Saturday, May 23, 2009

Persecution, 21st Century American style

...And it doesn't look anything like this.

A San Diego pastor has been ordered to pay the county government for a "major use permit" costing tens of thousands of dollars, or cease holding Bible studies in his home.

Notice who came after these followers of Jesus. It wasn't anyone from the Usual Suspects lineup of the Christian Right: Arab "terrists", UN occupation troops, or the pointy-headed, New Age, Antichrist thugs lurking in a Jack Chick tract. It was an ordinary bureaucrat, enforcing one of the many tyrannical edicts that Christians typically ignore or exhort one another to obey on the pretext of observing Romans 13:1-7.

Rightly, the pastor has hired a lawyer to fight this injustice. But it's plain that he and his wife were caught flatfooted, completely unprepared for the onset of modern persecution, American-style:

The couple, whose names are being withheld until a demand letter can be filed on their behalf, told their attorney a county government employee knocked on their door on Good Friday, asking a litany of questions about their Tuesday night Bible studies, which are attended by approximately 15 people.

"Do you have a regular weekly meeting in your home? Do you sing? Do you say 'amen'?" the official reportedly asked. "Do you say, 'Praise the Lord'?"

The pastor's wife answered yes.

Perhaps she should have asked the official politely to show her a warrant. When he failed to produce it, she should have requested that he come back with a police officer AND a warrant signed by a judge, by which time she and her husband would already have contacted a lawyer. But evidently this woman assumed that she lived in a free country, under a government that viewed her as a citizen to be protected rather than a subject to be exploited. That's still the operating assumption in almost every church I've attended, and it's not only mistaken, it's pernicious. Today wicked men reign over this land, and to cooperate with them unthinkingly is to strengthen their misrule.

In his book Preparing for the Underground Church (read some excerpts here), Pastor Richard Wurmbrand imparts useful lessons for dealing righteously, yet discreetly, with the agents of tyranny. Here is one example of a permissible stratagem:

You cannot do underground work without using stratagems. I know of one case which happened in Russia. The Communists suspected that the Christians were gathering somewhere and they surveyed a street. They knew that the meeting must be there somewhere. They saw a young boy going toward the house where they supposed the meeting would be. They stopped the boy and the police asked him, "Where are you going?" With a sad face, he said, "My oldest brother died, and now we gather the whole family to read his testament." The police officer was so impressed that he patted the boy and said, "Just go." The boy had not told a lie.

We are not obliged to tell an atheist tyrant the truth. We are not obliged to tell him what we are doing. It is indecent for his side to put questions to me, an impertinence.

You have to wonder why the county official turned up in the first place. Is he a personal or ideological enemy of the pastor, or of someone else in this Bible study group? Did a resentful neighbor, irritated at the sound of hymns or the sight of many cars parked on the street, make a phone call to the authorities? Or is this just a revenue hunt by a cash-starved local government, aimed at targets of opportunity?

There is yet another possibility: A lust for sheer, malicious bullying of the "little people", the spirit of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib spreading throughout the government and its enforcement organs. After all, if torture be permitted, what possible moral objection can be offered to lesser forms of abuse? Logically, none.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Land of the Fried, Home of the Tased

Will Grigg came across this story of Florida prison employees using stun guns on over 40 children. These "demonstrations" were conducted on a "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day".

Observes Grigg:

No criminal charges have been filed, and although the matter was "reported" to the Florida Department of Children and Families, the child-snatchers -- who are usually inclined to seize children on any available pretext -- don't appear particularly interested in this case.

Cops in this country absolutely love their hand-held electrocution toys. It's almost as if they're competing with each other to find pretexts to burn the "little people" (Bladerunner slang for non-cops). The problem is not the technology; the problem is that cops are now above the law, and they know it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Unexpecting the inevitable

AP's Martin Crutsinger nervously beats the Keynesian drum:


WASHINGTON – Retail sales fell for a second straight month in April, a disappointing performance that raised doubts about whether consumers were regaining their desire to shop. A rebound in consumer demand is a necessary ingredient for ending the recession.

Desire and demand pretty much sum up the Establishment understanding of economics. That "understanding" is further expressed in this gem of a statement:

Retail sales had posted gains in January and February after falling for six straight months, raising hopes that the all-important consumer sector of the economy might be stabilizing.

Did you get that? Consumption is all-important! Making stuff is not even of secondary concern. You'd think an editor would catch an error this obvious, except the editor lives in Fractional Reserve/Credit Bubble Land along with the reporter.

The article briefly wobbles closer to reality with this:

The hope had been that consumers were starting to feel better about spending, helped by the start of tax breaks included in the $787 billion stimulus bill. Households had spent the fall hunkered down in the face of thousands of job layoffs and the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

Massive job layoffs, now that might explain things. People without income don't tend to spend as much as people with income. But our reporter is not fooled. The problem, you see, is that those jobless (and soon-to-be-jobless) consumers are "hunkered down" instead of "starting to feel better" about...the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

Then, five paragraphs into the piece, Crutsinger quotes a sane man:

The latest retail data "are yet another illustration that, although the worst is now over, there is still no evidence of an actual recovery," Paul Dales, U.S. economist with Capital Economics in Toronto, wrote in a research note.

A bit of wacky optimism there. We haven't yet seen the collapse of commercial real estate, the upcoming ARM resets, and the tidal wave of credit card defaults. The "worst" is about to get a whole lot worse. But Dales isn't finished talking:

While anecdotal evidence suggests some improvement in sales in recent weeks, "to offset the plunge in wealth, the household saving rate still needs to double from the current rate of 4 percent," Dales wrote. "With falling employment hitting incomes, this can only be achieved by a further retrenchment in spending."

Yes. Saving, the accumulation of capital, is the first step to climbing out of poverty. The message of thrift goes forth despite the Old Media's exhortations to spend, spend, spend.

Saving dollars will prove to be an exercise in futility when the beloved "Stimulus" money, plus a flood of repatriating greenbacks from China, generates severe inflation. But deferring consumption for the sake of long-term prosperity is an excellent habit to relearn, no matter what happens to our currency.

* Later in the day, the article's title was changed to "Retail sales dip raises worries about recovery".

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Smiling sweetly as she kicks them in the crotch!

The leftist culture warriors overplayed their hand in going after Miss California, Carrie Prejean. Yes, she offered flawed moral and philosophical justifications for opposing the travesty of "gay marriage" (e.g., a bandwagon appeal to presidential authority* and the ritual invocation of the US military as the supposed source of human rights). Sure, her appeal for tolerance to the nihilists who tried to smear her was painfully naive. But there's no doubt she crushed some progressive huevos with this morning's press conference.

Would-be liberal opinion molders still pretend to control the public discourse, and imagine they have the power to bury under an avalanche of abuse anyone who questions their propaganda. That was true before talk radio and the Internet. Now an entire generation has grown up with alternatives to the Old Media orthodoxy. Moreover, us non-lefties who came of age under OM's sanctimonious lying and bullying are well and truly sick of it, and more than willing to push back when shoved.

On top of their strategic idiocy, the PC types displayed hilarious tactical ineptitude: they tried to humiliate a drop-dead gorgeous, young, Christian woman who was demonstrably unafraid to speak her mind, and who could count on automatic sympathy from hordes of normal folks who've been similarly ridiculed by their self-proclaimed betters.

* Then again, invoking Obama as a symbol of opposition to the radical gay agenda could be seen as a stroke of brilliance. A bit like Paul turning his Pharisee and Sadducee accusers against each other in Acts 23.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek: A Triumph

As bad as things are in America economically and culturally, it’s reassuring to see that Hollywood can still produce good, heroic films.

J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek is what Trek movies should have been from the start: a fast paced, character-driven adventure story set in a plausible future society. Abrams employs a hackneyed plot device (time travel) to sidestep 40 years of stale canon and begin the tale of the Enterprise crew afresh. Properly, this tale centers on the relationship between the young James Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), bitter rivals who grudgingly learn to respect each other under the stress of combat.

Pine captures the essence of a role William Shatner seldom played to perfection, and often debased into parody. His Jim Kirk is sly, aggressive and brilliant, a high achiever whose arrogance and penchant for extreme risk-taking seem almost justified by his abilities. But the real standout is Quinto, portraying Spock's half-human/half-Vulcan personality with breathtaking subtlety and power. As good as Leonard Nimoy has handled the role, he's been surpassed by his younger replacement, who enjoys the advantages of a more expressive face and a more versatile voice. Both characters are enthralling, and by the end of the film you're rooting for them.

The supporting characters are also better realized. Karl Urban's Dr. McCoy, snapping out his lines with no hint of the Georgia drawl, comes closest (as nearly every critic remarks) to imitating the style of his predecessor (DeForest Kelly). His warmth and gravitas convey the big-hearted soul beneath the carping, technophobic exterior. Zoe Saldana's Uhura, a crack linguist with romantic designs on Spock, is no longer the passive switchboard operator. Yet neither is she the type of hectoring, feminist bitch seen in lesser incarnations of Trek (e.g., Dr. Helen Pulaski of The Next Generation). Simon Pegg's Scotty and Anton Yelchin's Chekov are both technical wizards largely relegated to comic relief on this maiden voyage. Pegg's brogue is more authentic by far than James Doohan's. Yelchin's Russian accent is truer than Walter Koenig's in the pronunciation of vowels, but fake as ever in its substitution of w's for v's. John Cho's Sulu is as mild and understated as George Takei's original, but he's given the chance to shine in hand-to-hand combat using a katana with a telescoping blade.

Of the pacing, suffice it say the film leaves you little room for breath, save for the more touching and intimates scenes (Captain Pike quietly upbraiding civilian Jim Kirk after an Iowa bar brawl, Uhura comforting Spock in the turbolift). Otherwise, the swiftness of the narrative is almost brutal. Abrams understands the short attention span of modern audiences, whittled to a sliver by video games, the frenetic editing of TV shows, and the mouse-clickable context dropping made possible by the Internet.

Production design is another strong point. Star Trek, decades late, has adopted the Star Wars aesthetic of a lived-in universe, with many sets and props showing degrees of dirt and wear. To be sure, the bridge of the Enterprise is white-walled, blazing with numerous lights, but its vertical glass screens and closely packed consoles suggest the complexity of a nuclear attack sub bridge, the nerve center of a strictly regulated war machine where spit and polish are entirely appropriate. Yet the engineering compartment is surprisingly primitive, with catwalks, cylindrical storage tanks marked with today's standard nuclear hazard symbol, and a water cooling system. The Federation outpost where Kirk meets Scotty is a dingy military base with peeling paint and flickering florescent overhead lights. By comparison the plush, upholstered, carpeted Enterprise of The Next Generation looks ridiculously effete.

The shape of the Enterprise's hulls and nacelles are a compromise between the original Sixties version and the ship's appearance in the first six films. The new contours may be liked or disliked according to taste, but in place of the inert, rectangular nacelles of the Eighties we see tapered cylinders whirling and pulsating with visible energy. Brilliant cinematography, making effective use of light and shadow, allows us to sense as never before the colossal bulk of this vessel.

My only disappointments with the film are the convoluted plot and somewhat underdeveloped villain. Both shortcomings are deliberate sacrifices made to keep the story focused on the main characters and moving briskly. Abrams needed to sell his version of Star Trek to a general audience while keeping the existing fan base happy, and more important, craft a work good enough to stand on its own as a science fiction masterpiece. He has succeeded handsomely on all three counts.