Victor Davis Hanson and I remember Saruman differently

saruman orcHe writes:

So what to make of Putin?

He is Tolkien’s melodious and fatherly Saruman come alive.

Hanson is not wrong about Tolkien’s fictional character, but I had forgotten that aspect of Saruman–his “melodious” persuasiveness. Frankly, I don’t think Putin is charismatic enough to qualify.

When I think of Saruman, what first comes to mind is Saruman and his orcs. He used them and bred them to wage his wars.

I’ve been thinking of Saruman a great deal lately because his strategy of conquest seems so familiar to what I see, not in Putin, but in US policy. We flooded Libya with orcs and gave them air support bombed their enemies. They  murdered many sub-Saharan Africans and flew black flags over the conquered towns. Later, at a time when they escaped Saruman’s grip, they killed our ambassador and others in Benghazi.

Now we are using them to overrun Syria so they can rape Christians and burn down churches and overthrow a secular dictatorship in order to replace it with an Islamist nightmare.

As far as the “melodious” aspect of Saruman is concerned, that would be the pseudo-conservative writers and speakers who are doing all they can to prevent an anti-war, anti-establishment movement from growing and to turn it into a partisan anti-Democrat-Party, pro-GOP movement that will froth at the mouth when the next Republican President attacks another nation.

mccain Syrian terrorists

Worship: The Time & Place of Personal Integration – Kuyperian Commentary

One of the Apostle Paul’s most famous descriptions of the church involves an individual human body:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, ESV)

One could easily think that Paul is arguing from the premise that every human person is a unified body. In a biological sense that seems self-evident. But the Bible can speak of people as driven or controlled by various body parts. Paul must be arguing here from the ideal human person–the one who has matured. Paul himself is a large part of the Scriptural witness that affirms that human beings are often bodies in which the parts are at war with one another.

READ THE REST: Worship: The Time & Place of Personal Integration – Kuyperian Commentary.

Jesus is coming soon if, by “soon,” you mean no sooner than 100,000 years in the future – Kuyperian Commentary

I was getting my hair cut the other day by someone other than my wife, for a change. As a result I got exposed to Christian culture outside my own personal sociological safe room. I am ashamed to say how seldom this happens. Of course, by not “getting out more” I help other Christians form their own little bubbles of idiosyncratic belief and theological naivete.

But not this time. The barber learned, as he cut my hair, that I was a seminary graduate and had pastored in a number of places around the country. So, as he finished up shaving the back of my neck, he let loose with his camaraderie question: “Before I let you go, I have to ask you: Do you think the Lord is coming back soon!”

The sound of his voice alerted me this was, in his mind, a rhetorical question. We were supposed to share in the joy of the soon return of Jesus to earth.

READ THE REST: Jesus is coming soon if, by “soon,” you mean no sooner than 100,000 years in the future – Kuyperian Commentary.

“It didn’t happen and we are not able to comment on what happened.”

The American ambassador to London has been forced to retract his categorical denial that the US had sent any terrorism suspects to Syria, a country that routinely practises torture.

It was the second embarrassment for Robert Tuttle, a millionaire car dealer and art collector, who last month vehemently denied that US forces had used white phosphorus as a weapon – only to be contradicted by the Pentagon a day later.

Mr Tuttle’s latest mishap came during a radio interview in which he defended America’s controversial policy of “extraordinary rendition” – secret operations to capture and move terrorist suspects to US custody.

It is alleged that America has secret prisons in eastern Europe.

Asked about suspects being “dumped” in Syria, Mr Tuttle told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think there is any evidence that there have been any renditions carried out in the country of Syria. There is no evidence of that. I think we have to take what the Secretary [Condoleezza Rice] says at face value.

“It is something very important. It is done very carefully and she has said we do not authorise, condone torture in any way, shape or form.”

The interview was recorded last Thursday and broadcast yesterday. But on Friday the US embassy sent a clarification that was broadcast at the end of the interview.

The statement said: “The ambassador recognised that there had been a media report of a rendition to Syria but reiterated that the United States is not in a position to comment on specific allegations of intelligence activities that appear in the press.”

via US ambassador corrects slip-up over sending suspects to Syria – Telegraph.

Another point: If only Assad were as civilized as us and used white phosphorous instead of (pick one: saran gas/chlorine ?).

Recent Memory: When we valued Assad precisely for his cruelty

When memos surfaced this year showing top Justice Department lawyers trying to justify torture, Attorney General John Ashcroft moved quickly to stake out the moral high ground.

“This administration rejects torture,” Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I condemn torture.”

Maher Arar, 34, however, doesn’t buy it. For 10 months and 10 days, Arar was in a Syrian prison, where he says he was beaten and confined to a cell not much bigger than a coffin.

Arar was picked up by U.S. authorities at Kennedy International Airport in New York, accused of being a terrorist and then shipped on Justice Department orders to Syria under a secret policy known as rendition.

READ THE REST: The Seattle Times: Nation & World: Man blames U.S. for Syrian torture.

If You Don’t Learn To Obey Orders You Will Never Be Free; Here’s Why: – Kuyperian Commentary

Let me start with a brief story about a society in which some people had slaves and attempted to use those slaves for income:

David thought the interview had gone well so far. Huxley Industries needed a slave to answer phones, keep records, and do other office work. David needed some better income and he had a slave to rent. His slave could easily do the jobs that they needed to be done.

“So can your slave be here by 7:30 am every weekday morning?”

David’s heart lurched. “You start that early?”

Well, we need him ready to go before others come to work. We found this position works better if he starts a half hour earlier.”

READ THE REST: If You Don’t Learn To Obey Orders You Will Never Be Free; Here’s Why: – Kuyperian Commentary.

John McCain really thinks we rule the world

babel-towerHow can I be surprised by the hubristic behavior of a man who is so completely predictable?:

“This is the same president that two years ago said that Bashar Assad must leave office and so where is America’s credibility? Where is our ability to influence events in the region?” the Arizona Republican said.

And those “who say we should stay out of Syria do not understand that this is now a regional conflict” that is increasingly “getting worse,” he said. “And what is the president’s policy? What is the president’s policy?”

Read more:

So Obama told the ruler of a sovereign country to leave office and that proves we must remove him? People who doubt the American Empire are fooling themselves.

And if Obama has that authority over the Syrian government, he certainly has authority over the “nation” of the United States. How can the legal claims of the Constitution bind a man who can make extra-legal rulings over another nation in a different hemisphere? If Obama has the authority to remove Assad, the Republic is truly dead.

Next to that, the foolishness of McCain’s claim that turning a regional conflict into a global one represents an improvement on the situation barely rates a mention.

Dear Evangelical: Is my picture too subtle for you?

So, I made a point today of visiting the most popular Christian websites to see all the prophetic denunciations of the coming US-government-sponsored, anti-Christian bloodbath that is about to be, as the cliche goes, “taken to the next level.”

I can’t believe I am part of a subculture who lauds Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce and G. K. Chesterton and Corrie Ten Boom. Apparently, the point of honoring heroes of old is so that we can credit ourselves for admiring them to compensate for being nothing like them.

Decorating the tombs of the prophets.

So here. Let me help you transition your outrage.

Self-Righteousness & Exploitation: The Welfare State – Kuyperian Commentary

A question I have been thinking upon: Should we take Jesus description about the one who does his good works to impress others at face value?

Here is the passage:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4, ESV)

By itself this is a straightforward instruction. However, the people Jesus singled out for us to be sure we do not emulate did more than trumpet their help for the poor. They also exploited the poor and looted from them to add to their own wealth.

READ THE REST: Self-Righteousness & Exploitation: The Welfare State – Kuyperian Commentary.

The Welfare State Robs The Poor For The Sake Of The Wealthier

cover machinery of freedomDavid Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom (buy / epub / pdf / audio) is probably one of my favorite books defending the market and suggesting how it might be superior to deliver products that we currently depend on government to provide. Usual caveat. Friedman is a libertarian and I am not. But the book is still great.

One of the wonderful things it does is show us that the US welfare state generally redistributes wealth from the rich to the poor is an illusion. What follows is from chapter, “Robin Hood Sells Out.”


Suppose that one hundred years ago someone tried to persuade me that democratic institutions could be used to transfer money from the bulk of the population to the poor. I could have made the following reply: ‘The poor, whom you wish to help, are many times outnumbered by the rest of the population, from whom you intend to take the money to help them. If the non-poor are not generous enough to give money to the poor voluntarily through private charity, what makes you think they will be such fools as to vote to force themselves to give it?’

That would have been a crushing argument one hundred years ago. Today it is not. Why? Because people today believe that our present society is a living refutation of the argument, that our government is, and has been for many years, transferring considerable amounts of money from the not-poor to the poor.

This is an illusion. There are some government programs that give money to the poor — Aid to Families With Dependent Children, for instance. But such programs are vastly outweighed by those having the opposite effect — programs that injure the poor for the benefit of the not-poor. Almost surely, the poor would be better off if both the benefits that they now receive and the taxes, direct and indirect, that they now pay were abolished. Let us consider some examples.

Social Security is by all odds the largest welfare-type program in America; its annual payments are about four times those of all other welfare programs combined. It is financed by a regressive tax — about 10 percent on all income up to $7,800, nothing thereafter. Those who have incomes of less than $7,800, and consequently pay a lower amount per year, later receive lower payments, but the reduction in benefits is less than proportional. If the schedule of taxes and payments were the only relevant consideration, Social Security would redistribute slightly from higher-income to lower-income people.

But two additional factors almost certainly reverse the effect. Most Social Security payments take the form of an annuity — a certain amount per year, starting at a specified age (usually 65) and continuing until death. The total amount an individual receives depends on how long he lives beyond age sixty-five. A man who lives to age 71 receives 20 percent more, all other factors being equal, than a man who lives to age seventy. Further, the amount an individual pays for Social Security depends not only on how much he pays in taxes each year but on how many years he pays. A man who starts work at age 24 will pay Social Security taxes for 41 years; one who starts work at age 18 will pay for 47 years. The first, other factors being equal, will pay about 15 percent less than the second for

the same benefits. The missed payments come at the beginning of his career; since early payments have more time to accumulate interest than later ones, the effective saving is even greater.

Assuming an interest rate of 5 percent, the accumulated value of the first man’s payments, by age 65, would be about two-thirds as much as the accumulated value of the second man’s payments.

People with higher incomes have a longer life expectancy. The children of the middle and upper classes start work later, often substantially later, than the children of the lower classes. Both these facts tend to make Social Security a much better deal for the not-poor than for the poor. As far as I know, nobody has ever done a careful actuarial analysis of all such effects; thus one can only make approximate estimates.

Compare someone who goes to school for two years after graduating from college and lives to age 72 with someone who starts work at age 18 and dies at age 70. Adding the one-third savings on payments to the 30 percent gain in receipts (here the interest effect works in the opposite direction, since the extra payments for the longer life come at the end), I estimate that the first individual gets, from these effects, about twice as much for his money as the second. I do not know of any effects in the opposite direction large enough to cancel this.

Social Security is by no means the only large government program that takes from the poor to give to the not-poor. A second example is the farm program. Since it consists largely of government actions to hold up the price of crops, it is paid for partly by taxes and partly by higher food prices. Many years ago, when I did calculations on part of the Agriculture Department’s activities, I estimated, using Agriculture Department figures, that higher food prices then made up about two-thirds of the total cost of the part of the farm program I was studying. Higher food prices have the effect of a regressive tax, since poorer people spend a larger proportion of their income on food.

Higher prices benefit farmers in proportion to how much they sell; the large farmer gets a proportionately higher benefit than the small one. In addition, the large farmer can better afford the legal costs of getting the maximum benefit from other parts of the program. Notoriously, every year, a considerable number of farms or ‘farm corporations’ receive more than $100,000 apiece and a few receive more than $1 million in benefits from a program supposedly set up to help poor farmers.

So the farm program consists of a slightly progressive benefit (one which benefits those with higher incomes somewhat more than proportionately to those incomes) financed by a regressive tax (one which taxes those with higher incomes somewhat less than proportionately to those incomes). Presumably it has the net effect of transferring money from the more poor to the less poor—a curious way of helping the poor. Here again, I know of no precise calculations that have measured the overall effect.

One could list similar programs for many pages. State universities, for instance, subsidize the schooling of the upper classes with money much of which comes from relatively poor taxpayers. Urban renewal uses the power of the government to prevent slums from spreading, a process sometimes referred to as ‘preventing urban blight’. For middle-class people on the border of low-income areas, this is valuable protection. But ‘urban blight’ is precisely the process by which more housing becomes available to low-income people. The supporters of urban renewal claim that they are improving the housing of the poor. In the Hyde Park area of Chicago, where I have lived much of my life, they tore down old, low-rental apartment houses and replaced them with $30,000 and $40,000 town houses. A great improvement, for those poor with $30,000. And this is the rule, not the exception, as was shown years ago by Martin Anderson in The Federal Bulldozer.

This is not to deny that poor people get some benefit from some government programs. Everyone gets some benefit from some government programs. The political system is itself a sort of marketplace. Anyone with something to bid — votes, money, labor — can get a special favor, but the favor comes at the expense of someone else. Elsewhere I argue that, on net, very nearly everyone loses. Whether that is the case for everyone or not, it surely is the case for the poor, who bring less to the bidding than anyone else.

One cannot simply say, ‘Let government help the poor.’ ‘Reform the income tax so that rich people really pay’ Things are as they are for reasons. It would make as much sense for the defender of the free market to argue that when he sets up his free market it will produce equal wages for everyone.

All of the numbers in this chapter, including the description of the Society Security tax, refer to about 1970; both the tax rate and the maximum income subject to tax have increased substantially since then.