Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Model of Apostolic Courage

Today (December 7) was the feast of St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church. Ambrose was born in Trier, but he was in many ways the most Roman of the Church Fathers, a Roman's Roman, born to a good Roman family, educated in Rome, pursuing a career in Roman law. He became consular prefect of Aemilia-Liguria, which brought him to Milan. When the See of Milan -- one of the most important sees in the West, and closely connected at that time with the imperial court -- fell vacant, there was a big dispute over who should become the next bishop. Ambrose stepped in to keep the argument from getting out of hand -- and the people demanded that he become the bishop. He was only a catechumen, so he was baptized, confirmed, ordained, and installed as bishop of Milan all on the same day, December 7, 374. He gave his property to the Church and started reading theology -- as someone with a good Roman education, he could read Greek as well as Latin, and taught himself what he needed to know with his usual practical efficiency. (It may be that this process of having to do so much studying may have been a reason for his habit of reading silently, which Augustine mentions, although it's also possible that it is a habit he picked up earlier.) He was never one to back down when he thought he was right, and he faced down Emperor Theodosius more than once.

From Book I, Chapter I of his De fide:

Now this is the declaration of our Faith, that we say that God is One, neither dividing His Son from Him, as do the heathen, nor denying, with the Jews, that He was begotten of the Father before all worlds, and afterwards born of the Virgin; nor yet, like Sabellius, confounding the Father with the Word, and so maintaining that Father and Son are one and the same Person; nor again, as does Photinus, holding that the Son first came into existence in the Virgin's womb: nor believing, with Arius, in a number of diverse Powers, and so, like the benighted heathen, making out more than one God. For it is written: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord your God is one God."

For God and Lord is a name of majesty, a name of power, even as God Himself says: "The Lord is My name," and as in another place the prophet declares: "The Lord Almighty is His name." God is He, therefore, and Lord, either because His rule is over all, or because He beholds all things, and is feared by all, without difference.

If, then, God is One, one is the name, one is the power, of the Trinity. Christ Himself, indeed, says: "Go, baptize the nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." In the name, mark you, not in the names.

Music on My Mind

Robert Plant, "Ship of Fools"

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Xenophon, Ways and Means

Xenophon's Poroi e Peri Prosodon, or Ways and Means, as the title would be in English, was perhaps the last work written by Xenophon, but it has received relatively little study. It is, however, a rather unique text. It is remarkable first, for being a significant early economic text with quite innovative ideas, and, second, for ordering these economic ideas to a more general theme, which is that peace can be better for prosperity than war, and thus that the need for money is not a sufficient excuse for mistreating one's allies.

You can read Ways and Means online at the Perseus Project. Joseph Nicholas Jansen has an interesting dissertation on the work and its place in political economy.

The Thought

Xenophon opens by noting that some leading politicians (prostatai) in Athens have claimed to be interested in justice, but have used the poverty of Athenians as an excuse to treat the allies of Athens unjustly. Thus, he says, he began to think about whether it might be possible to sustain Athens on its own land. This seems possible in terms of the usefulness of the land itself, which has a number of advantages: the climate is relatively mild and good for a variety of different kinds of plants, the land has a large quantity of good stone, and, of course, there is Attica's famous supply of silver. Athens is ideally located for trade, and far from any barbarians that could cause trouble.

In addition, Athens has a large population of metics, i.e., resident aliens, who both support themselves and pay taxes. Xenophon thus recommends that some study be devoted to reducing burdens on the metics where these burdens do not clearly benefit the city; the obligation of the metics to serve in the military forces of Athens should also be abolished, but they should be allowed, if they volunteer, to fill more than just infantry positions. As there is room in Athens for houses, a system should be developed to allow them to apply for freehold housing within the city walls, which the city can then use to draw in the best of them.

Of course, Athens is also a major commercial center already, with excellent ports and a good market. Making the city more efficient and hospitable for merchants would contribute to trade, and thus of trade-based revenue. Notably, it, like better treatment of the metics, would increase revenue without requiring much more than Athens already has and the will to put them into effect consistently.

Some revenue-raising projects themselves require capital, but Xenophon argues that it should be possible to raise this capital by borrowing from the citizens themselves. Citizens in Athens already contribute a great deal to build warships, despite never having any opportunity to receive a return on the investment; it should be possible to convince citizens to invest in a capital fund that will certainly provide such a return in interest, backed by the city itself, which is far more durable an institution than any other in which they might invest. You can also enroll such investors in a list of benefactors, which might even draw foreign investors for the prestige.

Out of this capital, one can build the infrastructure for simultaneously collecting revenue and encouraging trade (3.12-13):

When funds were sufficient, it would be a fine plan to build more lodging-houses for shipowners near the harbours, and convenient places of exchange for merchants, also hotels to accomodate visitors. Again, if houses and shops were put up both in the Peiraeus and in the city for retail traders, they would be an ornament to the state, and at the same time the source of a considerable revenue.

Xenophon also considers the possibility of using the capital fund to create a merchant navy -- ships owned by the city and leased out to merchants.

Section 4 brings us to the most extensive discussion of the work, on the subject of what should be done with Athens's silver mines. The silver mines require considerable labor to tap properly, and are also an immense resource, and therefore are an opportunity for more massive economic expansion than is found in other trades. Silver, in addition, is both a precious resource and a backup currency, which means that there is a continual demand for it. Thus he approves of the Athenian policy of allowing noncitizens to participate in mining. In practice, of course, the actual laborers in the mines are generally slaves, and Xenophon advocates that Athens build a slave labor force -- three slaves for every citizen -- to lease out to those who wish to try to make a profit from mining. In addition, he advocates a system in which both Athenian demes and private interests are able to share profits by cooperative work.

All of this, as with the previous suggestions, can be implemented gradually -- as he says, it doesn't matter how many houses, ships, or slaves we are talking about, since each one begins generating some revenue immediately. He also notes that these all generate second-order sources of revenues -- for instance, an expansion of mining increases the population in that area, which would create a need for a market and opportunities for new construction, both of which can be sources of revenue.

All of this is interesting, but it seems that Xenophon has a larger conclusion in mind than just to propose some practical policies. This becomes clear in Section 5:

If it seems clear that the state cannot obtain a full revenue from all sources unless she has peace, is it not worth while to set up a board of guardians of peace? Were such a board constituted, it would help to increase the popularity of the city and to make it more attractive and more densely thronged with visitors from all parts. If any are inclined to think that a lasting peace for our city will involve a loss of her power and glory and fame in Greece, they too, in my opinion, are out in their calculations. For I presume that those states are reckoned the happiest that enjoy the longest period of unbroken peace; and of all states Athens is by nature most suited to flourish in peace. For if the state is tranquil, what class of men will not need her?

Peace, then, enriches the city. Nor does political ascendancy come entirely by war, either; the Athenians did not achieve preeminence in the Persian Wars by making wars on other Greeks but by being useful to them. After this hegemony was lost, it was restored again, and this, too, was with the cooperation of other Greek cities that found that giving Athens power resulted in benefits for themselves. Moreover, if Athens really and truly worked to uphold peace among Greek cities, Athens's own safety would be in the interest of those cities; and if she were forced to defend herself, a record of peace would mean that nobody could accuse her of doing so for unjust cause.

Having laid out his case, Xenophon summarizes the benefits and prosperity that he thinks will flow from putting his proposals into effect, and, if Athens decides to implement them, he recommends that they start by asking Delphi and Dodona which gods should be propitiated so that the gods would look with favor on their undertakings.

Additional Comments

* Poros is literally a way or path. The word seems in this context to be used to indicate a way to obtain revenue; the revenue itself is prosodos.

* Since the work seems clearly to refer to events in the aftermath of the Social War, when Athens had lost its hegemony for a second time, and to the beginning of the Third Sacred War, it is common to date the work 355/354 BC. This is tied to the book's emphasis on creating prosperity without imperial oppression.

* It's easy to focus on the economic policies, but it's worthwhile to step back and look at the whole. Doing so makes it clear that to a great degree Xenophon is really advocating a healthy operation of the city: it should be able to support itself but also exist in mutually beneficial relationships with allies, it should build up those things in the city that sustain it, it should encourage schemes and projects in which citizens working for their own benefit are also working for the benefit of the city, it should treat its resident population well, it should treat its allies well. The policies trace out major features of city life, and at each point advocate in some way that a gap be closed between private interest and public good.

The Organic American People

The sovereign in the republican order is the organic people, or state, and is with us the United States, for with us the organic people exist only as organized into States united, which in their union form one compact and indissoluble whole. That is to say, the organic American people do not exist as a consolidated people or state; they exist only as organized into distinct but inseparable States. Each State is a living member of the one body, and derives its life from its union with the body, so that the American state is one body with many members; and the members, instead of being simply individuals, are States, or individuals organized into States, The body consists of many members, and is one body, because the members are all members of it, and members one of another. It does not exist as separate or distinct from the members, but exists in their solidarity or membership one of another. There is no sovereign people or existence of the United States distinguishable from the people or existence of the particular States united. The people of the United States, the state called the United States, are the people of the particular States united.

Orestes Brownson, The American Republic, Chapter XI.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Democratic Principle

I cannot conceive a more profoundly philosophic, or more admirably devised constitution, than that of our own government, as I have endeavored truthfully to present it in my American Republic. Yet, for the lack of the moral element in the American people, for the lack of a recognition of the law of nations emanating from an authority above the people, and binding the consciences of the nation, it is practically disregarded, and its wisest and most vital provisions are treated by the ruling people as non avenues. The people have forgotten its providential origin, treat it as their own creature, as a thing they have made, and may alter or unmake at their pleasure. It is not a law enjoined on them, and has no hold on their conscience. They give it a purely democratic interpretation. Men talk of loyalty, but men cannot be loyal to what is below them and dependent on their breath; and, therefore, they violate it without compunction, as often as prompted to do so by their interests or their passions.

[Orestes Brownson, "Democratic Principle", Brownson's Quarterly Review, April 1873.]

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Fortnightly Book, December 4

Literature, like much of art, is curious in that it admits of a category of successful failure. For the artist, it is in some sense even harder to handle than failure. At least failure shuts the door sharply; successful failure is an ongoing frustration as you seem to have the means but can never quite get the ends. You make an ingenious and delicious cake, and add a light touch of icing to make that excellence even more perfect -- and everyone just licks off the icing. And the worst of it, the very worst of it, is that it can happen even when you did everything right, and the failure can be due to things over which you have no control at all.

Georgette Heyer set out to write literarily polished and meticulously researched historical novels on serious moral themes, with a touch of romantic comedy. She was successful by most standards of authorial success. Her books were widely read, sold well, and were praised. And they were widely read, sold well, and were praised for reasons that had little to do with any of the things she hoped to achieve. Her works sold not as historical novels but as romances; romance is lucrative, but in everybody's mind it means sentimental froth for throw-away reading; reviewers treated intensively researched works as light holiday fiction; her very enthusiastic readers kept demanding more of what she herself regarded as among the least important parts of what she was writing. She was the Queen of Regency Romance and yet 'Regency Romance' at the same time became a patronizing label. She was working toward a major magnum opus that she could never finish because lighter works (and need for the money they brought in) kept demanding her time. Heyer could no more stop writing than she could stop breathing, so she continued to write, and continued to do well by all of the standards she regarded as least important, but she withdrew into herself and soon became notoriously averse to any and every kind of publicity. It's not that she was necessarily always miserable over it, or even very worried; her devotion to the craft was quite intense, and the success wasn't without its consolations. But there hangs over all of her career a sense of the important things still not yet done. And it still had that air at her death, at age 71, in 1974.

Nonetheless, posterity has treated her well, even if it has not raised her to the level appropriate to her undeniable talents. She has consistently been on the shelves, and, most importantly, her works have the one and only mark that matters for great literature: they keep being read by people who love to read. And she brings us the next fortnightly book, A Civil Contract, published in 1961. Viscount Lynton, a veteran of the Peninsular War (1808-1814), returns home after his father's death to find the family finances in complete disarray. Nothing can save it but to marry into wealth, despite being in love with another woman, and it looks like it will be a miserable marriage -- but marriage itself can be an education in what really matters.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped


Opening Passage:
I will begin the story of my adventures with a certain morning early in the month of June, the year of grace 1751, when I took the key for the last time out of the door of my father’s house. The sun began to shine upon the summit of the hills as I went down the road; and by the time I had come as far as the manse, the blackbirds were whistling in the garden lilacs, and the mist that hung around the valley in the time of the dawn was beginning to arise and die away.

Mr. Campbell, the minister of Essendean, was waiting for me by the garden gate, good man! He asked me if I had breakfasted; and hearing that I lacked for nothing, he took my hand in both of his and clapped it kindly under his arm.

“Well, Davie, lad,” said he, “I will go with you as far as the ford, to set you on the way.” And we began to walk forward in silence.

“Are ye sorry to leave Essendean?” said he, after awhile.

Summary: At the death of his father, David Balfour is sent to the house of an uncle he had never known he had, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws. As he approaches the House of Shaws, he asks for directions, and everyone he talks to says dark things about it. His meeting of his uncle will have significant repercussions as Balfour is nearly killed, then sold into slavery, shipwrecked, and chased across the Highlands of Scotland. Along the way he will meet the Highland hero, Alan Breck Stewart, and with the help of the mercurial man's friendship come into his rightful inheritance.

Structurally, the novel builds itself around an actual historical event, the Appin Murder, which it lightly fictionalizes. The real events, more or less, are these. Campbell was the local Factor collecting rents from Stewart lands that had been seized by the English. He was shot by a sniper on May 14, 1752. The chief suspect was Alan Breck Stewart, who was known to be in Scotland collecting rents from the poor locals, who thus had to pay two rents, and recruiting soldiers for the French Crown; he had also previously threatened Campbell. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but he eluded capture, so they arrested his foster father, James Stewart. James was tried, convicted, and hung for accessory to murder by a court that consisted of a Campbell for a judge (the Duke of Argyll) and a jury consisting of eleven members of the Campbell clan and four people dependent on the Duke of Argyll. Alan was tried and convicted in absentia. He vanished without a trace, and nobody knows what happened to him. It has come to be almost universally thought that he was probably innocent of the murder.

This being a major load-bearing element in the tale, it is not surprising, then, that Alan Breck Stewart ends up dominating most of the story. The novel in fact can be seen as a frame-story (David and his uncle) giving a context for a main story (David and Alan). But Stevenson manages to balance this by giving us a very independent-minded David, who is often by himself, and is not just a sidekick. The characterizations are, in fact, universally good; nearly every character is vivid and distinctive. David, too, is well done -- obviously intelligent and capable, but obviously seventeen.

Many of the passages in the work that I enjoyed long ago held up very well -- David on the tower stairs, the defense of the round house, and, in some ways the most masterful scene in the book, the contest between Alan Breck Stewart and Robin Oig. And the Highland atmosphere, sympathetic and yet sometimes frankly rendered, gives the whole tale an enduring charm.

Favorite Passage: This has pretty much always been my favorite passage:

...And presently he sat down upon the table, sword in hand; the air that he was making all the time began to run a little clearer, and then clearer still; and then out he burst with a great voice into a Gaelic song.

I have translated it here, not in verse (of which I have no skill) but at least in the king’s English. He sang it often afterwards, and the thing became popular; so that I have heard it and had it explained to me, many’s the time.

“This is the song of the sword of Alan:
The smith made it,
The fire set it;
Now it shines in the hand of Alan Breck.

“Their eyes were many and bright,
Swift were they to behold,
Many the hands they guided:
The sword was alone.

“The dun deer troop over the hill,
They are many, the hill is one;
The dun deer vanish,
The hill remains.

“Come to me from the hills of heather,
Come from the isles of the sea.
O far-beholding eagles,
Here is your meat.”

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Dashed Off XXVII

causation, signification, reception

"Envy seeks to have good for oneself without any companion, or exclusively; wrath seeks to have good without any opposition, or imperturbably; sloth seeks to have good without any work, or effortlessly." Bonaventure

relics: portable contiguities, naturally linked resemblances,narrative connection in social convention

arguments for abstraction
(1) chiliagon
(2) indifference
(3) ideas with no adequate phantasm
(4) infinites

awareness of external world vs conceptionalization of it as external world

infinite regress argument from material signs to formal signs

Cain sacrificed the fruit of his work; he did not sacrifice his plants or fields. But Abel sacrificed not merely the wool of the lamb but the lamb itself.

Hoping for good involves preparing against evil that opposes it.

definite descriptions and the notion of a limit

The copy principle cannot be based on an induction of successful empirical analyses, because there is no reason to regard the empirical analyses as complete successes without the copy principle.

Material objects are substances known through sensible experience.

The more one presses a 'bundle' account of objects, the harder it is to see how it is anything other than a substance account under a different metaphor. The sole difference of metaphor seems to be about unity, and yet to apply either requires attributing to things the unity they have in reality.

accounts of salvation // accounts of truth as end

modalities arising from causal potential
modalities arising from uncertainty (incompleteness)

Newman's Notes and liturgical change and degeneration

Human civilization is formed by human beings and various secondary species organized to serve human ends.

The entire liturgy of the Church proclaims divine love. All in it is a divine caress. The history of our friendship with god is always linked to the particular cultural contexts in which we pray. From great feasts to the least sacramentalia, the liturgy is a constant source of wonder and awe.
The ecclesial liturgy as a whole, in all its manifold relationships, exhibits the inexhaustible riches of God. Its multiplicity and variety come from the intention of the first agent, who willed that what was lacking to one representation of divine things might be supplied by another, inasmuch as no creaturely expression on its own could fittingly represent divine things.
This liturgy as a whole not only manifests God but is indwelt by His presence. The Spirit of Life moves in the living activity of the liturgy and divinizes us in doing so, like the heart sending out life to all parts of the body.
Because of this, the whole Church in all its members is linked together by unseen bonds and forms a kind of divine family, a sublime communion that is infused, from beyond itself, with divine charity. The full treasury of the liturgy cannot be opent to any of us if our hearts lack the love for others that is implicated in love for God. For the living Body of Christ has only one Heart, joining and unifying us all.
The liturgy is a common good, the patrimony of the whole Church, and the responsibility of everyone. If we take special interest in any one form of it, it is only to care for it for the good of all.

liturgy and the natural method of learning theology

the three modes of instruction in morals
(1) preceptive
(2) admonitory, hortatory, promissory
(3) narrative (examples)

Cynicism does not tend to wit, for it does not tend to the playful reasoning that is wit's most natural form. It may stumble on to the witty, the thing that could be said with play, but it never comes to it as being said with play.

analogical cascade from argument to argument
analogy as a method of conceptual analysis

prayers as prehensive

To have Fortune for a friend,
always think upon the end.

deacon : priest : bishop :: baptized : confirmed : ordained

Presiding in charity is necessarily an act of universal scope.

For mental intentionality to be explicable, there must be either a broader genus of intentionality or a genus broader than intentionality, of which intentionality is a species. And it seems that this would have to be causal disposition.
Note, incidentally, that Hume's account of causation takes intentionality to be primitive and makes causation a species of it.

God grants aridity that we might not merely think and act as Christians but settled down to be Christians.


Communion is at once an act of love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self: of self, for it refreshes us; of neighbor, for it is communing in a single sacrament; of God, for it is a sacrifice offered for union with God.

the aridities and consolations of the Church herself

Where it is not simply caused by the pressure of the moment, anxiety is most often a sign of misplaced priorities.

Peter and Paul as representing two aspects of Catholicity (for all and to all)

Gregory of Narek reads the Song of Songs as an allegorical presentation of salvation history, beginning with Adam in Paradise, and his fall, then passing to the coming of Christ, then to the spread of the faith through the world, and ending with the second coming.

Scripture as icon, sacramental, canon, and common prayer

God gave even to Himself the destiny of being a sign of God.

the six days of creation and the structure of conversions

sola scriptura // copy principle
(cp Feyerabend)

Every opportunity is an opportunity for the gospel; for good news for all is good news always.

Every deed corrosive to society that is widely accepted is so because it is supported by an appeal to faith, an appeal to consistency, and an appeal to consequences; for corrupt moral reasoning follows the most powerfully affecting lines of good moral reasoning.

the consensus of primary liturgies as infallible teaching (near-consensus of major liturgies as authoritative teaching)
- the complication is movable and variable parts, which are clearly important but make it harder to determine exactly what counts as agreement
- there are also the usual comparative problems arising from different force in translation, variations that obscure rather than eliminate the consensus, and liturgical corruptions and confusions
- the safest thing is perhaps to start with basic elements and general structure, but even there much of the consensus will be implied or implicated
- an interesting question is how genealogy of liturgy enters into this

sacramental character as a form of participation, in some way, in the Magisterium

teaching acts of the whole Church
(1) the people receiving their inheritance (e.g., in respecting our predecessors)
(2) the people acting together (e.g., praying together as Church)
(3) the bishops acting together as bishops, properly speaking
(3a) informally (e.g., in the harmony of their everyday episcopal acts)
(3b) formally (e.g., in ecumenical council)
(4) the Pope acting from the chair of Peter

Never spend more time complaining about something that you spend praying.

the Catholic unfaithful

docetism // sola scriptura
(they are basically both sola positions motivated by a concern for purity, of Christ in one and of Scripture in the other)

The simple summative account of group intentionality cannot distinguish accidental from important unities; this is a problem more complex summative accounts do not seem to avoid.

An account of group intentionality should begin with an account of group causation.

collective intentionality // emergence // organismic activity

married love as a sort of conversion

baptism/confirmation : wedding
unction : supprot in sickness and in death
eucharist : shared life
penance : forgiveness of fault and acts of mercy
orders : domestic church
matrimony : parenthood

the ostiarial ministry of priests and deacons
the ostiary as the seal of the scroll and the material affects of the Church

the infinite regress objection to the immaculate conception (e.g., Bernard Ep 174)

meals of fish in the gospel as representing proclamation of Scripture

"When people submit to force, they do so unwillingly because they are not strong enough. When people submit to the transforming influence of morality they do so sincerely, with admiration in their hearts." Mencius IIB3

three forms of necessary truth
(1) A is quasi-integral part of what it is to be a world (truths about world-ness)
(2) A is subjective part of being a world (truths about kinds of worlds)
(3) A is potential part of being a world (truths about what follows given a world)

The wrong kind of victory is the beginning of the worst kind of defeat.

OGE Scandal

It sometimes seems these days like the world has contracted some form of insanity. According to this ThinkProgress article, someone at the U.S. Office of Government Ethics was making mocking tweets, on the USOGE twitter account, about Donald Trump:

The Office of Government Ethics, which is responsible for ensuring executive branch personnel don’t run afoul of conflict of interest laws, has been pressuring Trump to place his fortune in a blind trust, like virtually every president before him. But Trump has thus far refused — and in his Wednesday tweetstorm, he purposefully did not say he plans on actually divesting from his own company.

That omission was not lost on whomever manages the OGE’s official Twitter account. Shortly after Trump’s announcement, the OGE shot off a series of tweets mock-congratulating Trump for putting his conflicts of interest to rest by divesting from his company, which Trump very much did not do....

The tweets first appeared Wednesday morning, but were initially deleted before being re-posted shortly before 1:00pm, according to The Washington Post. There were nine similarly flippant tweets in all from the OGE, an uncharacteristic departure from its usual social media strategy of sharing such pressing updates as “OGE launches new Confidential Financial Disclosure Guide for OGE Form 450.”

The full tweets were (I've only been able to find seven, though):

.@realDonaldTrump OGE applauds the "total" divestiture decision. Bravo!
— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) November 30, 2016

.@realDonalTrump As we discussed with your counsel, divestiture is the way to resolve these conflicts.
— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) November 30, 2016

.@realDonaldTrump OGE is delighted that you've decided to divest your businesses. Right decision!
— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) November 30, 2016

.@realDonaldTrump Bravo! Only way to resolve these conflicts of interest is to divest . Good call!
— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) November 30, 2016

.@realDonaldTrump this aligns with OGE opinion that POTUS should act as if 18 USC 208 applies.
— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) November 30, 2016

.@realDonaldTrump this divestiture does what handing over control could never have done.
— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) November 30, 2016

.@realDonaldTrump - we told your counsel we'd sing your praises if you divested, we meant it.
— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) November 30, 2016

The USOGE later confirmed that the tweets, which struck people as bizarre, were authentic:

Like everyone else, we were excited this morning to read the President-elect's twitter feed indicating that he wants to be free of conflicts of interest. OGE applauds that goal, which is consistent with an opinion OGE issued in 1983. Divestiture resolves conflicts of interest in a way that transferring control does not. We don't know the details of their plan, but we are willing and eager to help them with it.

This statement, of course, doesn't clarify anything at all, and looks very much like a bad attempt to save face over someone's stupid decision.

It shouldn't have to be said, but unfortunately in this political environment apparently does, that such an action is obviously a serious violation of basic principles of government ethics. The USOGE exists to give guidelines to civil servants on conflicts of interest and to assist Congress and the President in reducing and eliminating conflicts of interest for appointees. It only has authority to advise, train, and provide information; it does not have authority to enforce the guidelines it gives nor to pressure anyone to follow them -- that is under the authority of other agencies. What is more, the President is not subject to normal conflict of interest statutes (which govern civil servants and political appointees), nor normal ethical guidelines (which emanate from the Office of the President itself and thus are not superior to it). As noted in the opinion the tweets reference, the President is not in any way bound by anything that the OGE's province covers, even though it is a good idea in general for the President to lead by example on these matters. The OGE thus does not have any authority at all in this matter except to advise. Likewise, it is not an agency which has the authority to investigate, and therefore to evaluate, the ethical situation of the Presidency; it is an advisory body that should be giving advice to Trump and to the White House and to Congress, and not mouthing off in public.

What is more, while a President-Elect will soon be President, he is not yet; he is still a private citizen, not the holder of a constitutional or statutory office. It is utterly inappropriate for the USOGE to discuss a private citizen's affairs in public in this way, without full authorization to do so. Not only that, but this kind of evaluation is entirely unprofessional, because the USGOE has not seen anything of Trump's actual plan, and it is utterly unprofessional to use an official medium of government communication to pronounce on a matter that has not undergone an appropriate and official process of evaluation. Nor is the tone of these tweets professionally appropriate to the situation. Nothing whatsoever about this behavior is in any way acceptable, especially in an agency serving such an essential function in the preserving the ethical integrity of the civil service itself.

The election of Trump was not a holiday from sanity. The obligations of citizens and civil servants are as they ever were. Honor is still honor, virtue is still virtue, moral law is still moral law. As they always have been, reason is reason and truth is truth. There is no excuse for such failures of good sense.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

A New Poem Draft


The oak leaves now cover browning grass,
brown upon brown mixed with green,
but the verdure too will soon pass,
and the oak leaves crumble, and not be seen.

And the path I now walk will fade away,
the paving devoured by rain and wind,
and my companions will soon be yesterdays
as I walk without kin and without friend.

And my skin will be weathered in the storm,
and my eyes dimmed by wear of time;
my bones to dry dust will be reformed
and blown on the breeze to better clime.

The oak leaves that curl upon the ground
are the dust of the paths on which we tread;
and our mission in life cannot be found
except by walking the road laid by the dead.

Nor can seeking hearts find lasting peace
as they rumble like drums or motor cars,
but only when quietly they cease,
to pave future paths beneath the stars.