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Archive for February, 2008

Feline Friday: Jean

p1010028.jpgI recently wrote about Patch, the Hemingway cat we adopted when she had serious medical problems after giving birth. She had two kittens. This is one of them, Jean, a quiet cat who loves the warmth the satellite TV receiver produces. Like her mother, she has very soft, rabbit-like fur. She accepts attention but doesn’t really seek it out, at least from me; she prefers my older daughter, and misses her when she’s away at college, as she is now.

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I’ve worried before about the similarities between the present and the 1970s. Allan Meltzer sees the parallels, and worries that the Federal Reserve is duplicating the errors of the 1970s that led to stagflation. He foresees significant inflation, as do I. Rich Karlgaard prescribes the cure—slowing the growth of the money supply, restoring strength to the dollar, and cutting taxes—that worked to cure us back in the early 1980s. It’s an excellent prescription, but is anybody listening? Obama and Clinton offer the opposite prescription, and McCain, while saying some of the right things, seems not to understand their importance.

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Jonah Goldberg captures the political half of the course I’m now teaching precisely:

I think the fundamental difference, the difference that defines the difference between American, Anglo-American conservatives and European welfare states, leftists or liberals, is Locke versus Rousseau. Every philosophical argument boils down to John Locke versus Jacques Rousseau.

Locke holds that we have natural rights, rights that inhere in us as human beings independently of our being members of a political community. Rousseau denies it, maintaining that all rights come from the state. This has sweeping consequences for the legitimacy of government power. Locke holds that government authority is legitimate only within certain limits; it is bounded by our natural rights, which we construct governments to preserve. Since Rousseau recognizes no such rights, he recognizes no such bounds. For him, government may exercise authority over anything to promote the common good. That doesn’t mean we have no rights; we have the rights the government allots to us, and no others.

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Forgotten Americans

Victor Davis Hanson talks about the forgotten Americans, people who take on mortgages they can afford, don’t borrow against the value of their houses, don’t go deeply into debt to buy cars, boats, vacation houses, etc., and, in short, live their lives responsibly. These are the people Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to tax to bail out those who are in some cases unlucky but in many more cases irresponsible.

I don’t know how many forgotten Americans there are out there, but I have a feeling the answer may well determine the next election.

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Ilya Somin makes the case against government subsidies for college tuition at the Volokh Conspiracy. His point is that the higher-than-inflation increases in the cost of college over the past forty years are justified by the even greater increases in expected returns on a college education. According to a 2002 Census Bureau study, a college graduate, on average, earns $1,000,000 more than a high school graduate over his/her lifetime.

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…may be one step closer. BBC reports (HT: Jihad Watch):

Turkey is preparing to publish a document that represents a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam – and a controversial and radical modernisation of the religion….

Its supporters say the spirit of logic and reason inherent in Islam at its foundation 1,400 years ago are being rediscovered. Some believe it could represent the beginning of a reformation in the religion….

The argument is that Islamic tradition has been gradually hijacked by various – often conservative – cultures, seeking to use the religion for various forms of social control….

This may challenge radical and militant versions of Islam, but may also bring Islamic theory and practice into closer harmony in places such as East Africa, where Islam as generally understood and practiced has been a doctrine stressing not only submission to the one God but also the equality and dignity of human beings. (See, for example, Kai Kresse, Philosophizing in Mombasa.) The Muslims I have known, mostly from Turkey, Pakistan, and India, seem to understand their religion similarly.

One of the most significant features of the emerging Turkish reinterpretation is the rejection of the principle of abrogation:

They have also taken an even bolder step – rejecting a long-established rule of Muslim scholars that later (and often more conservative) texts override earlier ones.

This is crucial to combating the militant interpretation, since later texts are more violent than earlier ones. It also makes a great deal of intellectual sense. It is easy to point to seeming contradictions in the text of the Koran. The response has traditionally been that earlier verses expressed Allah’s commands specific to a circumstance, but that the last commands given should be understood as applying for all subsequent times and places. At first glance, this makes little sense. Why aren’t all the commands (on topics on which they vary, at any rate) relative to circumstances? If Allah’s commands can change with the situation, as they evidently can, given the texts, why doesn’t applying them to any contemporary situation require a careful comparison of current circumstances to those in which the Koranic commands were given? Suppose I tell you today to open the window, tell you tomorrow to close it, and afterward say nothing about it at all. It seems natural to ask what changed between those two days in order to discern my rationale before proclaiming what my command would be on some future day. It would be bizarre to conclude that I had ordered the window to remain closed for all time.

The Turkish reinterpretation could thus do much to reintegrate reason and faith in Islam.

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In Memoriam: Myron Cope

Legendary Pittsburgh Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope died today in Mount Lebanon.

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William F. Buckley, Jr., has died at his home in Connecticut.

UPDATE: This makes me feel a bit better about the condition of my own office.

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May I Have Another Doctor?

Muslim medical workers in Great Britain are refusing to sanitize their forearms for religious reasons. To wash according to guidelines, some Muslim women say, forces them to bare their forearms up to the elbow, which, they think, is forbidden by Islam. (HT: Lydia McGrew) Dr. Semmelweis discovered the significance of sanitizing hands and arms in 1847—some 1,215 years after the death of Mohammed.

Requiring medical workers to sanitize appears to be facially neutral. Can it reasonably be held to constitute a form of discrimination? Arguably, it is akin to requiring employees to work on the Sabbath. The US Supreme Court, in Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc. (1985), struck down a Connecticut law that forbade employers from forcing employees to work on what they considered to be the Sabbath as an unconstitutional establishment of religion. There is no general obligation to accommodate the religious beliefs of others. Allowing employees to take days of religious significance off, moreover, doesn’t pose health risks. The best possible substitute for sanitizing hands and arms may still expose patients to a higher risk of infection.

I have three questions:

  1. If hospitals have to hire doctors and nurses who refuse to sanitize their hands, do bus companies have to hire Amish drivers who refuse to operate buses, or people who, for ideological reasons, refuse to obey speed limits?
  2. If hospitals allow Muslim medical workers to decline to wash, will patients be entitled to ask to be attended by non-Muslim workers? Or will that be discriminatory—even if being attended by Muslim workers correlates with infection?
  3. If this happens and establishes a precedent: is there a religion that forbids grading papers?

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“With No One to His Left”

Paul Mirengoff points out that, if Barack Obama is a centrist, he’s one with no one to his left. He recounts a number of instances in which Obama has sided with the most extreme of the Senate’s Democrats. Here are ratings from a variety of activist groups, indicating that in 2005 Barack Obama, Dick Durban, and Tom Harkin were the three most liberal Senators. And Project Vote Smart gives detailed ratings from a wide variety of groups.

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