Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When Do I Get To The Good Part?

Unemployment has re-introduced to my daily routine, for the first time since early adolescence, the ritual of breakfast. Lindsey still has no time for it, and I hope that I can soon discard my discovery in favor of gainful employment, but for the past several mornings I've enjoyed having a short time set aside to drink coffee, eat toast, and collect my thoughts over a work of fiction. That said, for the life of me I've been unable to ascertain the cause of the enduring popularity of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I've been subjected to various films of the thing over the years, and been bored out of my mind. I've been derided even by male friends for not wanting anything to do with what, supposedly, is one of the greatest works of fiction in the English language. And so I pose the question to you, my (possibly only) reader: what is supposed to be so good about this book? I'm about halfway through this thing, and am determined to finish it, but it's really hard, because nothing happens. It's always been sold to me (or so I thought) as this terrific love story, but the characters are (forgive me) really pretty shallowly drawn, and the thing seems to have been constructed originally as some sort of social commentary with a love story as the main plot vehicle. I'm probably reading this thing totally wrong, but what I'm getting out of it primarily is that Jane Austen hated a) the rigid middle-to-upper-class social structure of her time, and b) women. The book is, so far, more than a little unkind to the fairer sex. Maybe that's the point? That the social structure of the time turned women into a conniving mass of mercenary vixens, intent on getting their hooks into some unfortunate (though rich) fop of a man, so that the rest of their days can be lived out in an endless string of dinner parties, card games, and social dances. That's one of my hypotheses. There also seems to be a lot of discussion of preconceived notions ("prejudices," as one might say), and their influence on decisions. I guess that would gel more with the title. Whatever the point of the thing (I'll get back to you when I finish it), Austen spends entirely too much time on characters about whom it is absolutely painful to read. The absolute stupidity of these characters defies disbelief. My third (and favorite) hypothesis is that this is actually a work of Science Fiction, about robots that have been programed to destroy the human soul. I'm sorry about the rant, here. I know that many, many people love this book, and can name all of the characters and houses featured therein, and recite their favorite passages from memory. I'm trying to keep an open mind here, really. Otherwise, I wouldn't be reading the book in the first place. I already know the story. I'm not expecting it to suddenly be full of interesting things, like sex, violence, revenge, fear, guilt, redemption, or even passion, but wow. What am I supposed to be looking for here? Am I just supposed to like this because it's British, and I get to read about places (that aren't subdivisions in Southeast Michigan) called Derbyshire and Pemberly, and to hear London simply called "town?" I don't even know. As always I welcome any comments, as I suspect that I've offended someone's sensibilities, and must now submit to a snarky, yet nonetheless righteous defense of such a hallowed tome. I want to like this thing; I really do.

Either way, I'll try to put up some final thoughts when I finish the book, which (as I said) I'm determined to do.

"You might have to think of how you got started sitting in your little room..."

Hello again, friend! How've you been? Thanksgiving is approaching, and I'm thankful for the possibility of seeing family, and perhaps friends returning from out-of-town. I'm looking for a job these days, an employment which I've found less rewarding (in more ways than one) than actually having a job, but so it goes. I have too many friends who are also looking for work to feel that my own situation is either hopeless or terribly unique, and I derive some comfort from that. Everyone goes through this at some point, and most of them seem to get through it none the worse for wear. I've also been very encouraged in my prayer times of late, and feel that the Lord has some means of making me useful to someone, and He's never disappointed me before. Still, any prayers are greatly appreciated.
I just got back from a weekend hunting trip with a group of some of my oldest friends, which was terrific. As much as we've all changed and grown over the years, it was amazing how much like stepping into a time machine it was to get us all together in the woods, away from our wives and jobs and day-to-day lives. It was, in many ways, like being twelve again.
In another way, it was much better: the process of growing up has only increased my admiration for the friends I've had since childhood, as they have all turned into truly admirable men. I shall perhaps put a few pictures of me in orange and holding a gun up here, when I'm able to get them off of the digital camera.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wrapping Things Up

Greg Mankiw has an excellent NYT op-ed, with advice for the new President Elect. My favorite part:

"[E]ven if the laws of arithmetic are ignored during campaigns, they become a real constraint when making actual policy."

As a bonus, see if you can spot Mankiw's trademark humorous (and shameless) self-promotion.

This blog will now return to our regularly-scheduled programming of stream-of-consciousness nonsense, rants about technology, and creepy adulation of Neil Diamond.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Before The Riots Start

Anne Appelbaum has a short list of things that are very likely true about elections here. I will now be turning off my computer, and avoiding listening to the radio, or watching television, or reading anything besides books and my own résumé, until at least tomorrow. If you have any more thoughts to contribute to the discussion of a few posts ago, please feel free to do so. I've greatly enjoyed reading all of your posts, and should you post any more I shall attempt to respond to them tomorrow.

Now I just have to lock my door and put the fire department on speed dial, before Ann Arborites take to the streets and party like they live in East Lansing (which is to say, very badly).

The Best Two Sentences I Read Today

From Tyler Cowen:

"In other words, both voting and not voting are motivated by the thought that you are better than other people. I am glad that we have an entire day devoted to this very important concept."

Happy "I'm better than you" day!

A Keep In The Vote Update

Nay, a veritable Keep In The Vote manifesto, written in 2006 by Harvard Professor and rock star of the blogosphere Greg Mankiw, who is also (I can't resist pointing out) my friend on facebook.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Dean's Response

Here's Dean's response to my email from this morning:


Thanks for your thoughtful reply. As you (probably) know, I completely agree with you on the fact that I want no abortions to happen, period, but I hesitate to align with a "pro-life" candidate for the following reasons:

1. Studies have shown that abortions haven't decreased under a Republican White House/Congress combo, abortions are strongly affected by economic situations, and I'm not convinced most Republican candidates really intend to work tirelessly to defend the child in the womb. Sure, it's easy to drop a sound byte here or there, but I have to admit that I don't know what the Republicans I campaigned for in Hillsdale have done to decrease the number of abortions.

2. Overturning RvW would put it back in the state's hands. Which is strange to me considering that those trying to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment want the moral enforcement in the hands of the feds, not the states. But I digress...

I think overturning RvW, which probably couldn't happen for 15-20 years considering they've tried 5 times already, would create a big mess. Then we'd be back to dealing with young girls hopping buses to California or whatever other states kept abortion illegal.

The bottom line for me is that abortion is a "no big deal" to a ton of people in America. That is unsettling for me. But Christian voters, like with many issues, just wake up on election day, pull the lever for the pro-lifer, and go back to hibernation for another 2/4 years. Or they stand on the road with a sign that says "choose life." Neat. My struggle with all of this is that I knew two girls in high school, both of whom got kicked out/disowned by their "Christian" families. One ended up having an abortion because she had no where to turn (her church had thrown her out too) and the other was taken in by a family and allowed to raise her baby alongside/with her adoptive family.

I think this goes to a lack of understanding among Christians and especially a lack of willingness to get their hands dirty. "I can love Jesus by holding this sign on the street, but having to take someone into my own home? I can't make that kind of sacrifice!"

It's my belief that the only way Christians will change the world is by truly, seriously, loving their neighbor.


Civil comments are, as always, more than welcome.

On A More Serious Note

Given the usual quality of the content on this page, I can't blame anyone not inclined to take me or my views seriously. That said, Dean has been leading an excellent discussion on his blog (particularly here) on the problem that pro-lifers face in the political sphere, and this morning he sent me the following email:

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on this article? http://ncronline3.org/drupal/?q=node/2389

This man, Douglas Kmiec, seems to be a reputable Catholic, but I could
be wrong.

I encourage you to read the linked article, as well as a summary of Archbishop Chaput's (personal) views here. My (perhaps overly lengthy) response is as follows:


Thanks for the email. I've enjoyed the lively and intelligent discussions you've led on your blog on this issue, as well.

The question of how a pro-life Catholic such as myself must vote has been on my mind a great deal of late, as you can well imagine. It is, as you noted, a very difficult problem, and trying to break it down to its essential elements has been of great interest to me. The two essential components of the dilemma, as I see them are:

1. The absolutist dynamic of the two-party system. The two major parties are, at this point, very entrenched groups of ideally separate ideologies and constituencies. It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to vote (for example) in favor of higher environmental standards or more welfare programs without implicitly or explicitly also voting in favor of abortion.

2. The moral severity of abortion. It's nearly impossible to conceive of a greater moral evil in the modern world than abortion if it is, as pro-life advocates (such as myself) claim, the extinguishing of a human life. The incredible global scope of abortion, combined with its increased social acceptability over the past few decades exacerbate the problem greatly. If one reasonably believes that by his or her vote they may diminish the number of abortions in the world, there is a moral imperative to do so, even at the expense of lesser (though noble) concerns.

There are, of course, other components to the problem, but I believe the above to be the principals. This issue has come up to a greater degree in the current political climate, I believe, because of the immense popularity of Senator Obama and the desire of many Catholics (among many others) to transcend the current divisive political climate and difficult economic times by supporting a fresh and seemingly open-minded candidate. This is also (I believe) largely due to a high level of dissatisfaction among pro-lifers and various other stripes of social conservatives with the Bush administration's general disenfranchisement of their primary concerns in favor of foreign wars, among other things.

I'm afraid that I can only offer my own views on the matter, based primarily on my understanding of Church teachings, and also on my own conscience and reflections. I do my best to be logically and morally consistent in my thoughts and actions, but it goes without saying that my intellect is limited, and my actions can easily be clouded by my own pride and biases. That said, I'll proceed.

Obviously, the main contention of Kmiec's (and others I've encountered recently) in favor of Obama is that Obama's proposed policies will alleviate poverty, and therefore result in fewer abortions and a more moral world than we would have under McCain, whose pro-life stance is based upon a "top-down" strategy of eliminating abortion gradually through changing the law.

My personal problems with this contention are as follows:

1. It smacks of Liberation Theology in its reliance on government as the primary means of social improvement. This is a view to which I do not personally ascribe, largely because I believe that it is used by Catholics (and others) as a means of not accepting personal responsibility for our neighbors. "If only we had better government," the saying goes, "we would live in a better world." I don't believe that this view is realistic, nor do I believe it to be an accurate interpretation of the ministry of Christ. When our Lord ate with tax collectors and sinners, He did not instruct the tax collectors to organize socially to lower taxes, or to tax only the rich and give it to the poor. He called them instead to personal conversion, to sell all of their belongings and to give the money to the poor, and to follow Him. I do not believe that voting for politicians who say they'll help the poor is the same as helping the poor, nor does it alleviate our responsibility to do so. I myself cannot claim total innocence in this regard.

2. The jury is still out on whether or not, in general, welfare problems alleviate poverty in the long run. I do not believe they do. I admit my bias here as a student of economics who generally aligns with the Supply Side, but either way it is foolish on its face to simply accept that a proposed plan to help the poor will actually do so. In any case, countries that have a higher level of social safety net do not have a significantly lower incidence of abortions than the united states, regardless of poverty rates. (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/25s3099.html - see Table 1) I should note that there are significant cultural and social factors contributing to abortion rates, but I don't have any quantified research on them. In general, it should be noted that abortion is more acceptable in developed countries than in the developing world.

3. Obama is, himself, strongly pro-abortion. If this is not the case, he should do something about those television and radio commercials I've been hearing, generated by his own campaign, in which he proclaims himself to be so. If his proposed programs will end up decreasing the number of abortions (which I contend they will not), it will be by accident. If I have to choose between the guy who says he'll do everything he can to keep abortion as available as possible and the guy who says he'll work to combat the legality of abortion, even if he's not likely to do very much on that front, I'm going to have to vote for the latter, if only to try to keep things from getting worse.

The bottom line is that the anti-abortion movement has been concentrating too much of our energies on the political front, without working hard enough to change the hearts and minds of those around us. The pro-abortion movement has had overwhelming success (despite what you'll hear from them) because they first made abortion legal with Roe v. Wade in 1973, and have since then had a downhill battle against the anti-abortion movement, while abortion has gradually become more socially acceptable. We need to focus our efforts on changing minds and convincing individuals that human life at all stages is worth preserving.

There is no easy answer, and there is no perfect solution to be found behind the ballot box curtain.That said, I don't believe that we can in good conscience give up in the political fight against abortion, which is what a vote for an openly and proudly pro-abortion candidate amounts to.

I'll have Dean's response up in just a few minutes. As you might well suspect, I'm posting this correspondence in the interest of honest, open discussion. You'll note that Dean and I reach radically differing conclusions on a few points. I tend to think of myself as either cynical or pragmatic, but in the end, he reveals me to be more of an idealist than I had previously thought.

So please, feel free to participate in the discussion, either here or on Dean's site. You are (of course) welcome to offer opinions that differ, however strongly, to either Dean's or my own. All I ask is that you be civil.

Another Keep In The Vote Update

Wait. This dude kisses babies? Shit. Forget all that other stuff I said, everyone. Looks like you should vote after all!



No, no you should not.

A Keep In The Vote Update

Courtesy of the great Gordon Tullock, with a nice lesson in Economics thrown in there, as well. The video is well worth a quick viewing, even for those who don't share my love of economics and
Radiohead (the intro music is "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" from their album In Raibows), as it is quite entertaining. (NB: I will be voting, and I guarantee that I won't like it per se, but as I feel morally compelled to do so, my behavior is perfectly explained by the Utility function described in the video.)

Hat tip to the ever-excellent Alex Tabarrok over at Marginal Revolution.