Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

No Virginia, There is No Santa Claus

Now that the turkey is digested and the Christmas season has begun in earnest, I would like to make a request of whoever reads this that I hope will not seem naive, or sentimental, or overly moralistic. The request is this:

Please don’t lie to your children about Santa Claus.

Lying is repeatedly condemned in Scripture (Cf. Psalms 5:7; Proverbs 6:17; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9). And section 2485 of the Catechism says that “[b]y its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” Yet every year millions of Christian parents choose the occasion of our Lord’s birth to lie to their children about the existence of a jolly old fat man who lives in the North Pole. Continue reading

November 28, 2008 Posted by | Catholicism, Children, Family, Morality | 1 Comment

The Economic Lesson of Thanksgiving

In 1620 Plymouth Plantation was founded with a system of communal property rights. Food and supplies were held in common and then distributed based on equality and need as determined by Plantation officials. People received the same rations whether or not they contributed to producing the food, and residents were forbidden from producing their own food. Governor William Bradford, in his 1647 history, Of Plymouth Plantation, wrote that this system was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. The problem was that young men, that were most able and fit for labour, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. Because of the poor incentives, little food was produced.

Faced with potential starvation in the spring of 1623, the colony decided to implement a new economic system. Every family was assigned a private parcel of land. They could then keep all they grew for themselves, but now they alone were responsible for feeding themselves. While not a complete private property system, the move away from communal ownership had dramatic results. Continue reading

November 27, 2008 Posted by | America, Economics, History | 1 Comment

A Cleaned Conscience

And Pilate seeing that he prevailed nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, taking water washed his hands before the people, saying: I am innocent of the blood of this just man. Look you to it. – Matthew 27:24

PUBLIC displays of untidiness, such as graffiti, may promote bad behaviour (see article), but when it comes to personal cleanliness the opposite appears to be true. A study just published in Psychological Science by Simone Schnall of the University of Plymouth and her colleagues shows that washing with soap and water makes people view unethical activities as more acceptable and reasonable than they would if they had not washed themselves. Continue reading

November 26, 2008 Posted by | Morality, Science | 1 Comment

The Camera Lies

According to a widely followed dictum enunciated by the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, “[i]f in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” As a principle of drama this is, of course, quite sensible. But it leads to the odd effect that, unless you have had personal experience with firearms, chances are you have never seen a gun without soon seeing it used to shoot someone. And even taking into account the fictional nature of most of these “shootings,” it is not surprising that a person who knew about guns only through film and television might have an exaggerated sense of the dangerousness of firearms, or of their association with murder and violence.

Many people are rightly wary of negative depictions of members of various minority groups, on the grounds that they may serve to re-enforce stereotypes about those groups, particularly among those whose main experience of those groups is from film and television. In each case the basic principle is the same. When you lack much personal experience of a group, object, or environment, and encounter fictional depictions of it, you are liable to accept those depictions as accurate, even if they are not a true reflection of reality. Continue reading

November 24, 2008 Posted by | Capitalism, Culture, Family, Film, Guns, Literature, Media | Leave a comment

Natural Regulation

It has been common, in recent days, to hear people talk about how the current financial difficulties show the inherent failings of the free market, and provide a clear proof of the need for increased government regulation. Needless to say I’m skeptical.

Take the two most recent and obviously bubbly events. During the 90’s stock prices, particularly tech stocks and particularly particularly dot.com stocks, were massively overvalued. Eventually the bubble popped, stock prices fell, and many firms went out of business. Likewise, starting in the late 90’s and continuing until recently home prices were massively overvalued. We all know what happened next.

Could these bubbles have been prevented by government action? Certainly. The government could have stopped the stock market from going up and it could have stopped housing prices from rising. Perhaps it could even have done so in a way that didn’t impede non-bubbly growth (though I expect that, even with benefit of hindsight, this would have been a tricky business). But whether or not it would have been good for government do this, to think that government would have done so is, I think, the height of naivete. The same forces that lead to the creation of a bubble are going to make any attempt to stop a bubble highly unpopular politically. So even if there was some government regulation that could have prevented the bubble, the very fact that it would have done so makes it highly unlikely such regulation would be implemented before the bubble pops. Continue reading

November 23, 2008 Posted by | Economy, Government | Leave a comment

Lame Duck, Pro-Life

The lame duck period of any politician’s career can be a revealing time. So long as a politician faces the prospect of re-election, there will always be suspicion that his actions are less a reflection of his true beliefs than they are of what he calculates will be to his political advantage. Once the specter of re-election is removed, however, a politician becomes more free to let his true convictions (or lack therefore) show forth. History provides numerous examples of this. And now we have another:

A last-minute Bush administration plan to grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds has provoked a torrent of objections, including a strenuous protest from the government agency that enforces job-discrimination laws.

The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

It would also prevent hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and drugstores from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to “assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity” financed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Continue reading

November 20, 2008 Posted by | Abortion, Election, Health Care, Politics | Leave a comment

Organ Failures

In a recent speech, Pope Benedict addressed the subject of organ donation:

If we turn our gaze to the entire world, it is easy to confirm the numerous and complex cases in which, thanks to the technique of organ transplantation, many people have overcome extremely grave illnesses, and in them the joy of life has been restored. This would never have happened if the commitment of the doctors and the competence of the researchers had not been able to count upon the generosity and altruism of those who have donated organs.

Unfortunately, the problem of the lack of available vital organs is not a theoretical one, but a considerably practical one; one can see this in the long waiting list of those whose only hope for survival is linked to the small number of non-useful donations.

Regarding the technique of organ transplants, this means that one can only donate if this act doesn’t put one’s own health and identity in serious danger, and if it is done for a valid moral and proportionate reason. Any reasons for the buying and selling of organs, or the adoption of utilitarian and discriminatory criteria, would clash in such a way with the meaning of gift that they would be invalidated, qualifying them as illicit moral acts. Abuses in transplants and organ trafficking, which frequently affect innocent persons, such as children, must find the scientific and medical community united in a joint refusal. They should be decidedly condemned as abominable.

Continue reading

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Catholicism, Charity, Economics, Health Care, Morality | 2 Comments

I am the State, the State is Me

A few days back, as is often the case, folks were arguing in the Vox Nova comboxes about abortion, and the question arose of whether legal protection for the unborn or a minimization of the number of abortions ought to be the primary goal of the pro-life movement. Zippy spoke in favor of the former and stated his case thusly:

The illegality of murder is more paramount. If there were a law sanctioning the murder black people, it would be more important to eliminate that legal sanction than to decrease the number of murders. One is a question of basic justice, while the other is merely a matter of what it is possible to achieve as a practical matter.

As so often happens when reading Zippy, when I read the above I had, simultaniously, two seemingly mutually incompatible thoughts:

1) what this guy is saying is absolutely nuts; and

2) he kind of has a point. Continue reading

November 16, 2008 Posted by | Abortion, America, Democracy, Government, Law | Leave a comment

Should The Government Stop Dumping Money Into a Giant Hole?

From the Onion (there’s a bad word used towards the beginning, but otherwise it’s safe). It’s a pretty effective parody, I think (I particularly liked the bit about “personal money holes”). But it did get me thinking: suppose that the government were to dump gasoline on a bunch of dollar bills in a giant hole and then just set it on fire. Continue reading

November 15, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Government, Humor, Taxes | Leave a comment