Thursday, September 26, 2002


1. If it doesn’t get measured, it doesn’t get done.

2. If it doesn’t produce a measurement, it doesn’t get done.

3. If it doesn’t involve measuring, it doesn’t get done.

4. If it’s not measuring, it doesn’t get done.

5. Nothing gets done except for measuring.

6. The undone is immeasurable.

7. We are immeasurably undone.

posted by Fred Clark 10:33 AM


Eschaton quoted this from President Bush yesterday.

At first I thought it was parody. Then I hoped it was parody. But see for yourself, it really happened:

Patsy Wilson, Reuters: Mr. President, do you believe that Saddam Hussein is a bigger threat to the United States than al Qaeda?

PRESIDENT BUSH: That's a -- that is an interesting question. I'm trying to think of something humorous to say. (Laughter.) But I can't when I think about al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. They're both risks, they're both dangerous. The difference, of course, is that al Qaeda likes to hijack governments. Saddam Hussein is a dictator of a government. Al Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn't, but the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam's madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world.

Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror, you can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. And so it's a comparison that is -- I can't make because I can't distinguish between the two, because they're both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive.

Mr. Bush is correct in the one coherent statement in that embarrassingly garbled non-response: both Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida need to be dealt with.

But how appallingly stupid and offensive is it for Mr. Bush to say that the difference between Saddam and al-Qaida is that "al-Qaida likes to hijack governments"?

Not governments, Mr. President, airplanes. Four of them. And the rest of us can't think of anything funny to say about that either.

Hijack??? Jesus.

posted by Fred Clark 2:05 AM


Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone. Therefore we are saved by love.
--Reinhold Niebuhr, 1951

The previous post included big meaty chunks of Reinhold Niebuhr, and here I go again with a Reinhold epigram. I know what you're probably thinking -- Slacktivist is pandering, trying to drum up traffic with more Niebuhr excerpts -- and you're right. Nothing generates hits for this site like mid-20th century neo-orthodox Protestant realists.

Niebuhr, if you've never heard of him, was a theologian/political philosopher who taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York from 1928 to 1960. His books include Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, Moral Man and Immoral Society and The Nature and Destiny of Man. He's profound when discussing the "nature," but not so much with the "destiny" part (he didn't believe in the resurrection, which for Christian theologians is sort of, you know, essential). Niebuhr's keenest insights had to do with pride and sin -- he noted that original sin is the only empirically verifiable Christian doctrine.

And if you think you've never heard of this guy before, I'm betting you've at least heard a version of one of his prayers:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

In its own way, that's also a good reminder as we continue to debate while riding the treadmill to war and occupation in Iraq.

posted by Fred Clark 12:45 AM

Wednesday, September 25, 2002


I have not sought to elaborate the religious and theological convictions upon which the political philosophy of the following pages rests. It will be apparent, however, that they are informed by the belief that a Christian view of human nature is more adequate for the development of a democratic society than either the optimism with which democracy has become historically associated or the moral cynicism which inclines human communities to tyrannical political strategies.

--Reinhold Niebuhr, from the foreword to The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, 1944

Writing in Slate's ballot box, William Saletan interprets the anti-terrorist visions of President Bush and Al Gore as "The party of fear versus the party of goodwill."

He recasts both men as avatars of broad archetypes -- Bush the Machiavellian realist, Gore the Wilsonian idealist -- and portrays each as an utterly one-dimensional representative of these respective positions, giving us two straw-men for the price of one.

Saletan seems to be setting things up for a classic example of Hegel's Bluff. This is cheating. The idea is to characterize the debate as between polar extremists. You can thus frame your own position -- somewhere in between these caricatured extremes -- as a Hegelian synthesis, the historic culmination and correction of all that has gone before, etc. etc.

It's also possible Saletan really believes this stuff, that he really sees two-and-only-two competing views of human nature: the naively optimistic party of goodwill and the cynically amoral party of fear. His conclusion seems to indicate that these are the only options of which he is aware:

The party of fear has made its case. Now the party of goodwill has replied. Let the debate begin. And let each side defend the theory of human nature on which its prescriptions and promises depend.

Or this paragraph on two other representatives of Saletan's two parties:

They're completely different theories of psychology. Neither has been clearly articulated, challenged, or defended. My colleague Bob Wright thinks the world operates on goodwill. My friend Charles Krauthammer thinks the world operates on fear. Their prescriptions on how to fight terrorism are completely opposite, yet each man's analysis is logically compelling, once you accept its psychological premise. That's where the real debate needs to be joined.

As Saletan notes, these are competing "theories of psychology," a debate between "theories of human nature" -- but they are hardly the only such theories, nor the most influential in shaping the history of America and the modern world.

Take for example, the U.S. Constitution, a document that acknowledges the powerful admixture of goodwill and fear that shapes human nature and the national and international communities we create.

Or consider Christ's advice to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" -- and the belief of his followers that we are fallen creatures bearing the image of our creator, that fear is powerful and goodwill is powerful, but that neither one is solely responsible for how the world -- or any individual in that world -- works.

"How curiously are love and self-love mixed up in life," Reinhold Neibuhr wrote, "much more complexly than any scheme of morals recognizes."

This is very much the theme of Neibuhr's book The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness.

Niebuhr would have had a hard time, I think, classifying either the Bush/Krauthammer or Gore/Wright views as shaped purely by "goodwill" or "fear" -- or, in the categories Niebuhr preferred, by "the common good" or "self-interest."

Anyway, here's a big chunk o' Neibuhr's TCOLATCOD:

In illumining this important distinction more fully, we may well designate the moral cynics, who know no law beyond their will and interest, with a scriptural designation of "children of this world" or "children of darkness." Those who believe that self-interest should be brought under the discipline of a higher law could then be termed "the children of light."

This is no mere arbitrary device; for evil is always the assertion of some self-interest without regard to the whole, whether the whole be conceived as the immediate community, or the total community of mankind, or the total order of the world. The good is, on the other hand, always the harmony of the whole on various levels. Devotion to a subordinate and premature "whole" such as the nation, may of course become evil, viewed from the perspective of a larger whole, such as the community of mankind. The "children of light" may thus be defined as those who seek to bring self-interest under the discipline of a more universal law and in harmony with a more universal good.

According to the scripture "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." This observation fits the modern situation. Our democratic civilization has been built, not by children of darkness but by foolish children of light. It has been under attack by the children of darkness, by the moral cynics, who declare that a strong nation need acknowledge no law beyond its strength.

It has come close to complete disaster under this attack, not because it accepted the same creed as the cynics; but because it underestimated the power of self-interest, both individual and collective, in modern society. The children of light have not been as wise as the children of darkness.

The children of darkness are evil because they know no law beyond the self. They are wise, though evil, because they understand the power of self-interest. The children of light are virtuous because they have some conception of a higher law than their own will. They are usually foolish because they do not know the power of self-will. They underestimate the peril of anarchy in both the national and the international community.

Modern democratic civilization is, in short, sentimental rather than cynical. It has an easy solution for the problem of anarchy and chaos on both the national and international level of community, because of its fatuous and superficial view of man. It does not know that the same man who is ostensibly devoted to the "common good" may have desires and ambitions, hopes and fears, which set him at variance with his neighbor.

It must be understood that the children of light are foolish not merely because they underestimate the power of self-interest among the children of darkness. They underestimate this power among themselves ...

The culture which venerated science in place of religion, worshiped natural causation in place of God, and which regarded the cool prudence of bourgeois man as morally more normative than Christian love, has proved itself to be less profound than it appeared to be in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But these inadequacies, which must be further examined as typical of The foolishness of modern children of light, do not validate the judgment that these modern rebels were really children of darkness, intent upon defying the truth or destroying universal order.

The conflict between the middle classes and the aristocrats, between the scientists and the priests, was not a conflict between children of darkness and children of light. It was a conflict between pious and less pious children of light, both of whom were unconscious of the corruption of self-interest in all ideal achievements and pretensions of human culture ...

[slight edit 10 minutes after first post]

posted by Fred Clark 11:01 PM

Tuesday, September 24, 2002


I'm fascinated by this story of a recent study that found: "Kids who grow up around barns and stock are much less likely than other children to suffer allergies and asthma."

The European study ... offers strong support for the "hygiene hypothesis." This theory states that as developed nations become cleaner -- reducing childhood infections that toughen the immune system -- their citizens become more vulnerable to allergies.

Too tired to explore this idea fully tonight, but having grown up amongst fundamentalist Baptists, I can vouch for the validity of the hygiene hypothesis. The legalistic framework strictly enforced at the school I grew up in was such an artificially sanitized, morally sterile environment, that students' moral development was actually stunted, rather than nurtured.

I have no idea whether the hygiene hypothesis will hold true for asthma and allergies, but for moral development, I'm totally convinced of it. Fundamentalism and evangelicalism have produced generations of morally asthmatic believers who feel safest -- like John Travolta in that movie -- in the hermetically sealed environment of their plastic subculture. The fragile, otherworldly cleanliness of these believers lacks the vitality of those farmkids' faith. Those healthier, earthier kids have learned to draw strength from their dirty hands and knees.

posted by Fred Clark 1:40 AM


Also from yesterday's presidential transcript:

"We need an energy bill that encourages consumption [sic] ..."

Yes, he really said this.

Do you remember when the first Pres. Bush said that Vice President Dan Quayle was like a son to him? This is what he meant.

Bush also chummed the waters for Paul Krugman with this fantastical paragraph blaming President Clinton for the nation's economic woes:

Listen, I come from the school of thought that says, if you've got an economic problem -- and remember, for the first three quarters of my administration we were in negative growth; the stock market started to decline in March of 2000; economic growth started to slow down in the summer of 2000; we were in recession in the first three quarters of 2001.

Krugman will, I'm sure, be attending to the everal egregious factual errors in those remarks soon.

posted by Fred Clark 1:19 AM


From the transcript of President Bush's remarks yesterday in Trenton, N.J.:

I asked Congress to give me the flexibility necessary to be able to deal with the true threats of the 21st century by being able to move the right people to the right place at the right time, so we can better assure America we're doing everything possible. The House responded, but the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people. I will not accept a Department of Homeland Security that does not allow this President, and future Presidents, to better keep the American people secure.

The transcript doesn't capture the full, frenzied tone with which this was delivered. This was shouted with as much enthusiasm as I have ever heard this president muster. And what is it that he's so passionate about?

Patronage. The ability to handpick his cronies -- and only his cronies -- to fill the cozy new jobs in his newly engorged Fatherland bureaucracy. This is about patronage, not -- as the Washington Post put it "Obscure Labor Issues."

There's nothing "obscure" about time-tested civil-service laws preventing patronage and cronyism. And there's nothing obscure about Pres. Bush's fervent opposition to such laws -- he's crowing about his corruption from the same bully pulpit that Teddy Roosevelt used to condemn such practices.


Whew. That needed to be said.

posted by Fred Clark 1:03 AM


Came across the following from the latest issue of Christian History (most of which is not online). The issue is on G.K. Chesterton, and isn't nearly as much fun as an issue on G.K. Chesterton should've been, but it did include this anecdote, which Cardinal Bernard Law should be required to write 10,000 times on a blackboard or until he understands what he has lost.

In 1954, Alec Guinness portrayed Chesterton's Father Brown in a movie based on his short story "The Blue Cross." In his memoir, Blessings in Disguise, Guinness describes an encounter he had while in the Father Brown costume during the filming in France:

I hadn't gone far when I heard scampering footsteps and a piping voice calling, 'mon pere!' My hand was seized by a boy of seven or eight, who clutched it tightly, swung it and kept up a non-stop prattle. He was full of excitement, hops, skips and jumps, but never let go of me. I didn't dare speak in case my excruciating French should scare him. Although I was a total stranger he obviously took me for a priest and so to be trusted. Suddenly, with a 'Bonsoir, mon pere,' and a hurried sideways sort of bow, he disappeared through a hole in a hedge. Continuing my walk I reflected that a church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable could not be as scheming and creepy as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.

posted by Fred Clark 12:33 AM


Can we just all agree that linking health-care to employer-provided health insurance is a bad idea?

The employers don't like it. The employees don't like it. Does anybody think this is a good way of doing business?

Among the many, many things wrong with such a system is that it stifles innovation and stymies entrepreneurialism. How many would-be artists, activists and Edisons are kept from pursuing their respective visions because of the tether of health insurance that lashes them to whatever large, moribund corporate sponsor has adopted them? What good or useful or beautiful things is our culture missing out on because such folks have been forced to choose between pursuing their ideas and ideals or preserving their "benefits"?

Granted, the real artists, innovators and mad geniuses (I mean "mad genius" in the best possible sense) will likely be so driven that they'll opt to do without the security of access to health care in order to pursue their dream -- but why make it harder for such people? Why toss more obstacles in the path of inventors and creators?

Yes, John Keats wrote some glorious poetry before he died of tuberculosis at age 26, but creating a system of health-care that ensures our poets are kept sickly and short-lived is not the best way of nurturing the next Keats.

= = = = = = = = = = = =


The one good thing that may have come out of this system is "Sweet Relief" -- the compilation benefiting the gloriously strange/strangely glorious singer-songwriter Victoria Williams.

Like many artists, Williams was uninsured, when:

In 1991 …touring with Neil Young … she noticed something wrong with her health. When she tried to play guitar, her hands began "flopping around." She was diagnosed with MS in 1992. When …Williams had racked up more than $20,000 worth of unpaid medical bills, friends and fans within the music industry responded with benefit concerts and "Sweet Relief," a compilation album of artists performing her songs that featured, among others, Pearl Jam, Lucinda Williams, the Jayhawks and Lou Reed.

In turn, Williams created a foundation to help other uninsured musicians with debilitating illnesses, which has since given more than $350,000 to those in need.

(You can read the whole story in this old Salon piece.)

But aside from helping induce Pearl Jam to record "Crazy Mary," this haphazard health insurance system doesn't have much to recommend it.

posted by Fred Clark 12:09 AM

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