This year the federal government will:
- Spend: $30,958 per household
- Tax: $17,576 per household
- Borrow $13,392 per household
Via: Justin Taylor who notes, “And none of these estimates include the cost of health-care reform!”
I have a particular fondness for strong opinions, Best/Worst lists, and theology. You don’t often find all three in the same place but Fred Sander’s hits that trifecta in his post “Karl Bahrdt, Worst Theologian Ever.” (No, not Karl Barth, Karl Bahrdt.)
A Lutheran preacher’s kid, Bahrdt started studying theology in 1757 in Leipzig, at age sixteen. He became famous for “pranks,” one of which included using Faust’s magic symbols to try to summon demons. . . . These shenanigans led somebody to appoint him as a lecturer on the Bible by age 20. And he kept climbing the academic ladder: a doctorate from Erlangen, a post at Erfurt, a move to Giessen. He had mistresses, saw prostitutes, fathered and abandoned numerous illegitimate children, left his wife, and had creditors always at his heels.
And that’s just the beginning of his antics. Barhdt sounds like a crazy mix of Albert Schweitzer, Anton Lavey, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Marquis de Sade, and Dan Brown.
I had never heard of Barhdt before (and probably won’t again) but its useful to have a reference point in the category of “worst theologian.” If Bardht is the worst, who should be considered the runner up for the title of worst theologian ever?
The postmodern vision of peace: If nothing is worth fighting for, then nobody will fight.
If Dante were writing the Inferno today he’d probably make room down in hell—somewhere around circle number eight, bolgia six—for people who judge others by the books they read.
As a penitent, though unregenerate, book snob you’d find me down there gossiping with the Jovial Friars about other people’s reading lists and justifying my own choices to my fellow hypocrites. (Judge me not on the books I like, but rather on the ones I force myself to read. . .)
Such a mean-spirited vice has sufficient internal motivation and doesn’t need prodding from outside. Yet every year the White House Communications Office leads us book-snob sinners into temptation by publishing the President’s reading list. This year, they’ve unveiled President Obama’s vacation reading:
• The Way Home by George Pelecanos, a crime thriller based in Washington;
• Lush Life by Richard Price, a story of race and class set in New York’s Lower East Side;
• Tom Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, on the benefits to America of an environmental revolution;
• John Adams by David McCullough;
• Plainsong by Kent Haruf, a drama about the life of eight different characters living in a Colorado prairie community.
Judging the list probably reveals more about my own character than it does about Obama. Indeed, I don’t think it hints at anything we don’t already know about the man. The choices—solid, middlebrow fare—are revealing only if you are under the impression that Obama is anything other than a solidly middlebrow President.
This is not to imply, of course, that Obama is dumb. He is obviously an intelligent man—at least as bright as George W. Bush, though probably not as brainy as Bill Clinton. But he is not some sort of intellectual as many of his more vociferous supporters have attempted to portray him. The “Obama is an Intellectual” meme rings as false now, after seeing him in action, as the “Bush is a Moron” did during the previous administration.
To his credit, Obama has never pretended otherwise (at least that I have noticed). Whereas Al Gore attempted to use cultural markers to signal that he was serious and cerebral—he says his favorite novel is Stendhal’s The Red and the Black—Obama is unafraid to be unoriginal: His favorite book, movie, and painter? Moby Dick, Casablanca, and Picasso. Solid, if uninspired, selections all. Unlike Gore, Obama isn’t the kind of guy to talk about a book or movie you haven’t seen—a trait that makes him all the more approachable to middlebrow populists. If Bush was the kind of guy you wanted to hang out with at your local bar, Obama is the one you invite to your local chapter of Oprah’s Book Club.
The choices for summer reading will neither intimidate the average reader, nor inspire awe at his intellectual prowess. This is reason enough to believe that he chose the books himself: No self-respecting image consultant would have chosen these books for him. A couple of contemporary novels is fine—it is a vacation after all—but three is a bit much. And John Adams? Is Obama the last college-educated American male not to have read McCullough’s tome?
And while it might have once been considered trendy to say you read Thomas “Master of Mixed Metaphors” Friedman, his anecdote-extrapolated trend-spotting is more fitting for the junior executive at Staples than for the Leader of the Free World. (What’s worse is that this is filling the solitary slot of “semi-serious work of nonfiction that isn’t a biography.”)
It’s a bit presumptious—though in keeping with book-snobbery—to propose an alternate selection to the list. But I think there is a book that Obama would find more useful and it even comes stamped with the approval of Oprah. I’m thinking, of course, of The Secret. According to the book’s website, “The Secret reveals the natural law that is governing all lives. By applying the knowledge of this law, you can change every aspect of your life.”
This isn’t exactly the sort of reading in natural law that I would normally recommend, but with the troubles Obama’s had selling his agenda to the American people, this might be the only book that could inspire in him hope that things will change.
In all seriousness, though, what books would you recommend the President read during his vacation? Assuming you had to stick to the same 3:2:1 ratio (3 novels, 1 biography, 1 policy-oriented nonfiction) what books would you slip into his travel bag?
The atheism is only a small part of the issue with objectivism. Galt (and thus Rand’s) objection to the concept of original sin is naive, but even absent this aspect of objectivism, it remains a dehumanizing and abhorrent moral philosophy. Rand detests totalitarianism, it is true, but other writers have written better and less repugnant works in defense of capitalism and against totalitarianism. If libertarians and conservatives wish to seek out inspirational works on the topic, they are better off with the likes of George Orwell, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Sowell, Wilhelm Roepke, F.A. Hayek and countless others.
The fundamental problem is that Rand is as naive about human nature as the socialist utopians. After all, a utopian is a utopian, whether they are Marxian or Randian utopians. Therefore the rejection of the concept of original sin is something of a problem because it blinds Rand to the idea that human beings cannot simply shut off their passionate desires. . . . [More]
Speaking of Rand, here also is Maclin Horton (Light on Dark Water) with “Ayn Rand, Crank”:
Several hundred pages into the book I noted to myself that it contained no love, no children, and no humor. It did eventually bring in a notion of love, a rather strange and constricted sort of love which is more accurately called admiration: the producers love the work of their hands, and they get involved with each other romantically, but even their romances have a weird ideological charge, being defined as an exchange of value. And two perfect (in Randian terms) children do appear briefly in the capitalist utopia, the offspring of two perfect producers. But I never saw any humor whatsoever—no intentional humor, anyway, although some things struck me as unintentionally funny, such as the constant application of adjectives like “lean,” “hard,” “superlative,” and “incomparable” to the heroes and the heroine. . . .
Humorlessness is one of the characteristics of a crank, and judging by Atlas Shrugged a crank is what Ayn Rand was: not stupid, but narrow and shrill; not entirely wrong, but fixated on one inadequate idea which she thinks can explain everything; hostile to and uncomprehending of any disagreement. Believing that she has absorbed all philosophy and religion and that almost all of it is nonsense, she only demonstrates how little she really understood. And like everyone who denies that there is something fundamentally and inherently amiss in the human condition, something that no mere idea or program can remedy, she ends up as one more proof of the truth she denies.
Nothing like a dissenting review of Ayn Rand to bring the disciples of Objectivism swarming to her zealous defense. Maclin’s initial review brought him a whopping 100+ comments. His follow-up to indicate what Ayn Rand got right, 230+ comments. I anticipate a similar reaction to Paul Zummo’s piece before the day is through. (I would do the same here in a bid for readership, but alas—I never finished the book).