Russell and Duenes

Archive for January 2009

Rule of Law

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Go to any major newspaper and do a search under the phrase “rule of law.” Considering how often one finds this little phrase today, one would think it is the necessary and sufficient ground for all good governance. Gone, it seems, is the idea that our own democracy was founded on “virtue and knowledge” being “diffused among the people” (Samuel Adams, who is better known as a beer label). Or Jefferson’s contention that “the liberties of a nation” cannot “be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?” Or even Washington’s advice from his farewell address, that…

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

I’m sure that none of our nation’s founders believed that the “rule of law” could be done away with. George Washington says as much in the same address cited above. But neither did they believe that laws were sufficient for political, economic, and religious freedom. It is simply amazing to me to see how intelligent people in editorial positions have reinterpreted our foundational democratic principles. I would argue that the prominence of the “rule of law” ideology today runs parallel with the prominence given to the notion of “rights.” People under little more than the rule of law start to believe that everything is a right, rather than a gift from one’s Creator to be safeguarded by wisdom and virtue. Then they start to believe that they are entitled to more and more “rights, and then we stand aghast when our children start screaming that they will sue the school bus driver for taking away their cell phone. Perhaps Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who lived under a nation that had “rule of law,” said it best in his 1978 Harvard commencement address:

A society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses. And it will be simply impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.



Written by Michael Duenes

January 31, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Posted in Duenes, Philosophy

what to do with the behemoth

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There have to be new leaders that can aggressively move toward altering the Federal budget, and soon. Not only is the proposed bailout vague and securities becoming “un” securities, but the credit market and employment rates are almost as low as Timothy Geithner’s understanding of Turbo Tax. A key part of this is the much mentioned entitlement programs that no sane person could (or maybe should) rely on. With no definitive changes planned in altering the spending on entitlements, particularly Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we will see Medicare and Medicaid alone reach the proportions of today’s entire federal budget in 40-50 years. Before baby boomers even retire, more than four out of every ten dollars goes to these programs.

Leadership should require annual reviews of these major accounts and demand a budget that spans the next 30-40 years. My most recent Social Security statement aims to comfort me with the statement that “in 2017 we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without changes, by 2041 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted.” This is stifling news for all taxpayers that do not have the extra income to save or jobs that offer retirement.

More recently however, some notable “think tanks” such as The Heritage Foundation and The Brookings Institution, revealed a plan to attempt to bring accountability to the Feds. They proposed a 30 year “set” budget on entitlements, contingent on a 5 year review. This not only seems plausible, but seems critical and necessary in our culture that has lost its consumer confidence. Maybe we should give it a try. I don’t see the long-term harm being any less troubling than the projections that The Social Security Administration is already making. It will not solve our entitlement ills, but it will go a long way in making government more transparent and accountable to the true economic behemoth we are shadowed by.


Written by Michael Duenes

January 31, 2009 at 1:22 am

Posted in Economics, Russell

The mystery of knowing

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We are uncomfortable with people who claim to “know” too much about God. We consider it irrational at best and dangerous at worst. The cultural gatekeepers parade in front of us the crimes of those who say they know God, and so the proper response is to be humble about one’s theological convictions. I will not argue against humility for I trust it is a virtue, though one I lack in proper measure.

But when it comes to knowing God, I wonder if too many Christians have defined humility as synonymous with a lack of knowledge. On these terms, mystery must mean “not knowing” when it comes to God. My oft-quoted friend, G.K. Chesterton, once observed: What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason. Perhaps we are in danger of producing people too mentally modest to believe we can know much of anything about God at all.

No reasonable theist doubts that there are vast stores of things about God that are mysterious. St. Paul himself writes, “How unsearchable are God’s judgments; no one can fathom his ways. Who has known the mind of the Lord or offered him any counsel?” Yet in the very same letter, Paul also says, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith.”

Thus it seems that when Paul uses the term “mystery” in the New Testament, he is most often referring not to something unknowable about God, but to something that God had kept hidden for long ages, but is now revealing. Thus, we can know it. This does not mean we can have exhaustive knowledge about it, but it is not humility to say that we can know next to nothing about it. For even in saying that there is huge mystery surrounding God, we are claiming to know something about him.


Written by Michael Duenes

January 31, 2009 at 12:51 am

Posted in Duenes, Theology

Maybe I should just scratch myself!

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“It’s not a lie if you believe it!” So says my guru, George Louis Costanza (GLC on the Frogger Machine in Mario’s Pizza). As in all ages, we hope that if we keep telling ourselves what we want to hear, eventually it will pass for “knowledge.” Yet the observant and thoughtful common man sees what the “learned” won’t see. G.K. Chesterton rejected the modern bromide that somehow because humans share more than 90% of their DNA with certain animals we should conclude that humans are more like animals than distinct from them. For example, Frans de Waal, a primate scientist at Emory University in Atlanta said, “Darwin wasn’t just provocative in saying that we descend from the apes—he didn’t go far enough…We are apes in every way, from our long arms and tailless bodies to our habits and temperament.” Leaving this bizzaro world of twaddle behind, Chesterton writes,

That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve marble or carve mutton. People talk of barbaric architecture and debased art. But elephants do not build colossal temples of ivory even in a rococo style; camels do not paint even bad pictures, though equipped with the material of many camel’s-hair brushes…No, the chasm between man and other creatures may have a natural explanation, but it is a chasm (Orthodoxy, Authority and the Adventurer).

I think GLC would agree!


Written by Michael Duenes

January 30, 2009 at 12:02 am

Posted in Duenes, Philosophy, Science

Air Ownership

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In a recent New York Times article “Digital TV Beckons, but Many Miss the Call,” over $1 billion was spent by the Feds to give vouchers to people who have to convert from their analog televisions sets to a digital converter box. Not only that, but $1 billion was also spent on advertising that people need to convert. According to Nielsen Media Research, more than 6.5 million people have not yet converted to digital Television. The Senate passed a bill, supported by President Obama, which would extend the deadline for compliance until June 12 of this year. So, the Federal Government has spent roughly $2 billion on making our television experience better, right? Wrong. The Feds have spent this money to free up tremendous reserves of air space that analog signals take up. Then, of course, they will sell the air space. This raises a question that we should have been asking ourselves for years: who owns the air? Radio and television have taken advantage of this since Uncle Miltie took his first pie in the face.

How can our government allot territorial domain to air and space. How much air do I own above my house? Do I own upwards of 15 yards? 50 yards? When Delta and Southwest fly over my home, can I charge them for extra baggage? It seems clear that the conversion from analog to digital is a financially advisable decision for our government. But it doesn’t resolve the underlying issue. How much “air” can the government buy and sell before they encroach on my rights of free-market ownership? I want this defined. Then, I can truly set a value on my depreciated home. Instead of a lemonade stand, perhaps my boys will start selling air adjacent to my home for use. Both to the public and private sector, of course.


Written by Michael Duenes

January 29, 2009 at 7:26 pm