Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

We’re Number Two

Islam has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the biggest single religious denomination in the world, the Vatican said on Sunday.

Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, who compiled the Vatican’s newly-released 2008 yearbook of statistics, said Muslims made up 19.2 percent of the world’s population and Catholics 17.4 percent.

“For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us,” Formenti told Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano in an interview, saying the data referred to 2006.

He said that if all Christian groups were considered, including Orthodox churches, Anglicans and Protestants, then Christians made up 33 percent of the world’s population — or about 2 billion people.


March 30, 2008 Posted by | Catholicism, Islam | Leave a comment

Why Does the Israeli/Palestinian Situation Get So Much Attention?

Why does the Israeli/Palestinian conflict garner so much attention and generate so much passion, as compared to other similar sorts of conflicts (e.g. Chechnya or Kashmir). Today at Real Clear Politics, Dennis Prager offers some possible reasons (his choice of comparisons is the situation in Tibet). Of the seven reasons he gives, two seem especially plausible:

China. If Tibet had been crushed by a white European nation, the Tibetans would have elicited far more sympathy. But, alas, their near-genocidal oppressor is not white. And the world does not take mass murder committed by non-whites nearly as seriously as it takes anything done by Westerners against non-Westerners. Furthermore, China is far more powerful and frightening than Israel. Israel has a great army and nuclear weapons, but it is pro-West, it is a free and democratic society, and it has seven million people in a piece of land as small as Belize. China has nuclear weapons, has a trillion U.S. dollars, an increasingly mighty army and navy, is neither free nor democratic, is anti-Western, and has 1.2 billion people in a country that dominates the Asian continent.

[T]elevision news, the primary source of news for much of mankind. Aside from its leftist tilt, television news reports only what it can video. And almost no country is televised as much as Israel, while video reports in Tibet are forbidden, as they are almost anywhere in China except where strictly monitored by the Chinese authorities. No video, no TV news. And no TV, no concern.

In addition to the candidates mentioned by Prager, I would add the following: Continue reading

March 25, 2008 Posted by | China, Israel | Leave a comment


I wasn’t there, but from everything I’ve heard, the years after the Second Vatican Council were, for many in the West, a time of confusion and chaos. Changes from the Council (such as the abandonment of the Latin mass and the prohibition on eating meat on Friday) were seen as marking a decisive break with the past. Everything was up for grabs. Priests abandoned their cassocks and occasionally their orders, mass became a time for spiritual experimentation (much of it silly, given the nature of the age), and a small group of activists and academics began to cite the “spirit of Vatican II” as justification for making even more radical changes to Church doctrine and belief.

Catholics, a.k.a.The Conflict, posits a world in which these radicals won. The film is set in what was then the near future but is now would be the recent past. Rome is now part of an ecumenical organization a la the World Council of Churches. Distinctive Catholic practices like private confession and Lourdes have been suppressed, and the Church hierarchy seems more interested in Buddhist dialogue and fomenting revolution in the Third World than with the salvation of souls.

There is only one problem. Continue reading

March 15, 2008 Posted by | Catholicism, Film | Leave a comment

Building the Border Moat

There have been a lot of calls recently for a fence along the Mexican border to discourage illegal immigration. But at least one Arizona community wants to go further:

Faced with high-levels of crime and illegal immigration, authorities in Yuma are reaching back to a technique as old as a medieval castle to dig out a “security channel” on a crime-ridden stretch of the border and fill it with water.”The moats that I’ve seen circled the castle and allowed you to protect yourself, and that’s kind of what we’re looking at here,” said Yuma County Sheriff Ralph Ogden, who is backing the project.”It’s innovative thinking. It doesn’t take much brainpower to build a 12-foot high fence around something, but this is unique.”

Continue reading

March 14, 2008 Posted by | Immigration | Leave a comment

If Reanimating the Dead is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right

The theme of bringing people back from the dead has been a theme of science fiction and horror at least since the time of Mary Shelley, generally with the underlying moral lesson being that it’s bad bad bad. But as Eve Tushnet notes, the moral argument underlying such a message is often lacking:

most “came back wrong” stories rely on an over-easy assertion that it’s wrong to cheat death without any sense of why that might be true. My most blatant example of this is the Buffy episode right after “The Body”–I can’t remember the title, but if you’ve seen it you know the one I mean–where there’s an explicit conversation about why bringing back the dead might be wrong, but you never get anything beyond, “Uh, it might not work.”Pet Sematary, I think, actually shows the protagonist’s confusion of love with self-comfort and self-projection from fairly early on in the story–what he wants back is only partly the dead beloved. Mostly he wants to stop hurting–which is incredibly sympathetic… but not quite the same thing. And so it makes sense to me that he gets back nothing but a familiar skin filled with projected horror.

Part of me wants to say that the reason it’s hard to give a justification for the claim that it’s wrong to bring back the dead is because the claim is false. Continue reading

March 11, 2008 Posted by | Morality, Weirdness | 2 Comments

Is The Bible Anti-Semitic?

The Old Testament, I mean. Not the New. Continue reading

March 10, 2008 Posted by | Jews, Scriptire | Leave a comment

An Unexpected Voice Against Paternalism

Today’s Wall Street Journal contains an surprising op-ed railing against an increase in government paternalism. The author argues against government interference in the subprime mortgage market:

paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics, including calls to regulate subprime mortgages.

With liberalized credit rules, many people with limited income could access a mortgage and choose, for the first time, if they wanted to own a home. And most of those who chose to do so are hanging on to their mortgages. According to the national delinquency survey released yesterday, the vast majority of subprime, adjustable-rate mortgages are in good condition,their holders neither delinquent nor in default.

There’s no question, however, that delinquency and default rates are far too high. But some of this is due to bad investment decisions by real-estate speculators. These losses are not unlike the risks taken every day in the stock market.

And against health care mandates: Continue reading

March 7, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Health Care | Leave a comment

Does More Poverty Mean More Abortion?

The argument that abortion is largely a function of poverty is simple and initially plausible. Children cost money. The less money one has, the less likely one will be able to afford having a child. Therefore, the poorer a woman is, the more likely it is she will have an abortion if she becomes pregnant.

This argument may sound plausible, but is it actually true? DarwinCatholic has a post up today which runs the numbers and concludes that there is less connection between the poverty rate and the abortion rate than one might think. I can’t say whether Darwin is right or not, but there are a couple of reasons to doubt whether the argument given above tells the whole story about abortion and poverty.

Continue reading

March 7, 2008 Posted by | Abortion, Poverty | 1 Comment

Welfare and Poverty: Following the Money

One of the central principles of Catholic Social Thought is the preferential option for the poor, that is, the idea that special attention ought to be paid to the condition of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. For many, the preferential option for the poor justifies the creation and expansion by the government of so-called welfare programs, in which the government spends tax dollars in order to alleviate poverty. Others object to at least some of these programs, arguing that they are ineffective, create perverse incentives, or crowd out alternative solutions provided by private groups and voluntary associations. I don’t propose to try and settle these disputes here. But it is worth noting just how much (or how little) of spending on these welfare programs actually goes to the poorest members of society.

For example, in 2006 the Federal government spent around $740 billion on programs designed to increase income mobility. Yet of that $740 billion, only roughly a quarter was spent on people in the bottom 40% of the income distribution:

Continue reading

March 6, 2008 Posted by | Poverty | Leave a comment

Illusions of Inequality

A while back I promised that I would write a post on markets and the universal destination of goods. That post will probably have to wait a while, I’m afraid. But as a down payment, I offer this intriguing two part essay by John Nye, an economics professor at Washington University. Prof. Nye starts by asking us to

[i]magine a system where the efforts of the richest people in the world greatly expand the range and quality of goods and services available to most people—oftentimes at the expense of those groups at or near the top of the income ladder. Imagine a system where wealthy capitalists and ambitious innovators work day and night on projects with little chance of success, all at their own expense. Sometimes, even to the point where even the most successful among them manage to capture only a small part of the benefits while the rest goes to the average man or woman in the street. In their own lives they have the privilege of paying more for goods that they always would have bought, while the poorest get better, more numerous, and more widely available goods at cheaper prices than ever before.

He then goes on to argue that “in the real world, no system would come closer to implementing the most important parts of this scheme than market capitalism.” It’s definitely worth a read.

March 5, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Equality | Leave a comment