Day By Day

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Through the Heart of Europe -- Part 6, The Mosel River

After leaving Koblenz we sailed through the wind country along the Mosel River. Here we are passing the picturesque town of Cochem.

The Reichsburg Castle looms over Cochem. I was standing behind a double-paned glass window when I took this photo. It produced a ghost image that I think is kinda cool.

Past extensive vineyards.

The lovely town of Zell.

Hilltop villages.

Walking through the vineyards.

Approaching Traben-Trarbach

Grevenburg castle overlooking Traben-Trarbach

The Buddha Museum, built by a local convert to Buddhism.

The "River Harmony" -- our home during the tour.

We were tied up opposite these dramatic sandstone cliffs. They make for a nice picture.

Why has the Cultural Critique of Capitalism Succeeded?

Throughout its national history America has had a love-hate relationship with capitalism. There have been powerful critics -- Jeffersonian Republicans, Jacksonian Democrats, Southern slave-holding elites, labor agitators, immigrant workers, etc., but even so, the nation as a whole has honored the entrepreneurial spirit and the institutions of capitalism that produced great wealth and widespread individual opportunities. Today the critics of capitalism seem to be in the ascendency. Charles Murray asks why.

He identifies a number of factors -- cronyism and rent-seeking, a dramatic increase in inequality, a shift from productive to manipulative forms of entrepreneurship, etc., but he feels that the most important factors are cultural, to wit, a demoralization of our national culture that precludes a principled defense of capitalism by its foremost practitioners. In other words, so complete has been the victory of the Left in our educational and entertainment industries [what used to be called "the long march through the institutions"] that they have made a principled defense of capitalism all but impossible.

If we are to restore national greatness, he argues, we must launch a cultural counter-offensive to the left-wing critique that pervades our national culture today. He writes:
[I]t should be possible to revive a national consensus affirming that capitalism embraces the best and most essential things about American life; that freeing capitalism to do what it does best won't just create national wealth and reduce poverty, but expand the ability of Americans to achieve earned success—to pursue happiness. 
 But it won't be easy. 

Reviving that consensus... requires us to return to the vocabulary of virtue when we talk about capitalism. Personal integrity, a sense of seemliness and concern for those who depend on us are not "values" that are no better or worse than other values. Historically, they have been deeply embedded in the American version of capitalism. It... is necessary to remind the middle class and working class that the rich are not their enemies.... 
 And, most importantly, it requires the remoralization of the nation's elites.
[I]t is... necessary to remind the most successful among us that their obligations are not to be measured in terms of their tax bills. Their principled stewardship can nurture and restore our heritage of liberty. Their indifference to that heritage can destroy it.
 Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Condi on the Future of American Foreign Policy

Condi cuts loose with her ideas on the direction American foreign policy should take in the future. Her major points:

These are times of rapid and fundamental change -- if we wish to have some say into how things settle out we will have to overcome our reluctance to lead.

We have long-term goals -- 1) promoting democratic institutions and political inclusiveness; 2) re-engaging with Iraq -- it will be an essential partner in future developments; 3) promoting prosperity in the Middle East -- prosperity will forge cooperative relations among the countries of the region; 4) promoting democracy and democratic dissent in the Western Hemisphere; 5) building on the Bush administration's Trans-Pacific Partnership to promote regional trade and mutual security in East and South Asia; 6) extending free trade on a global scale and developing our domestic resources; 7) re-establishing confidence amongst our traditional allies who will be our future partners; and 8) reform our trouble educational systems.

She concludes with a ringing endorsement of American exceptionalism:
The American people have to be inspired to lead again. They need to be reminded that the US is not just any other country: we are exceptional in the clarity of our conviction that free markets and free peoples hold the key to the future, and in our willingness to act on those beliefs. Failure to do so would leave a vacuum, likely filled by those who will not champion a balance of power that favours freedom. That would be a tragedy for American interests and values and those who share them.
 Read the whole thing here.

Apocalyptic Totalitarianism

One of the most celebrated of France's "New Philosophers" was Pascal Bruckner. Celebrated, that is, until recently. Now he is one of the most vilified figures in Europe. Why? What happened?

Bruckner committed what many on the Left consider to be the ultimate sin -- he published a book [The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse] attacking the intellectual foundations of the Green movement. His argument is that, whatever the merits of the science of climate change, global warming alarmists have advanced a despotic agenda which they attempt to justify by deploying apocalyptic rhetoric that has the effect of infantilizing the public, the better to control it. He compares climate change alarmism to medieval peasant religion and argues that the "propaganda of fear", advanced by the Green movement has disturbing totalitarian overtones. Moreover, he notes, implementing the Green agenda would consign the vast majority of the world's population to perpetual poverty.

It's an interesting argument. The book is not currently available in English, but you can read a good summary of his positions here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Through the Heart of Europe -- Part 5, The Rhine Gorge

Back on the boat we headed down the middle course of Rhine past numerous picturesque castles and towns. Here are a few of the things we saw.

Through the morning we sailed past castle after castle on our way to Boppard. 

This is the Ehrenfels castle.

Eventually we pulled into Boppard where we paused for a while. We ate lunch, then some of us took a walking tour of the town while others boarded a bus for a tour of the Marksburg castle.

Back on the river. Contrails in the sky.

Schloss Liebeneck

Then, towering above us, the Marksburg Castle, the only hilltop castle in the region that was never destroyed.

The town of Lahnstein.

Approaching Koblenz

Castle Ehrenbreitstein

The "German Corner" of Koblenz, where we docked for the night. The mounted statue is of Bismark.

Thinking and Not Thinking About Sex

Over the course of my lifetime attitudes and values regarding sex have been radically transformed, and as they have the range of discourse on the subject have changed even more dramatically. When I was young a lot of sexual subjects just could not, or would not be discussed. Today those subjects are talked about endlessly. As a friend of mine put it, "the love that dare not speak its name has become the love that cannot shut up." At the same time other subjects that once were discussed freely have become verboten. The recent persecution of University of Texas sociologist, Mark Regnerus illustrates the problem. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes his sin and its consequences:
Regnerus's offense? His article in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research reported that adult children of parents who had same-sex romantic relationships, including same-sex couples as parents, have more emotional and social problems than do adult children of heterosexual parents with intact marriages. That's it. Regnerus published ideologically unpopular research results on the contentious matter of same-sex families. And now he is being made to pay.
Regnerus has been attacked by sociologists all around the country, including some from his own department. He has been vilified by journalists who obviously (based on what they write) understand little about social-science research. And the journal in which Regnerus published his article has been the target of a pressure campaign.
And what is the tenor of the criticism: Slate  provides a sample:
Mark Regnerus is a hateful bigot. He’s an ultra-conservative with links to Opus Dei. His new research paper on same-sex parenting is “intentionally misleading” and “seeks to disparage lesbian and gay parents.” His “so-called study doesn’t match 30 years of scientific research that shows overwhelmingly that children raised by parents who are LGBT do equally as well.” His “junk science” and “pseudo-scientific misinformation,” pitted against statements from the American Psychological Association and “every major child welfare organization,” deserve no coverage or credence.
 That’s what four of the nation’s leading gay-rights groups—the Human Rights Campaign, the Family Equality Council, Freedom to Marry, and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation —declared in a joint statement this week. Flanked by a mob of bloggers, they’re out to attack Regnerus’ motives, destroy his credibility, and banish his study from the scientific record. Even Slate contributor E.J. Graff says “Slate's editors should be ashamed” for publishing Regnerus’ “dangerous propaganda.”
Wow! No book-banners or "paranoid" authorities of the mid-twentieth century were more narrow-minded than today's left of center critics. And it is not just political activists or bloggers who are spewing venom. As the Chronicle notes many of the calls for censorship have come from within the academic profession itself.

Why, and what does this tell us about the state of scientific authority in today's world? I quote the Chronicle at length.
Sociologists tend to be political and cultural liberals, leftists, and progressives. That itself is not a problem..., [b]ut the ideological and political proclivities of some sociologists can create real problems.
[S]ome sociologists... lose perspective on the minority status of their own views, ...take for granted much that is still worth arguing about, and... fall into a kind of groupthink. The culture in such circles can be parochial and mean. I have seen colleagues ignore, stereotype, and belittle people and perspectives they do not like, rather than respectfully provide good arguments against those they do not agree with and for their own views.
 In this blinkered environment reasonable discussion of issues is impossible and entire categories of evidence are automatically excluded from consideration. But there is more:
The temptation to use academe to advance a political agenda is too often indulged in sociology, especially by activist faculty in certain fields, like marriage, family, sex, and gender. The crucial line between broadening education and indoctrinating propaganda can grow very thin, sometimes nonexistent. Research programs that advance narrow agendas compatible with particular ideologies are privileged. Survey textbooks in some fields routinely frame their arguments in a way that validates any form of intimate relationship as a family, when the larger social discussion of what a family is and should be is still continuing and worth having. Reviewers for peer-reviewed journals identify "problems" with papers whose findings do not comport with their own beliefs. Job candidates and faculty up for tenure whose political and social views are not "correct" are sometimes weeded out through a subtle (or obvious), ideologically governed process of evaluation, which is publicly justified on more-legitimate grounds—"scholarly weaknesses" or "not fitting in well" with the department.
And here we get to the core of the problem. The institutions we have created to provide us with objective and valuable information and analysis on important social and political issues have become so thoroughly corrupted by political correctness that they can no longer be trusted. This is not a new problem -- one need only glance at the academic literature on race or sex produced early in the twentieth century to see evidence of blatant bias -- but it is central to our modern culture. For a century and more Western elites have exalted science and relied on some form of it to guide our responses to perceived problems. This reliance on scientific authority stands at the core of "progressive" ideology. But it has become increasingly apparent, even to laymen, that the pronouncements of scientific and academic authority on a wide range of subjects are not to be trusted. This is a genuine crisis, not just for academia but for all society, and it is one that has to be addressed in a serious way.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

George Schultz on the Way Out of our Current Crisis

George Schultz, one of the most distinguished Americans of the past century, and one of the main architects of the Reagan recovery, explains how we can once again get our country on the right track. He is confident it can be done -- after all, he and the other Reaganauts showed us the way back in the 1980s. The trick, he says, is to keep "expanding the pie." Of course he has some specific ideas about how to to that and they are worth hearing. Read the interview here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Through the Heart of Europe -- Part 4, The Alsace Wine Region

After our tour of the city we boarded our bus for a tour through the Alsatian wine region.

We passed by and through a number of charming little villages surrounded by vineyards.

And above each of them towered an ancient keep.

Alsace reminded me a lot of Disneyland. Everywhere we saw kitsch displays. Of course we visited there during the runup to Easter, and a lot of the locals seemed to have gone overboard with decorations.

One of our stops was at a local winery where we toured the facility and learned a bit about wine making.

Then it was a quick trip to a wine museum, housed in a lovely old chalet.

Another familiar sight in Alsace -- stork nests.

A wine delivery wagon.

And a wine shop.

Mmmmm. Cookies.

More kitsch.

And more

The main street of Riquewihe, a center for the regional wine industry.

More kitsch.

A hilltop village surrounded by vineyards. Alsace is nothing if not picturesque.

Then it was back to the boat and on to Speyer.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Through the Heart of Europe -- Part 3, Strasbourg

Once back on the boat we embarked on the first stage of the journey -- down the river to Strasbourg. Passing through a number of locks, we floated on through the countryside.

And arrived at our destination.

Swans. Everywhere we went we found swans.

We then transferred to a canal boat for a tour of the city.

The parliament of the European Union meets in Strasbourg in this building.

A man walking his dog along the canal -- you have to look closely to see the dog.

Watch towers and a medieval bridge.

A canal boat.

The famous Strasbourg cathedral.

Mockers across the street from the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

The magnificent rose window.

Returning to the river we encountered more swans..., lots of them.