From Beer Hall to Park

The riot in Charlottesville this past weekend can readily be recognized as an action straight out of Hitler’s SA playbook: stage a disturbance, and blame the Communists.  The “Communists” in this case are headlined by “Antifa”, a loose collection of anarchists, actual Communists, and various other radical and not-so-radical Leftists who proclaim themselves “anti-fascist”.  The rise of National Socialism to power (in the person of Adolf Hitler) has popularly been put down to any number of uncommonly harsh conditions in Germany: the unrealistic Treaty of Versailles, the Great Depression, the ineffective Weimar government – and so on.  But these explanations rooted in political or economic circumstances overlook the emotional factor: the root of this tactic is that people who would not – one assumes – ordinarily have sympathized with the Nazis were inclined to give them some credence due to their stated opposition to other groups.  It’s a standard enough political tactic, and it does not inherently have to lead to or give cover to violence.  But it can do that too, and the number of people who fell for it this past week is worrying.  Fool us twice, shame on us.

But why did it work?  It worked because there was another group present to blame.  Political scapegoats can certainly be manufactured or exaggerated easily enough, but it is easier to pull the stunt off if some person or group is already there, asking for the label.  The United States’ political scene is increasingly publicly interpreted in terms of Right and Left – which is odd, as actual variety of political views seems in my experience to be increasing.  To those who know they are considered “the Right” it seems that “the Left” has failed to take responsibility for the riots, violence, and vandalism resulting from its own protests.  Though the vast majority of “the Right” would prefer to distance themselves from neo-Nazis, white supremacy, and the like, there are twin fears which result in mere mumbling of platitudes.  The first fear stems from the – sometimes legitimate – assumption that many on “the Left” already see everyone on “the Right” as essentially Nazis-in-waiting: if the “rightist” condemns the white supremacist now, who will he be pressured to condemn next time?  The second is negative: if condemnation of the white supremacists is issued, but their also-violent opponents are ignored, how is the “rightist” supposed to convince his fellows he’s not really a “leftist”?  (The “Leftist”, of course, faces the opposite social pressure: if he admits a “leftist” protest got out of hand, how can he demonstrate he’s not really a “rightist” condoning unjust police violence and systemic oppression of women and minorities?)

We should recognize this kind of fear for what it is.  This is political thinking.  In a political party, I may not be expected to sing the copious praises of the candidate from the next town over at all times, but I am expected to show up at his rally and politely call him a “good American” and parrot whatever the catchphrase of this year’s campaign may be.  What we see, in short, is that violence is being politicized, with neither “the Right” nor “the Left” willing to criticize the vandals with whom they know they are grouped.

It would be as well to distinguish two sorts of civil disturbance.  (There may be others.)  The first – as in Ferguson or Baltimore – helps nobody, but there is a clear cause of perceived governmental injustice.  The second – as this January in Washington at the Inauguration or this weekend in Charlottesville – is about the advancement of a political agenda, simply and solely, by show of force, whether that force remains a demonstration of numerical strength or spills over into actual violence.  The first we should have some sympathy with (even if the crowd’s assumptions are not totally justified), though we can hardly condone the acts and may disagree about the facts.  C. S. Lewis notes for us that, “Hard words sound less unlovely from the hunted than from the hunter,” and I take the same to be true of deeds.  But the second is more complicated: legitimate and secured by law when peaceful; when violent, simply criminal.  The transition is often hard to identify.

If I have digressed this far, in many ways equating the habits of “Left” and “Right”, it should not be taken to obscure the point I began with.  I undertook in this piece to briefly set out the reasons I see for the reactions I’ve seen.  Todays “Left” at times radically misunderstand humanity and what would really happen if their goals were met; but they at least profess to aim at a further realizing of equalities enshrined in American law and ideal.  The “Right” sometimes falls short of even professing those goals – but the white supremacists and related activists who provoked the clash in Charlottesville are attempting to project on us an ideal twisted in essence and refuted in our history by force of arms and law.  To find evil continuing should surprise no one with an honest appreciation of history – even without the Christian doctrine of depravity – but to excuse it out of fear we ourselves will be later libeled is heinous.  And to a real extent, excusing an evil now would only add to the weight of the charge later.  “I was afraid,” is much more pardonable than, “I meant to do badly,” but the results are all too often very similar.

Advertisements

Three Reviews: Bruce, Morris, Van Til

F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (1988)

This work is a historical overview of the establishment of the Christian scriptural canon.  Bruce makes brief reference to but largely avoids questions of textual criticism.  Similarly, though a congregationalist evangelical himself, he does not spend any significant time on any discussion of the mode of inspiration or the formal relation of Scriptural to church authority.  The only real surprise is that he suggests Protestants ought to value the apocryphal books more highly, in view of the early Church’s opinion of their usefulness.  For New Testament works, Bruce supports early or apostolic dating, but is not tied to direct apostolic authorship where that is disputed.

The book is sensibly organized and clearly written.  I am not qualified to detect errors of fact or judgment, and I do not know what changes of opinion have been effected by the thirty years of scholarship and study since this book was written.  With that caveat, though, I would recommend this work as a good introduction to the history of the Christian Bible.

Charles R. Morris, A Rabble of Dead Money

Morris describes himself in the postscript as “an historian with a professional background in finance”.  In this history of the Great Depression, although he  begins with an overview of the social and technological conditions of the 1920s, Morris’s main task is to trace various financial decisions that contributed to and then alleviated the Depression.  I found the book immensely helpful for some of the details Morris traces: the development of electric and automobile machinery and marketing; the competing financial models and goals – to say nothing of maneuvering, some amounting to outright fraud – among the world powers (and huge corporations) in the 1920s; and the examination of the effects of Roosevelt’s programs during the Depression.

Although Morris clearly lays out a pattern of causes and effects, he is not here concerned to answer the (to my mind, serious) questions about legality, debt, or sustainability.  He would like to conclude, for example, that Roosevelt’s programs had essentially ended the Great Depression by 1936: he demonstrates that in terms of the financial markets and prices this is actually true.  But he admits that when Roosevelt cut back his “emergency” programs in 1937 on the theory that normal conditions were restored, he quickly had to reinstate them as markets destabilized again.  Morris takes this as a demonstration of the value of intervention, but never addresses the resulting government debt – or whether it is actually a good thing to have the government essentially “locked in” to supporting the economy.  In fairness, the sustainability is perhaps beyond the scope of Morris’s work; management of the debt through the 1970s suggests that such programs might be manageable under the lending-and-interest model of modern finance; but Morris doesn’t even suggest there’s a question, let alone address the legal questions.

Similarly, while his financial indicators may support his thesis, he is forced to admit that in terms of unemployment the “traditional” opinion that it took World War II to end the Depression is valid.  Even the figures counting relief work as employment show at least 9% unemployment persisting through 1940.  The only reason, though, that the failure to address these issues becomes a weakness of the whole book is that in his short postscript he undertakes to briefly analyze some of the failures that led to our recent “Great Recession”.  He attempts to draw parallels – but to draw parallels in four pages between two extended periods, once of which one has just spent three hundred pages describing, is a risky business.  Morris manages no certainty in this postscript, and only highlights some of the larger causal risks in the most general terms.

On the whole, I found this a valuable book.  If certain questions go unanswered, they are after all not the questions suggested by conventional modern finance.  The outline Morris provides of international monetary policies is the most valuable part of the book, as he lays out the differing programs with clarity even for those like myself who are financially uninformed.  He also has a great sympathy for almost everyone involved; he quote another writer to the effect that one ought not to expect anyone to have learned anything from the Great Depression before it happened.

Cornelius Van Til, The Case for Calvinism (1963)

Despite my own Reformed Christian beliefs, I do not believe I have ever read anything by Van Til, apart from excerpts featured in Sunday school classes and, if I am not mistaken, in one philosophy class.  The man’s reputation is rather weighty; so I was pleased to find this slim volume, with a title apparently indicating a subject matter of brief apologetic summary of his views.

However, this book is actually itself a review of books, though in the final part Van Til does lay out his own theories of apologetics in rather polemic style.  It seems that Westminster Press asked three theologians to prepare short books justifying their views of the Christian faith in terms of modern philosophic concepts: Horden advocating a “New Reformation”, DeWolf professing a “liberal” Christianity, and Carnell espousing the “orthodox” faith.  Van Til undertakes to show that the first two are not in any essential way different from each other, – and then that the “orthodox” theologian has not in fact made a good argument for his case despite (Van Til says) holding traditional dogma himself.

I will admit here that I do not have the philosophical or theological background to have fully understood either all of Van Til’s references or some of his arguments.  Van Til’s authors rely on Kierkegaard and Barth, neither of whom I have read; and Van Til accuses them all of being Kantians, while I am not sure I ever understood Kant and only vaguely remember what I did read.  Appeal is also made to other more modern authors, the majority of whom I had never heard of.  My following comments are therefore tentative, as made from a position of relative ignorance.

To my mind, the scheme of the book is essentially a failure.  Horden, whom Van Til treats first, appears from the included excerpts to be the most orthodox of the three: Horden’s scheme is, in professed reaction against Barth, to re-establish the Reformation dogmas in modern philosophic terms.  Based on Van Til’s criticism, he may in some methodological ways have anticipated today’s N. T. Wright; it is not clear from Van Til’s excerpts that he held any unusual doctrines.  In contrast, DeWolf is (at best) a self-confessed modalist; when Van Til accuses him of finding a “Christianity” which adds nothing to what man already knows, I am not sure DeWolf would have disagreed.  If Van Til wished to prove the man a heretic, his job was easy; if Van Til really thought he attempted refutation, the job is sadly incomplete.

Van Til then proceeds to contrast both of these authors with Carnell, the “orthodox” expositor.  This section is more baffling still, as Van Til does not confine himself to the work supposedly reviewed, but drags in reams of matter from Carnell’s other works.  Carnell appears under this scrutiny to have been a bit of a careless enthusiast: some of the passages Van Til cites are in fact alarming, though Van Til repeatedly assures the reader that Carnell’s actual beliefs are orthodox, and it is only his methods which are questionable.  Carnell appears to have thought that any common human mode of inquiry – philosophic, scientific, emotional – honestly pursued will lead at least to the recognition of God.  The grounds on which Van Til prefers Carnell to Horden are not at all clarified in this section.

In the final section Van Til lays out his own position, a statement of “Calvinism” which Van Til believes to be the true form of Christianity.  For Van Til, the evidence of Calvinism’s veracity is that it professes a “self-authenticating” God and leaves no room for human autonomy; he essentially rejects the entire project his three authors had embarked on, as not beginning with the fact of God’s existence and Christ’s testimony.  He criticizes Roman Catholicism not here for doctrinal errors but for supposing human philosophy might be useful or valid; he dismisses “natural theology” and by implication natural law as well, and seems only grudgingly to admit any effect or existence of common grace.

I am inclined to think Van Til misread Socrates, the apostle Paul, and possibly the authors he reviewed here as well: he makes Socrates’ question to Euthyphro on holiness evidence of a philosopher’s arrogance; he characterizes Paul as attacking Greek superstition much as Van Til here attacks modern philosophy, when a less-close minded reading of, for instance, Acts 17 would find Paul making the same kind of “natural theology” argument Van Til condemns.  Seeing this where I do know some of the material, but bot myself familiar with the modern philosophic terminology, I am not sure whether Van Til’s dismissal of all three author’s concern for the difference between known and unknown in God’s revelation is critically legitimate or simply unsympathetic.

Van Til’s book does not succeed as a refutation of the works he discusses; he refuses to participate in their dialogue.  I am sympathetic – as how could any Christian not be? – to his claim that all things are under the dominion of Christ; but I am not convinced by his axiom that any systematic inquiry which does not explicitly begin with the acknowledgment of that lordship is illegitimate and unhelpful.  He has some useful things to say about the meaninglessness of “systems” either of pure determinism or pure chance, and the contradictions implied in trying to combine them; but this philosophic critique is here swallowed up in pure rant.

What if we are Unequal is the Fourth of July?

On the Fourth of July, the people of the United States of America celebrate the country’s Declaration of Independence from the government in England.  It is only to be expected that many are thinking of the words of Jefferson that “all men are created equal”.  Contemplating those words, a very little investigation finds their promise not fully met.

In saying the promise is not met, I do not mean that I subscribe to theories which find in these words an aspirational goal.  I use the word “promise” in the sense of a sign of further good.  It might be more accurate to  say the premise has not been worked out to its conclusion.  All persons share equally in humanity, and deserve respect as human and the equably applied protections of law and social order.  It would be absurd to suppose that all will make equal use of such equal protections, even as those with similar upbringing may reach very different places in society due to natural talents or their lack.  But it is quite another matter where we find these protections not in fact equally applied.

There are a great many such injustices perpetrated still in the United States.  I can hardly claim Frederick Douglass’s eloquence, though I borrow the style of my title from him.  I can hardly claim, as he could, to speak for an oppressed class.  The only case for injustice that might be found in my life is one common to most American teachers: a feeling that perhaps the profession is underpaid.  That particular complaint I doubt as a general thesis – teaching is a common human activity, however worthy: little wonder that teachers historically and currently have been found among slaves, lower classes, and the ill-rewarded – and in my particular case I have by any reasonable standard enough and more than enough to live on.

Similarly, before I go on to examine national faults, I may as well state what I believe: that in no other country, despite all American failings, is the general case of the population notably better.  Certainly some other nations – mainly those which have been brought also to subscribe to the ideals of liberty – equal or surpass the United States in various meritorious accomplishments: health, peace, general wealth, cheerfulness, or artistry accomplished and valued.  But – though it may change on the moment, and will change with years as these things do – accounting for extent and variety, I do not all in all find the United States second to any, for which I thank God and His Providence.

But to say the faults do not, in the end, ruin the case of a country is not to excuse those faults.  I may not speak as one who has been strongly affected by them, but I can observe.  What unequal treatment do I observe?  I will mention three classes briefly.

I observe, even before coming to men, that we enforce our laws very unevenly and with little honor.  Those holding power emphasize the punishments for breaking laws they find useful for their own purposes, and let others lapse.  Laws found unjust are ignored or explained away – or excused despite their indecency – as seems fit to those responsible for their execution.  Little effort is made to change unjust laws, and ineffective ones are rarely replaced with anything better.  The Constitution itself is widely ignored, particularly those parts which would put any stay on the power of government.  I put this first because our theory of government is – or was – built on the rule of law.

When I do turn to observe men, I notice several states of inequality, though perhaps in importance I rate them differently from the picture commonly presented.  If the system of government is built on rule of law, and I put that first, then the extent of the country was built largely by the sword – or rather the rifle.  This is no more than most other nations have done, so is perhaps not a greatly notable public wickedness except in that it contradicts the principles of liberty.  But it is the remaining state of the people conquered which, when considered, becomes a great charge of injustice.  Various island territories – with a total population of over four million persons, though the great majority of that is in only one, Puerto Rico – have been held by the United States, some of them for over a century, and with little change.  Perhaps they are not badly off materially, but their status hardly can be held to meet our ideals.  And we cannot pass over the native American peoples who were neither left to their independence nor fully integrated into American society once conquered: the remaining reservations seem at times by the nature of their administration little more than interior colonies.

If the system was built on law, and the country was taken from others, much land was worked by slaves.  Now slavery is illegal; now racial discrimination has been outlawed; but in fact race seems to muddle society as much as ever – though confusion is better than outright oppression.  But consider the situation.  Some still harbor resentment, distrust and disdain – either for those ingrained social habits make seem inferior, or for those who can be associated with oppressors.  Certain protections and favoritism are shown by some laws and policies – yet these have not, on the whole, seemed to make a great deal of difference to the relative standing of “the races”, but have (that I can tell) mainly created resentment.  Politically, the assent of black persons is treated as a trophy for a platform – or else their blind following of one party is assumed, and dissenters from that party often treated with disbelief.

We have, as I have traced here, three injustices, three major failures to pursue equality of station, that pursue us from the faults in the founding of the country, however understandable those faults were at the time.  Given time and space I might detail others: for example, the spread of time and money as punishments and its effect on the poor.  But whatever I detailed, if I looked for reform I would find little interest in ending any of these oppressions.  The levers of government have been bound in most states tightly to the major parties, and the major parties accept, more or less, the tight binding of persons – in the form of regulations, taxes, and high public spending – by the mechanisms of the government.  It is difficult to make effective changes without subscribing to this system, and the system is not made now to promote those who promote justice.

What are our priorities?  Today, we find the chief figures of one major party, although they pay public attention to the problems of the black population and other minorities, mainly committed to the furthering of the murder of children and the celebration of perversion.  Meanwhile the chief figures of the other major party, although they may decry the abuse of laws and Constitution from the party platform, appear wrapped up mainly in the preservation of their privileges and wealth.  As far as I can tell, neither party gives any attention, however fleeting, for the residue of American conquests.

Pleasures made rabid on the one hand, and wealth gained by curious means on the other, and in the middle – very little interest in this proclamation of equality, or in any real reform to achieve the other stated goals of the American government.  Justice, domestic tranquility, and the blessings of liberty all are strained; and as for that liberty – liberty is held in less esteem than the maintenance of a machinery of national aggrandizement.

If Not Washington, Then What?

The Problem of Legal Authority

Perhaps the most unfortunate fact about the current government of the United States is that a vast amount of the work the Federal government does is illegitimate.  The Constitution of the United States lays out certain tasks for that government to perform, and implies – in the Tenth Amendment specifically states – that other powers belong to and duties are to be performed by the individual States or by the people.

Most markedly, when compared to the work we find the Federal government performing, the powers assigned to it do not include any form of welfare administration, or care for health of persons or communities, or involvement in education, or provision for the arts.  This is to say, by current stated law all such programs ought not to have been brought into being and we ought to desist from them, for the sake of law and honesty.

It is not to our credit that, in political engagements these days, it is relatively rare to hear an official or candidate make this argument – and lamentably, rarer still that one who does is taken seriously.  However the anticipation of doom brought on by suggestions to restrict these programs for any reason whatever are as discreditable.  The majority of the programs commonly mentioned are not even particularly old; while certainly care ought to be exercised in their dismantling, the mere fact of their removal, once effected, will not result in catastrophe but force a return to other – I believe better, but certainly more legal – ways of providing these things.

It is sometimes argued, in the term “living Constitution”, by torturing of legal phrases, or by similar arguments, that the Constitution is merely a guideline and has no definite authority, and certainly not an authority to restrict government – that government has the authority at all times to do what is necessary.  This is untenable: applied beyond the Constitution it undermines all law whatsoever – and if applicable to first principles, surely it applies to lesser regulations.

The Process of Restoring Legitimacy

I will not discuss here the various ways different facets of this over-expanded Federal involvement should be curtailed.  I also am not going to discuss – which is anyway more speculative – the various way I see this underlying dishonesty affecting the rest of our government, although I think it does.  I am instead going to discuss the three parts of a reform process I think are essential:

I. Focus on State and Local Responsibilities

One of the major arguments for the necessity of Federal involvement is that in certain areas it is alleged that State governments are unable or unwilling to perform the work necessary.  In most cases I know of, “unable” is not accurate; “unwilling” may be.  At this stage of illegitimate centralization, it seems to me likely that states will have stopped attempting to manage certain things.  In other areas such as education policy we know that what has resulted is massive, often conflicting, layers of regulation from every level of government which has any excuse to become involved.  To the degree the Federal government is removed from authorities it has usurped, attention must be paid at more local levels to maintaining and improving what services ought legitimately be publicly performed.

II. Understand Government as Part of Society

This is a “middle of the road” principle.  The progressive inclination is to treat government as the pinnacle and ultimate voice of society, whether justified as “the people’s will” or “the knowledge of the experts” or simply by default.  The progressive needs to remember that any society does not function purely because the people at the top make it go.  On the other hand, in America the conservative tends to view any government – though strangely, not most government agents apart from the IRS – as inherently evil.  They – we – need to remember Chesteron’s aphorism, that “politeness” and “policeman” have the same root and that both are necessary to maintain political society.  Government can be overreaching and can do evil.  However, it is not necessarily bad, but is a good thing and is instituted for justice and the common good.

III. Legitimize What Should be Kept

I have argued above that the Federal government is doing certain things it ought not because it has no right to those powers.  However, it may be the case that – because of changes in ideology and technology or because of historical reflections – certain things it is doing right now illegitimately, which were brought about in a perceived crisis but without the necessary legal authority, are good ideas and ought to have been implemented properly.  To legitimize these functions would require Constitutional amendments, but this is not too high a bar: we have had plenty of these – one within my lifetime, even.  This concept is not mine, although I have adopted it as it seems sound.  It was introduced to me by Anjali Reed Phukan, whom I talked to (incidentally and at a completely unrelated event) while she was a candidate for Maryland Comptroller in 2014.  However, my expression of it may not match hers: among other things, the fields for Federal action which I view as potentially legitimate are somewhat broader than those she proposed then.  While I will not in this piece examine the subject exhaustively, I believe the amendments necessary involve at the least the following: first, some general regulations for the Federal bureaucracy, such as review by elected officials of regulations affecting the public; and second, a formal expansion (if necessary) of fields within which the Federal government is authorized to act.

The Documentation Problem

The first work of science fiction and fantasy author Roger Zelazny which I read was his short story collection – turned into a novel of sort by means of the useful anachronism of supposing the protagonist of each to be the same character – My Name is Legion.  Although not one of the better of his works, I got a copy of my own when I ran across it in a used book store, because it had once caught my imagination, and I had quickly found his Amber series and other works – but my literary interests are not exactly the point right now.  The protagonist is, depending on your point of view, either nameless or over-named – and unidentifiable, having managed to erase his records.  In the 1970s Zelazny had already extrapolated something very like our “Information Age”: “Everybody, nowadays, has a birth certificate, academic record, credit rating, a history of all his travels and places of residence and, ultimately, there is a death certificate somewhere on file.”  The particular quasi-villain he imagined has not, that I know of, yet actually emerged – “[S]ome people set out to combine them.  They called it  a Central Data Bank.” – but I am not sure it is for want of trying (consider the recent attempts of the United States government to collect schools’ testing data, for instance), and the reason put in the mouth of the chief organizer – “… ‘[S]ome means has to be found to record and regulate… a society as complex as ours…'” – sounds presciently familiar.

Zelazny’s protagonist begins as an enthusiastic programmer for the project – but with time and promotions his worries grow.  It is really incidental to the main story, an explanation of why he is an unidentifiable person, so I will risk the spoiler and simply state that he gains a position of responsibility such that, with all records centralized, he can remove all records of himself.  An excellent solution – presuming he never comes to the attention of the authorities, otherwise his existence-on-record begins as a criminal one, starting with the misdeed of not having existed officially before being apprehended.

Thus far Zelazny: now my train of thought picks up.  I have similar misgivings about what we now call “Big Data”, especially when it combines with the government.  But I do not quite think the solution of erasing all paper trails is the correct one – or viable, for that matter.  What we need to do is to formulate some principle for who needs to know what, and what constitutes informational overreach.  There are, roughly speaking, two legitimate general reasons for personal information to be shared: the private and the public.  A doctor or investment advisor or lawyer will want to know quite a bit about me – or, as the thrillers have it, be paid far more handsomely than usual for working without that information.  On the other hand, if I am responsible for a large project or to a large number of people, they will also rightly want to know quite a bit about who I am.  But in neither case, as I simply exist, is it your business or the policeman’s business or anybody’s, really, what my name is or what I am doing.

Or where I come from.  Now, we have certain kinds of identification which exists in a sort of preventative sense.  I have a driver’s license primarily so that, when I drive, the police know who I am if I crash or even run a red light – and who they need to find if the fine does not get paid.  I am registered to vote so that, if I feel like voting and show up to do so, the election officials have some record of me as well.

What I find curious about this, however, is that so much of our information provision relies on previous information provided.  Virtually never do I hear the obvious suggestion made that if someone shows up with no documentation, the thing for the party concerned to do is to document them.  We know how to do this when we know we are starting from scratch – the pictures of voters waving their ink-stained hands in celebration in the new democracies in the Middles East have stuck with me, regardless of how poorly those governments may at this point seem to have turned out.  The thing about fingerprints, too, is that they are personal – unique in fact, or all but, as I understand it.  They’re also fairly permanent – though I am told they can be changed or removed, painfully – not dependent on an individual’s organizational skills when moving.  They also do not depend on the whims of an Office of Existence Certification somewhere as to what goes on the form.

All of which is circling around the point I want to make: it does not much matter whether my neighbor is from Pennsylvania or Paraguay.  The extent to which I want to see immigration controlled is pretty much for the relevant agencies to take down sufficient information for future identification and to confirm – as far as is possible – that the person is not wanted for actual crimes somewhere.  Maybe that really would mean a central data bank of fingerprints and such somewhere, that states’ police or other authorities could access.  But that’s about it: all this “qualification” and “vetting” and so forth has me rather dubious.

The question of voting, or other benefits attached to citizenship, is rather different.  Citizenship is not equivalent with existence, even for those of us fortunate enough like Paul to have been born citizens of a fairly stable entity.  A nation can make citizens: it does not make persons, even or especially when like China it attempts to end them.  I said before that my neighbor – let him be called by the everyman moniker Joe – could be from Pennsylvania or Paraguay with no difference made to me.  As far as existence goes, this is true: but if Joe is from Paraguay, I would like him to have some introduction to the American system first if he wants to vote, or have public monies assigned to him in the form of welfare.  If he desires, in short, to be part of the public system he ought to identify himself with it publicly.

To put my position briefly: I am opposed to most restrictions on movement, travel, and immigration, but am in favor of making and keeping formal divisions between citizens and non-citizens.  Details, of course, need somewhat more thought.

Review: National Philharmonic plays Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Dvorak’s 8th Symphony

Today Haochen Zhang played the second of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos with the National Philharmonic Orchestra at Strathmore.  The program also included Dvorak’s 8th Symphony, composed in Bohemia shortly after the striking success of his 7th.

Zhang is a Van Cliburn winner and played like it; the orchestra responded in kind.  I found only one tiny flaw, and that not, from my recollection of various recordings, uncommon: at fortissimo the orchestra did once or twice simply drown the sound of the piano.  Though I was also in the second balcony.

He also performed – not on the program but as an encore to the first half – a solo piano piece which I did not recognize but believe by length and form was a movement of a sonata, perhaps Schumann or Brahms.

The Dvorak unfortunately did not come up to the same standard.  The first movement was clean, beginning beautifully and remaining solid.  The second opened in unremarkable fashion, but when the emphasis was in the brass, the string sound was muddy, damaging the force of the crescendos marking the halfway point and again near the end.  This might again be due to my position in the balcony, but here I suspect not.  The orchestra handled the waltz opening the third movement wonderfully, but the more energetic second portion felt cluttered.  In the final allegro the opening fanfare was good but the transition notes to the main portion were awkwardly phrased; the movement was otherwise solid but the brass once again had a tendency to run over the strings a bit, although the finale came together just about perfectly.

My impression was that the orchestra – or the conductor – Piotr Gajewski – overdoes everything just a little bit.  Loud brass a bit too loud, the slow a bit too slow, the energetic with more focus on energy than precision.  Altogether a good concert, but not a great one.

Three Paragraphs on Health Care Law

I support the repeal of the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. In the mean time, or if that proves unworkable, I would strongly suggest amendment or repeal both of parts of the ACA and of other Federal regulations which have tended to make the health care process more and more a hassle, and especially those parts which make unwarranted demands on citizens. Additionally I would like to see the government pursue a policy of opening health care as much as possible to the free market: expanding options for insurance across state lines, cutting out subsidies for special interests such as insurance companies, and removing corporate versus personal distinctions in regards to, for instance, tax law.

The Affordable Care Act is un-Constitutional.  It was passed on a strictly partisan basis.  It has not met the goals with which it was advanced, either the well-publicized claim that it would preserve then-current insurance plans or the obvious and stated goal of saving people money on healthcare.  Premiums have gone up for health insurance- as was in fact predicted beforehand by many who did not support the bill – and it is not clear that overall any significant improvement has occurred either in quality of or access to actual health care.  Certain parts of the scheme have not worked as planned.  Moreover the regulations imposed in enforcing the bill have so far blatantly disregarded the Constitutional and traditional American protections of the private conscience.  The ACA has been so unpopular since its introduction, and more so since its passage, that the Republican Party has been running virtually on a repeal platform alone and through three elections has been successful to varying degrees in so doing.  It is barely even a “done deal”: its full requirements were not in effect at the commencement of President Obama’s second term.  The point is this: while it is understandable that some would decide that – despite these drawbacks – the ACA is preferable to the state of affairs before it became law, it does not make sense to consider repeal efforts surprising, inexplicable, or unconnected to the desires of the electorate.  I would even add that the potential for repeal illustrates why we should not hand more power to government than absolutely necessary.  What the strong arm of the government can “give”, it can most definitely take away again on a whim.

However, the repeal of the ACA should be done in a straight-forward manner.  The current effort to mangle the law by budget resolutions and amendments is not the way the repeal ought to be achieved.  I linked and support the bill Senator Cruz sponsored to repeal it properly.  I do not support the budget chicanery (on this or any other of the issues it is so often invoked).  Lincoln is supposed to have said that the best way to get rid of bad law is to enforce it thoroughly – the implication being, of course, that enforcement would result in increased public displeasure with the measure – and with laws not blatantly immoral this is the method I would endorse as well.  Admittedly some of the ACA provisions, at least as currently regulated, are such – but not, that I can tell, the ones targeted at the moment.  The question of the morality of a law which is illegal by higher law – I did earlier and seriously call the ACA un-Constitutional – is a difficult one.  To take the possible counter-example most easily proposed: what if the higher law is itself immoral?  I do not believe this of the Constitution as currently amended (currently interpretations I will pass by), but the principles involved are certainly enough to give one pause.)