Stasi laid down twenty-five years ago. But I haven’t said much here on the blog.
Today’s Snowden revelation seems almost pedestrian: the NSA is tracking your location using your cell phone. Not “can”. Not “if it suspects you’re a terrorist.” Not “if you’re a foreigner.” Unless you’ve luckily slipped through today’s collection dragnet (you’ll be back in soon enough!), the NSA is tracking your location using your cell phone. Awesome WaPo infographic on your right.
But this only seems pedestrian because we have lost perspective, inured to the NSA’s behaviour over a long year of revelations. Three years ago, on the other hand, this was so implausible it was a joke on 30 Rock: there was a character who refused to own a cell phone, because he thought it was a “CIA tracking device.” This established that the character was a nut. I thought it was funny at the time, and of course I agreed that only a fringe lunatic would believe it.
The problem with the Snowden revelations is that they are proving, over and over and over again, that the fringe lunatics have been *exactly correct* about *almost everything* for the past ten years.
SPOILER ALERT: At the end of this article, we will reveal that Republicans have in fact blocked only 8 Obama nominees.
The golden rule of infographics: the vaguer the source cited, the falser the claim.
Today, Senate Democrats under Sen. Harry Reid nuked the filibuster. I commend their decision, which was a tactically intelligent one. My only regret is that a handful of Republicans failed to show the same level of intelligence in 2003. They aren’t called the Stupid Party for nothing — and Sen. McCain, who led the 2005 Committee to Save the Filibuster, has always been one of our dimmest bulbs, at least when it comes to the cutthroat politics of the ongoing Culture War. (Nice guy, though!)
Yet the Senate Democrats are not content to say, “Ha! You idiots! We still can’t believe you actually fell for that ‘compromise’!” and get on with the business of liberal court-packing. The Democrats are searching desperately for a moral justification for their parliamentary maneuver. This is no doubt because, when Republicans were in power, the very same Democrats who today cast the deciding votes for the nuclear option defended the filibuster in moral terms, so they would look like huge honking hypocrites if they didn’t find some moral reason for changing their position.
EDIT: Much as I’ve enjoyed writing this post (the quotes especially!), reading the reaction to it (discussion is good!), and digging deeper into the subject (who started this campaign?), it turns out that the subject falls within the parameters of my employer’s communications policy.
Employers are famously persnickety about people (especially employees) talking about them with any level of excitement — even if the excitement is generally positive — because P.R. in the age of the internet is very difficult (and I get that)… so, regrettably, I’ve decided to take the post down before I get an unpleasant phone call. I’m just going to leave this wholly inoffensive passage in place:
“~Dr. S. J. Heaney (from The Pulp, Letter to the Editor, Vol 1 Issue 2)
(Photo: Dr. Fred Slocum, U of M Mankato)
Following a long tradition of giving every local archbishop a named building on campus, St. Thomas decided to rename the renovated Albertus Magnus Hall in 2000. It was now designated the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts (JRC for short).
There was a lovely symmetry in the old name: when you walked through the Arches [the University's iconic feature, bridging Aquinas Hall and JRC], you had Aquinas, our great patron, scholastic, and philosopher, on your left, and Albertus Magnus, who was not only Aquinas’s teacher and a scholastic himself, but also a great scientist for his age, on your right. The liberal arts and the hard sciences, faith and reason, were united permanently, separate but locked in dialogue, in that timeless symbol of our campus, the Arches. Now you have Aquinas on the left and Archbishop John Roach on your right… the asymmetry is irritating, and the symbolism of the Arches is totally lost.
The Arches are still an important fixture on campus, of course, like the Marshall Field’s clock in Chicago, but it’s out of habit now, whereas when they were built they represented everything important about the school in a few feet of concrete — a marvelous example of what architecture can do when given half a chance to do it.
I’m also leaving the picture and caption in place, because they are awesome.
Sorry to all my readers who are coming to this post looking for the original story. It was a pretty good one! There were jokes! And history lessons! And free cookies at the end! Too bad you weren’t a subscriber to the blog — subscribers get to see everything posted here, right away, without any of this sort of editing! Subscriptions are available in the right-hand sidebar! I close with the following string of unnecessary exclamation points: !!!!!!!!!!
Liberty: The God That Failed is an imposing tome, clocking in at over 600 pages of small-print, heavily footnoted text. Christopher Ferrara had a great deal to say, and spared no effort in saying it – although he promises to find material for a sequel! Unfortunately, because of its density, it took me quite a number of months to read my review copy all the way through. I certainly won’t be having much impact on initial sales! Nevertheless, I agreed to write a review, so I have written a review.
At the center of Liberty is a compelling dissection of certain internal contradictions in the political philosophy of John Locke and the English Enlightenment, which Ferrara examines through the lens of American history – a history marked (or, in Ferrara’s telling, defined) by those shortcomings. The greatest of the “Hobbeslockean” errors Ferrara recounts are (first) the belief in majority rule, for which Locke sets forth an argument that is incoherent in several respects, and (second) the belief in religious toleration, which leads inevitably to the evisceration of all religious dogma and the final replacement of public morality with mob sentimentality. These two political dogmas are the basis of the “liberty” which has always been at the heart of the American project. As a result, Ferrara hates America nearly as much as he hates John Locke.
Matthew Scully’s opus longumon abortion and animal rights at National Review featured a brief quote from Pope Benedict XVI (among other Catholic thinkers) on Man’s relationship with beasts. I looked up the full quote for context, and thought it was compelling enough to feature here. It comes from a book-length interview with Peter Seewald called God and the World, and the Ignatius Press will sell it to you for $17.00 plus S&H.
Q: Genesis shows us that creation is a process. Everything takes place step by step. “It is not good”, God saw in the course of this process, “that man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate for a partner.” So next God made from the earth all the different animals of the field and all the birds of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. A good opportunity, actually, to talk about animals, our closest companions. Adam gave each of them a name. Are we allowed to make use of animals, even to eat them?
A: That is a very serious question. At any rate, we can see that they are given into our care, that we cannot just do whatever we want with them. Animals, too, are God’s creatures, and even if they do not have the same direct relation to God that man has, they are still creatures of his will, creatures we must respect as companions in creation and as important elements in the creation.
As far as whether we are allowed to kill and to eat animals, there is a remarkable ordering of matters in Holy Scripture. We can read how, at first, only plants are mentioned as providing food for man. Only after the flood, that is to say, after a new breach has opened between God and man, are we told that man eats flesh. That is to say, a secondary way of ordering life is introduced, and it comes in second place in the story as we are told it. Nonetheless, and even if someone feels hurt by our using animals in this way, we should not process from this to a kind of sectarian cult of animals.
For this, too, is permitted to man. He should always maintain his respect for these creatures, but he knows at the same time that he is not forbidden to take food from them. Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.
Q: Certainly, the animal world itself presents a strikingly brutal aspect of creation. We all know how dear little kittens may, from one moment to the next, hunt down, torment, and kill others of their own kind. The one that survives is the one that obviously has the greatest capability of destroying others.
A: It is in fact one of the great riddles of creation that there seems to be a law of brutality. The Catholic writer Reinhold Schneider, who himself was inclined to suffer from depression, exposed all the horrific elements in nature and in the animal world with the truly microscopic vision of someone who suffers himself. He let himself be brought by this to the point of despairing of God and of creation.
In her faith the Church has always seen it in this way: that the destructive effect of the Fall works itself out in the whole of creation. Creation no longer simply reflects the will of God; the whole thing is somehow distorted. We are confronted there by riddles. The dangers to which man is exposed are already made visible in the animal world.
Today, someone, pointing with concern at a couple of pieces in the American Spectator, asked me what I thought about the Pope. This is what I said:
I think that the majority of living Catholics have become very used to living with popes who have earned the cognomen “the Great,” and it is pretty shocking for us young’uns to realize that — except for times of great grace — the pope is pretty much just a bishop with a bigger audience.
Every year, the American Library Association, pious lover of books, freedom, and openness to sharing absolutely all ideas regardless of their content (unless you live in Cuba or your particular set of crazy ideas doesn’t follow rigid leftist doctrine), runs a weeklong event called “Banned Books Week,” along with some other sponsors. During this seven-day festival of self-righteousness, librarians across the country posture as opponents of censorship.
In reality, of course, they’re not fighting censorship at all. They can’t, because censorship doesn’t exist in this country. Any book can be published, any book can be sold. There are no “banned books.” The ALA is actually fighting parents, many of whom have the temerity to request changes to their school curricula or even, in the worst cases, ask their communities to make it slightlymore difficult for children to access certain books that, in the parents’ opinion, could cause harm to those children. Access will not be denied, of course: again, censorship, the actual suppression of speech such that it cannot be heard, does not exist* in this country, and has been repeatedly ruled unconstitutional in a variety of contexts.
Next year, North Dakota will vote on a state constitutional amendment that defines the beginning of human life as the beginning of human rights. This is also known as a Personhood amendment. I have written about Personhood before, but, in case you missed it, let me remind you that Personhood has three major effects:
Personhood recognizes the human rights of all human beings, from the time of conception to the time of natural death — whether that’s seven minutes or seven decades after conception,
if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, the equal rights Personhood extends to the unborn would make it effectively impossible to perform abortions in North Dakota (unless the mother’s life is imperiled; see below), and
it would result in lawsuits.
This is a fairly significant legal change, and many people who are sympathetic to the idea of protecting the unborn are concerned about possible unintended legal side effects.
In my opinion, the official Personhood campaign is doing a terrible job addressing those concerns, because they are much more interested in talking about Jesus and babies They seem to think Christianity is a necessary prerequisite to basic constitutional rights and human decency. I think that is why Personhood initiatives have built up a short but perfect losing streak.
Several months ago, in conversation with Personhood skeptics at Jezebel.com, I tried to answer some of their questions and clear up certain confusions about the Personhood amendment. I hope you’ll find it helpful, especially if you are a North Dakota voter.
Q: Under Personhood, what would happen when a mother has a clinical spontaneous abortion?