Pope Prada I

Who would have predicted that Pope Benedict XVI, who was described as a traditionalist conservative after he was named pope, would develop a reputation as a “clotheshorse“? Could it be an example of triangulation?

For those who haven’t read, he has been seen wearing Prada shoes and Gucci sunglasses. And as you can see from the image below, the red shoes are quite flashy.

pope benedict prada.jpg

All kidding aside, isn’t the pope’s penchant for wearing luxury designer clothing so prominently an example of Pride, which C.S. Lewis described as The Great Sin? Now, I am not a Christian and do not believe that Pride is a sin–nor do I think there is anything wrong with people wearing fancy clothes. But this dude is the pope after all, so I think it is worth a discussion. If there are any Catholics reading this, I’d be curious to know whether you think Pope Benedict XVI is setting a bad example by getting all decked out.

New London Development Goes Nowhere Despite Eminent Domain Ruling

From today’s New York Times:

NEW LONDON, Conn. – They have still not moved out. Not Susette Kelo. Not the Derys. Not Byron Athenian or Bill Von Winkle or the others.

Five months after the United States Supreme Court set off a national debate by ruling that the City of New London could seize their property through eminent domain to make way for new private development, no one has been forced to leave.

Read the whole thing here.

More evidence that the backlash against the Kelo v. New London decision may have done as much to stop eminent domain abuse than if the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the property owners.

Individuals vs. Structures

In a recent discussion about Wal-Mart with a very smart liberal friend of mine, I suggested that a woman working at a factory in China for low wages was choosing to work there, because the option was better than her other option of staying in the countryside and working on a farm. My friend thought my analysis was incredibly naÃ? ?Ã? ¯ve, arguing that I completely mischaracterized the woman’s action as an actual choice and was ignoring the power of larger, structural realities. Once the process of industrialization begins, my friend argued, there’s no turning back, peasants get swept up in the momentum of change and so it really is inaccurate to say they are exercising a true choice. She said she wasn’t necessarily touting the virtues of an agrarian economy vs. an industrial economy, but just drawing my attention to the bigger picture. We argued back and forth for awhile, but didn’t get anywhere. But I felt as if the conversation really got to the heart of what separates liberals from conservatives. Liberals view issues at the structural level, and conservatives view things at the individual level. Liberals, seeing problems as structural, think that the only solution is a structural (i.e. government) response, whereas true conservatives believe that government should back off, and allow problems to be solved by individuals.

I think this basic analytical difference is true for just about any issue you can bring up. When talking about racial or sexual discrimination, liberals view this as structural and demand a structural response in the form of affirmative action, whereas conservatives believe that a hard-working and ambitious person can overcome discrimination. Liberals believe that government intervention is needed to fight poverty; conservatives believe that it can be overcome by individual initiative. When it comes to criminal justice, liberals talk about root causes of crime, such as poverty, race, etc. Conservatives believe that criminals are in control of their own actions, and argue that by being tough on them, you change the balance of the cost-benefit analysis of committing crime, and nudge criminals into making the proper choices in the future. This is also true when it comes to fighting terrorism. Liberals often try to link terrorism to poverty and lack of education, but conservatives believe that terrorists are individuals who have chosen an evil ideology and will only change their behavior if they know that their actions will be countered by tremendous force.

I can go on and on, but I think you get the point. Also, I’d like to draw your attention to a recent essay, which touches on a similar theme. In it, Mark Helprin (who has pulled no punches in criticizing Bush over the past few years) argues that post-9/11, the Left’s resistance to fighting terrorism derives from its view that the collective is more important than the individual. He compares the passive Left to herd animals, because they want to move on from the 3,000 deaths on 9/11, without a fight. The gist of his argument is:

The nature of one’s reaction to aggression against one’s country will often be determined by whether one sees the polity primarily as individuals who must struggle with the imperfection of being bound into a collective, or as a collective that must overcome the circumstantial imperfection that it comprises individuals. For wildebeest thundering across a plain in Africa, it takes a village. The herd defends itself by sacrificing a minuscule proportion of its number and moving on. If the herd were to turn upon the jackals preying upon it, the jackals would be pulverized almost instantly. Nonetheless, if the price for the escape of ten thousand is the sacrifice of only a few, that is how it is done when the collective is paramount.

But animals like bears, tigers, and lions, that wander individually or in small groups, know that their survival depends upon how they fight, and their willingness to fight is so well understood that they are seldom attacked, whereas to a predator a herd in flight is a living contradiction of the maxim that there is no such thing as a free lunch”¦

After all, a herd of 100,000 wildebeest would neither miss just one of its number, nor even pause to reflect. But where the Left in all its wisdom gravely miscalculates is that the dead of September 11th were not wildebeest, and neither are we. That is why America, for all its failings and sins, has not gone down, and will not go down, on bended knee.

Read the whole thing here.

Culture of Life

This article by a woman who had an abortion because her unborn child had Down syndrome is upsetting. I don’t want to visit the abortion debate right now, but it does strike me as odd that the same liberals who would jump all over you if you don’t use the current politically correct term for somebody with Down syndrome (whether it’s retarded, mentally handicapped, mentally challenged, etc.) will defend a woman for aborting a baby simply because of his handicap. (The baby was a boy in this case, so that’s why I used a male pronoun).

Whether you are personally pro-life or pro-choice, it is worth thinking about the moral issues that this raises. As we learn more about genetics and our screening technology improves, will women begin to abort unborn babies because they are blind, deaf, dumb or short? How will civil rights leaders–traditionally allies of abortion rights groups–come out on this? Will we see odd alliances between social conservatives and gay rights groups, should women begin to abort fetuses that are genetically predisposed toward homosexuality? These are issues that younger Americans may have to grapple with within our lifetimes.

More on Wal-Mart

Some good comments are flowing in as a response to my Wal-Mart article. One commenter says:

My sister left Target corporation(company of elites) to work for Walmart, and has been promoted five times in less than three years. Her boss started out as a stock-girl, and moved up the ladder over 25 years to be my sister’s boss(My sister makes a 6-figure income now, and has a college degree).

What I’ve learned about Walmart is this: Their entire business model is: SERVE THE CUSTOMER, STUPID.

My sister flies coach on buying trips(to save for the customer). She gets a $25 a day stipend on those trips(to save the customer). She has to SHARE a hotel room on the road(to save for the customer).

I do think it is worth emphasizing what Wal-Mart does for its customers. Wal-Mart often gets criticized for its anti-union position, but in many senses it does function as a union on behalf of consumers. By having 5,000 stores, Wal-Mart is essentially collectively bargaining with manufacturers. A single mom-and-pop store can’t negotiate the price of razor blades with Gillette or the price of toilet paper with Procter & Gamble. In fact, as a friend of mine whose father was in the discount drugstore business emphasized to me recently, before discounters came along, retailers would often collude with manufacturers to keep prices artificially high. Wal-Mart is notoriously a brutal negotiator with suppliers so that it can secure the lowest price for its customers.

Just for what its worth, a study commissioned by Wal-Mart estimated that the company has saved consumers $263 billion through 2004.

Libertarians Gone Wild: NFL Pat-Down Policy

I’m starting this new feature on my blog to highlight some of the bizarre stances taken by libertarians. As someone who favors free markets and supports legalizing drugs and gay marriage, I often find myself in agreement with libertarians, but sometimes they take positions which are plainly absurd. As my first example, I cite this piece in Reason, in which Mark Weisenmiller says the NFL’s policy of requiring pat-down searches of fans entering football stadiums may be unconstitutional.

There are many reasons why the NFL should be allowed to pat-down people before they enter a stadium. Firstly, it is reasonable to believe that terrorists would view an NFL game as a prime target, given that that football is a clear symbol of American culture and that 70,000 fans or more are packed into a stadium for a game. Second, when you purchase a ticket to a game, you are bound by certain rules. I’ve been at Yankee games where people have been ejected for cursing too loudly in front of children. Should that be opposed on First Amendment grounds? Thirdly, patting somebody down for twenty seconds or so isn’t very intrusive. You’d be hard-pressed to convince me that it violates the Fourth Amendment’s restriction on “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

While this is by no means a comprehensive defense of the NFL’s policy, it would seem that these would be basic points that any intelligent criticism of the policy would have to respond to, but Weisenmiller doesn’t. He could have at least demonstrated why he thinks the searches are overly intrusive (if there were widespread examples of female patrons getting groped in a sexual manner, for instance). But, he doesn’t. Most of his criticism centers on the searches being useless. He writes:

NFL pat-down searches on football fans, at least as they are currently being conducted, are mostly useless. Joe Durkin, spokesman for the Tampa Police Department, notes that since RayJay’s opening in 1998, not one person has been arrested trying to sneak into the stadium with a gun, knife, or any material that could be made into an explosive.

This indicates that even fired-up Bucs fans aren’t idiotic enough to try such a stupid stunt.

But until it actually happened, nobody had hijacked commercial airliners and crashed them into tall buildings either. Why not offer football fans one added layer of protection, especially when such a minor inconvenience is involved?

Before 9/11, this type of whining among civil libertarians would just be silly, but in the post-9/11 world, it is dangerous.