Monday, November 21, 2016

About Those Participation Trophies …

Dear Cody,

I’ve seen the message you left for “People Older Than Me” on behalf of “People Younger Than Me”, which has had over 331,000 views at this writing [11/19/16]. For the benefit of everyone else, let me repeat it:

Dear People Older Than Me:

Shut up about the f**king participation trophies. We didn’t ask for them. We didn’t want them. We didn’t cherish them and polish them while thinking about what special, gifted children we are. They were annoying clutter on our shelves that we had to throw out in secret so we wouldn’t hurt YOUR feelings. And if we knew back then that you were gonna bring it up every time you disagreed with someone under 40 for the rest of f**king time, we would have told you where to shove that cheap plastic statue.

People Younger Than Me

Mass Immaturity

Cody, I’m sure you’re sick of the references to the participation trophies. As a friend of mine pointed out, only the really little kids just starting Little League got participation trophies. Eventually, they went out with the ball tee, and you had to learn to play to win just as you had to learn how to hit a pitch. Which is to say, you had to learn to risk losing just as you learned to risk getting hit by a pitch. Participating is a minimum requirement; getting a trophy for it is like receiving an award for putting on your pants.

Just to show I get the larger point, I’m sure you’re also tired of the sneering references to “safe spaces” and trigger warnings and being called “delicate snowflakes”. I suppose it’s also our fault that many people of your generation come to adulthood ill-equipped, lacking confidence, self-esteem, and the normal skills to cope with adversity, unprepared to accept the risks that are part of life in an unsafe world. And if your cohort has shown some rotten behavior as a result of the recent election, I must admit many adults haven’t shown mature behavior either before or after the election.

But in case you missed it, Cody, that was the real point of the “participation trophy” reference — not that your cohort thinks of themselves as special, gifted people, but rather that they throw temper tantrums or break out in noisy tears like spoiled, entitled brats at the least sign of opposition. You’re angry, sad, or afraid? So what; it’s still unacceptable. When you have these episodes of mass immaturity, that’s when we start talking about participation trophies. We don’t simply disagree with you; we find your manner of disagreement absurd and contemptible. No one has to take you seriously just because you do.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Trump’s Plan: “Make America an Oligarchy”

I published Friday’s post a couple days later than I wanted to because my home Internet connection was down. In that post, I reflected on the degree to which elite arrogance had led to Donald Trump’s astonishing victory. But for anyone who thought voting for Trump was a vote for reform, I have news for you: We’re about to enshrine an oligarchy in power, where they can finish the wrecking of the American economic base. And We the People made it happen.

The Triumph of Neoliberalism

While liberals were wrecking windows and cars in a heartwarming display of love and inclusiveness, wearing safety pins for solidarity (because they don’t need them to hold their diapers together), and boomers and Gen-Xers were displaying their contrasting maturity and level-headedness by abusing Hispanics and committing hate crimes, the President-elect was putting a team together of the very people he promised to kick out of Washington to help him plan out the pillaging of the American economy and environment on behalf of the 1%. Speaking of promises, Trump is thinking of keeping some of Obamacare in place — most likely, the parts that keep your rates jacked up, while disposing of those parts that impose costs on the rich.

While you all were fretting over whether Trump would turn SCOTUS to the far right or Hillary would turn it to the far left, whether Christians would be herded into re-education camps or undocumenteds into deportation camps, whether we’d build a wall between us and Mexico or tear down the walls between “gendered” bathrooms, you missed the elements of Trump’s platform which signaled that he really is as much a member of the Establishment as Clinton … and that he really doesn’t empathize with the lower classes. All Trump’s race-baiting, rabble-rousing rhetoric was to distract you from the least appealing feature of his platform — his tax plan.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, it’s by no means unfair or unreasonable for those who own 89% of the nation’s assets and 95% of our financial wealth to pay 2/3rds or more of the government’s expenses. Those who rape — er, reap — more of the benefit of the laws should pay more for the establishment which guarantees those benefits. But Trump’s tax plan ignores all that. As Paul Waldman explains, “Trump’s tax plan would give 47 percent of its benefits to the richest one percent of taxpayers. Paul Ryan’s tax plan is even purer — it gives 76 percent of its cuts to the richest one percent in its first year, and by 2025 would feed 99.6 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent.” Dodd-Frank is slated to be axed, freeing the financial industry to make risky gambles with other people’s money once more. And while there won’t exactly be an “energy-regulation bonfire”, expect clean-energy initiatives to be cut.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Message to the Elite: “You’re Running the Country Wrong”

© 2016 A. F. Branco, Liberty Alliance.
As I watched ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and his crew of talking heads begin the autopsy on the election late Tuesday night, I felt some dark satisfaction. I hadn’t been the only self-appointed expert caught flat-footed by Donald Trump’s and the Republicans’ victory. Most of the elite, the Only People Whose Opinions Count, were humiliated by an over-glorified carnival huckster who (in our wise estimation) did just about everything wrong that could be done wrong and still pulled the upset of the century.

Andrew Sullivan Throws a Nutty

And the funny thing is, having been so spectacularly wrong about this election, we, the chatterati of America who have been polluting your television screens and social media feeds for months with our hive-mind wisdom, still think you should take our social forecasts seriously. Case in point: Andrew Sullivan, who threw a classic spittle-flecked nutty on the Daily Intelligencer.

This is now Trump’s America. He controls everything from here on forward. He has won this campaign in such a decisive fashion that he owes no one anything. He has destroyed the GOP and remade it in his image. He has humiliated the elites and the elite media. He has embarrassed every pollster and naysayer. He has avenged Obama. And in the coming weeks, Trump will not likely be content to bask in vindication. He will seek unforgiving revenge on those who dared to oppose him. The party apparatus will be remade in his image. The House and Senate will fail to resist anything he proposes — and those who speak up will be primaried into oblivion. The Supreme Court may well be shifted to the far right for more than a generation to come — with this massive victory, he can pick a new Supreme Court justice who will make Antonin Scalia seem like a milquetoast. He will have a docile, fawning Congress for at least four years. We will not have an administration so much as a court.

You should read it. Sullivan is so hysterical over Trump’s forthcoming fascist state that he didn’t pay attention to what he himself wrote: Trump can’t keep all his promises. In fact, we ought to be wondering which promises, if any, he really meant. For instance, his website’s policies page doesn’t have a link to pro-life policies. Various press releases had mentioned his pro-life position; but hey! those press releases are gone now. And frankly, I don’t trust the GOP to hold his feet to the fire on the matter.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Doing Wrong By the Country: The “Lesser Evil” Vote

I’m sick to death of this election. The most distressing aspect of this election cycle is that it’s revealed the extent to which American Catholics, particularly those of a conservative bent, have embraced utilitarianism. For some, it’s a half-hearted utilitarianism — “Oh, we have a lot of qualms about our candidate, but we’ll manfully swallow them to prevent The Evil Candidate from being elected” — but it’s utilitarianism nonetheless.

A Priest Endorses Utilitarianism

Nothing so forcefully illustrates this as the final paragraph of this op-ed from the Wall Street Journal by James Freeman, “Doesn’t Clinton Embarrass the Democrats?”:

Voters who wish to reject the Clintonization of America’s governing institutions have a choice on Nov. 8. They can feel good about themselves by writing in the name of a third-party candidate. Or they can do right by the country by selecting the only person who can stop the Clintons: a very flawed candidate named Donald Trump.

Not only is the argument utilitarian, it sneers at third-party/write-in voters as vain fools voting their self-images. Ad hominem much? The kicker: the paragraph had been posted on Facebook by a priest whose name I shall not mention … and who ought to know better than that.

That Freeman and the WSJ would be for Trump is no surprise. Remarking on the last debate, Freeman comments, “Mr. Trump, for his part, deviates from many Republicans on trade and immigration but has otherwise embraced a growth agenda of lower taxes and regulatory relief for an economy that sorely needs it.” In other words, Freeman and (by extension) the Journal believe the only cure for our current economic doldrums is a hair of the dog that bit us in 2007.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Christian and Pro-Life Leaders: DUMP TRUMP! (UPDATED)

Paul Combs,
[ADDED NOV. 9, 2016: Obviously, my crystal ball is working as well as it usually does come election time. I deserve to have the lede carved on my headstone to shame me even after death. Nevertheless, I’m still convinced Pres. Trump will eventually jilt the pro-life movement, and that the leaders of the “official” movement — especially Fr. Frank Pavone — did us no favors by hitching us onto the Trump train.]

I am no longer concerned about the prospect of Donald Trump as President of the United States. It was never a strong likelihood, despite his sense-defying victory in the Republican primaries. In fact, over the last year, The Donald has done just about everything in his power to ensure Hillary Clinton’s election save drop-kick a beagle puppy from the 58th floor of the Manhattan Trump Tower. The revelation of his “grab them by the p***y” remark simply put the final nail in the coffin. What does concern me is the failure of some visible Christian leaders, especially in the pro-life camp, to admit their error in supporting Trump.

Assessing the Damage

As of this writing [4:00pm CDT, Oct. 8], the most recent political post on the Priests for Life site is an action alert item: “Help Us Tell Tim Kaine to Stop Insulting Catholicism!” The latest news from Susan B. Anthony List is Oct. 5’s “Pence Goes on Offense to Expose Clinton-Kaine Abortion Extremism”. Ralph Reed of the Faith & Freedom Coalition thinks that “A ten-year-old tape of a private conversation with a talk show host ranks low on [people of faith’s] hierarchy of concerns.” And Gary Bauer of the Campaign for Working Families stated, “The ten-year-old tape of a private conversation in which Donald Trump uses grossly inappropriate language does not change the reality of the choice facing this country.”

In a sense, Bauer does hit the right nail: in reality, Trump is no worse a candidate than he was a week ago. The only difference is, Republican leaders are finally waking up to the full shambling horror, albeit too late to do anything meaningful about it. And neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein presents a better choice on religious and pro-life issues. Johnson has called religious freedom a “black hole”, while Stein has called it a code for “patriarchal domination”. If you eliminate fringe candidacies, such as the American Solidarity Party’s Michael Maturen and (sadly) the independent Joe Schriner, that leaves Christian and pro-life leaders with a Hobson’s choice: either Trump or nobody.

The choice should have been nobody.

The smart Republicans started to abandon ship even before Trump’s nomination was a done deal. Republican strategist Doug Heye called the decision to nominate Trump “a stain on the GOP’s soul,” nor is he the first. Back in August, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asked Republicans, “If you tell us such a man should be president, why should the nation ever believe anything else you say?” Just a few days earlier, Kathleen Parker of noted, “For many Republicans, the question is: ‘Who’d want to be a member of a party that would have Donald Trump as its leader?’” As for those who are only now trying to distance themselves from this dumpster fire, the cliché “a day late and a dollar short” doesn’t begin to describe their failure of foresight.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Book Review: Particles of Faith, by Stacy A. Trasancos

One challenge Christians face, particularly millennials, is the apparent challenge Science poses to articles of faith. To be brutally blunt, most of this appearance of challenge stems from the inability of believers and nonbelievers alike to respect the limits of both Science and Religion. An impoverished “progressive” education, neglecting even the most rudimentary instruction in philosophy and leading to rampant neo-philistinism, contributes heavily to the confusion. Many Catholics can benefit from a guide that clarifies those limits and defangs the “hermeneutic of conflict” which decrees the challenge. This is what Stacy A. Trasancos, Ph.D., M.A., offers us in Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 2016; $15.95).

Walking in “No-Man’s Land”

Particles of Faith is not an apologetical work. That’s to say, Dr. Trasancos doesn’t explicitly seek to make converts of atheists, but rather to steer Catholics along a path that will help them comprehend the current state of the sciences that form the “no-man’s land” between belief and unbelief. To this task, she brings an impressive array of education and experience — industrial chemist, theologian, teacher, and mother of seven.

One small complaint: every once in a while, the chemistry talk goes beyond the average layman’s comprehension despite Dr. Trasancos’ obvious attempt to simplify it. I say this as one whose last physical-science course was twenty-three years ago (for what it’s worth, it was organic chemistry, and I got a 4.0). But that’s what Google’s for, right? [Full disclosure: Stacy is not only a friend but the co-publisher and editor emeritus at Catholic Stand; she and Tito Edwards brought me on board there.]

The book is set up in three parts. Part I, “Science in the Light of Faith”, discusses the limitations of science and its necessarily transient state. Part II, “Questions in the Physical Sciences”, delves into the “Big Bang” theory, the relationship of atoms to reality, and the question of whether quantum mechanics explains free will. Part III, “Questions in the Biological Sciences”, discusses evolution from three different angles; particularly useful is the discussion of polygenism versus monogenism (that is, whether humans evolved from a single Adam-and-Eve pair or from a group of independently-evolved individuals).

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Twin Towers of Siloam

The one memory that will stay with me, when all other memories of September 11, 2001 have faded, is how obscenely beautiful the weather was. There really should have been more portents. Fierce, fiery warriors battling in the clouds. Graves yawning and yielding up their dead. At least a two-headed cow, or the ghost of William McKinley.

But no, the New York sky was barely touched with clouds when the Twin Towers  crumbled to the ground. Just as clear was the Arlington, Virginia sky as American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the western side of the Pentagon, and over Stoney Creek Township, Pennsylvania, as the hijackers of United 93 plowed their Boeing 757 into the ground to prevent the passengers from taking over. And it was just as beautiful in Omaha, Nebraska, where I listened to my cab’s FM radio in horror, knowing exactly why Peter Jennings quietly said, “Oh, my God,” as soon as he said it. Satan had apparently decided not to overdo it.

The Loss of Faith

Inevitably, anniversaries such as this will produce analyses in gross lots, rewriting as growing out of the evil stem of the 9/11 attacks trends that were already in place the day before. We need no “truther” conspiracy theories to explain the nadir of our trust in our government; it had been declining for three decades and more. Anti-Moslem sentiment didn’t begin with the collapse of the World Trade Center; it was present during the OPEC oil crisis in the late 1970s, a natural outgrowth of American nativism. We don’t need al-Qaida to explain our interventionism; it was already implicit in complaints that Operation Desert Storm didn’t “finish the job” by going to Baghdad and ousting Saddam Hussein.

Of course we became more afraid. For the sake of security, we permitted the federal government unprecedented powers of investigation and almost casually dispensed with habeas corpus rights for suspected terrorists. In the meantime, we created a new Cabinet-level department whose name carries perhaps-unintended echoes of totalitarian police states. And we also built a cheap, absurd wall along our border with Mexico, as we flailed around to find solutions that would keep terrorists out without going so far as to completely imprison ourselves or stop tourists and imports from coming.

I can’t help but think, though, that in the last fifteen years we became more aware of the fact that America is rotting from within, that both the dream and the reality of America have been corrupted. That’s a broad and vague charge, one not easily specified or documented. However, as much as has been written about the loss of faith in God, I believe that we’ve lost faith in everything — faith in ourselves, in each other, in our social institutions, in our government, in our founding principles.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Libsplaining “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Colin Kaepernick. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.)
“Mansplaining”, originally defined as the tendency of men to explain the frickin’ obvious to women in a patronizing tone, lost its unique vitality and appropriateness by being applied to any situation where men dared contradict feminist dogma. Eventually it met its conservative matches in “femsplaining” and “libsplaining”. Any portmanteau word which includes -splaining can pretty much be taken to mean “ideologically-motivated bulls**t”. While libsplaining is often employed to defend visible-from-space liberal hypocrisies, like George Takei’s labeling Clarence Thomas “a clown in blackface”, it has a more subtle use: rewriting history.

Kaepernick Sits It Out

On Saturday, August 27, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem at the beginning of an exhibition game against the Green Bay Packers. Explaining his refusal, the biracial Kaepernick, who is a supporter of #BlackLivesMatter, said, “There is police brutality. People of color have been targeted by police. So that’s a large part, and they’re government officials. They’re put in place by the government. That’s something this country has to change. There are things that we can do to hold them more accountable, make those standards higher.”

Predictably, there was outrage, and it wasn’t confined to white conservatives. Many NFL players admitted Kaepernick’s right to not stand, but felt his decision was wrong. Said New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, “Regardless of how you feel about the things that are going on in America today and the things that are going on across the world with gun violence and things of that nature, you’ve got to respect the flag.” Retired Army lieutenant colonel and former Florida congressman Allen B. West chided Kaepernick:

Mr. Kaepernick, a biracial young man adopted and raised by white parents, claims America is oppressing blacks at a time when we have a black, biracial president who was twice elected. We’ve had two black attorneys general and currently have a black secretary of homeland security, along with a black national security advisor. Here in Dallas our police chief, whom I know, is an outstanding black leader. The officer in Milwaukee who shot the armed assailant after issuing an order to drop his weapon was black. Is Mr. Kaepernick following suit and cherry-picking what he terms “oppression?”

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Liberal Intelligence Premium is Oversold

Image Source: Institute for Competitive Intelligence.
Over the last few years, liberals have had their egos stroked by studies which report that they are smarter than conservatives. For instance, a few months ago the Pew Center reported that people who had attended graduate school had more consistently liberal positions. These reports have fostered a “smart urban sophisticates vs. dumb rural hicks” mindset among liberals that, if you listen to some people, feeding and encouraging was the sole raison d’être for The Daily Show during Jon Stewart’s tenure. Finally, it got so egregious that even some liberals became uncomfortable with it.

Contemporary Liberalism “Lacks Humility”

Back in April 2016, launched a 7,000-plus word essay by deputy First Person editor Emmett Rensin, titled “The smug style in American liberalism”. That liberals have tended to smug condescension has been a complaint of conservatives for some time now. Rensin’s article, however, drew a bigger impact because it came from a liberal writing on a liberal platform, one Kyle Smith of the New York Post described as “typically [combining] childlike oversimplification …, high-school-student-government-nerd idealism, just-arrived-on-campus humorcidal earnestness and the millennial generation’s pretend fealty to big data.” For conservatives like Smith, this was a liberal safety or an own-goal: a member of the opposition had finally scored their point for them.

Oddly enough — odd, because conservatives tend to take it for granted that postmodern liberals are incapable of substantive self-criticism — Rensin’s screed did provoke some internal agreement. Kevin Drum of (mirabile dictu) commented, “We’re convinced that conservatives, especially working class conservatives, are just dumb. Smug suggests only a supreme confidence that we’re right — but conservative elites also believe they’re right, and they believe it as much as we do. The difference is that, generally speaking, they’re less condescending about it.” “The great virtue that contemporary liberalism lacks and needs,” lamented Ramesh Ponnuru in, “is neither civility nor solidarity. It’s humility — and sadly, even some of liberalism’s most thoughtful internal critics can’t see it.”

Even more recently, lawyer-activist Nikki Johnson-Huston took a swipe at “... the cocktail party liberals, the elites, who wear the cloak of liberalism to protect themselves from criticism and so they can keep a clear conscious [sic]” … in Huffington Post, no less. Johnson-Huston’s criticism, however, was aimed at white liberals who used their leftist concern more to assert their moral superiority over conservatives than to actually get involved in problems like racism.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Four Life Issues and Catholic Social Doctrine

There are several political issues commonly wrapped in the social-justice banner that are also issues affecting life and the family. In theory, a Catholic ought to support those policies which support life and family regardless of which party proposes them. However, when the two parties split on abortion and (later) euthanasia, so did American Catholics. Now the nation is so polarized politically that, as Scott Eric Alt explains, any Catholic who demands we pay attention to life issues outside of abortion and euthanasia is accused of “trying to kill opposition to abortion”.

“A Catholic CANNOT Vote Democrat”

On August 23, my friend and Catholic Stand colleague Matthew Tyson published “Yes, You Can Be Catholic AND Vote Democrat” on his Patheos blog Mackerel Snapper. On the face of it, I can’t conceive a more quixotic and desperate cause than trying to convert the Democrat Party to a “whole life” position, as the Democrats for Life want to do. Besides, the demographics have been shifting leftward (and away from party labels) for the last three generations, and the Republican Party is shredded in two. There’s arguably as much hope for converting the Democrats to the “seamless garment” as there is for converting the Republicans. (Yes, I went there.) But, as GKC said, hope only begins to be really useful when things appear to be hopeless.

For the record: Though I probably agree with many if not most of Matthew’s positions (I don’t fully know what they are), I refuse the label liberal. Classical liberalism, as I recently pointed out, was and is premissed on a faulty anthropology; the postmodern left’s social liberalism is progressing towards an authoritarian statism, and the postmodern right’s economic liberalism enables crony capitalism. Precisely because I am a Catholic, I hold neither the Republicans’ nor the Democrats’ ideological biases and policy preferences to be above challenge or criticism.

The post’s title was guaranteed to attract a knee-jerk contradiction. Sure enough, a reader (whom I’ll call Cato) declared, “A Catholic CANNOT vote Democrat,” and that “being a [Catholic] Democrat is indistinguishable from being a pro-equality KKK member, a Catholic Nazi, or a Catholic Stalinist.” Why? Apparently, because Cato, bless his heart, believes the national platform makes all the party’s members co-conspirators, despite the fact that individual candidates are not and cannot be required to support every platform plank. It’s stupid sweeping generalizations like this which are driving Gen-Xers and millennials away from party identification.